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‘Kick-Ass’ And Four Other Adaptations Better Than Their Sources

By 08.15.13
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There's no nice way to say this. More often than not, an adaptation of a comic, or book, or video game, isn't as good as the original. But, and more often than we'd like to think, sometimes it really is better.

This can be for a variety of reasons: The movie puts something fairly conventional in the hands of an artist; the TV show brings a story back to its essence. But nonetheless, it happens, and there are more than a few examples out there.

For example!

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The virtues and frustrations of Kick-Ass can all be summed up with one name: Mark Millar. Millar's problem, as a writer, is that he wants to be "edgy" but his concept of edgy is hit-or-miss. Hit-Girl is a hilarious character, but finishing off a villain with a groin injury is so commonplace not even the Punisher bothers with it anymore. When Millar stops trying to impress us with how edgy he is and just writes a comic book, the results are amazing, but too often, that tendency to be "edgy" gets in his own way.

Fortunately, with the movie, they were able to keep most of the story, and even some of the splat, while tweaking it just enough to keep faithful to the spirit of the book. Matthew Vaughn, who knows just how to make a movie over the top, kept everything that made the comic fun while redirecting the gross-outs and rude gestures just enough to make them genuinely funny.

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Admit it: You've never read Jurassic Park, or if you have, it was somewhere around 1993. Steven Spielberg has a rarely discussed ability, as a producer and director, to shave away a lot of the crap that encumbers beach reads to get at the core of the story, and it elevated this movie substantially. It was something Michael Crichton needed in general, and this book in particular; there's such a thing as overexplaining, and the book was very, very prone to it.

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Can we all just admit that Game Of Thrones, as a series of books, is prone to the absolute worst habits in high fantasy writing? Every single book is the size of a brick, George R.R. Martin often gets lost in minutiae, and if the cast weren't bumped off at a nice clip, it'd make The Wheel Of Time look like a Beckett play. When Martin is on the ball, he's on the ball, but when he's off... oh brother.

Which is why the HBO series is so great. It gives the story the room it needs to breathe, while simultaneously forcing the story to actually have more focus. Any book that needs an index is a book with a problem, but the show is clever in how it sorts out and presents plotlines so that you can follow along without losing the thread.

Also, this is so much more satisfying on film:

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Robert E. Howard invented fantasy and deserves the praise he's gotten, but realistically speaking, a faithful adaptation is tough, both because of Howard's penchant for writing stories that were close to prose-poems in some cases, and also, well, all the screaming racism. John Milius, of all people, pulled it off, partially through two masterstrokes of casting, and partially because he knew capturing the dream feeling of the stories would involve a more subtle touch than, say, what happened in Conan the Destroyer.

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It's rare that an original screenplay comes to theaters fully intact, and while the original movie of Buffy The Vampire Slayer had its moments, ultimately it's less than surprising it was a cult film. The show, however, managed to work, bar some argument over the last two seasons, not least because it could play on horror stories as metaphors. Horror really works best when it's using fantasy creatures to discuss what we're really scared of and although Buffy as a show is decidedly uneven, at its best it could riff on problems every teenager deals with in an intelligent way.

Any we missed? Any you think we're wrong on? Let us know in the comments.

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