Wednesday, April 13, 2016

When Adaptation Goes Horribly Wrong

How Jane Austen’s many filmic interpretations might actually be damaging the originals. ♦ 
Jane Austen is a classic novelist whose books have stood the test of time and proven relatable for each new generation of readers . . . and moviegoers. For decades, the film industry has found new ways to tell the classic stories written by Austen for seasoned fans and newcomers alike. These movies range in adaptation from those that stay true to the story and time period, such as 2005’s Pride & Prejudice starring Kiera Knightly, to loose modern interpretations such as 1995’s Clueless with Alicia Silverstone. Many of these contemporary retellings have become cult classics by taking Austen’s stories and sharing them in new ways. But, despite being instant hits, are these films changing the message and value of the original text? Are these films still Jane Austen at all?
    Here’s an example: recently a film titled Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was released (based on the mash-up parody by Seth Grahame-Smith) which followed the original plotline of Austen’s novel, up to a point, but catered to a new audience through incorporating the idea of zombies and zombie hunters. Although it was not a flop in the box office, the film was unable to portray the intended intimacy and message as provided by Austen all those years ago (given, of course, all the zombies). But do adaptations such as this one prompt viewers to seek more information about the original source? Adding a new spin to a classic tale such as Pride & Prejudice offers the opportunity, at least, to open up a new audience for Austen, such as those interested in sci-fi or fantasy genres. But it seems unlikely that this potential new audience will rush right out to the classics section of the bookstore to search out more Jane Austen, in spite of the fact that Austen’s name and association are right up front.
    Ironically, in the case of some of the more famous (and faithful) movie adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels, there’s a good chance that the moviegoing audience didn’t realize that Austen was the source at all. Films such as Clueless and Bridget Jones’ Diary take the main idea of the Austen’s stories and use it to tell their own story. For example, Clueless is based off of Emma. It tells the story of a girl who is so concerned with the well-being of others that she forgets to think of the well-being of herself. This film, which is considered a cult classic, almost directly mirrors the story line of Austen’s novel; however, this is not necessarily a known aspect of the story. With the exception of those few Austen fans, and general movie buffs, many people who bought their ticket to the move may not have realized that Clueless is actually based on another story. This has the ramifications of people not realizing and understanding the classic storyline, and why it is so important (or that’s they might enjoy more buy visiting their local bookstore). Austen’s novels are timeless pieces; they tell a story that anyone can relate to at any time. But by telling the story in a contemporary context, without overtly acknowledging the source, it can change the way the story is told and received.
    In other words, although these movies are creative ways for Austen’s stories to be told in a new light, it seems as though they are slowly erasing, and rewriting, the meaning behind Austen’s original words.
    It is important to understand that, although a text might need updating, it doesn’t always need changed. Today, though, there are many film adaptations of classic novels that are changing the way we view a story. As a fan of Jane Austen, I believe that it is important for the story to be told in its truest nature. Austen’s work has stood the test of time for over one hundred years for a reason. Her novels, in their purest form, are true pieces of art. In comparison, these movies and films being created in the name of Austen’s novels, those that aren’t replicas of the story, seem to be mass-produced pieces that aren’t made to stay. These films benefit from Austen, for sure, but it’s unclear that Austen or her readers always benefit from the films.
    It is time that we as a generation begin to understand the importance of classic novels, the meaning behind them, and what they can teach us. They’re much too meaningful to be reduced to a fun way to kill two hours at your local multiplex.
  • About the Author
    Abbey Sanderson is a student at Miami University studying Public Relations and Professional Writing. She is working to become a member of the Publishing Industry as a public relations specialist for novels and novelists. In her spare time, Abbey enjoys working with her sorority’s philanthropy and traveling abroad.

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