Hollywood probably should stop attempting to turn classic literature into movies. It isn’t that classic works don’t make for great films, but Hollywood biases doom attempts to adapt them.
Disney released John Carter a few years back and it performed poorly. I eventually watched it and couldn’t figure out why audiences didn’t like it. And then I read, A Princess of Mars (the book upon which John Carter is based).
John Carter takes some characters and their personalities, and a handful of scenes from the book, but then proceeds to tell an entirely different story than A Princess of Mars.
John Carter begins with Carter fleeing from the U.S. cavalry, and that leads to a hostile encounter with Indians. A Princess of Mars begins with Carter fleeing from hostile Indians—no cavalry involvement. John Carter has Carter joining with a warrior-like Dejah Thoris as she fights for her people while he searches for a way home. A Princess of Mars has Carter ambivalent about being on Mars until he meets a hostage Dejah Thoris. From there on, his purpose is to free the damsel-in-distress with no longing to go home.
There are other differences as well, including the climax, falling action, and resolution.
So if you are a fan of A Princess of Mars, why would you want to watch John Carter which bears no resemblance to the book? My opinion of it has certainly changed.
And this is a typical problem with Hollywood. Its modern sensibilities won’t allow it to faithfully adapt classic literature. Hollywood sees classic literature as “racist” and worse. This then often leads filmmakers to change the stories.
Were Hollywood biases the reason John Carter filmmakers changed A Princess of Mars? Were they why producers changed the main antagonists in the beginning from Indians to U.S. cavalrymen? Were they why filmmakers changed Dejah Thoris from a damsel-in-distress to a warrior woman? I don’t know.
But from the way reactions are to news that someone is going to attempt to make a “more faithful” adaptation of a particular work, the pressure must have been there.
Ultimately, it really doesn’t matter what you think about the plot and themes in classic literature. That’s the way they were written. So if you’re going to make movies based on them, stay true to them. If you want to criticize them, that’s one thing. But don’t change them.
(There are exceptions to this rule, such as when someone wants to set the story in a different era, or tell it from a different character’s perspective. But usually those attempts are ill-advised as well.)
One final note—a final note that offers an alternative to everything I just wrote. Hollywood should, but won’t, change. Therefore, since filmmakers aren’t going to stop altering classic literature, maybe it’s instead time for a new type of filmmaker to change things in a different way. He could start changing classic literature so that he infuriates, instead of placates, modern sensibilities.
But fat chance of that happening.