Adaptation: (Not) a 21st Century Phenomenon

This week’s public humanities post features the experience of Dennis Cutchins, English, on BYUradio

Movies are on the mind: many of you watched the Oscars 2018 last week. The award for Best Picture, The Shape of Water, was an adaptation of a book written by Andrea Camilleri in 1994.

Adaptation studies is an important field in the Humanities College, and we have some distinguished staff that specialize in it. Our very own Dennis Cutchins was invited to speak on BYUradio with Julie Rose on book-to-film adaptations that came out in September 2017. Movie adaptations are as relevant today as they have always been, and they continue to capture audience’s attention in innovative ways. New technology has dazzled us for decades as it has been applied to a movie experience. CGI has taken the movie industry to new heights and made stories possible to tell on screen that had never been an option before.

Anyone interested in adaptations, the cross sections between text and film (or text and text, film and film, text to play, play to text, etc.), should have the experience of sitting down and having a conversation with Dr. Cutchins. His passion for the subject brings even more vitality to an already fascinating and relevant topic.

This won’t come as a surprise to anyone, but one of the greatest adaptation achievements of the last decade has been bringing comic book characters to the big screen. The Avengers, Justice League, and X-men are all examples of a new generation of film and story-telling where the limits of computer technology have been stretched in order to tell a superhero’s story in ever more visually exciting ways. Car chases, crashing planes, flying around Manhattan, things that fifty years ago needed to be rendered (with the exception of perhaps a single image or two) in the imagination in a comic book are brought to life through increasingly complicated computer graphics and film technologies.

Dr. Cutchins sat down with me and told me how although film adaptation has become much more prevalent in public consciousness in the last 10-20 years, it is nothing new. Adaptation has been around since the Greeks. We adapted myths into a play; we adapted plays of plays. In fact, adaptation has been around since recognizable literature. It has become dominant feature in literature and film and stage productions., we are saturated in them. It is cool because there are so many and they are so prevalent. We are telling something important about contemporary culture and our interest in remakes and reboots.

For example, let’s talk superheroes. Marvel has made an empire out of adapting comic characters. New movie every year with stunning regularity. In addition to the (at least) annual movie, they have two different TV shows on Netflix. Marvel is becoming a media powerhouse. Dr. Cutchins said when he was a kid, Marvel was a comic book company. They wrote books for 11–14-year-old boys. Now, in the last 20 years, we have seen them become HUGE! Rivaling (and now owned by) Disney and Lucas Films, Marvel is one of the biggest media concerns on the planet, all based on adapting the narratives and characters and genres. These adaptations are sometimes more direct, sometimes less so, but there seems to be an infinite amount of energy and funding going into creating new characters and scenarios and politics.

What is the future of adaptation studies? According to Dr. Cutchins, the future is in the video game industry. He says, “Video games are the next big thing. There is about to be a boom in video game scholarship.” It will be exciting to see what new places adaptation studies brings us.


This post was written by Holly Boud, HC intern

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