It seems like the shorter the source material is, the better adaptations are. “The Maltese Falcon” was a great novella, and for all intents and purposes was a very good and solid movie adaptation. “It Had To Be Murder” isn’t a story most people consider to be a classic, or even very good. But it is regarded as a decent dime detective story. It is short and gets to the point. It focuses in on a small setting and a minute amount of characters. This allows the author to really focus in on the psychological aspect between the killer and the main character. On the flip side, the movie version takes a lot of liberties with the plot. Albert Hitchcock adds in some new characters, makes the small setting a bit livelier, and throws in a romantic connection for good measure. It is somewhat of a split on whether “Rear Window” was a truly good adaptation, or if the original work was just bland and the movie had to make the changes for the sake of the audience. Either way, it is another example of an adaptation that was not blown out of proportion with stupid nonsensical changes. Stand By Me, the 1986 adaptation of Stephens King’s The Body is another example of a smaller story being given a wonderful adaptation.
“The Body” is a short story By Stephen King, and was published in a collection of stories called “Different Seasons”. It comes in somewhere around the 70-80-page count. It is a story about four adolescent boys that are about to go off to middle school. This is, in a way, their last adventure as “childhood friends”. They go on a sort of journey to look for what they believe to be the remains of a missing boy from their town. The story is heavily character focused and the struggle of “coming of age” is really the main driving point of the story. This short and simplistic plot translates to a nearly PERFECT adaptation. Rob Reiner takes the novella and practically puts it on to the screen. There are some scenes that are cut out and some that are switched around. One thing that he does to the film version is gives the character Ace Meryl a significantly bigger role. This adds an actual threating antagonist to the plot rather than just a last-minute interjection as was the case in the source material. The movie also does a wonderful job of giving us an incredible amount of emotional attachment to the characters. The opening scene is a look at the fate of Chris, and we are told that Gordie is the only person of the original gang to still be alive. That really sets a somber and bittersweet tone for happens with the journey. It is changes like these that are what makes for great adaptations. Sure, it is always nice to see a movie or show bring over scenes identical from the book or use a vast majority of the original dialogue. But something else that is the mark of a great adaptation is when it manages to either focus in on the core of what made original great and enhance it, or when it takes the underutilized or mishandled portions of something with great potential and allow it to blossom into something spectacular. “Stand By Me” does both of those things, and in my opinion marks itself as a classic, and one of the best adaptations of all time.
As a side note; another great adaptation from a short work is “The Outsiders.” That is just another example of a great story that was given a very well received adaptation. To me it seems like modern day adaptations focus too much on spectacle and doesn’t worry about the quality story of its source material. Short stories and novellas have just enough substance to provide a blue print for solid film adaptation. The stories are usually so tightly condensed and well crafted that films would have a harder time adding content to make it better. On the other hand, large novels tend to have so much filler content that a lot of what is used to drive secondary plot points and side character development is put to the side or changed completely. This usually results in a poorly received film met with a lot of criticism. TV seems to be the best way to approach adaptations of such large works. For example; The Witcher, and Game of Thrones have had mostly well received feed back from the fans. It is adapted into a medium that allows for the real meat of the story to be played out without sacrificing the “filler” of the books that are used to really build relationships and set up future plot points and secondary character development.