Welcome to the Fall 2014 Issue of Mediascape, “Adaptation.” The central theme of this issue led the contributors to consider the various ways that adaptation appears as both a formal, narrative, or aesthetic consideration, but also the impact it has on how we approach media as an audience, consumers, and participators. Though public discourse on adaptation has largely taken on a negative tone (this is especially the case when it comes to iterative media texts based on well-known intellectual properties; case in point, the ongoing debate about the quality of video game movies), the proclamations of the dearth of creativity in media industries ignores the extensive history of adaptation as a central source for media producers and creators. Corporate conglomeration and the fluidity with which media now crosses geographic boundaries has made adaptation (particularly cross-cultural adaptation) all the more relevant to any discussion of media industries and media production, if only because they offer more than one entry point into the development of Transmedia properties. Adaptation, though, takes on a number of tones in its implementation; it is hardly a simple transposition of narrative, rather it is often a reinterpretation (or even an inversion) of the source material that can raise far-reaching implications concerning authorship, discourse, and aesthetic. The palimpsestuous nature of adaptation necessitates our understanding of the meanings that come attached to source material, as in the repeated interpretations of “Camelot” that we regularly see outside of the Arthurian context in Television shows, video games, or even as super imposed up to the Kennedy Presidency. Similarly, we need to understand the cross cultural and transnational implications and opportunities presented by adaptation in its potential to express shared and dissimilar values, as in the numerous and varied reinterpretations of the Hindu epic
The Ramayana. The goal of this issue, then, is to approach the definition and the relevance of adaptation with an open mind in order to investigate the different forms that it can take.
This issue’s Feature articles offer complex interpretations of what adaptation actually means in the contemporary world. In “Once and Future: Adaptations of Camelot in Non-Arthurian Television Narratives,” Shawn Edrei identifies the wide range of adaptive techniques utilized in order to “modernize” Camelot in contemporary Television. More to the point, Edrei identifies how the process of reinterpretation is often based on upon the reinforcement of, and emphasis on, certain key elements of the source text that give adaptation a flexibility to “retell the story for the first time.” James N. Gilmore’s “The Curious Adaptation of Benjamin Button: Or, the Dialogics of Brad Pitt’s Face” expands the definition of adaptation by interrogating how the film (technically an adaptation of a F. Scott Fitzgerald short story) operates to adapt the star image. In this case, the film allows Brad Pitt to “turn back the clock” to the moment where his character (and his star image) were born.
Columns approaches the issue of adaptation by focusing on its role in video games, CG animation, Manga, and Anime. In “Adapting ‘8-bit’ Motion Style to 3D Computer Animation for Wreck-it Ralph,” Chris Carter discusses the how Wreck it Ralph implements a stylized “8-bit aesthetic” and movement style in its animation. Carter outlines how the film simulates the movement of earlier video games using particular animation techniques. In “Playfully Subversive: the Many Roles of Adaptation in Making Games at the UCLA Game Lab,” David O’Grady explores how video games operate as adaptations of those that play them; as adaptations of our experience of the world. Stefan Werning’s “Manga, Anime and Video Games: Between Adaptation, Transmedia Extension and Reverse” looks at the complex industrial and narrative relationship between Manga/Anime and their video game counterpart in terms of how they extend each others universes through adaptation.
Columns approaches the question of urban space by focusing on its functionality as a “digital city.” In “Dimensions of the Digital City,” Oscar Moralde discusses how urban spaces are often used in video games as either a theme park (as in sandbox games) or as puzzle boxes that ultimately force the player to interpret them as a framework for the flow resources and goods (as in SimCity). Meanwhile, Matthias Stork’s “Space-Wars: Mapping the Aesthetics of Post-Cinematic City Space in Action Films and Video Games” seeks to link central importance of urban space in contemporary action films to their role as subjects and objects of play. This is most readily seen in filmic uses of the city as a game or obstacle course (such as in car chases or diagrammatic representations of city space), or in game spaces that are themselves modeled after the urban (such as in Tron).
Meta offers a glance at the relationships between adapted texts and how they inform our understanding of them. In the video essay “The Marriages of Laurel Dallas: Or, The Maternal Melodrama of the Unknown Feminist Film Spectator,” Catherine Grant explores the different adaptations of Olive Higgins Prouty's novel in terms of how their different approaches to the source text have informed audience engagement with them; particularly in terms of how they appear as affective experiences. In “Transnational Adaptation: The Complex Irreverence of Narrative Strategy in Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues,” Tarini Sridharan suggests that Nina Paley’s controversial Web-based animated film operates to subversively adapt The Ramayana through its repeated creation of double-sided meanings.
This issue of Mediascape is intended to explore and expand, rather than completely redefine adaptation in contemporary visual media. These articles represent a smattering of possibilities for adaptation given the increased formal and narrative flexibility provided by digital technologies. In a sense, though, all of these articles seek to transcend the “old media” vs. “new media” dichotomy that adaptation discourse has traditionally adopted in order to suggest that we need to be more open to the burgeoning potentialities adaptation can offer. The larger questions here, then, are how do adaptations give new life to older texts such as The Ramayana or Arthurian legend? Ultimately, how do they help us to better define our relationship to the media we consume and the world around us? Our intent here is to ask these questions and open up a dialogue about where adapted media can go from here.
--Matthias Stork and Andrew Young, Co-Editors-in-Chief