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Posted by Marianne Miller on Oct 29, 2012

Are Loyal Adaptations Actually Good Adaptations?

I am not what anyone would call a Silent Hill fanatic, or even a loyal fan.  I appreciate the games, but due to the stickiness of the controls, have never played them myself.  I’ve watched people play through the entirety of the first three games (for my benefit), so I feel as though I have a decent enough understanding of everything in the Silent Hill universe to have an informed opinion on any continuing adaptation.

That said, Silent Hill: Revelation was poo.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  I don’t want anyone to think that I have a bias against adaptations, film or otherwise—it seems like most people in the gaming/comic book industry do.  While I can understand their wariness of the mistreatment of the properties they love so much, I feel that we’re finally starting to see much more than a handful of good adaptations present on television and in the theater.  I include the first Silent Hill film in that list.  And with the recent release of the Silent Hill sequel now in theaters, I think these two movies illustrate the differences between a good and bad adaptation.

The first Silent Hill had its faults, I will give it that.  But something I think fans forget in the haze of nostalgia and fierce defensiveness of their favorite IPs is that an adaptation does not need to be identical to be good.  The Silent Hill film took the snow that was used in the first game to cover up their lack of graphics capabilities and actually gave it purpose—continuous, underground coal fires that spat out poisonous smoke and ash.  Instead of having Dahlia as a one-dimensional villain who had given birth to a child just to set it on fire (because that makes sense), the movie turned her into a victim, coerced into believing that her child was the result of sin and now forced into living in a horrific purgatory that she can’t escape, either by fleeing or through death.

Nobody liked the cult, and that includes myself.  But let’s get real—would the cult in the first game have been any better?  As great as Silent Hill was for the early days of interactive horror, it was a pretty one-dimensional game in terms of story and development.  Silent Hill 2 took what was great about its predecessor and improved upon it, adding in the psychological layers to the monsters and environments.

That being said, the Silent Hill movie took what was good about the first game—the atmosphere, the monsters, and the barest bones of the story—and created a story that was somewhat faithful to the game without retelling it word-for-word.  And honestly, people forget that a good adaptation doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a faithful one.  The Silent Hill movie was obviously made by people who loved it, with nods to shots and mechanics in the games without making them overbearing or jarring to someone who hasn’t familiarized themselves with the source material, a problem I have frequently with a lot of the movie adaptations on the market at the moment.

Then Silent Hill: Revelation came out.

It didn’t bother me that Sharon (now Heather) was still alive an in the “real” dimension, and I could almost buy the fact that she was still “split” from the darker Alessa (despite the strong implication that they were joined together again at the end of the first movie, after the cult had been defeated).  But then Revelation decided that it didn’t like the cult it featured in the first movie and retconned it.

Yeah.  They tried to claim that not only had members of the cult survived from the first movie, but that it also didn’t worship the Christian God, as was pretty strongly implied in the first film.  Rather, they introduced the Order of Valtiel (which was present in the third game, showing that they were trying to “veer” things back in a “proper” direction), which wanted to impregnate Heather… somehow… because she would give birth to their new god… somehow. Which translates to me as “Oh shit, this was supposed to be established in the first movie if we wanted to make something close to the game, but it wasn’t. But no one will notice if we just push on!”

Revelation then decided to make everyone related to each other.  Claudia was Christabella’s sister, from the first movie. Dahlia was also somehow related to Christabella, Vincent was Claudia’s son, and Heather was the daughter of Alessa.  And, in a move that surprised no one (but was probably the most poorly written thing in the movie), Vincent randomly kissed Heather near the end, which lead me to believe that the Revelation referred to by the title was that the movie should have actually been called “KISSIN’ COUSINS.”

But aside from all this, Revelation—structurally—was more similar to Silent Hill 3 than the first film was to its own source material.  The original Silent Hill film took some of the same characters and the settings from the first game and created its own universe and lore surrounding the culture of the game that would affect all future releases of the franchise, while probably becoming one of the best representations of Silent Hill since the third game’s release.  It showed that the writer and director both understood and loved the original game that the movie was based off of, but accepted its shortcomings.

Revelation, however, felt like it was not only trying to retcon the last 45 minutes of the first movie by forcing the story to parallel the third game, but also had the same villain from Silent Hill 3, the same motivations, and a stronger tie-in to locations.  The major difference was the complete butchering of Vincent’s character—turning him into a half-assed love interest rather than an ambiguous anti-hero—and having him replace Detective Cartland as Heather’s sidekick and source of information.  His relation to Claudia, while boggling, was for the most part irrelevant.  And while Sean Bean’s character was supposed to die if we were following the game, I felt that having Heather enter Silent Hill to save her father was a stronger motivation than to get revenge for his death, as it was in Silent Hill 3.

So in that regard, doesn’t that technically make Revelation a “better” adaptation than Silent Hill, simply on the basis that it’s more faithful to the games?

I think the first Silent Hill movie is a great testament to how being less faithful to source material can actually help the project if it’s a film.  Many fans of comics, games and books forget that movies are very limited in what they can do in terms of time (which is why I think of them as inferior vessels for elaborate storytelling), and they also refuse to admit that adaptive writers have to prioritize information from whatever they’re adapting to get the most condensed, but still capable of making sense, version of the story.  The makers of the Silent Hill movie understood the best parts of the first game (the atmosphere) and the worst parts (the one-dimensionality of the story) and created something that was similar, but not exactly so.

Revelation was a travesty.  Watching it reminded me of James’ reaction to Maria in Silent Hill 2—seeing the exterior of something he loved perverted into something he almost didn’t recognize.  Revelation attempted to make the identical motions, from the locations to the painstaking effort to perfect the costumes and makeup, but fell horrifically flat.  Maybe it would have been improved by fetus-eating (because who doesn’t love a good fetus-eating?) rather than morphing Claudia into some strange (but slightly cool) buzzsaw monster, but I doubt it.

If anything, Revelation made me realize that we, as nerds and movie-goers, need to stop harping on writers, directors, and content creators for adaptations to be as close to the original as possible.  Because first of all, let’s face it—we’re already familiar enough with the source material as it is.  Why re-hash the exact same thing?  But also because allowing more freedom with adaptive projects may possibly allow us to bask in the things we love about a property (while simultaneously improving them), but also letting us sweep the things we don’t like under the rug.  We need to focus on wanting people to release good movies, not good retellings.

Will being less hard on creative types possibly bring disaster?  Of course.  There will always be the threat of having a new, horrifying adaptation like Legend of Chun Li or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. But for every Legend of Chun Li, we have quite a few Silent Hills, or better yet, V for Vendettas (easily one of my favorite adaptations because it changed so much) swooping in to cover them up.

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