Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The perfect mix.

Watching the newly released Spiderman: Homecoming this past Friday, I couldn't help but think of BBC Sherlock. My familiarity with the Canon of Peter Parker goes back even a wee bit further than my familiarity with the Canon of Sherlock Holmes, and even though Peter hasn't had as many adaptations as Sherlock certain similarities exist.

One of those is a pattern we're seeing as creators start to tell their own stories of an old, familiar character. There are two axes one could build a chart on with adaptations: Unique vision and adherence to the source material. 

A new look at an old character is necessary to keep things fresh and interesting. Keeping the details familiar and recognizable is needed to make the final product a true representation of what the audience came for. But both can go too far without a healthy dose of the other. If Sherlock Holmes is going to be a teenage boy in L.A. who makes amateur films with his friends Pete and Isaac, that will certainly be a unique vision, but why would someone who remembers Sherlock Holmes be interested in the young director? And while a beat-for-beat movie adaptation of the original Victorian "Engineer's Thumb" might delight a small group of hardcore fans for a minute or two, there is no way such a film would make its money back at the box office.

With both Spiderman: Homecoming and BBC's Sherlock, one saw a near-perfect combination of the two: original vision and a goodly use of the source material. Both were wonderful products in their own right, but both also had a beautiful second layer for the person in the know, utilizing the original material in a delightful fashion. This Spiderman, of course, is on its first installment, while that Sherlock is on his . . . thirteenth. And as Sherlock has moved on, its place on a chart of unique vision versus source material has definitely shifted. But, oh, the Sherlock-ness of its journey.

I've heard using details from the original source material referred to as "fan service," a term akin to wrestling's "cheap pop," when a wrestler specifically mentions the town he's performing in to get a good reaction from the crowd. But when someone is doing an adaptation of a work that fans have loved for ages, they aren't just a random talent visiting the town of Sherlock. They're a craftsman working in the field of Sherlock. And there's the big difference.

If I enter home-made ice cream in a chili cook-off, somebody may decide to give me points for creativity, and a person or two who loves ice cream and hates chili might be delighted, but most people came to the chili cook-off for one thing: chili. No matter how proud I am at the wonderfully delightful ice cream I've made, I'm showing a certain disrespect for chili and those who cook it. Putting chili spices and meat together isn't fan service. It's the basic requirement.

Balancing faithfulness to the original material and fresh creativity will always be a challenge, but that perfect mix of the two will always result in the best final product, whether it's Spiderman, Sherlock Holmes, or . . . well, chili. And it's a special delight to see that come together, for when it's done best it creates a treat that reaches far beyond the loyal fans and starts creating new ones. For a few moments, complete neophytes can share a love of something you've harbored for ages, people connect, peace and harmony spread across the world, and . . . .

Well, maybe I'm reaching, but that perfect mix is definitely a very good thing.

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