Monday 13 May 2013

Writers' rights

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has been taking up real estate in my dominant conscious thought processes of late, and the fun-ride that I always spend time on when this thing loops back around is a discussion on the versions that Douglas Adams has released into the wild. There are three truly distinct versions of the story. The radio plays (and the television show which uses the same script), the novels (which were written later) and the film that came out in 2005 all follow varying plots. The key players are the same, but the shenanigans tend to go in different directions at times.

The release of the film version in 2005 prompted a lot of questions that can all more or less be paraphrased to, "Why did they change Douglas Adams' story?" and sometimes, 'Those arseholes changed the story', which is more of a statement. 'Those arseholes' being, in this case, Douglas Adams (the writer). He (the writer) not only approved of, but also co-wrote the altered storyline that appeared in the film.

This kind of behaviour isn't without precedent, as the novels vary from the original radio plays far more significantly than the film does. I first encountered The Guide through the books while in Germany, and for the longest time believed them to be the original version of the story, despite the blurb on the back stating otherwise. Perhaps I never read it. It wasn't until after I saw the film that I found out that the radio plays, with which by that stage was the version with which I was most familiar, was the original version.

Most commonly people cite the altered plot of the film as their reason for not liking it, which isn't really a real reason. Well, it might be, but it doesn't make it a bad film, in the same way that the books aren't bad because they deviate from the radio plays. In fact with all of the multiple universes that appear in the later phases of the storyline, it makes more sense to have multiple versions of events than it does to have a single rigidly enforced plot.

My question, which I have taken the scenic route to, is:

How much right does a writer have to alter stories that they have already 'finished'? 

Other recent players in this discussion are Game of Thrones, the television series based on A Song of Ice and Fire, which has made a number of author approved changes to the storyline to better suit the television format, Star Wars, where the original creator carried out some arguably minor retcons, and Space Pirate Captain Harlock, whose creator, Leiji Matsumoto, has opted to work with a clean slate on nearly every outing with the character.

It is also interesting to note that both Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and Life, the Universe and Everything were originally written as scripts for Doctor Who. Though the latter was never produced, the former was produced twice (with rewrites) as a television story starring the 4th Doctor (later released in its incomplete form on DVD) and as an audio story starring the 8th Doctor.

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