Making way for the book series

31Oct11

As far as book series turned movies go, Harry Potter is the holy grail: 10 years, 8 films, and $8 billion dollars.  The Lord of the Rings comes in a close second: 3 years, 3 films, $3 billion. The Chronicles of Narnia tends to bring in a decent haul, as do the films in the Twilight series. What each of these books series have in common is a massive fan base,  all rabid to consume anything and everything related to their beloved franchise. For those fans fortunate enough to fall in love with the most popular franchises, huge blockbuster films normally follow soon after. However, for fans of second-tier series (in terms of quantity of fans, not quality of material of course), a big-budget blockbuster is normally out of the question. However, the miniseries format is occasionally an option for those desiring the visual feast. Not popular enough for prime time television,  these productions often air at obscure times on obscure channels and feature little to no budget.

The temptation for producers to use book series of course, is the already existing fan base, and the wealth of already written content. The name of the program or film alone is enough to put butts in seats. However, I pity the producer who fails to adequately bring the written page to life, as they endure the hatred and scorn of a disappointed fan base. Unfortunatly for producers, bringing book series to life, particularly fantasy series, normally requires a ridiculously large budget, one too big for miniseries producers, and the accurate depiction of what can sometimes be thousands of pages of content, way to much for a feature film (or 2, or 3…).

HBO is the first step to solving the problem. Armed with the ability to bequeath massive budgets to producers willing to tackle a book series, HBO, through the miniseries format is capable of both meeting the funding demands and designating enough time to accurately depict the actions of the book. The wildly successful Game of Thrones, based on George Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series,  for instance, featured a $45 million budget for 10 episodes, effectively bringing the world of Westeros to life. Needless to say the fans were happy. However, the HBO miniseries did more. It brought in a slew of new fans, launching Game of Thrones back onto the New York Times bestseller list. Renewed for a second season, which will be based on the second book, Game of Thrones was a miniseries done right.

However, the HBO miniseries lacks the pzazz of a feature film. Because of its premium channel status, the audience is limited to those who get HBO (and to those who know their way around torrents).  Thats why Ron Howard’s upcoming adaptation of Stephen King’s Dark Tower holds so much promise. Originally billed as a 3 part film, 3 part miniseries, the funding for the project fell through with Universal. However, HBO is still on board, and Howard is actively recruiting studios. This type of convergence represents the next step in book series adaptation. Originally airing as a miniseries, The Dark Tower has the potential, much like Game of Thrones, to not only attract its sizable fan base, but a slew of new fans who may not have read the books. Original readers of the book, coupled with new fans as a result of the miniseries, can fill enough theater seats to justify an expensive, blockbuster production, which draws even more fans to the franchise. Although the market for Dark Tower fans will saturate at some point, the potential to reach that saturation point across both film and television marks an important step in the adaptation of mini series.

-Mike Lang

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