This is an assignment I completed in my first year of university for a unit based on Adaptation
Whilst some adaptations remain faithful to their source text, others can be adapted to fit a new cultural context and be made under different production circumstances. This results in a film with little fidelity to its source text, such as Felix Gary Gray’s 2003 adaptation of Peter Collinson’s The Italian Job(1969). The film has been stated as being more of a “homage” to the original film due to their independent narratives and differing settings and characters. In order to conduct a comparison of the two films, it is necessary to look at the different eras in which the films were made and how this affects the themes portrayed in the films, as well as considering whether this is a result of the different cultural contexts. It is also essential to study the different settings used with reference to the Americanisation theory, the actors chosen and similarities between their characters as well as advances in technology changing the production circumstances and how these are seen in the mise-en-scene. In terms of the films being made in different cultural contexts it is also interesting to look at the advances in special effects whilst comparing similar scenes. Theories used by Tzvetan Todorov,Hutcheon and also audience theories debating changes in uses and gratifications will also be discussed further in this essay.
Having been made nearly 35 years apart, the differences between Collinson’s and Gray’s The Italian Job are very prominent. Whilst Collinson’s film focused on 1960s Britain, Gray’s adaptation looked at 21st century America, in particular life in Los Angeles. The original focuses on British gangsters, a highly discussed matter which was sensationalised greatly during the 1960s. A great amount of press coverage was dedicated to The Kray twins at this time and there was much interest and intrigue in the criminal underworld during this era. Gangsters of the era were glamorised, with some practically given a celebrity status. This is shown in the original film, as the main character, Charlie Croker, is portrayed in a very positive way and is shown living a very glamorous, and almost carefree, lifestyle. This is further emphasised by the lack of violent scenes featured in the 1969 original, for example, when Charlie is getting beaten up by the crime boss, Mr Bridger’s guards, no acts of violence are actually shown, merely a silhouette. Despite the two films’ differences, the emphasis on living a glamorous lifestyle is also prominent in Gray’s remake, with much emphasis being placed on the importance of wealth and the happiness it supposedly brings. This is greatly debated when Steve, played by Edward Norton, betrays his friends by stealing their gold, and uses it to buy the luxuries they all wanted, not knowing what he wanted himself. Despite this, more violence is shown in the 2003 adaptation, suggesting audiences have been desensitised due to the increasing amount of violence that is now shown in the media.
The themes of the two films are very different; the 21st century adaptation focuses heavily on the theme of cynicism, with great emphasis placed on revenge and betrayal rather than the patriotic style of the original. This can be identified through the heavily used quote “I trust everyone. It’s the devil inside them I don’t trust”. However, both films follow Tzvetan Todorov’s (1960) disequilibrium theory to some extent. Todorov claimed that in order to keep an audience captivated, the narrative of a film must contain disequilibrium where the balance and calm of the characters is disrupted and that the ending should restore the initial equilibrium or create a new one. Whilst this happens very clearly in the later adaption, with the characters getting revenge but then falling in love, the original 1969 film ends with a cliff-hanger, which is still a disequilibrium. It is arguable that it is not suitable to end a contemporary film with a cliff-hanger due to audiences now being seen as more passive consumers, however, it could also be said that the change in the storyline used in the adaptation is due to audiences becoming more active and not just wanting to see a repeat of the original.
In contrast to the cynical theme presented, there is a very patriotic feel to Collinson’s 1969 film as public morale was very high in the era in which it was made. Scenes with the character of Mr Bridger portray this feeling through the atmosphere created in the mise-en-scene. The non-diegetic music is often the British national anthem in his scenes and he is very well spoken, appealing to the “English gentleman” stereotype which is often highly regarded globally, making the film appeal to a larger audience. Mr Bridger’s clothing is also what is seen as typically British, wearing a sophisticated suit, and he also proclaims his love for the Queen by singing the national anthem. Furthermore, there is also a very positive representation of the younger characters, through their characteristics and the mise-en-scene, despite the fact the younger generation were said to dominate society in the “swinging sixties”. This creates a very positive representation of the British and links into the great public morale that was dominant in the 1960s.
The patriotic theme presented in the Collinson’s original The Italian Job could not be repeated in the 2003 adaptation due to a change in setting. Whilst both films have an Italian element, with part of the action shown in Italy, the adaptation is primarily based in the USA, indisputably showing Americanisation has taken place. Some may argue this is because the 2003 version of The Italian Jobwas aimed to be a “Hollywood blockbuster” and had more privileges in terms of production circumstances. White (1986) argued that:
“American films offered heroes and heroines who were less hidebound by class than their technically inferior British counterparts” (p.166)
This again, suggests that the common “English gentleman” is more suited to romantic-comedies for a global audience because they are seen as unrealistic to be con-artists in the way that Gray wanted the main characters of his version of ‘The Italian Job’ to be, showing that an updating in terms of national stereotypes has occurred.
The differing cultural contexts can furthermore be identified by the actors chosen to portray the main characters. In Peter Collinson’s 1969 film, all of the main characters are played by British actors. Michael Caine was a very popular British actor in this era, having already achieved success in Alfie(1966). However, in the 2003 adaptation, there is only one British actor, Jason Statham, with the majority of the rest of the cast being American. However, it is also noticeable that South African Charize Theron is also in the film; however, she portrays an American. This again supports the suggestion that Americanisation has taken place in worldwide cinema. McGuigan (1992) claims that this could be due to cultural populism and the idea people like to “look into” other cultures. He claims that it has become an increasingly influential perspective on the study of popular culture due to the success and intrigue it causes among other global audiences. It is clear that these cast changes in terms of nationality have been made because of the change in setting in the adaptation. This could be due to Gray wanting the adaptation to be viewed as a separate text to the source text, as there are very few similarities between the two films.
Whilst the actors portraying the characters are very different, some links can be made between some of the characters. Freddie in the 1969 film, played by Tony Beckley, and Rob in the adaptation are both represented as the “handsome” males, however, the cultural differences of the respective eras are obvious when comparing the films. This is because in the original Freddie is seen as a “dandy” with his flamboyant attitudes and sexual exploits fitting to the “swinging sixties”, whereas Rob is seen as very masculine, with his muscled physique and love of cars, in the more recent adaptation. This proves that modern notions of gender roles and masculinity have changed in the context of the last forty years, what was once viewed as masculine is not acceptable in the twenty-first century. Despite similarities between some of the different characters, one of the characters who features in both films, Mr Bridger, is given a very different representation. Whilst Bridger is seen to be a figure of gang authority and not very trusting in the 1969 film, the 2003 adaptation presents him as a father-figure to the main character. Again, suggesting that fidelity to the original text was not seen as important during the making of the film as it was intended to be a standalone text.
Advances in technology between the years of production in both films are very prominent, mainly through the differences in the mise-en-scene. Whilst the 1969 film looks rather grainy, in contrast the adaptation has great use of special effects. This is mainly due to the latter having a larger budget as there is greater money in the film industry now. Technological advances can also be identified through the use of camera techniques used. The 1969 film relies heavily on fixed camera angles, as seen in the opening scenes showing the car driving on the cliff, whereas the 2003 films has a much more varied range of cinematography and more use of stunts and special effects. This is further seen in the iconic chase scenes. Collinson’s version of The Italian Job features stunts that were seen as outstanding in the era in which it was made but Gray’s adaptation featured new elements, such as stunts with boats and helicopters, which obviously would have been unachievable with the technology in the 1960s. These new action scenes reflect the new technological features available in the 21st century.
Furthermore, these new advancements in technology are reflected in the diegesis within Gray’s 2003 film, mainly through Seth Green’s character, Lyle. Gray used a key part of the original film in his adaptation, whereby the con-artists change traffic lights to “create the largest traffic jam in history”. In the original, tapes are used and the thieves have to manually change the tapes themselves, however, in the remake Lyle is a computer hacker and simply uses the internet to hack into the database controlling the traffic lights. Further advancements are seen in the tools used to commit crimes. Whilst the later adaptation has features such as lasers and timed bombs, the original has a heavy usage of explosives and blueprint plans, more manual tools.
When comparing scenes which are distinctly similar in the films it is clear that the key iconography remains in the adaptation in order to satisfy fans of the pre-existing text. An example of this is the inclusion of the infamous Mini Cooper racing during the final heist. However, this again expands on the idea of special effects with more daring and risky stunts included in the 2003 adaptation, as well as further features added in post-production. As key iconography of the original Italian Job it seems necessary for the Mini Cooper racing to be included in the adaptation and it is thought if it was to be cut from the adaptation there would be little link between the two films. However, some may argue that re-creating infamous scenes such as this scene lacks originality on the film-makers part. Linda Hutcheon (2006) argues that “adaptation is now the norm, not the exception” (p. 177) and that audiences are now used to adaptations and in a sense buy in to the commodity that is created from the re-creation of these infamous scenes. This proves that despite differing cultural contexts, audiences who are aware of the original are satisfied with the familiarity of iconic scenes.
The introduction of more comedic elements, such as funny characters, in film is noticeable in the 2003 adaptation of The Italian Job. It is thought this is due to changes in audience readings of films and new expectations of the media. Stephen Littlejohn (2007) argues this is because audiences have now become more passive and watch films for escapism, making it necessary for content to be enjoyable and entertaining as people prefer this to more distressing themes. Furthermore theorists of the uses and gratifications perspective would argue that some of the more minor characters of the adaptation, such as Handsome Rob, Left Ear and Lyle, have been added to create the light-hearted humour and more comedic elements of the theme as. Although these characters are involved in the main plotline, some of their scenes, like the dream sequence in which they imagine what they would do with their share of the stolen money are greatly over-exaggerated. For example, Lyle talks about speakers that could “blow a girls clothes off” and Handsome Rob pictures himself in a major police chase. This type of comedy would have been seen as unsuitable in the 1969 version of the film due to the cultural context in which it was made.
In terms of the endings of the film, the differences between the results of the final heist can furthermore be related to the development of audiences. Whilst the source text results in a cliff-hanger, the adaptation results in good triumphing over bad, suggesting audiences may now feel the need for a definitive ending in film. In ‘A Structural Study of Myth’ (1955), Levi-Strauss argues that binary opposites are now dominant in every media text as audiences like the idea of one subject dominating over another. In the case of ‘The Italian Job’ (1969), it is featured in ways such as revenge against justice and heroes against villains. The more recent adaptation (2003) also contains the idea of males against females, with Charlize Theron’s character, Stella, seeking revenge for her father’s murder. This could suggest that the messages featured in Hollywood films can at times, be quite immoral.
To conclude, it is obvious that, due to the differences in cultural contexts and production circumstances between Collinson’s original The Italian Job (1969) and the 2003 remake, both films can, in a way, be read as entirely separate texts. However, by keeping the key iconography in the adaptation, it still makes reference to the original text and would therefore be pleasing to its fans. By keeping this iconography, fans of the 1969 original film would be interested and with the new features such as special effects, popular actors and intriguing plot lines, new, younger audiences would also be intrigued. With such emphasis on overall profit in the movie industry it is essential to tap into all different types of audiences and by featuring these new aspects as well as features from the original Gray successfully does this. Furthermore, by moving the cultural setting, there will be further interest by Americans, which, as the main source of capital in the film industry, is important for marketing and achieving greater viewing figures. This also links to the changes in theme, as contexts which were popular in the 1960s would not be understood by the younger target audience of the adaptation. It is fair to say that in comparison, the different cultural contexts and production circumstances is the main reason the films can stand as individual texts because as culture is moving forward and adapting, so is cinema and the expectations of the audience. Therefore, when comparing texts for different cultural contexts and production circumstances it can be said that with adaptation, new audiences can be reached through additions to an already popular text.
– ‘Alfie’, 1966. Film. Directed by Lewis Gilbert. UK: Sheldrake Films.
– ‘The Italian Job’, 1969. Film. Directed by Peter Collinson. UK: Oakhurst Productions.
– ‘The Italian Job’, 2003. Film. Directed by F. Gary Gray. USA: Paramount Pictures.
– LEVI-STRAUSS, C., 1955.The Structural Study of Myth. Journal of American Folklore. 78. 428-444
– DELDEN, R et a, 2005. A Readers Guide To Contemporary Literary. London: Pearson Education.
– HUTCHEON, L, 2006. A Theory of Adaptation. London: Routledge.
– LITTLEJOHN, S, 2007. Theories of Human Communication. 9th Edition. London: Wadsworth Publishing.
– MCGUIGAN, J, 1992. Cultural Populism. USA: Routledge.
– STRINATI, D, 2004. An Introduction To Theories of Popular Culture. 2nd Edition. London: Routledge.