George RR Martin slams Hollywood screenwriters for making adaptations worse

Game of Thrones creator George RR Martin has complained that most film and television adaptations are worse than their source material and slammed Hollywood screenwriters for their approach to developing adaptations.

Martin took to his blog to discuss how he felt about adaptations by referencing a 2022 panel he spoke at with Sandman creator Neil Gaiman about how Hollywood screenwriters didn’t respect the source and rarely made adaptations better.

“That was all back in 2022, but very little has changed since then. If anything, things have gotten worse,” he wrote.

“Everywhere you look, there are more screenwriters and producers eager to take great stories and ‘make them their own.’ It does not seem to matter whether the source material was written by Stan Lee, Charles Dickens, Ian Fleming, Roald Dahl, Ursula K Le Guin, JRR Tolkien, Mark Twain, Raymond Chandler, Jane Austen or…well, anyone.

“No matter how major a writer it is, no matter how great the book, there always seems to be someone on hand who thinks he can do better, eager to take the story and ‘improve’ on it. ‘The book is the book, the film is the film,’ they will tell you, as if they were saying something profound. Then they make the story their own.

“They never make it better, though. Nine hundred ninety-nine times out of a thousand, they make it worse.

Martin is no stranger to having his work adapted. Game of Thrones, adapted by David Benioff and D B Weiss, ran for eight seasons, including a widely panned final season.

House of the Dragon, which is based on Martin’s Fire & Blood and covers the history of the Targaryen family, is currently running with its second season due on 16 June.

Emma D’Arcy as Rhaenyra Targaryen and Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen in ‘House of the Dragon’ (HBO)
Emma D’Arcy as Rhaenyra Targaryen and Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen in ‘House of the Dragon’ (HBO)

In the 2022 conversation, Martin questioned: “How faithful do you have to be? Some people don’t feel that they have to be faithful at all. There’s this phrase that goes around, ‘I’m going to make it my own.’ I hate that phrase. And I think Neil probably hates that phrase, too.”

“I do,” Gaiman said.

“I spent 30 years watching people make ‘Sandman’ their own. And some of those people hadn’t even read Sandman to make it their own, they’d just flipped through a few comics or something.”

Martin, however, did say the recent FX adaptation of James Clavell’s novel Shōgun was “superb” and praised the restraint the screenwriters showed when developing the show.

Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne and Anna Sawai as Toda Mariko in ‘Shōgun' (Katie Yu/FX)
Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne and Anna Sawai as Toda Mariko in ‘Shōgun' (Katie Yu/FX)

“Once in a while, though, we do get a really good adaptation of a really good book, and when that happens , it deserves applause,” Martin said.

“Must confess, I was dubious when I first heard they were making another version of the Clavell novel. It has been a long time, a long long LONG time, but I read the book when it first came out in the late 70s and was mightily impressed.

“And the 1980 miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain as the Anjin was a landmark of long form television, right up with ‘Roots’; why do it over again, when that version was so good?

“I am glad they did, though. The new Shogun is superb… I think the author would have been pleased. Both old and new screenwriters did honor to the source material, and gave us terrific adaptations, resisting the impulse to ‘make it their own.’”

Nick Hilton of The Independentgave Shōgun four stars, describing it as a “brave retelling of a complex, intricate tale, drawn from a combination of Japanese history and Clavell’s encyclopaedic interest in the country”.