Charlie Kaufman became a hero to screenwriters when he was able to get Being John Malkovich onto the screen. The story was just pure weirdness about people able to get inside the head of the actor. The story was proof that you can write an original story and make it entertaining versus the formulaic safe movies the studios had in production. Even more heroic was director Spike Jonze didn’t botch up the film by making it his movie. Jonez and Kaufman collaborated and didn’t fight over who was the real genius here. That’s a screenwriter’s dream in an industry where they’re often treated as more disposable than the wrappers on the craft service candy bars. So it was a thrill to find out the duo were hooking up again on an adaptation of Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief that was going to be called Adaptation. This was enough weirdness to get me to buy a ticket on opening weekend.
The film starts off where Spike and Kaufman’s previous collaboration was ending. There’s Kaufman (Nicholas Cage) on the set of Being John Malkovich with dozens of people made up to look like Malkovich and the real one at the center of attention. But Kaufman looks worried and this worry continues to a dinner meeting with a studio executive (Tilda Swinton). A nervous Charlie fakes like he has read the book and agrees to the adaptation gig. But as he heads home, he discovers that there’s no real narrative to base a script upon. When he gets home his twin brother Donald (Nicholas Cage) announces that he’s going to become a screenwriter too. He’s enrolled in a seminar hosted by Robert McKee (Brian Cox). This leads Donald to beginning a script about a cop pursuing a serial killer with the twist that it’s the same person with a split personality. Charlie isn’t impressed and gets more frustrating because Donald is getting to be a success story as Charlie is stuck with a project that isn’t making sense. He does have scenes involving Orlean (Meryle Streep) going down to Florida to learn more from John Laroche (Chris Cooper) about his stealing of ghost orchids from a state park. But after the initial meeting between the New Yorker writer and the swamp denizen, not much happens. Charlie gets so frustrated at developing the script that he writes himself onto the page. He gets so desperate he takes Robert McKee’s course. He can’t crack the script until he finds the true story hidden from the pages of Orlean’s book.
Adaptation arrived with decent box office and plenty of awards including an Oscar for Cooper. Even Donald Kaufman got an Oscar nomination for the script although Charlie hasn’t worked with him since this movie. But the film hasn’t quite achieved the cult following as Being John Malkovich. The film is as original as their original collaboration and equally as entertaining with the bizarre twists. Even with Nicholas Cage playing his twin, it doesn’t get the same meme references. Rarely do you flip around on the remote and find Adaptation on a random cable channel. Do they even show this at film schools to give a sense of the life of a screenwriter? Making Adaptation part of the Shout Select line should raise its profile back up. Adaptation is a masterpiece of self-reflexive filmmaking that brilliantly blends truth with an extra heavy dose of fiction.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The 1080p transfer lets you marvel at the difference between the hair on Charlie and Donald. The audio is DTS 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround. This comes in hand when experiencing the swamp. There’s also 2.0 DTS-HD MA Stereo if you only have speakers at the front of your living room. The movie is subtitled.
Original Featurette (2:03) has a part where the crew looks for gator-less swamps to film the movie. Spike and crew are up to their waist in production.
Image Gallery (1:51) includes poster and color press photos.
Theatrical Trailer (2:33) focuses on Charlie Kaufman turning a book without a story into a script that absorbs his life.
Shout! Factory present Adaptation. Directed by: Spike Jonze. Screenplay by: Charlie Kaufman & Donald Kaufman. Starring: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Cara Seymour, Brian Cox, Tilda Swinton, Ron Livingston, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Judy Greer and Doug Jones. Rated: R. Running Time: 115 minutes. Released: October 20, 2020.