Stanley Kubrick was a master at adapting literary works for the big screen, transforming them into unique pieces by imparting his own pioneering artistic vision. While some of these adaptations like A Clockwork Orange were hailed by the original writers, The Shining failed to garner positive comments from Stephen King who hated it with all his heart.
According to Kubrick, adapting a screenplay was a much more objective process than writing an original work because it was easier to identify what worked and what didn’t. Instead of developing a personal attachment to the written material, Kubrick preferred the more “logical” option of writing screenplays which he compared to breaking codes.
Kubrick’s adaptations are universally celebrated because of their impeccable ability to rise above the literary nature of the source materials in order to fulfil the true potential of the cinematic medium. One of the finest examples of this is Kubrick’s 1964 comedic masterpiece Dr. Strangelove which completely changed the tone of the original work.
Based on a thriller novel called Red Alert by Peter George, Dr. Strangelove is probably the most hilariously surreal deconstruction of the military-industrial complex which exposes its hypocrisies and insecurities in a beautifully dark way. However, when Kubrick started the project, he had wanted to make a very serious take on the dangers of nuclear warfare.
Instead, Kubrick soon realised that the satirical potential of such an adaptation was far greater than any film which approached such a grotesque topic with a serious voice. While writing the script, he kept dismissing ideas because they seemed absurd to him and he feared that people would laugh but the filmmaker eventually came to the conclusion that the discarded ideas had the most truth in them.
In an interview, Kubrick commented on this interesting development in his approach, stating: “It occurred to me that I was approaching the project in the wrong way. The only way to tell the story was as a black comedy or, better, a nightmare comedy, where the things you laugh at most are really the heart of the paradoxical postures that make a nuclear war possible.”
The director added that Dr. Strangelove’s brand of humour is so special because it is generated from the act of contradictions. Presenting mundane human actions within the nightmarish framework of an apocalyptic situation that can wipe out the entirety of humanity, Dr. Strangelove says more through its unforgettably surreal images than it could ever say through a serious thesis.