Comics and Film- A Bad Cocktail
by, 02-28-2011 at 07:19 AM (1050 Views)
Its odd to think that two mediums that share so much in common, have done so poorly as a combo. I love each dearly, but as history has shown they don't exactly play well together on-screen and I want to talk a bit about why I think that is. It comes down to both having strengths and weaknesses as mediums of storytelling. I'm going to give a couple of well known examples to show you what I mean.
First I think its important to really look at the main people in comics. Usually hero or anti-hero types, the depth of most main characters comes from back story, and not exactly from in the moment exploration of personal life. You never see Batman having a conversation with his accountant, with him asking where all that money that Waynetech R&D gets paid goes. Somebody in the stable of Bruce's life does that. It would create vulnerability in Bruce as a character and humanize him, which is reserved for rare moments of weakness or pain that happen in the story actively. Like when Robin gets beaten to death by the Joker. You glimpse a rare moment of loss in his reserved, concealed inner psyche that tells you more than a 100 pages of day to day filler could. Movies, on the other hand, try to make you associate with the main characters by making them human. Giving you glimpses at the personal life of the character as they live it, which makes them understandable. Unless you are a Billionaire vigilante crime fighter in your spare time, it makes it pretty impossible to relate to, but just about all of the big films try it.
Watchmen, for example is a clear cut case of a film that didn't know how to walk the fine line between trying too hard and not caring enough about the source material. Visually I really like that movie, but story wise, it pisses me off. The comic was written by Alan Moore, which if you're not familiar with his work, was to late 80ies comics what Marilyn Manson was to 90ies music. Blustery, artificially edgy, and in my opinion not exactly living up to the hype. Watchmen, however, is a rare gem of interesting original storytelling, and it works. It deals with a super team of, for the most part normal people who don suits and go fight crime. Just about every super hero archetype is in it, but explaining the story is a article for another day. I'm just going to talk about the ending. In Moore's original work, the comic climaxes with a series of large alien-esque squid things attacking multiple cities on Earth. This leads to a cessation of the growing global nuclear threat as the world chooses to deal with the new threat as opposed to nuking each other. In the film, a single massive explosion takes out most of New York, and is linked to Dr. Manhattan. My problem is that the film cheapens what is supposed to be a moment of supreme understanding. In the comic, hundreds of thousands of people are dying fighting off what they believe to be an alien invasion. It brings the world together and unifies them in a collected effort to stop it. The film, other than some very selective particles that only Dr. Manhattan creates, the explosion could have been tied to anybody. The Ruskies, time travelers, giant space leeches. That feeling of unity is hollow, and derisive. It undermines the entire shebang, and as such the audience felt cheated. The film also had some poor music choices, and suffered at the box office because in many ways it was a film about a group of people who conspired to cover up a massive secret, and one really cool messed up dude with a mask who told it like it was. The video game sucked.
Secondly, I want to examine the Scott Pilgrim Vs The World film. Now, as for sticking to the source material, I really can't fault this one too much. They changed things here and there, but for the most part stayed pretty damn close to the comics. In my opinion, that film failed because it never should have been a film in the first place. I liked it, really. Not a whole lot of people did though, because I fell into the very selective group of movie goers who the material in the film appealed to. Super nerd, no luck with women most of the time, gamer otaku musicians. I know a lot of people who fit that category, but that is maybe, on a good day, 30 people. You give me a movie about a well known super hero and put some super star actor in it and you have box office gold on your hands, like the upcoming Thor film. Kenneth Branagh directs Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins. Is Thor the big name either time? Nope. Doesn't matter, that film will sell like lead lined umbrellas in a burning shit storm. Why? It has mass appeal. Scott Pilgrim, a niche comic/manga from Canada with Michael Sera and the guy who directed those awesome British films Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz? Way to much niche for one film. They even got Brandon Routh, the guy who played Superman to do one of the boyfriends, it still came up Jepardy buzzers. You have to appeal to a wider audience than just gamers and geeks. We are many, and we are fanatic. We are also bit torrent. So, yanno...might want to think about that. The video game sucked and was a blatant rip off of Double Dragon.
Lastly, I want to talk about Superman Returns. A lot has been said about this film, and in many ways I agree with most people. Its kinda slow, doesn't deliver, and really focuses on some of the more mundane aspects of The Man Of Steels life. Thats what makes it a bad comic book story, but as a film, it flourishes. It shows us just enough of the bullet stopping, super flying, badass we all know Kal El to be. It also gave us that earlier mentioned rare glimpse into Kent's return from his trip to space. It humanized Superman just enough to make him conflicted and relatable. Overall, I was bored. I want to see Supe's throw down, and really go toe to toe with some of the clobber knocker baddies. I don't want to watch Lex Luthor kick him down a flight of Kryptonian stairs in a pimp suit. I, however am not the person that film was made for. See, that movie was all about carefully calculated mass appeal. Putting just enough of each detail in to get the desired box office hit. Not to violent, so as to get the families, not too fight centered, so the ladies appreciate it, and not too deep into the source material, so as to not alienate the casual viewer. Which is exactly why hard core fans were alienated. As a group we were least considered because we were the smallest. I can't blame them for it either. If Brian Singer had made it about say, The Life and Death of Superman, and done the whole Doomsday thing, he would have spent the entire damned movie building up to a single moment of revelation that Superman wasn't dead. Instead, he spent the whole two hours doing what Maury Povich could have done in 5 minutes. Oh and Lex Luthor makes a frigging continent out of miracle grow kryptonite. Listen, if you spend an entire series that spans more than fifty years trying to sell me on the fact that a fingernail sized sliver of this crap makes Superman break down like he has the bloody pox, don't act all shocked and amazed when I don't buy him throwing several million tons of the stuff into orbit. I'll suffer the gap of a logical bridge or two, but that was a light speed trip to "I don't give a crap about source material" land. In actuality, I don't really blame Singer, I blame Richard Donner. Go watch An Evening With Kevin Smith, you'll understand. Also, for years in the animated television show, Ed Asner played Perry White, Kent's editor at the Daily Planet. I love Frank Langella, really I do. BUT WOULD IT HAVE FREAKING KILLED YOU TO HAVE GOTTEN ED ASNER. The man only looks like the spitting image of every comic book iteration of Perry White ever drawn. The video game sucked, but all Superman video games suck.
Looking at those three films, its pretty easy to see that comic book movies are a pretty volatile material to try and adapt. You run the risk of tromping into a minefield of story plot holes and flimsy characterizations. Also, you shouldn't make video games of your films, because license title games really blow. This year is going to be a prime example too. My prediction is that Thor might be good, if the trailers are any judge. X Men- First Class, Green Lantern, and Captain America are all going to suck hard. Green Lantern is my baby, that's my series, and damned if Ryan Reynolds isn't cutting it. Who'd have thought with his lengthy history of awesome comic book successes, like the Wolverine movie where he butchered Deadpool, or that Blade III showing where his snide jokes played so well to Blade's I don't give a shit delivery. Both of those movies were huge box office success stories, right? I could be wrong though, time will tell. I know that Nolan's last Batman film is going to be amazing. He could make that movie about the two least known Batman villains and it would still be a smash. The reason? Nolan is Batman. He doesn't write a Batman film, he reads the comics, and very properly adapts it to a cohesive story. In the comic book drinking game of life, Nolan is the guy with 15 shot glasses on his bar top, and no one left standing to count them. He simply picks up his winnings, and goes home to the Batcave and two hookers paid to dress up like Harley and Ivy. That shit is hot yo.