What is it that makes for poor screen adaptations of books, in general, and comic books, in particular?
I have watched bits and pieces of some comic book based movies over the last few days, and though this sentiment arose in me, yet the answer wasn’t as immediate. The films that formed a part of this survey were ‘Watchmen’, ‘The Spirit’, ‘The Hulk II’ and ‘The Fantastic Four II’.
The first was good, but missing something. The second was just an aberration of the original into the director’s schema. The third and forth were simply Hollywood money-spinners. But none of them appealed to me and I was left with a feeling that somewhere the original cartoons were several notches higher. Another two such cases are ‘Transformers’ and the soon to arrive ‘GI Joe’. Let me admit, that I am keeping a very flexible line between comics and cartoons, it’s like how movies have a director of photography.
Apart from the plain fact that most movie directors cannot share the writer’s vision of the comic/cartoon (and honestly, book adaptations of movies are as weak) there was another realization that was more critical.
Adaptations of characters that are too ‘unreal’ or ‘cartoony’ are doomed to fail. Ta dah!
Compare what works and what doesn’t – Batman, and the Hulk. Batman has always been rooted in the human world, and the recent movies have gone all out to promote that fact, and have the audiences hooked. But the Hulk is now a total CGI disaster, and that just doesn’t click. Even the Bat’s nemesis the Joker has been given a reality check, with runny makeup instead of para-natural pallor and verdant hues. He’s like some manic-depressive John Dillinger. But the Silver Surfer looks like a shop window mannequin and Galactus seems a joke. And it is not that the CGI was bad, or the make up was poor. Like idioms of one language are often untranslatable into another, such is with the comics/cartoons medium and films.
Another obvious reason, and one that is linked with this, is that the differing reality concepts of the two worlds means that even actors often cannot convincingly portray their roles. So within the first ten minutes of the Watchmen movie you have the Comedian being pound to a pulp, pausing to utter: “It’s a joke. It’s all just a joke.” And in those circumstances, I couldn’t agree more.
But this is fatalistic, is it not. Does this mean that no comic/cartoon can ever be made into a movie? Are the twain never to meet? No, not at all. There are so many examples of movies that have done exceedingly well, not just at the box office but also as faithful adaptations. ‘Spiderman’. ‘Sin City’. ‘300’. ‘X-Men’. But, what makes these click? Honestly, if I knew, I’d be a rich man. But to the best of my knowledge these are movies that reconcile themselves with some notions of reality as we know it, and this in turn makes the portrayal more convincing and acceptable. Somewhere the directors have understood the original, with respect, and have spun a story that uses the powers of both media. Some changes have been made for the better, like the story of Spiderman’s origin in the movie, and of his web slinging ability (the former is made more plausible and the latter less so). But somehow the changes lock into place with little clicking sounds and the machine rolls.
But, one thing’s for damn sure, directors and producers, please go easy on the unnecessary CGI.