Monday, May 24, 2004

...It seems to me that graphic novels are already natural proto-films, particularly through the connection with storyboarding!

What a perfect description of what comics can be! As many know, The Matrix (the first one) was completely storyboarded by a comic book artist before it was filmed. I think it shows. And it is the multi-media combination that both film and comics share that make them a natural transition. In many ways, films are moving audio comic books. Both combine visual and narrative elements, but film adds more motion and an audio component. I say more motion, because a well drawn comic conveys motion. Comic book, or strip, movies are nothing new. Just think of Flash Gordon, but good ones are. As Cinemattie noted, quality comic book films are rare. Why is this? Especially granting the closeness of the media?

I think there are many reasons, but one is the "need" by producers (based on a fallacious assumption) that older audiences need a more "sophisticated" or lacking that "action packed" narrative. Look at the Joel Schumacher Batman movies. I think these are miserable, but they are highly meta-cognitive films with regard to the old television series. Not the comic, which is of course their main problem.

Even Burton's Batman suffers. It is stylistically excellent, drawing from German Expressionism and Surrealism to convey Gotham in an eerie light. But Burton doesn't seem to understand the character of Batman. Is he sad? Sure, like Edward Scissorhands, but his underlying anger is almost completely absent. He overrelies on technology and not on his own skill. Problems from a narrative standpoint as well. You can add more narrative tension with a character who relies on skills, at least one that appeals to the audience, than one who relies on gadgets. Think MacGyver. Sure he "made" gadgets, but it was his skill that let him. That's Batman. Where were his "martial arts" skills, etc. Too much style and not enough substance in Burton. But visually this film, at least I think, is amazing. Not to mention what happened when Burton released the Batman "Rogues Gallery" in Batman Returns. The first may have had narrative weakness, but it was addressable, the second has a fractured narrative.

I think that the best superhero movies actually stay true to the comic rather than trying to expand on them to satisfy an audience. Batman tried to be "cool" in both the Burton and Schumacher versions, I think it should have tried to be Batman.

The recent Hulk is an example of what I am talking about. The Hulk, as a character, is about the Rage of the Id. Well that and Nuclear War, but you get the point. Take too long establishing the origin and you alienate the audience. That is what the Hulk did. Everyone I know who watched this film with kids in the audience hated the film and thought it was boring, those who watched it with adults seemed to enjoy it. I am of the second, but I do think it suffered from major problems. In fact, like Burton's Batman I think it is a noble, but failed attempt. Not a miserable experience like Schumacher or Superman 4 Quest for Peace, but still a failure. The Hulk should become the Hulk quickly because the "cold war" background or a "war on terror" background already exists and would be familiar to the audience. Use the audiences conceptions to fill in the gaps. Audiences are smart enough to figure some stuff out.

Spiderman was almost identical to the comic, so if you didn't like the movie you probably don't like Spiderman. Same is true for Superman, okay minus the chain smoking Gloria Steinem--Lois Lane, you are watching Superman and Lex Luthor. Brains versus what most expect is mere brawn. Which is of course Superman's actual power, people assume he's a brute. But that is another rant.
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