Comic Book Adaptations

jackie-chan
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Comic Book Adaptations

One of the most critically lauded works in a field still shorted mainstream respect, Allan Moore's 1986-87 short run series "Watchmen" sees its big-screen adaptation glow to life in early March. Moore has a history of prickly behavior when it comes to Hollywood's take on his work, but there appears to be a groundswell of support among fans and the general public alike for director Zach Snyder's interpretation. The rush of comic book and graphic novel adaptations has accelerated over the last few years as studios look for projects with built-in brand recognition, and it shows no sign of slowing. With this ToM, we'll look at a few adaptations and consider what they may have done right and wrong. There are many we'll miss (some with good reason, others without) - as always, you're encouraged to agree / disagree / digress below…

Blueberry - Jan Kounen's ultra-trippy, surrealist western reps an instance of my coming to a comic after first seeing its adaptation (English translations of the series proved somewhat difficult to find) – I understood Kounen took liberties, but was unprepared for just how far afield he wound up in bringing the story of laconic hero Mike Blueberry to the big screen. Kounen's prior experience of producing an immersive documentary on Shamanism clearly weighed like a ton of bricks on his creative process here; the film deals more with Vincent Cassel's Blueberry and his ties to Native American spirituality than the books' traditional, gritty horse operas. Had I been a fan of the series prior to seeing the film, Blueberry might have rubbed me the wrong way – as it stands I find it a highly personal, gorgeous piece of pop art that far out-strips its source material's artistic underpinnings.

The Hulk - making its second appearance in one of my ToM entries. A big fan of the Hulk growing up – from his comic book origin to Lou Ferrigno's TV incarnation – I was excited to see the results a group so esoteric as the one assembled for 2003's adaptation would yield; turned out I was one of an apparent handful satisfied with the end results. Universal should've known better than to turn the reigns of what they surely expected to be a franchise starter over to as idiosyncratic a filmmaker as Ang Lee – the finished product, a series of clashing love stories (mother / father, father / son, father / daughter, man / woman) woven around action sequences staged in an almost belligerently atypical style, alienated fans of the pulpier source material and failed to connect with audiences the way Lee's wuxia offering Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had a few years prior. Hulk stands as another instance of a filmmaker taking a comic book's core story and running with it to places unknown and unexpected.

Road to Perdition - Sam Mendes' adaptation of Max Allan Collins' somewhat obscure graphic novel – itself a gloss on the notoriously over-the-top "Lone Wolf and Cub" manga series – manages to follow the spirit of the original work while toning down its more outré elements. Mendes' film works thanks in large part to many of the changes he and writer David Self (with Collins' advisement and consent) put in place while adapting the work – pruning away lines of dialog and acts of violence save those most meaning and inserting Jude Law's malicious tabloid photographer. In terms of style, Mendes and cinematographer Conrad Hall Jr. copy artist Richard Piers Rayner shot-for-panel in multiple instances, cloaking everything in shade and fog. The weighty sub-texts of the film – not always handled in subtle fashion but appreciable nonetheless – are carried over from Collins' work as well.

The Dark Knight - at this point I don't think it's possible to pull such a list together without including a mention of Christopher Nolan's maddeningly successful second go-round with the Caped Crusader. Smartly touching on thematic material normally verboten in big-budget popcorn fare, the film takes hold of the base characteristics of Bruce Wayne / Batman and layers on surprising amounts of emotional complexity. Melding elements from the comic's introduction of the Joker and Two-Face's origin story, the script (by Nolan with regular collaborators Jonathan Nolan and David Goyer) clips along at a fairly breathless pace while never shorting the difficult ideas it attempts to wrangle. The Batman character serves as an example of how Hollywood can get it very right and very wrong with the same comic over time.

Batman and Robin - here's that "very wrong" mentioned above. Hollywood is strange – a property can be re-worked so many times it can become difficult to remember why it mattered in the first place. Burton and Nolan's two respective films hit the Bat-nail on the Bat-head in terms of substance and style. Joel Schumacher's two offerings – especially the latter – do not. With Batman and Robin Schumacher seemed to be looking more at previous distillations of the material (the campy '60s TV series, the cartoons, the toys) than the material itself, and we all know what happens when you make a copy of copy – the quality suffers. Boy, did it ever suffer. Ridiculous in all the wrong extremes, the film managed to derail the careers of most involved for varying periods of time (Schumacher still hasn't really righted his ship, save perhaps for Tigerland).

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ChevalierAguilaFebruary 18, 2009 5:50 AM

A TOM for manga adaptations would be nice, and a one quite difficult that is D:

Rhythm-XFebruary 18, 2009 5:55 AM

DANGER: DIABOLIK.

TheHappyKnifeFebruary 18, 2009 10:30 AM

I would add Dellamore Dellamorte or Cemetary Man to the list, but I'm biased when it comes to zombies.

terebi-kunFebruary 18, 2009 10:43 AM

I don't mean to sound fanboyish, but the second X-Men movie is a competent, entertaining adaptation, that managed to include the core elements of the premise and hint at elements of the comic-books without alienating casual viewers. My favourite adaptation so far.

IEDPartyFebruary 18, 2009 9:28 PM

" I don’t mean to sound fanboyish, but the second X-Men movie is a competent, entertaining adaptation... "

And millions of universes better than that Ang Lee stupidity.

Ard VijnFebruary 18, 2009 11:27 PM

The Ang Lee flick would have been sooooo much better if the last 10 minutes would have been a bit more coherent.

I remember leaving the cinema with my friends, and the whole group was baffled. A nice movie to discuss afterwards, certainly, and there are choices made with music and cinematography which are brilliant. The whole section where Hulk walks through the desert is glorious, and (I guess) exactly what both the hardcore fans and the general public wanted.
The bit in the city just before the ending was rather weak compared to what came before but would have been acceptable as an ending, all the way to Nolte going to prison.

But then the REAL ending happened, and things got incomprehensible. And THAT was the feeling with which the audience left the cinema. There was the fight, the bomb, the inability to tell exactly what happened to who, let alone why...
Can anyone explain how Bruce survived?
Or how he could still retain his powers?
And his father not?

As a narrative it failed just as bad as "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within".

I think without those last ten minutes, everybody would have been jumping for joy, and a straight sequel would have been launched. This weird after-ending might have been added to the DVD, to great acclaim of everyone.

mahkiavelliFebruary 18, 2009 11:57 PM

You know, I get that the mainstream audiences didn't like Ang Lee's "Hulk", but I thought it was brilliant. Ang nailed what no other adaptation has done to date - integrating the actual "look" of comic panels into the overall aesthetic of the film. "Hulk" is the most creatively edited film I've ever seen, and all narrative problems aside, I thought it was a solid enough action flick too. Now if you could take the style and finesse of this film and meld it with the much better directed action sequences from LeTerrier's Hulk, you would have had a modern classic.

Simon AbramsFebruary 19, 2009 12:10 AM

Actually, makhiavelli, that's not true. CREEPSHOW did that before Lee's HULK did. I think mimiccing the "look" of panels is tacky personally--why not accept that film is a different medium from comics and allow it to what it does and let comics do what they do.

Kurt HalfyardFebruary 19, 2009 1:15 AM

No love for Modest Blaise? Was that the first 'big budget' comic book flick? From art-director Joseph Losey no less.

Ard VijnFebruary 19, 2009 1:44 AM

I love Ang Lee's Hulk too,warts and all. It's ALMOST perfect.

As for who did the "comic book paneling" first, that can be found in "Danger: Diabolik" (1969) as well.

I'm not sure if it really counts but I thought the batman TV-show did some of it too.

terebi-kunFebruary 19, 2009 2:56 AM

I forgot about Ghost World!! I saw the movie before I'd read the comic, and I thought it worked as a movie in itself. Reading the comic I see that it's a good adaptation too.

Art School Confidential? No thanks.

Al YoungFebruary 19, 2009 3:58 AM

I really despise Ang Lee's portrayal of the Hulk. The Hulk looks more like a overgrown version of Shrek than a piss off, take-no-bull-shit wreaking machine. Most of the time, the Hulk have this dumbfounded constipated look on his face. Wheres the constant vicious ferocity and rage? There were a few grunts and instances of outburst but I felt the Hulk was too tame. I didn't realize until after watching the featurette on the DVD that Ang Lee put himself in the motion capture suit to play the Hulk. Big mistake. To be frank, I felt his demeanor and the way he move was awfully unconvincing. Louis Leterrier's portrayal of the Hulk is infinity better than Ang. He hit the nail on the head on how the Hulk is suppose act and move.

I concur that The Crow with Brandon Lee is a great comic adaption.

yynderjohnFebruary 19, 2009 10:52 AM

What about the Original Lone Wolf and Cub movies? Those are amazing adaptations of specific stories within the manga series. The first 3 movies are way better than anything on the list.