Sometimes I wish X-Men had never hit big at the box office back in 2000. Because like everything popular becoming common Hollywood has been mining out comic books as a viable genre for adaption to the big screen, to the extent that there’s almost nothing left to utilise and other, more original concepts are being ignored for the sake of making money.
And we all know Hollywood adores its money.
It makes good business sense, of course it does; you have an idea that’s already published, already has a solid fan base which is the closest thing to a guarantee the movie business can get, and has the necessary merchandising tie-ins and spin offs already established. So all a Hollywood production company would have to do would be get the rights to the character and voila! Even more money for the shareholders.
But you can have too much of a good thing.
And when the movie or television adaption fails? It’s almost doubly painful because not only have you got to deal with a weak visual product but it produces something emotional that I can only describe as retrograde spoilage.
Case in point: The Northern Lights / Golden Compass.
Ouch! BOMB of the highest order.
But anyone who read the books and knew the storyline could see the roadblocks a mile away. The questioning and eventual dismissal of organised religion, culminating in a war against heaven in the final book, was so toned down to a euphemistic level in the movie that it was barely there at all. The casting of Nicole Kidman comes in second, although I think it’s more a personal one than a common opinion. By making the character of Mrs Coulter blonde skewed many critics, whether this was intentional or not will never be known, to the extent that they failed to engage with, what was at best a weak script and a reliance on CGI that felt soulless. Only Sam Elliot escaped with his reputation intact and he is a walking cowboy stereotype at the best of times, the rest was severe sanitising of the little points that made the book work so well, finally reducing a book that was edgy, and scary in places to little more than a B-movie romp only with a budget of millions and a video-game tie in that similarly sank like an anvil.
Thank heavens they didn’t follow through and adapt the remaining two books.
But why did Hollywood green light the film in the first place? That’s the issue that confuses me. I guess no one in the production studio actually read the novel. Which, if it’s true it’s a pretty big design flaw, one that was akin to taking over $110 million (the shortfall the movie failed to make back) dousing it in petrol and setting it alight. Impressive, but the ramifications are mind-blowing. Just ask the KLF.
[For those unfamiliar, the KLF were a UK club band who followed through on their symbolic declaration of burning a million pounds sometime in the nineties. The band split up soon after]
These days for every good adaption of original comic/cartoon/graphic novel there are at least three or four duds.
Example: Iron Man – Good.
Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Captain America – Duds.
Green Lantern – colossal DUD!!!!
They’re okay movies, they make millions at the box office but the critiques find them laughable. And while the reviews are strong now, let’s see how many of them are spoken about with reverence in 20 years time. Look at the Star Wars prequels? Does anyone think they were anything but damming examples of their creator’s hubris?
When it comes to the Marvel and DC classic characters these movies are real wasted opportunities. The characters in question have been around for a long time, have long, three-dimensional back stories which could lead to really emotional movies, only to be hamstrung by companies that want a 12A rating in order to pull in as much money as possible and saddle them with the usual “Great power/great responsibility” lesson alongside generic sanitised love interests that offer little in the way of screen-friendly distraction from the main plot.
X-Men: Days of Future Past has been heralded a success, and from someone who read the original seventies comic strip when they were growing up I can safely feel that Bryan Singer did a really great job combining the old material with the studio requirements. It was almost like the studio was behind Singer in condemning Brett Ratner’s contribution almost a decade ago.
But now we have to wait for Age of Apocalypse in 2016. AOA (as it’s known) is another classic X-men tale from the nineties. But in order for the movie to remain faithful to the material it would have to be a cert 15 at least.
Why? The opening panel of the story has a time-displaced Bishop climbing a mountain of human corpses on the outskirts of Seattle. Cloth around the nose, walking across the ruins of a shattered America, it would be easy for the studio to allude to such horror but unlike DOFP where the detention camps were not a key point in the story, I find it hard to see how Singer can skirt the gruesome points of a story that goes very dark indeed in places.
Examples: Apocalypse’s son is called Holocaust. The character had to have its named changed in the late nineties due to the Anti-Defamation League complaining.
Beast is evil and is undertaking research of Mengele proportions on both human and mutants in his gene pens, a name for prison that is as gruesome as it sounds.
Most X-Men, Avengers, and Fantastic Four characters die over the course of the plot, most in quite tragic ways (something I was happy DOFP didn’t shy away from when the Sentinels attack in the movie by the way) and in the end the humans in exile nuke America from every angle and the remaining surviving X-men watch the mushroom clouds rise in both relief and satisfaction as they embrace the white-hot blast wave of 5000 kilotons.
And roll credits!!!!!
Not exactly a Hollywood ending is it?
But nevertheless it is the ending of the story on paper.
When Watchmen was released in 2009 was tagged cert 18 (at least in the UK) this meant that the kids couldn’t see it. It also meant the movie was free to be more faithful to the comic, though that did make for a film almost three hours long with some real slow points in places. But anyone who’d read the comic beforehand couldn’t be unhappy with the adaptation. Everyone except the accountants at Warner Bros because this film didn’t break even either.
Like with movies over the last couple of years things on television have now become even more serious. With The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad knocking it out of the park thanks to FOX and the former now approaching its fifth season the networks have turned their eager eyes back to similar edgy, non-mainstream fare in an attempt to entice viewers.
Constantine, the adaptation of Hellblazer, premiers on NBC later this year. with same hero as the one played by Keanu Reeves back in 2005 it at least sticks closer to the source material by having the character be a blonde cockney rather than a black haired, terminally ill, surfer. Though, in hindsight Reeves wasn’t that bad in the role. Well, I like the movie.
Bitten, the werewolf saga by Kelley Armstrong has finished its first run on the Canadian Syfy channel. Mixed reviews but it is coming back for a second season, maybe. I was really worried about this one because I grew up with Armstrong’s Otherworld. And her literary style is one that I steal from on a regular basis (I have no shame). Strong female character, the idea of lycanthropy being more painful than the examples Twilight had the temerity to show it had such passionate depth I was worried that television just wouldn’t be able to do the source material justice, especially when one remembers the constraining set of tropes television, even science fiction television, often has to contend with.
This is the crux of this blog.
Now with Preacher being made into a TV show a la The Walking Dead I am justifiably worried. If mainstream America can’t handle The Golden Compass how can they make a TV show about the offspring of a demon and an angel that finds its way to earth and possess a man giving him the powers akin to the word of G-d?
Oh yeah, the Bible Belt’s gonna love this one.
I also hear rumours about a Sandman film in production. Neil Gaiman’s story of Dream, Death and the rest of the Endless would need so much freedom of expression to make the transition from paper to screen worth the money. This is why certain projects have been stuck in “development hell” for years, either the technology hasn’t been there or the studios aren’t willing to take the risk on something so controversial. But now with the zombies pulling in the greenbacks from all over the world the corporations are succumbing to their greed. And I don’t want some of my favourite stories from the last 15 years sullied by people who refuse to honour the source material.
This makes me sound very rigid and uncompromising I know, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not. When transplanting from one medium to another things have to be altered and compromises made, I’m all for that, it’s just that unless these compromises result in something as-good-or-better than what was removed, what’s the point? You know the source material is good; otherwise you wouldn’t be making the show/movie in the first place. To leave it hollowed out helps no one. The diehards feel betrayed that their beloved show’s been butchered and the newbies don’t see much to like anyway because the end result’s so weak.
Case in point with the Hunger Games saga. I don’t know how Suzanne Collins is going to write the last two movies. The book Mockinjay deals with serious topics such as drug addiction, PTSD, depression, torture and the shattering effects of it, guilt and death (both in combat and outside it) to the degree that personally I wouldn’t know what to remove and what to keep and still please the diehards, the newbies and most important of all, the censors? Whatever the final product some people are going to be disappointed.
And that’s my point. Is that right?
I know you don’t have to watch, but it’s human nature to be curious. Unfortunately if the results prove less than impressive you can’t “un-watch” something these days.
Aside from the above I am also a fan of Justin Cronin. The Passage, the first of a trilogy about vampires in a dystopian future is worth a read as a standalone novel. But, sadly, I hear rumours that its rights have been purchased by New Line. Which does mean a movie is in the works as I write this. And that makes me really morose as I can’t believe that the end result will be close to the universe I have in my head when I read about virals and the end of the world, and Amy and Lish and all the others.
So far I’ve given examples everyone knows. But what about the movies that aren’t being made because of the hunger for all this adaption?
Heck, this is why the Academy had to create a “Best Adapted Screenplay” Oscar, to run alongside the traditional “Best Screenplay”.
The last original movie that I saw at the cinema, that had the same buzz as an adaptation was possibly Inception. Wracking my brain as I write this I can’t think of another one that had the same level of interest, and that was four years ago.
Movies such as Sucker Punch (Zach Snyder’s overstuffed labour of love) would’ve done better if the comic equivalent of the movie had been released first. It wouldn’t have improved the film’s quality in any way but it would have created more of a fanbase to cushion the blow if the movie failed to produce at the box office. Which it did, unfortunately.
So behold this is the situation we find ourselves in these days. One of fear.
Everyone’s afraid of trying anything new for the fear of it failing when it comes to the money. So they work on sequels, adaptations, re-boots so at least they have a safety harness around them in case the results don’t go their way.
Hollywood has lost its guts. Ever since X-Men it’s become frightened to push the envelope and would rather push loss-leaders than reach for the stars and make “balls to the wall” movies like the Spielbergs, Scorseses, and Coppolas of the seventies.
And I think that is a rather sad state of affairs all around.