Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The History of Comic Book Adaptations to Film: Part Eleven (2007)



            The biggest comic book movie of 2007 was easily Spider-Man 3. It was a monster at the box office, making a whopping $890 million on a $258 million budget. Spider-Man 3 made the most money out of any of the films in the trilogy and was the third highest grossing film of 2007.
The main cast and director Sam Raimi all came back for the third installment. James Franco returned to continue his transformation into the villainous New Goblin. The Vulture was also supposed to be a bad guy; Ben Kingsley was in talks to play him. However, they decided to go with other villains. One of the antagonists was Sandman, played by Thomas Haden Church.

The producers also insisted that the character of Venom be included. Raimi did not want to put him in the film, and expressed distaste for the character. However, Avi Arad demanded that he appear. In the final film, he is played Topher Grace of That 70s Show fame.
Another character forced in by the producers was Gwen Stacy. In the comics, she is Peter Parker’s first girlfriend, who ends up tragically dying. She was played by Bryce Dallas Howard.

Spider-Man 3 made a boatload of money but it didn’t match that success with critics and fans. The reviews were much more mixed than the previous two, leading to a 63% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Many comic book and Spider-Man fans were unhappy with film. It’s usually considered the worst of the Raimi trilogy. One of the major perceived faults was the filmmakers trying to cram too much into one movie.
There were three major villains: Sandman, Venom, and Harry Osborn. Gwen Stacy was also included with no clear significance to the plot or reason for being there. Fans were also upset that Uncle Ben’s death was retconned to have been committed by the Sandman. Roger Ebert summed it up by stating, “Spider-Man 3 is, in short, a mess. Too many villains, too many pale plot strands, too many romantic misunderstandings, too many conversations…”

At the time, a fourth film with the same cast and crew was planned. In 2009 rumors surfaced that John Malkovich would play the Vulture and Anne Hathaway would portray Felicia Hardy AKA the Black Cat. Raimi also reportedly considered utilizing the villain The Lizard, who ended up being the antagonist in the 2012 reboot.
In 2010, it was announced that Spider-Man 4 was cancelled due to Sam Raimi leaving. 2012 would see the release of the reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man, starring Andrew Garfield as the title character.


            The second most successful Marvel film of 2007 was Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. While nowhere near Spider-Man 3’s status, it did make a respectable $289 million worldwide. This was more than double the $130 million budget. The main cast all returned as did director Tim Story.

            The big news this time around was the addition of Marvel heavyweights the Silver Surfer and Galactus. Galactus and the Silver Surfer first appeared in The Fantastic Four #48 in 1966.
The Silver Surfer saved his homeworld (called Zenn-La) from being destroyed by Galactus, the devourer of planets, by agreeing to be his herald. Both of them have been crucial parts of the Marvel Universe.
For this film, the filmmakers were originally unsure if the Silver Surfer would speak. When it was decided that he would, the voice was done by Laurence Fishburne. The motion capture was performed by Doug Jones.

            The Silver Surfer is very similar to his appearance in the comics, but the same can’t be said for poor Galactus. Galactus is always portrayed as an enormous man in a crazy looking purple outfit. However, in this film he’s just a huge cloud. As you can imagine, this upset a lot of comic fans.
             Their basic story is the same, Galactus devours worlds and the Silver Surfer is his herald and used to be named Norrin Radd. I can understand why they didn't want to do a comic perfect translation of Galactus' iconic and distinctive design as that could be difficult to pull off, but they didn't even try to come close.
             Instead, they went with an extremely generic looking dark cloud. And of course in the comics Galactus can speak and have conversations as opposed to the silent film version. The Silver Surfer looks kind of cool, but the effects aren't very convincing. One major deviation from the comics is that he gets his power from the board.

            As with many comic book films, the reviews were negative. Rise of the Silver Surfer has a poor rating of 37% on Rotten Tomatoes.      

           Right off the bat, the film lets you know how terrible it's going to be with an incredibly cringey scene of Reed Richards dancing in a club using his stretch powers. The plot is formulaic and leads to an unexciting conclusion.

             Despite being awful, this version is much more entertaining and enjoyable than the dreary, miserable 2015 reboot.



            We come to yet another Marvel character being adapted for cinemas; this time it’s Ghost Rider, created in 1972. The film languished in development hell beginning in 2000, when Johnny Depp was attached to star. Stephen Norrington, director of Blade, was at one point supposed to direct. The job eventually went to Mark Steven Johnson, who made another Marvel film, Daredevil.

            The star was Nicolas Cage as the titular Ghost Rider. The supporting cast included Eva Mendes, Sam Elliott, Wes Bentley as Blackheart, and Peter Fonda as Mephistopheles.

            While the character of Ghost Rider is pretty cool, sadly the film is quite horrible. It’s very cheesy and has dreadful performances, and Nicolas Cage is over the top as usual. Critics weren’t kind to it and it has a pathetic 26% on Rotten Tomatoes.
            On the other hand, the film was a financial success, making slightly more than double its budget.


            Perhaps spurred on by the success of Sin City, another Frank Miller work was chosen to be adapted into a film.

300 is a 1998 graphic novel inspired by the events of the Battle of Thermopylae. The historic battle took place during the second Persian invasion of Greece in 480 B.C. The comic, like its filmed version, took some liberties with history.
The graphic novel did have some pretty amazing art, and the film wisely sticks close to the visual style Miller laid out. Overall, the film is quite faithful to the comic. Miller served as an executive producer and consultant for the movie. The film succeeds as much as it does mostly because of how true it stays to the source material.

The director was Zack Snyder, whose only previous film was the 2004 remake Dawn of the Dead. He went on to direct more comic films, including the Alan Moore adaptation Watchmen and the Superman reboot Man of Steel. He’s also scheduled to direct the upcoming Batman/Superman crossover.

300 starred Gerard Butler as King Leonidas in his breakout role. Lena Headey appeared as Queen Gorgo, his wife. She went on to play Cersei Lannister in HBO’s Game of Thrones
This was also the first film for Michael Fassbender, who was later the younger version of Magneto.

300 was the subject of a bit of controversy. Part of this stemmed from its historical inaccuracy. However, the movie is presented as a story being told by one of the characters. There are also several outlandish moments that show that historical accuracy wasn’t the filmmakers’ main concern.
Furthermore, many criticized the political and social viewpoints there were apparently promoted by the film, some even going as far as to label it “fascist”. There were also some who took issue with the portrayal of Persians, viewing it as racist. Many Iranians were particularly upset and the Iranian government even made official statements denouncing it.

Despite the controversy, 300 was a success. It had a budget of $65 million, making a huge profit with its $456 million worldwide gross. It even got decent reviews, earning a 60% on Rotten Tomatoes.
There was a sequel released in 2014, titled 300: Rise of an Empire. Snyder did not direct but stayed on as a producer and writer. In my opinion, 300 is Zack Snyder's best film and it's leagues ahead of his later efforts like Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman. This is also the best comic book adaptation of the year.


            TMNT is the fourth film based on the Ninja Turtles comic series, but the first to be done in animation. It was originally announced in 2000 with John Woo as the director, but he went on to other things.
The job ended up going to Kevin Munroe, who also wrote the script. This was Munroe’s first feature, and he would go on to make Dylan Dog: Dead of Night and Ratchet and Clank.

            There were many well-known names in the voice cast. Sarah Michelle Gellar was the voice of April O’Neill and Chris Evans portrayed Casey Jones. Laurence Fishburne provided the narration, while Zhang Ziyi and Patrick Stewart also had supporting roles.

The voices for the Turtles themselves did not belong to celebrities. Leonardo was portrayed by James Arnold Taylor who played Obi-Wan in the Clone Wars miniseries as well as The Clone Wars, the 3-D series.
TMNT cost $34 million to make. It opened number one and eventually raked in $95 million globally. The reviews were mainly negative and it only has a 34% on Rotten Tomatoes.

            This film is a bit underwhelming, but it's significantly less embarrassing than the Michael Bay produced abominations to follow.


            30 Days of Night was based on a horror comic written by Steve Niles and illustrated by Ben Templesmith. The series actually began as a film pitch. When this wasn’t successful, it was turned into a comic book.
            The adaptation was directed by David Slade. Slade has an interesting resume. His first feature was the disturbing indie film Hard Candy.
            He also directed the music video for “Donkey Rhubarb” by IDM artist Aphex Twin. His third flick was The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, released in 2010. Since then, he has mainly worked in TV, directing episodes of Breaking Bad and Hannibal.

            The cast for this film included Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Ben Foster, and Danny Huston. It was, for the most part, a mediocre, forgettable effort.
30 Days of Night still made a decent showing at the box office. It only cost $30 million to make and made $75 million worldwide. Critics gave it middling reviews, earning the film a score of 53 on Metacritic and 51% on Rotten Tomatoes.

In 2010, a straight to video sequel was released, titled 30 Days of Night: Dark Days.


            Requiem was a sequel to the earlier Alien vs. Predator film. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much better than the first. The directors this go-around were The Brothers Strause, who went on to make the equally lackluster Skyline.
            Many fans complained that the first motion picture was rated PG-13. The Alien and Predator films in their respective franchises had always been rated R. This one corrected that perceived mistake, but it didn’t really help.

            The movie wasn’t screened for critics in advance. Once they got a chance to view it however, the reviews were mainly negative, as it has a paltry 12% on Rotten Tomatoes. Nigel Floyd of Time Out called the dialogue “unspeakable” and Ty Burr of the Boston Globe said the acting “stinks.”
            Another major flaw that many critics and fans pointed out is the awful lighting. Mark Olsen of the Los Angeles Times noted, “The action is rendered with such disconcertingly low light levels… that it can be a strain to simply see what is occurring on-screen.”
            I can't help but agree with the critics; there's not much to like about this film.

            Alien vs. Predator: Requiem was financially successful, however. It was decently low budget at only $40 million and made over three times that amount at the worldwide box office at $128 million.

            There has not been another film in the Alien vs. Predator franchise to date.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The History of Comic Book Adaptations to Film: Part Ten (2006)



            After the Superman film franchise reached its nadir in the late 1980s, several attempts were made to get Clark Kent back on the big screen. None of them reached fruition until 2006 with Superman Returns.
            To direct, Warner Brothers went with Bryan Singer. Singer had directed the first two films in the X-Men series, and was supposed to direct the third. He chose to work on this film instead.
Singer wanted an unknown to play Superman, so he went with Brandon Routh. Kevin Spacey was picked for the villainous Lex Luthor and Kate Bosworth portrayed Lois Lane. Spacey had worked with Singer previously on The Usual Suspects, a role which won Spacey the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Singer also reused another actor he had worked with, James Marsden. Marsden portrayed Cyclops in all three X-Men films, and in Superman Returns, he plays Lois Lane’s husband.

            This film is an interesting example of continuity. It was the fifth film in the series, but it only took into consideration the events of the first two movies, while ignoring the last two. This is probably due to the poor quality of the third and fourth installments in the Superman franchise.
However, this led to some timeline issues. The first two films were set in the late 1970s/early 1980s. This film is supposed to take place only a few years after Superman II, and yet it clearly takes place in the 2000s.
Another odd thing about this film is the use of stock footage. Singer used previously filmed footage of the deceased Marlon Brando so that he could once again portray Jor-El, Superman’s real father.

Superman Returns was somewhat of a disappointment. It failed to reach $400 million worldwide on a budget of about $200 million. 
This was a decent outing, but not the massive hit WB was hoping for. However, it does have a respectable score of 75% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Part of the problem is this film spent too much time looking back to the previous Superman films. It was meant mainly as an homage, but it doesn’t work on its own. 
It rehashed too many elements of what came before. For example, we once again see Lex Luthor attempt a land scheme.
A lack of action was also a perceived problem with the film. Many fans claimed that Superman never punches anyone. This issue was fixed, perhaps to the point of overcompensation, in the 2013 reboot Man of Steel.

Fans also complained about aspects of the story that didn’t jive with their perception of Superman. For example, Superman leaves Earth for five years, even though he has a son.
 Many said that Clark Kent shouldn’t be a “deadbeat dad”, although to be fair, he wasn’t aware that he had a child until he came back. Superman also tries to hit on Lois while she is married, and uses his X-ray vision to spy on her.
The film was misguided from the beginning. The original Superman series was successful in a vastly different era. Modern audiences flock to superhero films starring the snarky Spiderman or the gritty X-Men, not a boy scout like Superman is often portrayed. 
The successful comic films also usually have a charismatic lead like Hugh Jackman. In comparison, Brandon Routh has little screen presence.

Despite the lukewarm reception to Superman Returns, a sequel was at one point planned. It was supposed to come out in the summer of 2009. However, these plans were scrapped and WB went with a reboot instead.


            Singer leaving the X-Men franchise left FOX frantically searching for a replacement director for X-Men: The Last Stand. They chose Brett Ratner, best known for making Rush Hour, Rush Hour 2, and Red Dragon. This was a poor choice.
            Joss Whedon, who has written X-Men comics, was given the chance to direct. However, he turned it down because he was working on a Wonder Woman film that never materialized. A Joss Whedon X-Men film really could have been something special.
            Matthew Vaughn was also extended the offer, but he declined as well. He would eventually direct X-Men: First Class in 2011.
            Singer’s script had a few major differences from the final version. One is that Emma Frost was going to be included as a villain. She isn’t in the final film, but ended up in X-Men: First Class. Gambit, a very popular X-Man, was also going to appear. He was finally shown on screen in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
            Financially speaking, the third X-Men was a success. In fact, it was the highest grossing in the series (and still is to this day). Globally, it made $459 million, while costing $210 million to make.
`           However, the film didn’t do as well with critics and X-Men fans. The Metacritic score is 58 and the RT rating is a similar 57%.
            Many comic book fans were not happy with the film for various reasons. Cyclops, who had been shoved to the side throughout the first two movies, was unceremoniously killed off after about 5 minutes of screen time. They also killed off another crucial character, Professor X.
            The Last Stand just tried to do too much. There were too many plot lines and characters jammed in. The Phoenix saga and the cure storyline could have both carried a movie on their own. Angel is a cool character, but he really didn’t have much relevance to the overall plot. The same goes for Juggernaut.


            Art School Confidential was the second film based on the work of Daniel Clowes, following the underrated Ghost World. Terry Zwigoff was the director of both films. This one starred Max Minghella, John Malkovich, Anjelica Houston, and Jim Broadbent.

            The movie wasn’t much of a success. It only made $3.3 million at the box office, less than its $5 million budget. The reviews weren’t good either. It has a 36% on Rotten Tomatoes and 54 out of 100 on Metacritic.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The History of Comic Book Adaptations to Film: Part Nine (2005)



                Comic book films changed completely in 2005 with Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.  A Batman film had not been released since the disaster that was Batman and Robin in 1997. That film was criticized for being way too campy and not taking itself seriously, so Warner Brothers went in the complete opposite direction.
                The film was a complete reboot and had nothing do with any previous Batman films. As the title indicates, they went back to the beginning. This was actually the first time the Batman origin had been shown on film.

                Christopher Nolan had only directed three features before Batman Begins. The second, Memento was what put him on the map. His next film, Insomnia, starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams, was warmly received as well. When WB hired him to direct the new Batman film, it showed fans that they were taking the character seriously again.
                Batman Begins also had a great cast. Starring as Batman was Christian Bale, who at the time was mainly known for his lead roles in American Psycho and Equilibrium. He was also just coming off a brilliant performance in The Machinist. Many other well respected actors were cast, such as Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, and Morgan Freeman.
                And in an inspired bit of casting, one of the best actors ever, Gary Oldman was chosen to portray Commissioner Gordon. One thing Batman Begins definitely did right was finally making Gordon into a badass like he is in the comics. The previous film incarnations of Gordon were way off.

                Many other things also set this film apart from previous installments. For example, Batman Begins was the first Batman movie to be shot in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. It was also the first Batman film to be filmed in a real city, as opposed to on a set. In this one, Gotham actually looks like a real city.
                Many fans didn’t care for this though and thought that Gotham lost its character. While previous films had looked to the Batman of the 40s through the 70s, this incarnation was more inspired by the Batman of the 1980s and 1990s. For instance, the Tumbler in this film bears a resemblance to the Batmobile from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.
                Furthermore, no villains from previous Batman films were used. This film was the first live action appearance of both Ra’s Al Ghul and the Scarecrow. Neither of them were among the most famous Batman villains.

                There were a few somewhat major changes from the comics. In the source material, Batman is a genius detective and has lots of scientific knowledge. In this film, the science know-how is supplied by Lucius Fox and Batman doesn’t really do too much detective work. The villains are changed as well. In the comics, Jonathan Crane (Scarecrow) is a skinny old professor, but here he appears to be in his late 20s. Furthermore, in the comics Ra’s Al Ghul was immortal and was never Bruce Wayne’s teacher.
                Batman Begins was very successful. It opened number one at the box office and made over $374 million worldwide. It got great reviews as well and even got an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography. It was only the third comic book movie to be nominated in that category at the time.
                Batman Begins and its sequels have been somewhat polarizing. Most either love them or hate them. I seem to be one of the few that falls in the middle. I think they are solid films, but not the masterpieces some make them out to be.
                These films have some flaws to be sure. One problem I have with them is the clunky expository dialogue that permeates the scripts. I’m also not a huge fan of how serious and “realistic” Nolan’s take is. I put realistic in quotes, because while the films lack supernatural elements, they still aren’t something that would probably happen in real life.


                My favorite comic adaptation of 2005 was Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City. It’s based on the comic by legendary writer Frank Miller. He gained fame writing for Daredevil in the 1980s and became a superstar in 1986 due to the massive success of his graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns. Miller began publishing Sin City in 1991.
                Miller was reluctant at first to give up the film rights to Sin City. He had become wary of the Hollywood system with his work on the Robocop franchise. However, he was soon convinced that Robert Rodriguez had something unique in mind.
                Sin City is the most faithful adaptation made of a graphic novel to this day. The comics were used as script and storyboard. There was no credited screenwriter; the credits only state that the film is “based on graphic novels by Frank Miller.” Furthermore, Rodriguez wanted Frank Miller to be co-director.
                This move required Rodriguez to resign from the DGA, as they do not allow more than one director on a film unless it is animated or the two directors are related. This rule seems somewhat silly but was designed to stop producers from attempting to get a co-director credit when they don’t deserve it. In an another rare move, Rodriguez had none other than Quentin Tarantino come in as a “Guest Director” for only one scene. I know of no other film that has really done this.

                Sin City has a unique visual style that hasn’t really been seen before or since, in large part due to the color grading. Most of the film is in high contrast black and white. However, there are a few splashes of color here and there, such as a pair of blue eyes or the skin of the Yellow Bastard. To achieve this look, the film was shot on a digital backlot, one of the first to be made this way.
                It’s such a successful film partly because Frank Miller’s comics have a very cinematic feel to them. This is in contrast to someone like Alan Moore, who hates the film adaptations of his work. Moore’s work is often inextricably linked to comics as a medium.
                Sin City made over $158 million on a reported budget of only $40 million.

                In V for Vendetta, we have yet another adaptation of the work of Alan Moore. Already upset by the previous versions of his graphic novels, he refused to see V for Vendetta after reading the script.
                The Wachowski Brothers, who wrote and produced the film, called Moore during pre-production. He said he didn’t want to have anything to do with it. This didn’t stop Joel Silver, who was also producing, from claiming that Moore was "very excited about what Larry had to say and Larry sent the script…” Obviously this did not sit well with Alan.
                Moore demanded that Silver publicly recant his statements. He even went as far as to quit DC Comics over it. Moore also wanted his name removed from the credits of the V for Vendetta film and any future reprints of Moore’s work by DC. His name wasn’t in the film, but DC refused to take his name off reprints.

                The film was somewhat faithful to the graphic novel, but there were key differences. For example, Evey (played by Natalie Portman) was originally a 15 year old prostitute. The work was changed thematically as well. Moore’s novel was about fascism versus anarchism, but the film was more about liberal versus conservative. The Wachowskis modernized it and added digs at the Bush administration.
                Despite the controversy, the film was a success.  It opened number one and eventually made $132 million at the B.O.($54 mil budget) The reviews were mostly positive as well.
                 It was directed by James McTeigue, who had worked with the Wachowskis as an assistant director on the Matrix trilogy. This was his first film as a director; he went on to direct the terrible 2009 film Ninja Assassin. It starred the aforementioned Portman, Matrix  trilogy veteran Hugo Weaving as V, and John Hurt.

Upcoming Films Preview: September 13th

The Films of September 13th

Runtime: 105 Minutes

As the title suggests, this the sequel to the 2011 horror film Insidious. Both films were directed by James Wan and written by Leigh Whannell. So far Wan has mainly worked in the horror genre. His big break was the 2004 film Saw, which has spawned six sequels to this point. He also directed the sleeper hit The Conjuring, which was released this summer. That film made almost $260 million and only cost $20 mil. Wan is going to direct the seventh film in the Fast and Furious franchise, which is coming out in 2014.
The first Insidious got decent reviews and was popular with the general audience. It had an even smaller budget than The Conjuring at only $1.5 million, but still raked in almost $100 million at the box office. The stars from the first film, Patrick Wilson (Watchmen, The Conjuring) and Rose Byrne (X-Men: First Class) returned for the sequel.
            No reviews have been published yet. Insidious: Chapter 2 is rated PG-13.


            The Family is the upcoming release from director Luc Besson. His best films include Leon: The Professional and The Fifth Element. Martin Scorsese is the executive producer. It’s based on a novel named Malavita by Tonino Benacquista.
This film stars Robert DeNiro as a mob boss who has to go into the witness protection program. His wife is played by Michelle Pfeiffer, and Tommy Lee Jones is a CIA agent. The Family was originally going to come out in October, but the date got pushed up. It has been given an R rating by the MPAA.

Running Time: 121 Minutes

            The most interesting looking film to come out this weekend is the newest effort from director Billy Bob Thornton, who also stars in the picture. Thornton directed the powerful 1996 drama Sling Blade, but hasn’t directed a film since Daddy and Them in 2001. There are several other big names in the cast, including Robert Duvall, John Hurt, Kevin Bacon, and Robert Patrick.
            Thornton, Bacon, and Patrick play World War Two veterans living in Alabama in the late 1960s. Duvall plays their father, who was in World War One. They deal with the cultural differences between them and a London family that recently moved to their town.
Jayne Mansfield’s Car has a rating of 38% on Rotten Tomatoes as of September 9th. However, the site only has 8 reviews so far. Linda Holmes of NPR gave it a mostly negative review, calling it “self-conscious”, “slow”, and “unsatisfying.” In another negative review for Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney said the movie is “Thematically diffuse, tonally inconsistent and blighted by an inauthentic feel…”

Running Time: 98 Minutes

            Wadjda is notable for being the first film ever shot entirely in Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, it’s also the first feature film made by a female Saudi filmmaker (Haifaa Al-Mansour). Given the lack of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, this is quite an accomplishment.
            According to early reviews, the film has somewhat of a feminist slant and focuses on the lives of an 11 year old girl named Wadjda and her mother. The mother is trying to convince her husband not to take a second wife. Wadjd has been getting excellent reviews so far. All 24 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are positive, giving it a 100% as of September 9th.