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.


                The Fantastic Four have been one of the most popular comic teams since their creation by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1961. The Marvel heroes weren’t fully realized on film (let’s just ignore the 1994 Roger Corman debacle) until 2005. However, the results weren’t quite what fans were hoping for. The film got mainly negative reviews, but made over $330 million globally, more than 3 times the budget.
                The basic idea is the same. There’s still an Invisible Woman named Sue Storm, her brother Johnny (The Human Torch), a scientific genius named Reed Richards, and of course The Thing. Unfortunately the film doesn’t take its subject matter seriously and often goes for a goofy approach.
                Furthermore, there were some important changes to established canon. In the film, Dr. Doom is a part of the same accident that grants the Fantastic Four their powers.
                The directing duties were given to Tim Story. Previous to this, he had only directed the lackluster films Taxi and Barbershop.  He also directed the sequel, which was released in 2007. The Fantastic Four franchise is currently being rebooted by Fox. Fox also owns the X-Men film rights and there are rumors that the new Fantastic Four film will somehow be connected to the X-Men film universe.
                The new Fantastic Four film will be released in March and 2015 and it will be directed by Josh Trank(Chronicle).

                The character of John Constantine was first introduced by Alan Moore in 1985, as a part of the Swamp Thing comics. He was later the star of the comic series Hellblazer, one of the most successful titles on DC’s Vertigo imprint.
                The film version was originally going to be directed by Tarsem Singh. Singh has shown his visual flair in films such as The Cell, Immortals, and The Fall. However, it was also going to star Nicolas Cage. That could have been pretty awful.

                Constantine ended up being the directorial debut of Francis Lawrence, who would later direct I Am Legend and The Hunger Games. Keanu Reeves starred as the title character, with supporting performances by Rachel Weisz, Tilda Swinton, Djimon Hounsou, and Peter Stormare.
                Quite a few changes were made to the source material. Constantine was an American with dark hair, not a British man with blonde hair. He’s also given new abilities that he didn’t have in the comics.
                Constantine received mixed reviews, but made around $230 million on a $100 million budget. The movie is pretty mediocre and forgettable.
                The character of John Constantine is supposedly going to be featured in the upcoming Justice League Dark film being made by Guillermo del Toro.


                Elektra is easily one of the worst comic book films ever made. The spinoff of the Daredevil film has little going for it.
                The character of Elektra was created by Frank Miller in 1981 for Daredevil #168. She was portrayed by Jennifer Garner the 2003 movie Daredevil and reprised her role for this film. They killed her off in that film, but she was resurrected as often occurs in the comics. The film also featured Terence Stamp, who is known to comic fans as General Zod from Superman II.

                The director was Rob Bowman, who made forgettable films such as Reign of Fire and The X-Files. Elektra ended up being quite a terrible work. It cost $43 million, but only grossed $56 million, making it a huge flop.  It was the lowest grossing Marvel effort since the abomination that was Howard the Duck. Critics weren’t kind to Elektra either, giving it very negative reviews.
                Screenwriter Stu Zicherman (writer/director of A.C.O.D.) even admitted that Elektra was awful. He claimed that it had a much smaller budget than was originally intended and complained about how his first draft was rewritten. He states, “I literally, to this day, am still so embarrassed by that movie. I probably shouldn't say this but I know Jennifer Garner is too. She hired us to write the movie which was pitched as something much more smart and's a blemish.”


                A History of Violence was made by acclaimed director David Cronenberg. He gained fame in the 1980s for films such as Scanners, The Fly, and Videodrome. He became known for utilizing a body horror style where characters often undergo freakish transformations. He also made the awesome adaptation of the equally awesome William S. Burroughs novel Naked Lunch. His recent films include Eastern Promises, A Dangerous Method, and the polarizing Cosmopolis.
                Actors in the film include Viggo Mortensen, Ed Harris, William Hurt, and Maria Bello. Hurt was nominated at the Oscars for Best Supporting Actor. The screenplay was written by Josh Olson, who was also nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Adapted Screenplay.

                Cronenberg adapted a graphic novel that’s also titled A History of Violence and was released in 1997. It was written by John Wagner (creator of Judge Dredd) and illustrated by Vince Locke.

                 The film starts out faithful to the comic, but veers off into new territory. One change is that the mobsters in the graphic novel are Italian, while in the film they are Irish. There is also an added subplot of the son of Viggo Mortensen’s character developing violent tendencies just like his father. The film also strikes a much different tone than the novel.
                A History of Violence is somewhat of a mixed bag. The scenes of violence are very effective. The effects of gunshot wounds are gruesome and well done. However, there are many other parts in the film that are pretty cheesy. It’s almost as if Cronenberg was intentionally making it cheesy to make some kind of point, but I’ll be damned if I know what it is.


                The Crow: Wicked Prayer is yet another crappy straight-to-video sequel to the seminal 1994 film The Crow. This time we have Edward Furlong (Terminator 2) as the main character and acting powerhouses Tara Reid and David Boreanaz in supporting parts.

                It was directed by Lance Mungia, whose only other feature to date is Six-String Samurai. The five reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are all negative, giving it an abysmal score of 0%.


                2005 saw another terrible sequel to a 1994 comic adaptation. This one was Son of the Mask, sequel to the Jim Carrey comedy The Mask.

                The second film was much more family friendly than the first. It starred Jamie Kennedy and Alan Cummings.
                It was pretty much a failure on both critical and commercial levels. It has only a 6% score on Rotten Tomatoes. It also has a 2.1 rating on IMDB as of September 10, 2013, making it number 53 on IMDB’s bottom 100 films. Furthermore, while costing a whopping $84 million to make, it only made $57 million at the box office.

                I haven’t watched this film and have no desire to do so. I would not recommend subjecting yourself to this cinematic abomination. 

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