Dec 1, 2014

Adaptation is Masturbation

Adaptation is Masturbation
Ben Smith

Recently, news hit the interwebs that Dr. Doom in the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot from Fox, will have Doom as a username and not a surname. To the surprise of no one, lots of fans (that most likely haven’t read a Fantastic Four comic in years, if ever) immediately predicted it would be the worst thing ever. (Not only that, but they jumped to conclusions in their own minds that this means he’s working some mundane job as a computer programmer, or he’s a basement dwelling hacker.) It got me to thinking about the nature of comic book adaptations, especially with the ever increasing amount of them on television and in movies.

There are not many things I agree with Jeph Loeb about (representative colors for superheroic storylines aside) but I can appreciate a good bit of wisdom, as he provided during an interview I can no longer locate. Paraphrasing, he basically said that he doesn’t want to see any specific comic book story faithfully adapted to television or film, because he’s already read that story. He wants to see something new. There was a time when I may not have agreed with this, but I definitely do now. Let me explain.

I think we can all agree that the first time we saw Watchmen, most of us sat there and though “this is weird.” (I think we can also all agree that Snyder should have stuck to music videos.) It was weird to see words intended to be read, spoken aloud on the screen. If that was the result of being (relatively) faithful to the source material, than what really is the point of it? If entertainment is about sparking the imagination, or a sense of wonder, in the viewer, what does reciting a story both moviemaker and viewer have already read spark, boredom? It’s bedtime story as major motion picture. Just read Watchmen again instead. Alan Moore > Zack Snyder, I tend to believe.

Not to mention the times that adaptation of famous storylines goes even more wrong, like in the case of X3: X-Men United. I love the Dark Phoenix Saga as much as the next fan, but I don’t want to see it massacred before my very eyes. I’d much rather see a team of moviemakers creating their own story, than eviscerating a beloved one. (Days of Future Past the movie doesn’t have much in common with the comic at all, fans seem to like them both separately just fine.) I think the lesson here is hire talented filmmakers to make these movies, not Snyder or Ratner.

One of the things many people like so much about the Marvel Studios produced movies is how well they’re able to capture the spirit and the essence of the characters they’re adapting. It’s virtually impossible to condense sixty years of comic book stories into any movie, but they can take the best of what works, and ignore what doesn’t. Many would think they are the most faithful to the comics, and maybe that’s true by default, but they’re not as slavish as some fans like to cite whenever Fox Studios comes around to ruin their day. Quickly, off the top of my head; Jane Foster is a nurse, there is no Cosmic Cube in WWII, no Donald Blake, Howard Stark is not that old, Jarvis is a butler, and everything about Nick Fury. The point isn’t strict adherence to comic book minutiae, it’s, well, it’s making an entertaining movie.

That might sound pretty obvious, but making a highly entertaining movie or show, can make up for a lot of supposed comic book inaccuracies. My main quibble with the Dark Knight Rises isn’t all the stupid things it got wrong, it’s that it bored the hell out of me. If I’m bored, I’m going to start picking apart at all the seams of your crappy quilt. Similarly, Amazing Spider-Man 2 had both the most accurate representation of Spider-Man on film yet, and an interpretation of my all-time favorite comic book story. Yet, while I initially liked it, and maybe I still do, the Blu-Ray of it I bought several months ago still sits on my shelf unwatched. Faithful comic book quirks don’t mean a movie will be entertaining or not, it’s just trivia. Spider-Man can be chucking bunnies at a wood chipper in the next movie, as long as it’s highly entertaining in its own way, I’ll support it.

I think all of you will admit I’m the biggest Guardians of the Galaxy fan there is. I can lay out all the things the movie got wrong about the characters and their histories, but it doesn’t matter, because it was a great movie. I really enjoyed it, and I think that’s entirely because of it being (primarily) James Gunn’s version.

I’ll admit I initially got hung up on the version of the Batman mythos in the new Fox series Gotham. I don’t know if that’s because the early episodes just weren’t that great, or if I was having trouble reconciling this new version with all the versions I already know. Ty Templeton had a great comic about it, essentially saying this isn’t the origin for the Burton Batman or the Nolan Batman, but an entirely different one, and that helped me a little bit. That, and the most recent episodes (starting with the first appearance of Zsasz) have been fantastic. Again, being entertaining helps a lot.

John Constantine seems to be the type of character that fans get really invested in, and have a hard time looking past any changes the new television show makes to the established lexicon. That’s fine, despite what you may think, I’m not trying to tell anyone how to feel. I disagree with it though, which is okay. Some of my favorite people are Hellblazer fans. First, I disagree with it because I think it’s a very good television show. Second, I think a page-by-page adaptation of the comic series would be a lot more boring for them than they realize. Not everything that works in comics, is going to work on a screen. (Bonus, it makes me actually want to read more Hellblazer.)

The point of all this being, don’t get too hung up on Victor Domashev. It’s too early to be fretful just yet. I’m a bigger Dr. Doom fan than you, I think I can safely say that. I’m also confident in saying I don’t think there’s any way comic book Doom is ever going to work in live-action. Among other things, he’s a character who never shows his face, in a medium where actors are paid to show their face. I don’t think the traditional comic book Fantastic Four as a whole will ever be adaptable to live action. Reed is a super-genius, and a much older man capable of attracting a younger, more attractive woman, while also being always distracted and generally the world’s worst husband. That’s a lot for any actor besides George Clooney to pull off.

Lots of things sound stupid the first time you hear about them. After all, nobody liked the sound of organic webs, 6-foot tall Wolverine (even though Wolverine has always been depicted in the comics as tall and handsome, no matter what the Official Handbook might say), Chris Evans as Captain America, Ledger as the Joker, and on and on. You don’t know as much as you might like to think. You especially can’t predict the future. I’ve seen Fox try to do “fairly representative of the comics” Fantastic Four movies, they sucked. I’m ready for a new version. Maybe it won’t suck. Let’s wait and see.

Next time, other things!


Anonymous said...

" Among other things, he’s a character who never shows his face, in a medium where actors are paid to show their face."

Darth Vader.

You're objectively wrong about the rest of that drivel, as well.

Drayakir said...

Wow, could you be any more wrong? Get off your high horse, and see what the people are saying - that you are wrong. Doom as a hacker? Doom, the man who was second-in-line for Sorcerer Supreme, the man who consistently creates technology centuries ahead of the world, the man who has a time machine, the man who can stare down Celestials? Because that's Doom. The idea of Doom as a nerdy computer programmer is moronic, and your opinion is wrong.

Back Issue Ben said...

"Darth Vader"

Prowse was hired to be a body actor, it's not the same thing. Regardless, providing one example doesn't disprove the rule, since you can look to any superhero movie where everyone is maskless at the end. Also, Vader showed his face in Return of the Jedi.

"The idea of Doom as a nerdy computer programmer"

There's absolutely no way any of that sophisticated armor, time machine, or robot doubles required computer programming skills. It's all magic and whimsy.

Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

Your article would have had some validity prior to Iron Man 1. But we live in an era of comic book movies where a talking racoon, a talking duck and a talking tree have all been successfully adapted, AND made lots of money.

You're talking out of your ass.

Anonymous said...

When was wolverine ever tall? hell even in the cartoons he was a manlet

Back Issue Ben said...

"Your article would have had some validity prior to Iron Man 1."

You mean the movie where they found a way to show the actor's face the entire movie...

"But we live in an era of comic book movies where a talking racoon, a talking duck and a talking tree have all been successfully adapted, AND made lots of money."

Yep, and I said that in the column. You should read it.

and Howard the Duck bombed horribly, so according to you, one example means your entire point is invalid. Better luck next time.

"When was wolverine ever tall? hell even in the cartoons he was a manlet"

All the times he was depicted as short, doesn't negate all the times he's been depicted as tall. You seem confused by the lack of absolutes in fiction.

But we live in an era of comic book movies where a talking racoon, a talking duck and a talking tree have all been successfully adapted, AND made lots of money.

Anonymous said...

Wolverine was always a manlet(No matter what you try to say.).

>Bigger doom fan than you.
>Biggest Guardians fan around.
>You don’t know as much as you might like to think.

And you needed the official handbook to tell you wolverine was short?
You don't know shit.

Back Issue Ben said...

Oh anonymous, why so much anger? We've already covered I like Doom more than you, you needn't take differences of opinion so personally. Maybe comics are too stressful for you.

I didn't need the handbook, just had to confirm since he's been drawn tall for the past 25 years (Darick Robertson excluded)

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