Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Comics to Film/TV: The Latest

Back when I first started reading comics, I read with baited breath every rumor about the possibility of a Watchmen or Preacher movie, even hoping that the awful sounding Sandman movie would get off the ground. I'm not sure why, I guess part of it was to bring these stories to more people, and also just curiosity about how to do it. Then, I saw the From Hell movie, absolutely awful, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, even worse, and V For Vendetta, a good movie, but nowhere near the book.

By this point, I'll admit I'm always curious to hear about progress on a project, but I don't particularly want most comics I really like to get made into a movie. It's particularly odd that so many Alan Moore books are getting adapted. What makes Moore so unique is the way that he makes use of all that comics have to offer as a storytelling form. Watchmen has a great story, but even if you tell the whole story, the film still won't have a lot of the impact of the book. Watchmen is often called comics' Citizen Kane, and just like Kane, the form is critical to the success of the work. Nobody would want to read Citizen Kane as a comic, and that's the equivalent of what a Watchmen movie would be.

If this Zach Synder Watchmen movie does happen, I'm sure I'll watch it, but if it doesn't happen, I won't particularly care. I think the great myth of these films is that it gets people to read the books. In some cases, it does, but I think it puts things the wrong way around. People read V For Vendetta the book and compare it to the film, it ceases to be an original work unto itself.

But, a development I am interested to see is the just announced HBO Preacher series. I'm always annoyed when longform comic series are turned into movies, the two forms don't match. Preacher fits perfectly with a TV show aesthetic, and HBO is one of the few places that will have no problem dealing with the violent and sexual content. Plus, the whole joy of the series was the evolving relationship and that'll be easier to work with in this form. I guess I'm more attached to Preacher as a story than as a complete work of art, so I think it could do better in translation. If the casting's right, the show will write itself.

Considering both HBO and Vertigo are in the Time Warner empire, if this show is a success, I wouldn't be surprised to see more Veritgo books turned into TV shows. I think the most obvious candidate is Y: The Last Man, which has a perfectly promotable high concept, if you can't make a good pilot out of it, then you shouldn't be working in television. I think 100 Bullets would also work really well, it's nicely episodic already and would be a new twist on the crime genre.

Of course, for me the big one would be The Invisibles. It's still shocking to me that no Grant Morrison stuff has been adapted for the screen. He's got so many quality projects, you'd think one of them would have stuck. Morrison is still little known outside of comics, despite the fact that he's an equal of Moore. I guess it's because Morrison has less easily accessible one volume works, a lot of his best stuff is longform, and tied up in a lot of continuity. But, perhaps I should be happy that I've been spared adaptations on the level of Moore's work.

If I got the chance, there's two comics I would want to adapt for the screen, and only two. One would be Miracleman. Of all Moore's major works, this one is the least tied into comics form. Totelben's art in the last book is some of the best ever, but that's more due to his pointilistic style than to anything particular in the layouts. The story is also easily accessible, and in today's post Heroes world, would have a very broad appeal. Superhero movies are now so prevalent, I think we're ready for the deconstructionist take, and few works are better at first breaking down, then reimagining the superhero than Miracleman.

I would make books one and two into one movie, ending with the birth of Miracleman's child. Then, do book three as a second movie. The brawl between Miracleman and Kid Miracleman is still unmatched in comics, and it'd be cool to imagine the world described in Olympus. The primary issue I could see there is that the fight would be the height of narrative tension and the worldbuilding might be a bit anticlimactic. So, perhaps it would need to be a trilogy.

The other work I'd be really curious to see a film of is Flex Mentallo. Flex is Morrison's response to the deconstructionist 80s works by Alan Moore, and I think no work does a better job of articulating the essential appeal of superheroes, the wonder and magic inherent within the concept. I love the fractured narrative structure, and it'd be cool to cut between Wallace Sage's suicide attempt and the superhero stuff with Flex. I would shoot Wallace in low end DV, and Flex in 35mm film, then find some kind of median when the two worlds intersect. More than anything, the key would be not trying to increase narrative comprehensibility, but rather use music and editing rhythm to let the viewer just drift through the world.

The two things that film has that comics do not are sound and motion. I enjoyed the Sin City film, but it's ultimately pointless, a film should not use the comic as a storyboard, I'd prefer to see a film use the comic narrative as a jumping off point to create a Wong Kar-Wai style immersive journey through another world. Flex would be perfect for that, with a lot of montage editing and voiceover to link the disparate story strands. I feel like comic book adaptations should use what cinema has to offer, and try to stand as a nice addition to the original work, rather than a replacement.

Ghost World is the best graphic novel adaptation because it captures the soul of the original work and also adds something new. You can read the two side by side and see them each as pieces of a larger universe. I hope that Preacher feels the same way, a growth upon the original and not just a second generation degraded copy.


nicholas danger said...

We3 has been in development for New Line practically since it was finished, I believe as a possible CG feature. I think that's the best chance of a Morrison-related movie as of right now.

Patrick said...

Yeah, and I believe he also has a script in development with Dreamworks called Sleepless Knights. But, with seemingly every property getting snatched up, I'm surprised so little Morrison stuff has been optioned. If We3 does get made, it could be a Moore like situation where one adaptation opens the floodgates.

I think We3 would lend itself well to CG, but I think it'll be difficult to make it clear that this is a film for adults, and different from the other three billion CG animal movies out there. It's possible, but in America, there's still the strong belief that animation is only for kids, and unless they compromise the story by aiming for the PG-13, it's going to be tough to make the film connect with an audience.

Richard said...


-The scene where "Wallace" talks to this cat whilst lying on the floor always struck me as having a Wong Kar-Wai-ish charm.

-I have various thoughts on Flex Mentallo as a film, which I could easily see devolving into a crummy Ralph Bakshi trinket in the wrong hands.

Patrick said...

More than any other Morrison work, Flex does have that Wong Kar-Wai feel of just capturing meaningful moments in time. Though, I think a great movie would be Wong Kar-Wai adapting Kill Your Boyfriend. His mid 90s hyperpop style would fit perfectly with the exploits of the characters in that book.