So, later today, all the people who have been anxiously waiting for (and blogging about) the moment they could watch the movie adaptation of Alan Moore’s Watchmen, can finally go and see it.
I’m not sure that I will join them but then I have this thing about movie adaptations of comic books – or graphic novels, if you like. I think most of them are crap. More about that in a moment. First though, a quote from a Guardian blog, that discusses the widely differing opinions of movie critics when it comes to this latest effort. It’s a good piece, with lots of useful links. Here’s one of the blog writer’s conclusions:
“And therein lies the problem: comic books are silly. They follow a form that is highly fixed and familiar to the reader, just as a James Bond spy thriller does. Moore’s genius was to subvert that form into something rich and panoramic, creating a new form of fiction built on a scrapbook formula – Watchmen features extracts from journals, superhero memoirs and newspaper articles to gradually fill the reader in on its protagonists’ back-stories – arranged around a thrilling central storyline. Ultimately, however, if you don’t like superheroes, and are not all that interested in comic-book tropes, then it won’t be all that exciting for you to see them being twisted into new forms and represented on screen.”
I have to say that I disagree with the general notion that all comic books are silly. A lot of them are. Some camp this up, like the old Spiderman comics did; some go all serious, like the later Batman comics (which make them look even sillier, in a way.) Still, it is a nonsense to say that the whole genre is silly.
Of course, this is where all these tiresome discussions about ‘comic’ versus ‘graphic novel’ start. So, the Ivory Tower crowd would say that comics (like Superman) are silly, while graphic novels (like Maus) are art.
I don’t buy that argument, really – and I never did. It’s the same reductionist & restrictive shit that has been going on for ages in the world of literature. In short: Genres bad, mainstream good. Which ignores the fact that there are many great genre books and many a tedious high literature one. As one writer once said, “There are no good or bad topics, there is just good or bad writing.”
Same for the whole comic book/graphic novel issue. There are some incredibly boring & high-minded pieces of crap, flying the banner of art. I’m not going to name names here but there are graphic novel adaptations of Kafka’s books and stories that make me weep with both rage and boredom…
… as there are cartoons that are so intelligent, grown-up and subtle that Anton Chekhov would have loved to collaborate with their creators. (Here, Belgian comic book artist André Franquin springs to mind, with his “Idées Noires” - “Black Thoughts” - series.)
(”Anyone who chooses to kill another person…”)
Anyway, I don’t think all comics are silly but I do agree with the writer of the blog, that there are many people who are just not that into comics and these good folks will probably not enjoy watching (or even bother to check out) this latest comic book adaptation.
Me, I do like comics, cartoons, graphic novels or however you want to market and/or define the stuff – but I will probably not go to the movie either and, if I do, I will, quite likely, not enjoy the experience all that much.
Which has nothing to do with the quality of Alan Moore’s original work. I’m not one of those who think that ‘Watchmen’ is the best thing to come along since the invention of oral sex (or even the best thing Moore ever did) but I do like it well enough.
It’s just that I generally dislike these movie adaptations. I love the old Spiderman comics but I loathe each and every movie version of it. Part of that is that the movie makers almost never get the tone right. (The only exception to that rule I can think of are the darker Batman movies but I would argue that those movies work because they are more interested in the more general & archetypical human emotions – good and evil, madness and sanity, chaos and order – than that they care about the comic book aspects.)
Still, it’s not so much – or just – the tone that bothers me. It’s more that these movies simply never look right to me. Despite all the special effects and computer generated images, cartoon heroes just look bad (or worse: silly) when you put a flesh and blood actor in their outfits. That Spiderman costume in the movies looked just like any cheap Halloween outfit, worn by an oversized kid.
Plus, a well-drawn comic book is a piece of art, in which each drawing can be enjoyed, as part of the story but also as a unique picture. Our minds weave the story, using these panels as its solid base. What we don’t do is that old kid’s game, where we draw crude and slightly changing figures in the corner of a number of pages and then flip rapidly through these pages, creating the illusion that these images are moving.
That is, of course, how movies are made: As a series of stills which follow each other so rapidly that an illusion of movement and consistency is created. It’s a wonderful concept but in my mind it just doesn’t work for comics adaptations with flesh and blood actors. To me, such movies will always feel like someone is flipping through the pages of a comic book, instead of enjoying the comic book experience.
Anyway, that’s just me, of course. If you want, and have time, I would be curious to hear your thoughts on this whole comic book adaptation business.
Before I go, here’s my personal top three of loathsome comic book movies. I’d love to hear all of yours’ too, of course.
So, in no particular order: