Monday, July 14, 2008

Scott on fans ruining movies for themselves

[A guest blog by Scott, with a brief response from me at the bottom, followed by a clarification by Scott]

Rolling Stone's Peter Travers just gave The Dark Knight a glowing review (Warning: the review doesn't exactly contain a spoiler but it does contain a hint to a spoiler... so don't say I didn't warn you... and no, I'm not talking about Two-Face because we all figured that one out months ago)

However, one thing that is somewhat apparent is that Travers probably isn't a comic book fan. Like most people, his main Batman references are the old TV show and the other versions of Batman that have appeared on film. Sure, he makes an allusion to Frank Miller--which doesn't necessarily mean he's read Miller's bat-work so much as heard about it. Even if he had read The Dark Knight Returns or Year One. I doubt he has put as much thought into it as we, the comic geek community have, over the last 20 odd years or so. I'm even more doubtful that he knows about Alan Moore's interpretation of the Joker or Morrison's, not to mention the Englehart/Rogers, O'neil Adams or Dini/Timm interpretations of these characters.

So, when the new movie opens, while the average movie-goer will, mostl likely, be raving about Ledger's 'chilling performance' as the Joker, the average comic book fan will just be whining about all the ways he 'got it wrong' (ironic considering that, even within comics, the characters are interpreted differently by different creators and have no 'one true version' so to speak).

My question is this: Do we, as fans/scholars of these texts, have so much invested in these characters that we kind of ruin it for ourselves?

I responded

We don't ruin anything by developing taste. I used to think Lawnmower Man was the best movie ever made, but after you expose yourself to a lot of movies you won't think that anymore. Same goes for versions of Batman.

Scott wrote

What I meant was something more along the lines of: "Just because the Bale/Nolan version isn't Miller's or O'Neil's or Morrison's... does that mean it's bad?" There tend to be a lot of decisions made before something has even been given a fair shot. There are already people out there who are deciding "If this isn't a faithful adaption of The Killing Joke... I'm not going to like it."

It's kind of like the guy who insist that the book is better than the movie when, a lot of times, the movie really is better (Jaws, Godfather, Silence of the Lambs, most of Stephen King's work... and, in pure defiance geek laws, I actually like the Lord of the Rings movies BETTER than the books). So, I don't think it's so much a question of taste as it is emotional attachment to the source material. I of course do not think that YOU, Geoff KIock, do this and realize that your dislike of Batman Begins is purely based on its aesthetics as a film : )

One big problem is too many fans make "faithful" into a big part of their criteria. I showed my students six film versions of the dagger of the mind speech from MacBeth, and they all liked the Polanski version best because of took the lest amount of liberty with the source material. Throne of Blood was right out for most of them. A film needs to reinvent the material for itself, as much as a new creative team on a comic book should.


hcduvall said...

You like the LOTR films better because there's some humanity in the characters in that version, rather than just a lament to death of classic civilization--all right that's me. Except for the Scouring of the Shire. They should've kept something like that.

I sometimes wonder why people don't approach adaptations the way they do songs, just as standards or in covers, but I suppose I can guess. The first exposure sets the "right take" to be faithful to for most people and, this is a bit confusing and problematic when, at least for most comic book characters, you're talking about corporate icons that are passed between many creators, but I know I assign some virtue to "faithfulness"to the original creator's intent, even when changes are an improvement.

And of course there are the two types of expectations that you mention can be dashed. The Joker not wearing gloves in the new movie (a complaint I overheard at Midtown Comics the other day) vs disapproving of Batman Begins say. Something aesthetic vs Not that aesthetics can't be used to express more.

But this sort of audience anxiety comes from being fannish toward anything--but what you may have lost in not liking something on the first level you make up in appreciating in depth.

Marc Caputo said...

LOTR - I grew up on the books, but I have to admit that the movie exceeded my expectations. I have some problems with the last hour of the third film, but no one has anything to be ashamed of. Jackson took some liberties with things, as he should have, to make his point. Along with the success of Hellboy, I'm more than ready for 'The Hobbit'.

Batman - I'm cautiously optimistic for this and the whole thing for my rides on how well the Joker gets done. Because, thanks to Ledger, they've got one chance to get this right (I HATED the Nicholson Joker - but not as much as I hated the rest of the film)