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Avril Brown Presents:








Now that the year 2008 has come to a close, with a hearty ‘good riddance’ from many Americans, it is time to blaze onwards, embrace the changes approaching and look forward to new experiences. Yet if there’s one thing this past year seemed to get right more often than not, it was comic book movies.

Hollywood seems to churn own ideas in chunks: if a concept works, everybody scrambles to produce more of the same before fickle fans turn their hungry eyes elsewhere. Lately, tastes have been turning towards silver screen adaptations of graphic novels, and thankfully there are plenty to choose from. However, in order to create a successful comic book movie there are several important factors to consider. Obviously I am not one of those brilliant people involved in the creation of the latest comic book blockbuster, otherwise I wouldn’t be trying to pick between beef and chicken flavored Ramen noodles for my evening meals. We all have to start somewhere, though, so without further ado:

Avril’s Guidelines to Creating a Successful Cinematic Adaptation of a Comic

Borrowing a comic book idea and transforming it for the silver screen is a holy pilgrimage of an undertaking and should always be handled with respect. Comic book fans truly love their characters and to work with these characters is like trying to defuse a bomb: if you take care of it correctly you’re a hero, but cut the wrong wire and it explodes in your face. Lesson the first lies in proper handling of the characters. Changes in personality and looks are acceptable as long as they are believable and do nothing to alter the essence of the character, but picking the right people to fill these roles is vital.

An excellent example of proper casting is Iron Man, where Robert Downey Jr., sobered up and better than ever, is more than convincing as the brilliant and arrogant playboy-turned-vigilante with a wit as sharp and quick as his flying metal suit. Already being a casual and charming smart-ass with a spotted past, Downey molded to this role with ease and made it impossible not to like him, both in the armor and out.

Iron Man also made good use of lesson the second, which is to create the most suitable story for the characters and time period. Given the United States’ involvement in the raging battles in the Middle East in recent years, and the public’s evolving opinion of the war, the plot of this film was wonderfully balanced. Iron Man delivered both a foreign and hometown villain, and subtlety expressed some anti-war sentiment (when Tony Stark decides to stop making weapons) while still having plenty of violence (‘cause you just can’t have a superhero movie without something getting blown up).

The second big screen attempt at The Incredible Hulk managed to miss this lesson yet still turn out to be a pretty watch-able film. Skipping over the ‘How I Became a Green Monster’ introductory story and diving right into the aftermath was a bold choice which worked well for the movie. However, the engineers of this film should have spent more of their creativity on producing villains with a bit more zest than a bitter general who likes to drive around in his tank and blow things up, and a steroid-addicted solider who dream is to become a massively ugly creature made of ripcord muscle and pointless rage.

Lesson the third is an obvious one, but is sadly abused over and over again. How something so simple could stump so many people is beyond me, yet too often the brains behind scripts cannot come up with decent dialogue. In order to sustain the momentum between explosive fight scenes, the audience must be captivated by the conversations between the characters. Of course this is essential in the books, where the readers’ imagination must provide the surround sound of the battle scenes, but it is also necessary in loud and flashy live action films to grasp and hold an audience’s attention for two hours.

The Dark Knight managed to follow this lesson largely in part due to the awesomeness that was Heath Ledger’s Joker. Having a darkly twisted character like the Joker just screams for great lines, otherwise he isn’t nearly as creepy. But you take a green-haired, facially disfigured psycho, put him in a nurse’s outfit and give him lines like: “Do I look like a guy with a plan? I’m like a dog chasing cars; I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it. I just do things,” he’ll make a much more insane impression.

X-Men 3: The Last Stand is a marvelous example of how bad dialogue can help tank a movie. As mentioned before in a previous rant, I liked the basic story idea of the Phoenix being Jean’s second personality rather than an interstellar entity, but any good which could have come out of that premise was demolished in large part by horrific dialogue. I know Cain Marko ain’t no Rhode Scholar, but even he can do better than “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!” as he charges in to do some damage. Erik Lehnsherr, an educated man, a Holocaust survivor and one of the greatest villains ever created, was given the cheese-tastic line of “Charles always wanted to build bridges,” which effectively ruined the impressive special effects of Magneto picking up and relocating the Golden Gate Bridge, and made him sound like a complete tool to boot.

A good all-around example of a movie grossly violating every lesson is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. To be fair, there were some amazing effects used for this movie which helped create many entertaining fight scenes, and it’s against my programming to say anything against Sean Connery and his consistently stellar performances. Plus my dad and I had a swell time playing Mystery Science Theater with this film. Lesson the first goes down in flames with the boring Captain Nemo whose only discernable purpose is to play with the wheel of his shiny ship while constantly looking pompous, and a villain who was so gripping I can’t even remember who he was and was his goals were, despite seeing the movie twice. This ties into a lack-luster story and ridiculous scenes of Dr. Jekyll getting encouraging accolades from his veiny, lumpy reflection in a window.

With these newly learned lessons in mind, it is time to look towards the future and apply them to good use. One comic book idea I would love to see on the silver screen is ‘Runaways,’ a group of kids who run away from home after discovering their parents are super villains. With the youngest character at age eleven and the oldest at eighteen, all ages of adolescents can identify with the characters, and those of us out of our teenage years can appreciate the sharp humor and variety of geeky goodness. Little Molly is a super-strong mutant, Nico is a bad-ass witch, Carolina is an alien with very pretty powers, Gertie has a genetically engineered velociraptor from the future as a pet and Chase has access to the cool toys his brilliant parents invented. ‘Runaways’ has something for everyone, combining well-written teen angst with bits dark drama, romance and intelligent hilarity.

Several of my comic comrades recently recommended ‘The Authority’ to me, so I picked up the first two trades at the Comic Con and was pleasantly impressed. Presenting an eclectic team of super people rocking a pimped out ride and charged with the mission of protecting the world from everything, ‘The Authority’ is loaded with movie-licious potential. The characters range from Jenny ‘Queen Bitch’ Sparks, team leader and electrical extraordinaire, to the adorable duo of the tough guys known as Midnighter and Apollo, to a foxy bird-lady, an equally hot chick wrapped in liquid metal, a shaman and a guy with feet like a gecko and control over the roots of a city. The only limiting factory would be the much-needed ‘R’ rating this film would merit, because it would lose some of its spunk if it couldn’t have Jack spouting lines like “I’ve been waiting to punch someone’s brains in all goddamn day,” and then doing exactly that, or scenes of Jenny putting her cigarette out on Apollo’s nigh-invulnerable shoulder.

These are just two examples plucked from a miscellaneous melting pot of evolving ideas. There are so many books out there, so many nouveau ideas just begging to be expanded into different forms of media. True, thorough exploration cannot be rushed if it is to reach its full capacity, and the same lesson holds for the creation of a superb comic book movie. Some comics should be left as is, but some ideas are worth looking at through an altered lens. 

Avril Brown

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