If you listen to our various podcasts, (and if you don’t, WHY NOT?) you probably know that I have issues with movie/cartoon adaptations of characters that I love from the comics.  Not only do many producers and filmmakers have a questionable idea about the reality of comic book stories, there’s little understanding of the fact that there is actually a spectrum of story-telling tropes and genres at play in comic fiction.  Film tends to turn every hero into either a variation on Batman (dark angsty avenger) or 40s Captain Marvel (a comedy figure played for laughs, often a bumbler.)  As a viewer, though, I admit to being part of a nearly unpleasable fanbase, given that I dislike unfaithful adaptations for getting it wrong, and also denigrate ultra-faithful adaptations for not delivering anything new.  Moreover, given Sturgeon’s Law, I know that I’ll have to sit through ten more ‘Frank Miller’s The Spirit’-level terribad films to get one I like as much as ‘The Crow.’

The MS-QOTD (pronounced “jee forss”) is excited for the new ‘Gatchaman’ movie, even though I suspect that it will be incredibly dark and violent AND won’t get an English-language release, asking: What makes a movie adaptation successful for you?  (Be sure to show your work, examples welcome!)

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  1. June 29, 2013 at 1:05 pm — Reply

    The biggest deal to me is that the story works. There is a lot to factor in, such as physical and mechanical limitations with live-action compared to what is seen on the comic page or in the written word, finding a balance between the original story and compressing it in to a short time frame, making sure the character can look like the character without coming off as super cheesy (like changing the X-Men uniforms to protective leather or Batman’s costume to body armor rather than tights) and many other factors, but if the overall story doesn’t hold, then it all falls apart.

    Then there is also choosing what points are important to the story and what isn’t necessary. Looking at the Harry Potter films and novels, there are a lot of little bits that were left off in the translation from page to screen, but the overall story still held (for the most part). Then you have something like Eragon where the entire story is almost completely changed, with only a few basic elements and names shared with the source material.

    • B.V.K.
      June 29, 2013 at 3:30 pm — Reply

      Eragon had such potential…….sigh

      • June 30, 2013 at 11:16 am — Reply

        I still hope they’ll make an adaptation closer to the books someday. As much crap as the books get, I can’t help but think a movie following closer to them would have been much better for both the general moviegoer and the box-office bigwigs. Even a semi-low budget TV movie could turn out better than the movie that was made.

  2. B.V.K.
    June 29, 2013 at 3:38 pm — Reply

    I really only look at two things: 1. Was I entertained? 2. Was it close enough to the source material without being cringe worthy. Since that is all I look for I tend to be easy to please. I liked all the Nolan Bat films, all the X-Men, and even (dare I say it) Green Lantern. They had their flaws but I had fun. Of course that doesn’t mean I love everything. Daredevil was boring, Elektra was rediculous and Superman let Metropolis get destroyed (No! bad Superman! bad! No killing!)

  3. AllenBT
    June 29, 2013 at 6:13 pm — Reply

    For me, it doesn’t even have to be that close to the source material. Interpreting a property, for your own creative voice is fine. It works in the Comic Medium with Elseworlds, and it can work in film too. But agreeing with B.V.K., what’s important is was I entertained, and frankly, did you respect my intelligence, in the plot, characterizations and production values.

    Too many comic properties are developed by people who seem to think the audience is automatically sophomoric. It doesn’t mean you can’t have certain beats for humor, or that it can’t be am outright comedy, but it needs to still be a smart movie.

    Respect my intelligence with the plot and I’ll be happy.

  4. Oldcomicfan
    June 29, 2013 at 7:22 pm — Reply

    For me it has to be reasonably faithful to the source material, and it has to treat the characters with respect and also respect the viewer’s intelligence. It drives me crazy when the have a character using abilities he doesn’t really have while ignoring the ones he does have – Superman’s memory stealing kisses, cellophane S shield, and rotating the world backwards to turn back time are just a few examples. It’s the lack of understanding of the source material and lack of respect for the audience that killed such pathetic attempts like the 80s Lone Ranger movie, the Wild Wild West movie, Batman and Robin, Eragon, etc. The music also has to match the settings. A movie that makes me cringe every time I watch it is Ladyhawke – not a bad movie, if only you could turn off the rock-band sound track.

    I would have thought that the Lord of the Rings was virtually unfilmable, but Peter Jackson’s trilogy, though not entirely faithful to the source material, is a masterpiece. That is how comic book adaptations, or storybook adaptations ought to be done.

    • Nachtswerg
      June 29, 2013 at 10:32 pm — Reply

      Agreed on the importance of music. Of the recent DC adaptions, that’s one of my sticking points. Given the archetype nature of Batman and Superman, they deserve… no… DEMAND anthems. Too bad, post-Batman Begins, the soundtracks have been unmemorable.

    • June 30, 2013 at 11:11 am — Reply

      While I do technically agree with you, didn’t Superman actually have ridiculous powers like memory-stealing kisses back in the… I want to say late 50’s, early 60’s? I do agree it was insulting in the movie, but I wonder if they used those older stories as inspiration and (wrongly) assumed the basic story wouldn’t be enough to hold our interest.

  5. June 29, 2013 at 7:46 pm — Reply

    As long as it keeps the spirit of the original. I am a fan of ERB’s, Johnny Weismuller’s and Jesse Marsh’s Tarzan. Tobey Macguire’s organic webbing was a big change, but he was the Peter Parker I know. The way the public sided with him against Doc Ock on the el train despite his bad press was classic. Turning Star Trek from a drama where most conflicts were resolved peacefully into an action flick about blowing up bad guys, and Green Hornet from action-adventure to comedy were bad.

  6. Ricco
    June 29, 2013 at 11:32 pm — Reply

    I’m of the “do something as close to the original work as possible or call it something else” persuasion.

    I’m the guy who hated Wanted, not because it wasn’t entertaining but because it had next to nothing in common with the original work. Same with Kick-Ass, they gutted what was unique and made it a standard cookie-cutter superhero movie.

    I simply do not understand the logic of taking an already established franchise for the built-in audience then making it into something said audience can’t even recognize.

    At the same time even the “great” adaptations have pet peeves for me, like how Ra’s was not immortal thanks to the Lazarus pits (which would have made no sense in Nolan’s verse I know), God help me I simply love Sin City but the scene when Dwight explains how “Marv had the rotten luck of been born in the wrong century” still annoys me…

    Why you ask? That takes place in A Dame to Kill For *before* his face change so he shouldn’t look like he does in The Big Fat Kill!

    • Oldcomicfan
      July 2, 2013 at 7:13 am — Reply

      Eragon was a good example of what you’re talking about – the director mentioned that he didn’t like magic and he didn’t like pointy eared elves, so why was he even making a movie based on a story filled with magic, dragons and elves? A more faithful adaptation might have done better. As it was, it wasn’t a good enough fantasy to appeal to fantasy fans, and the changes the director made based on his own sensibilities were guaranteed to offend the fans of the book. It would be a bit like making Lord of the Rings with Tall Dwarves and turning the Ents into animated stalks of broccoli.

      Another thing that mystifies me is when somebody tries to do a faithful adaptation – such as the TV Hulk series – but makes inexplicable changes like naming Bruce Banner “David”. I really liked the TV pilot for the Doctor Strange series, which was very faithful to the comic, but, sadly, that was never picked up as a series.

      • July 2, 2013 at 8:16 am — Reply

        Legend has it that the producers went with David to intentionally distance themselves from the comic book aspects of the character’s origin, INTENTIONALLY choosing to avoid Stan Lee’s distinctive alliteration (though it’s also been said that they changed because “Bruce” had effeminate connotations back in the day.)

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.