Like many film fanatics, I’m no stranger to the self-indulgent lust for new films based on my other interests. As a lover of staged theater, literature, comic books, and video games, I have always been quick to follow up on these new films. My intrigue and excitement piqued to unnatural proportions, despite the obvious nature of these productions as commercialized fan-based fodder intended solely for exploiting my devotion to these franchises. To be perfectly honest, I don’t mind in the slightest why they are created, as evidenced by my schedule book entries for various Fridays and Wednesdays. However, I cannot ignore the common denominator in about 99% of these re-workings.
They suck. And I’m talking on a nitrous-charged Hoover scale.
Moviegoers around the world will contend “nothing is sacred” and production companies such as 20th Century Fox, Universal, and Paramount (the biggest culprits) should “leave well enough alone”. Many would be justified in their opinions, but in defense of these companies, they are merely trying to make money, as they are entitled, and popular franchises are guaranteed to make this happen. This is where the formula falls short and I blame the money-minded individuals that seek out these IP’s for the inevitable loss that takes place when the product is adapted to the silver screen.
Comic books, classic literature, video games, and stage plays have one beautiful thing in common in that they are driven by the interpretations derived by an individual’s imagination, utilizing deep character analysis, powerful imagery, and visceral subject matter to capture one’s attention and carry them through to the end. This very aspect is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to transfer. In the end, what the viewer gets is a hollowed shell of a storyline that mimics—but ultimately fails in capturing—the intentions and ideology of the source material. The reason I’m hashing out this very personal and didactic viewpoint is not because I’m tired of the garbage renditions of these fabulous franchises, but exactly why they are being made. The blame does not rest upon the production companies, but unfortunately, on the fans they are servicing. The viewers themselves do nothing to ensure their voices are heard in regards to these films. If the common populace paying to see these films made it known that the finished product is lacking, perhaps we would see a change in how they are made.
There are many instances of these with some of the biggest ones I’ll be making examples of. If I happen to touch a nerve with all the advocates of “creative license”, just imagine your favorite form of entertainment stripped of its moral center, robbed of its redeeming qualities and compressed to run in the time allotted.
Spider-Man 3: Capitalizing on one of the icons of American pop-culture probably seemed like tapping a proverbial gold mine and it was. Spider-Man 2 ranks among the top five of highest-grossing films of all time. Though the first and second films were strong in their own right, something vanished when the studios attempted to bring the third film to completion, and what remained was so far off base that even I was completely dumb-founded by the ridiculous nature of this schmorgasbourg of fan-service. Between the strutting Spider-EmoMan, the advocation of a panty-waist Venom, or the reducement of famed love-interest Gwen Stacy to a footnote in the films storyline, Sony Pictures managed to take three of the most important storylines in Spider-Man’s history and devolve them into a 139 minute mish-mash intended to keep the action running at a break-neck pace instead of bringing the depth of the characters psyches to light which remains as Marvel’s most successful formula to date.
Superman Returns: Apparently even the Man of Steel is incapable of avoiding the powers of those who would search for money at the cost of character driven and original storytelling. Billed as a reboot of the franchise, we see a youthful Superman return to Metropolis to battle the overwhelming villainous intellect of arch-nemesis Lex Luthor. On paper, this certainly seemed like a good treatment of the source material, bringing one of the most popular superheroes into conflict with his greatest foe, a chance to utilize the new technologies of modern filmmaking to tell an amazingly visual story that brought Superman to the next generation. Oh if wishes were horses, I’d have…a whole lot of horses. What we are instead brought is a film that fails to hide what it truly is: an underdeveloped script that was the end result of nearly four years in production hell, uninformed actors whose direction involved impersonating the classic performances of Christopher Reeves, Gene Hackman, and Margot Kidder, and enough misplaced action to attempt to convince us that Superman is as devoid of emotion and depth as he is capable of X-Ray Vision and powerlifting continents.
Doom: The first-person shooter video game Doom is considered one of the most influential and ground-breaking games in the history of home-based electronic entertainment. The premise that id Software presented was simple. A lone marine stationed on Mars encounters the demonic denizens of Hell and proceeds to annihilate them en masse in his bid to escape the planet. To derive a film out of this was a textbook study in “creative license” as the source material offered no information to transpose. So, the writers concocted a heavy action-based stew that incorporated sprinklings of limited character depth, ridiculous plot holes, and half-assed attempts at analyzing the questions of moral ambiguity when 100 million kilometers from home. The end result is like watching a hardcore Marine sloppily enjoying a heaping helping of S.O.S. served up by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Romeo + Juliet: Where can one begin when the immaculate and time-honored writings of the Bard himself are subjected to the wiles of the commercial sex machine and the only way to maintain any kind of humility is to keep the text intact. I can only say that when it takes Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes, an ultra-urban Los Angeles setting, gang affiliations, and the rapid fire of pistols to sell Shakespeare, we have truly begun to lose our grip on our literary roots. Though remaining true to the original Shakespeare script, many elements were lost in the fabled story of star-crossed lovers willing to sacrifice everything to be together and in the end we got a couple of heartthrob actors shooting smoking gazes at the camera whilst running through the litter-strewn streets of downtown Los Angeles spouting Elizabethan text.
American Psycho: Though Christian Bale is hailed as amazing in this adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ controversial story of a sociopathic serial-killer operating in the high-class trenches of New York business society, the film itself failed in a huge way. For anyone who has taken the time to engross themselves in the blood-drenched pages of the novel, the dissemination from the text is sickeningly obvious. Now, I liked American Psycho, but only because of the searing energy of Bale’s Patrick Bateman, and that was the only reason. The failure here of both the studio and the director was the inability to take a very controversial story and make it into a very controversial movie. The film was watered down, lacking, and completely devoid of the underlying social commentary on the perils and loss of identity through absolute conformity that made the novel a classic. I imagine this entire side commentary (and the possibility that the entire sequence of events was all in the main characters imagination) was dumped due to its involved nature and they needed to keep the film down to under three hours.
Other sad examples include Street Fighter: The Movie, Super Mario Bros., Ghost Rider, Electra, The Human Stain, and Earthsea.
My suggestion here, is that in order for the production of these low-brow, half thought-out, asinine features to end, is that today’s audiences must cease and desist pouring money into seeing them. These films are not made for artistic value, social implication, or sometimes even entertainment value, but simply because people will go see them, either because they love them or because they want to see just how bad it will be. So, what are we to do? My best answer for all, is simply to support (i.e. pay for) the films you know are not simply cash-cows or, in best case scenarios, make them yourselves. Nothing garnishes more respect from individuals in the film industry than those who made it their own and did it their way. If you have a decidedly better way to tell the story of Master Chief in the Halo universe, get it done! If you think your film based on the Dungeons and Dragons realms created by Gary Gygax will rock the next Sundance, by god, start looking at discount armor pieces for your actors. The voices that will change the direction of Hollywood will not come from the streets, but from within its hallowed halls, sitting in italian leather chairs, in front of green-screens, and over brunches at Geoffrey’s Malibu. It will come from those that make the industry run, not those that wait for it to arrive. Now, if you’ll kindly excuse me, I need to purchase my advance tickets for BioShock and Iron Man 2.
And for those who think they know what films have done, what is usually, the impossible, check back to see which films made the grand list. I guarantee you’ll be far less disappointed than watching Robert Patrick in “Double Dragon” after a double root canal.