Look! It Moves! by Adi Tantimedh #34: Why A Movie?

Posted by February 8, 2010 Comment

As Rich reported last week, many news outlets would only report on the prospect of a WATCHMEN sequel by speculating on the prospect of a movie sequel rather than any follow-ups to the comic. Leaving aside the laziness and incompetence of the journalists in question, what I wondered was, Why the need to bring up a movie? Why do they think no one would be interested in hearing about anything unless there’s a movie attached?

From a purely business point of view, it makes sense to want to have a movie made from a comic or book. The payout is huge if the movie is a hit and it provides exposure to the original version of the intellectual property, but what I don’t get is why everyone else is so fixated culturally on getting a movie made. It’s as if there’s some weird inferiority complex where people think a story hasn’t truly arrived unless it’s adapted into a movie. It seems to be the content equivalent of people who don’t think their lives matter unless they land a reality TV show.

Another thing I don’t understand is, when people like a book, a comic or a TV show, why do they start saying they want to see a movie? Again, it seems to be the sense of validation from a movie being made. I suppose some people might want to see a novel they like visualized, but then the best novels are already perfect as novels and movies would miss many nuances that made the novels great in the first place. Movies can’t do inner voices or thought processes. Movies, as a visual medium, are very literal, and depend on events that are seen. But then I find in my day job a weird attitude about prestigious books being made into movies: they’re usually just awards fodder. Richard Yates’ highly respected REVOLUTIONARY ROAD and Bernhard Schlink’s THE READER are two recent examples that still linger in my mind. Both books were critically acclaimed and bestsellers but huge downers. The movies struck me as being movies for snobby people who hate movies. Well, it turned out that nobody liked those movies either. Neither of them made a dent come Oscar season last year. Even worse, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD didn’t even make it to the cultural consciousness – I’ve never seen a hyped up movie with a respected cast and director from a respected book so resoundingly ignored by the public before. And people keep banging on about a DOCTOR WHO movie, which mystifies me. DOCTOR WHO has worked best as a TV show. It’s not restricted to the limited running time of a movie, and serialized television offers more time aand room for going into depth in themes, character arcs and details. And it’s already on TV. I can at least understand if it’s a beloved TV show that hasn’t been on air for years, so a movie might at least be considered an event, but there really isn’t much point to having a movie out when the show is still running beyond the most superficial cash-in plan. People remember the TV versions of THE SWEENEY, and no one really talks about the movies, which weren’t more than extended episodes with the same writers, directors and cast.

Comics are, of course, the latest and most convenient properties for the studios to want to adapt if they see profit. They’re already visual and show how the story can be told. Yes, getting a comic adapted is profitable for the creators and/or the publishers, but frankly most comics don’t deserve or need a movie to be made out of them. The best comics really don’t need movie adaptations, and WATCHMEN is proof of that, since the movie version is completely redundant and culturally and artistically pointless in its attempts to slavishly replicate its images and narrative. You already see the best version of the story, so unless a movie adds something else to it, there’s really no point. There’s no way a movie of SANDMAN could replicate the scope and range of its themes the way the 70-odd issues did over nearly a decade. For every good comic adaptation like IRON MAN, there are at least two equivalents of DAREDEVIL and GHOST RIDER. How would a movie version of ASTERIOS POLYP be as good as the graphic novel? It would only be an utterly conventional drama.

The bottom line is, movies are only made when a studio believes it will make lots of money. Not a little money, not a good amount of money, but tons and tons of money. A sequel to the WATCHMEN movie is highly unlikely at this point. It lost the studio so much money that any executive stupid enough to consider a sequel might as well clean out his desk and jump out the window right now.

And then there’s movies made from video games, the newest and most misunderstood of the pop mediums. Top-selling games are making so much money now that of course the studios want to try to get a piece of the pie, but the best they can do is attempt to adapt them into movies. However, the problem is that the two mediums are vastly different, despite some similarities, especially with games becoming more movie-like in their insistence on plots. Games are interactive, movies are not. The list of successful movies based on games has been an amazingly short. I haven’t figured out why the RESIDENT EVIL movies have been successful, unless it’s as B Movie DVD rental fodder, which I’m told it does extremely well, and as a result has made Milla Jovovich bankable as a star, albeit at the mid-budget range. The movie adaptation of SILENT HILL, made by a writer and director who know the game, was a decent stream-of-consciousness horror movie that was practically the first good Lucio Fulci movie that Fulci never made, with a better budget and production values he never had access to, and fans of the game still hated it.

There’s talk about a MASS EFFECT movie now that the second game is out. The movie rights were optioned as far back as 2008. This is not news. When I finally played MASS EFFECT 2, I had a sneaking feeling that I was playing the future of escapist genre entertainment – it had all the thrills and emotional engagement you expect from movies and TV, except you were actively shaping the major parts of the story with the choices you made through the main character. Who your customized character picked as a love interest, you got to choose tactics and superpowers in the battles, and the choices in the final mission that determine who survives are entirely up to you, and that created a stronger sense of engagement and immersion than the passivity of just watching a movie or TV show. The story becomes yours on a deeper and more personal level than movies can achieve. It’s already more satisfying as a story and crams in actual Science Fiction ideas without being afraid that people wouldn’t understand them, the latter reason being why the majority of Science Fiction movies and TV shows are simplistic at best and totally moronic at worst. This is probably one more step towards a holodeck-style story game of the future. With this game, you already get the chance actually shape the story of an epic Bruckheimer-style SF movie. An actual movie would be about five steps backwards and nowhere as rewarding as the game. It’s not even that the game’s SF story was original, it cribs ideas from everything from Bladerunner to Star Trek to Paul Anderson’s novels. It just does it all very, very well, better than any movie has so far.

As someone who works in the movie industry, I get the feeling that while movies still carry a certain mystique and glamour in the eyes of the public, its relevance as a storytelling medium are numbered as games supercede its popularity. Comic books are already falling by the wayside and propped up by the movie industry. I can actually see a day when movies are considered quaint rather than cutting edge.

Not seeing as many movies at lookitmoves@ gmail.com

© Adisakdi Tantimedh

(Last Updated February 10, 2010 6:05 am )

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