Wolverine Report: Adapting The Characters From Page To Screen

the wolverine at large

When 20th Century Fox release The Wolverine on July 24th, the story will be – to a large extent, anyway – very familiar to fans of the comic. I’m sure you can already tell from the trailers that details have been changed but, still, the roots of this new movie go back over thirty years, to Chris Claremont and Frank Miller‘s Wolverine comics of 1982.

I visited the film’s set last year and was very interested in finding out how faithful the new film will be to the comic, and also what new ideas will be brought into play. To my mind, there’s no use in slavishly cloning the comics, and I’m hoping for something that truly adapts the original story, delivering something cinematic that builds from the ideas on the page.

But to make an adaptation, one must start with the original material. I’ll let producer Hutch Parker set up what they’re attempting:

In this case we’re starting with a terrific foundation, an amazing comic, and such a unique piece – so singular in its focus on a specific character and that character’s journey, much more so, frankly, than anything else I can think of that we’ve dealt with.

I’ve got to give an enormous amount of credit to Lauren Shuler Donner who has been the producer of this franchise from the very beginning. She was incredibly passionate in her belief that this story must be told. It took its time, really, in evolving the franchise and the world as a whole, until it was time to do such a specific story.

This story is akin to taking Wolverine to another planet. It’s so foreign to anything he knows. It puts him into circumstances that are really deeply alien, and the mechanics of this story challenge him in primal, deeply psychological as well as physical ways – and metaphysical, I suppose.

This all makes for the kind of character arc you long for but are very, very hard to find. I think this is what we’ve gone to comics in search of: the great myths, the ones that transcend that mechanics of storytelling or plot and tap into something much deeper and richer. But these stories are hard to come by.

Chris [McQuarrie] started it off with some great work, he’s a superb screenwriter, and he set the tone for what this could be. We’ve subsequently had help from Mark Bomback who did a tremendous amount of work. Jim [Mangold] has done a lot of work on the script as well, and Scott Frank, all of whom, in their ways, have made contributions to realise the full potential of this.

We are setting out to make the definitive Wolverine movie. Yes. Simply put.

Lofty ambitions. And that’s a big thing to pull off, but as Parker said…

Movies really are all of the small decisions, the accumulation of all the detail, all the work that was done by the hundreds of people here.

…so let’s look at some of those small decisions, and how the process of adaptation actually works, in practice.

Costume designer Isis Mussenden explained her approach:

I always start with the original material. Even though the design in a comic is a drawing and it’s highlighted in a different way and it’s drawn in a way that isn’t practical or anything you can actually build, the comic is the basis for these stories.

I’ll always start with that original material, looking at the different ways in which the character has been depicted.  Especially in this story, some of the drawings in the series where Wolverine goes to Japan are very different. He’s been drawn at different times, by different artists, but they’ve all been a huge inspiration.

I do then have to take in account that these costumes have to work for actors performing in action scenes. We have to multiply these pieces several times so even if I find a piece that is ready to wear, I have to make sure I can find five more of them or be able to replicate it. Other concerns would be harnesses, stunt doubles, whether you can run in the boots – all of that comes into play. I do sometimes – say 5%, 10% of the time – have to shift some things, redesign or rethink them because they’re not capable of doing what they need to do.

The process of adaptation isn’t solely about taking 2D images and turning them into flesh and blood – and boots and suits – but also changing the shape of the story and adjusting the characters to make sense in it. I spoke to Rila Fukushima who is playing Yukio, a character she describes as an “orphaned agent assassin.”

Yukio has such a great style throughout the whole film. I’m pretty sure you’ve seen the graphic novel version of Wolverine. I look a little different from the original character but I think, now it’s 2012, we’re trying to make the new version of Yukio.

The character has similarities to how she’s presented in the graphic novel but, at the same time, there’s a whole other side to Yukio here. I don’t know how much I can talk about it but the story is definitely different to the original comics. Hopefully people can enjoy our different version of the story.

And could I find out any more about how Yukio’s story has been changed? Could I heck as like, but it wasn’t for want of trying.

Will Yun Lee is playing Kenuichio Harada, a character that readers of the comic will know to have an alias. His character has undergone some tweaking too, but I don’t think it’s specifically the changes that have the actor feeling a little cautious about his interpretation.

If I have any trepidation it’s towards interpreting a character that the fans have come to love or have an affinity towards. Reading the comic I felt the immense pressure to turn up to Comic-Con having done something right. But I’ve been beaten up on many things before so I’m ready for it.

Meanwhile, Svetlana Khodchenkova, who plays Viper, seemed very confident, even through her translator. She told me:

The character will have a little bit of my own flavour to it but I will do absolutely my best job to match with the character from the comic books.

I saw Khodchenkova on set that day, during a take. She’d certainly perfected an evil, snake-like glare.

The Wolverine is released on July 25th. You can use the WSR tag to see all of my Wolverine set reports to date.  Coming up next: an introduction to Tao Okamoto, the actress who is playing Mariko, as well as more from Svetlana Khodchenkova and Rila Fukushima.