Hero Whipped: Hellraiser

Note: Images below are gory and may be found disturbing by some. Proceed with caution.

If this is your first time reading one of these posts this is where I discuss my return to the comics medium after a long hiatus. The journey to that return in chronicled in this post and this one. Since detailing that journey subsequent posts have usually been on topics surrounding one particular character and the depiction in various media.

Now in discussing Hellraiser as a franchise I do realize that I am not dealing with a hero. When you’re dealing in the horror genre, particularly as the franchises spawn sequels and spin-offs, you are more concerned with the villain. In the case of some truly unfortunate films it’s the antagonist you prefer because the protagonist(s) are lacking.

When discussing Hellraiser specifically one interesting aspect of the property is that it really does illustrate another area wherein prose, film and comics have some overlap. Specifically I am thinking of the connection between auteurs, or writer/director if you prefer, and comic creators. Naturally the link between those and author exists there too. For one of the films, a book and now a few comics series that title is held by one man: Clive Barker.

The Hellbound Heart (1988, HarperCollins)

The Hellraiser concept was first introduced in a novella by Barker entitled The Hellbound Heart. This story was first anthologized in November of 1986 and was released as a standalone book after the success of the film.

Clive Barker is one of the few artists working today that one can truly call a renaissance man. There is virtually no creative endeavor he hasn’t sought out – he writes novels; has written and had plays produced; he’s a photographer; and he paints, hundreds of his works now form the illustrations for his Abarat series. Prior to writing and directing Hellraiser, he’d acted as writer or director on a number of films including SalomSalomé, The Forbidden and Rawhead Rex. When the narrative of The Hellbound Heart was to come to cinemas he took on both challenges.

Hellraiser was one of New World Pictures most successful titles and a work of visionary horror. Though Barker did have input in the sequel and the third film his control over the film series was never equal to what he had that first time around. The results have never been the same again either. Considering that it’s a world of his crafting that he executed on film so brilliantly the first time around, it was folly. If you’re brave enough to watch the decline of the series, it is a sad thing; one I didn’t have the stamina to write about.

Hellraiser (1987, New World Pictures)

However, with horror franchises on film that tends to be the case. It’s a case of gradual decay and occasional slight resurgence after the studio takes control of its fate and the creator of the entity eventually moves on to bigger and better things. However, Barker’s name still has caché, and is so synonymous with Hellraiser, for obvious reasons, that Dimension has taken to using his name in sequels he had nothing to do with. This has caused Barker to publicly disclaim these assertions stating that the story did not come from his mind or any other orifice of his body, to paraphrase.

It is lamentable when a film franchise falls that far from grace. There is a reboot in the works, which he is producing that may right that, but there is all that wreckage in the past and only the original film stands as a masterful work of horror. That is, of course, if you limit yourself to film.

Recently, Barker has taken to writing for the comics medium for the first time. Since Hellraiser joined the Boom! Studios line-up he was the guiding force behind a 20-issue series, followed by a 4-issue mini-series and now a new Hellraiser ongoing series has picked up a different thread of the mythology. Barker is not always credited as authoring the script, but has been, and is definitely guiding these tales.

Hellraiser Annual #1 (Boom! Studios)

Just sating that creator/auteur urge of having someone who understands the world and how to tell new stories within it would be enough for most. However, the series have also been fantastic so far. I’m fairly selective about monthly titles and have never dropped them off my pull-list and more often than not these titles have been at or near the top of best issues of the month. Many times they show what the medium can do. The artwork, typically done by different artists, appropriately and seamlessly, is gorgeous and lush. The writing is smart and the structure intricate. It lends itself to re-reading, and reading in trade, but also works in single-issue format, I believe. That’s a hard trifecta to pull off.

Fans of the world, the antagonist Pinhead and the heroine Kirsty Cotton would likely be pleased by this run of books which is ongoing. Fans of Barker in general should be glad that there’s yet another outlet for his creative genius as in June Boom! will debut his first original 12-issue limited series called Next Testament.

It seems that both Barker and the Hellraiser have found a new place to call home, the comics medium. That’s a good thing for both of them, but it’s an even better thing for fans and we should all be reading.

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Cinematic Episodes: Introduction

Themes are sometimes difficult to stick to. The way I usually manage to stick to them is by getting a bunch of installments written and ready and then scheduling ahead of time. Themes that I work on extemporaneously have a chance of being more inconsistent, or worse, falling into abandonment entirely.

I say this because I have had it in mind to do this idea for quite some time. I have not made the intention to do this theme known here, just in a few conversations. The main reason I’ve not announced this one to try and get this one started, and to give themes I do not consider to be done, some staying power.

Without much further ado, the idea I purport to embark upon is one I call Cinematic Episodes. This would be another cross-medium post wherein the link between cinema and another medium is explored. I have written about adaptations, films in books, characters in comics and other arts hitting the big screen. However, I recently have started to consider some of the technical, and in some ways, narrative similarities film and television have always shared and are starting to share.

It’s no coincidence that on the day I sit awaiting delivery of Game of Thrones‘ second season that I post this, HBO and other cable outlets have truly blurred the lines more so than most in the past due not only to single camera approach, but also production values and elimination of the commercial break, thus, creating a more cinematic structure that builds its ebb and flow in a more traditional three-act manner than an hour of network television does due to the crescendo to commercial, the precipitous drop upon retuning and then the rise anew.

However, many shows on many outlets come to mind when thinking of the parallels and the current landscape, which I will plumb for the examples I am familiar with. This evolution didn’t happen on its own. I will look back and try and trace, to the extent I possibly can, the evolution of the exchange of ideas.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Universal)

However, it’s not only a technique and structural focus. The first topic I thought of and will likely examine, with what I have access to are the Hitchcock-directed episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. There will be other topics to examine, other specific shows, but I won’t be tiresome in listing them here.

Essentially, any other medium in relation to cinema is worth taking a look at. I’ve always viewed film as a culmination of all the other arts since the advent of sound. With the introduction of sound elements of theatre were further added, music was added as a permanently affixed appendage rather than a variable live element, through the ages an artist’s touch in framing and composition, be it in color or black and white, has been needed. As any new form of communication and/or artistic expression has come about, film has been challenged, however, it perseveres both by adapting itself and also by an eventual embracing and exchanging of ideas and symbiotic influence. It’s been illustrated before with the rise of radio and then with television, the internet is the next frontier, but that landscape is still a bit nebulous. Film is not yet truly threatened or totally changed, similarly those making content for YouTube and other such sites are progressing, pushing back and breaking through but, still being in process, the changes are not yet as evident.

Television being the middle child of “Threats to Film” has firmly established its foothold as a fixture, mostly due to its varied nature of content and usage, but on the entertainment side it remains vital. The last thing that bears saying is that the fallacious “which is better” arguement will not be found in this space – and considering the main focus of my site I doubt you want to read such an anti-climactic piece. As many similarities as I will find, and as many cases of shared influence I will illustrate both films and television work, or don’t, due to completely different reasons. If television is in a halcyon it’s certainly not due to the networks. It’s a bit like the major/indie dynamic in film. What’s pushing the envelope and advancing episodic visual storytelling is basic and prime cable original content.

The Hitchcock piece will likely be the first. I have a definitely viewing list for that and taking an auteurist approach and looking at a different kind of show is actually one of the better easier way to start such a comparative analysis. Stay tuned.

Hero Whipped: Why This Spider-Man Amazed Me

In this series of posts I tend to discuss comic book characters and my unique relationship with them since my fairly recent return to reading them again and I usually find a way to connect them back to movies somehow. However, since I decided that my posts may be a little different from hereon in, these posts may have a slightly different vibe to them.

Sure enough after that post The Amazing Spider-Man was one of the first things I saw. Now, in spite of my recent tendency to like superhero movies either a lot as the case is with say The Avengers and X-Men: First Class or somewhat as is the case with Thor or Green Lantern, the new Spider-Man hearkens me back to the original trilogy which were all released during my hiatus. Thus, this will be a heavily filmic post but it’s perhaps the most unique perspective I’ve yet had on a character.

It may be possible that I knew less about Spider-Man going into that first movie than I’ve known about almost any superhero before seeing their film. It was released at a time where I was typically attending films in a group so the selection process was fairly democratic. Going alone or with at least one other person, I could take it or leave it. To give you a sense of my lack of knowledge, after having seen it I was informed that in the books Peter created a web-shooter and it wasn’t a biological side-effect of the bite. So that frames it a bit.

However, I was a fairly blank slate. I didn’t have expectations I was just reacting to what I saw on the screen and what I saw there was something I didn’t care for much at all. In the post-film powwow I was the only dissenting opinion who chimed in “Well, I thought it really sucked.” I’ve never really had the urge to revisit it and the bad taste in my mouth kept me from seeing the other two.

I could identify easily enough with the elements of the story. Few and far between are the heroes whose archetypes that have a major variable. It was really a letdown in my eyes aesthetically, technically and viscerally. With regards to the viscera a lot of that boiled down to the casting of the leads. There is a certain alchemy in all of filmmaking but perhaps where it’s most present is in acting. Yes, there is a lot of technique and things that are good acting and bad acting just like in any aspect of filmmaking, however, an effective performer who doesn’t excite you in anyway is likely to be less engaging than a less technically skilled actor who is gripping, who has a presence. Tobey Maguire is not a bad actor and neither is Kirsten Dunst. I don’t find them interesting in any way, shape or form though. They bore me more often than not. It’s really a casting issue. Maguire is going to be seen in The Great Gatsby next. That’s great casting. He belongs in that film, here I didn’t care for it.

The casting and the actors get no help in the story department I remembered feeling it tepid and trite, nothing out of the ordinary, and getting back to the alchemy thing you have actors I felt were miscast, not particularly dynamic and then no chemistry too? Brilliant.

I was also not in the camp that ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the CG. Good effects work, truly good effects work is timeless. I doesn’t just stand up against contemporary expectations but stands the test of time too. I felt they were lacking in 2002, much less now. Whereas there are shots in Jurassic Park that are still astounding almost 20 years later.

It really seems in superhero cinema that much of it boils down to character, in the better ones performance, and spectacle. Very few are those films that will also make you legitimately, consistently, and even spontaneously, feel strong pangs of genuine emotion (Teaser: I got a lot of that in the new Batman and that’s the next in this series!).

Perhaps one of the most vivid memories I have of watching any movie ever was the first time I saw Batman. You know the 1989 one, back when Tim Burton was Tim Burton.

“Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?” And thus, the crap was scared out of me and I was in love with that movie.

With Spider-Man you do have a basis for many emotions in the construction of his origin. As superhero films proliferate there will be more and more merit to the arguments about the viability of origin stories, however, in rebooting a series I have no problem with retelling. Similarity by itself is not cause enough for ridicule. Take the Psycho remake for instance (please?), if Van Sant had merely done the story over again: same place, same time, same characters, names; that probably would’ve been fine. However, he took it a step further into cinematic photocopying, which just felt flat.

I can stand a retelling, as I think I’ve stated before: I am fine with multiple versions of stories existing (and when I like the story I seek them out). I clearly wanted to be re-told this story based on my reaction to the first film. So, what was it in this new Spider-Man that worked for me? In short, practically everything.

However, as you may have guessed, it starts with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Just by looking at Andrew Garfield you may not imagine he’s the dynamic performer, but if you watch him you soon find out. I first saw him in The Red Riding Trilogy and I was a fan. There are quite a few things that perturbed me about The Social Network, but he wasn’t one of them, at all. Robbed of an Oscar nomination, is what he was.

Then there’s Emma Stone. I think everybody loves Emma Stone at this point. If you don’t you probably aren’t watching that many movies.

There’s a certain quietness and introspection to this film that allows the emotion to be wrenched out of it. I spoke of spectacle above, spectacle is very external. In many of these films there is rarely introspection. This film manages to do that, build these characters but also steadily build the intrigue. The characters arc, you see what makes them tick, you see and understand their decisions and I felt for them.

Now, the dynamic was changed in this film by bringing Gwen Stacy into the mix rather than Mary Jane Watson. Now, in my return to comics I haven’t delved into Spider-Man really. I’ve only really gotten to know and like him from his teaming up with The Fantastic Four after The Human Torch’s temporary demise, so Gwen was new to me and I think involving her is a great story decision that just makes this film that much better and resonant.

On a technical level, not only do scenes tend to be intensified by occurring at night but the filmmakers figured out that the web-swinging looks better then. Another interesting aesthetic note to me was that the camera was very much controlled, not an over-abundance of motion. The shots look good and composed and it hearken back to earlier superhero films, but are made with newer toys.

All those proclivities aside here are the two true litmus tests for superhero movies as I see them: One, do I want to see the inevitable sequel? Two, does the film make me want to seek out the character in print? The answer to both those questions is a a resounding hell yes. And that is why this Spider-Man amazed me.

Properties That Could Use The Avengers Treatment

Now speaking for myself (for who else would I speak for) I was most definitely delighted with The Avengers. Now, whether you loved it, hated it or felt indifferently towards it one cannot deny the box office records it shattered. Which gets me to thinking that imitation is the sincerest form of trying to make money in Hollywood; so what entities could benefit from a ‘team up’ mentality, aesthetically at least (as the box office is always a crap shoot)?

1. Turma da Mônica

OK, yes, this is absolutely my list and some of these ideas may not be feasible financially or even of broad appeal to a US audience. However, I am merely selecting properties where there can be a convergence of factions within a fictitious universe. This is a Brazilian comics universe I’ve discussed on occasion and the fact of the matter is there are many separate “Gangs” (as they’re referred to meaning more like Kool and the Gang, rather than biker gangs) that could each have their own films or a mash-up. There’s certainly enough characters and plots it’s about 11 sections and 100+ characters. Which does not include the new adolescent versions of many of the same characters.

2. Looney Tunes

This has been touched upon to an extent both in Roger Rabbit, Space Jam and Back in Action, which I did not see. However, the Looney Tunes ensemble is still right for a feature length film that doesn’t stitch together shorts but rather creates new material and introduces a new audience to these wonderful characters.

3. Disney

This was honestly the first idea that came to mind. Between the parks and the Epic Mickey video games (a new version to come next year) this idea is just sitting there. Disney fans are nothing if not loyal. We, for I speak as one of them, would gladly go to see a new story with old familiar faces in familiar contexts. This is much more in keeping with what will please us rather than uninspired straight-to-video sequels.

4. Walter Lantz

Universal Studios owns all these characters and only recently announced the development of a Woody Woodpecker feature. It’s a great property that should be exploited and while they’re doing that they may as well bring many back to us. Come on, Chilly Willy.

This group makes it on the list over something like Dick Tracy because at least here it seems like the current rights holder is seeking to do something with it.

5. Justice League

The status of this project is in the balance and rumored, however, that’s not to say it’s not a possibility. Chris Nolan’s Batman series is a benchmark. Superman is being re-started. Despite its box office and critical struggles (I liked it) Green Lantern has happened. Getting a few more ducks in a row (Meaning films and attaching cast/director) this could work. Seriously.

6. Animaniacs

I can’t be the only one who misses these guys and would absolutely love to see all the great characters this show created converge in one huge overriding plot. The common thread: everyone is, whether they know it or not, obstructing The Brain’s plot to take over the world.

7. Tiny Toons

This one is going a few years before that but, hey, Elmira is the crossover character! The Tiny Toons I felt were more unceremoniously dumped for The Animaniacs. They are far more legitimate heir to the Looney Tunes than the new Baby version which I can hardly bear to look at in a commercial.

8. Roger Rabbit

I mentioned this in a short film Saturday post but Roger Rabbit has unjustly vanished from the world after being poised to be a huge real life star (better than Goofy?) but it never happened. If it all goes well I’d like Robert Zemeckis to get to do this. In spite of his motion capture struggles this is his project if its a hybrid, I would not object to an all toon version though.

9. Fradim

This could work better as a TV show but it is a Brazilian choice. Essentially, Henfil was one of Brazil’s great cartoonists and his strip was extra-ordinarily political. Creating a feature-length pastiche of his works would be something quite special, not that his universe is as massive as some of these others.

10. Calvin & Hobbes

I could include this in another list soon but clearly your argument against it, aside from the purist’s one, would be: “Calvin and Hobbes isn’t a heavily populated universe, is it?” No, not with people but were there to ever be a film I’d want to to be every bit as varied as Calvin’s imagination meaning Spaceman Spiff, Dinosaurs, Old Fashioned Soap Opera-Looking adults, Aliens and other imagined realities and alter egos of Calvin would be included in the story.

11. The Peanuts

Perhaps no other comic strip was ever as simply philosophical and also got down to the brass tacks of childhood and life better than The Peanuts. Specials like at Christmas, Thanksgiving and Halloween are great but they only truly skim the surface of the series. With the Peanuts gaining new life in a series from Boom Studios and dailies being reprinted by Fantagraphics one would think someone would be able to edit and cull major story-lines that relate, and incorporate as many characters as possible into a tremendous feature.

12. Harvey Comics

Now, there were a few adaptations of Harvey creations both Richie Rich and Casper (the latter being better and sequels not withstanding), however, Harvey comics no longer exist but the characters still exist in the collective consciousness and are getting either re-imagined or re-issued all the time. There are many characters to leverage and crossing over was frequent so it wouldn’t be hard to do if someone thought there was an audience for it.

13. The Fantastic Four

I’ll admit that I have not seen The Fantastic Four films that were attempted and based on what I’ve heard they’re not high on my list. Since my return to comics the First Family has become one of my great loves. Jonathan Hickman’s run, which I am fully up to date on, is truly epic and the kind of story that is conducive to an elevated sensibility that has been applied to superhero films as of late. The characters within the Marvel universe have always been sort of a crossroads so creating an Avengers-like project with them would not be difficult.

14. Asterix & Obelix

Here’s another one where the population isn’t huge but the amount of texts related to the characters is. Essentially this would be a narrative bomb, likely involving time travel or some other fantastical means to travel to a plethora of locations in the ancient world.

15. Histeria!

OK, imagine if you will a world wherein The Animaniacs and Tiny Toons were hits. Got it? OK, that’s where Histeria! will logically come into play. Now, it didn’t have nearly the run as those other Warner projects but I liked this one just as much. Similar, to Asterix in as much as this tales is mostly about history there’d be some way for the characters to go through the ages and also be a bit more dramatized than they were on the show.

16. Archie Comics

Anyone who has been reading the Life with Archie series knows that the Archie Comics are into breaking the mold now (Shameless self-promotion: I’ll discuss that further in an upcoming post). The same incarnations of the characters you grew up with still exist and can be exploited cinematically also, but the more mature mind-bending interpretation is the one with the most potential.

17. Star Comics

OK, here’s another personal pick and one that’s far more likely if Marvel were to ever do shorts. The mash-up angle is that Star was an imprint dedicated mostly to licensed material but it also did include some newly created original characters namely Planet Terry, Wally the Wizard, Top Dog and Royal Roy. Crossing over could easily happen here. To further convince the cynic here’s the Marvel “bridge,” meaning how can we possibly get to Star characters: Reboot The Fantastic Four (Make tons of money), incorporate the Power Pack in a sequel (as they’ve always been connected through Franklin Richards [See, crossroads]) and then get around to Star via Fantastic Four and Power Pack.

18. Hanna-Barbera

We all know that this is a huge universe and also that they had crossovers, many of these are animated simply because the possibility of combining a large number of characters is very exciting

19. Stephen King

Here’s one I saw suggest by John Gholson on his twitter feed. I forget who he suggested but essentially with all of King‘s canon this could work any number of ways. It could be an assemblage of his greatest heroes, or it could also be new heroes and a few villains who survived (names avoided to not spoil). The third possibility is a poor, unfortunate schmuck goes through a horrific tour through King’s Maine, without any need to justify it. Because you don’t need one sometimes as King himself stated in Storm of the Century ‘When his life was ruined, his family killed, his farm destroyed, Job knelt down on the ground and yelled up to the heavens, “Why God? Why me?” and the thundering voice of God answered, “There’s just something about you that pisses me off”.’

20. The Kids in the Hall

I preface this choice by saying I adore Brain Candy, I know I’m in a minority when I say that but I do. However, that’s not to say I wouldn’t love to see a Kids in the Hall film where they play say 995 out of 1000 characters and bring in many of their famous characters. One needs to only see the rendition of a film not unlike Kiss of the Spider Woman that Bruno Puntz Jones (David Foley) and Francesca Fiore (Scott Thompson) do to know how cinematic they can be and how easily they can pull it off.

Short Film Saturday- Ralph Phillips

Ralph Phillips in Boyhood Daze (Warner Bros.)

Continuing the theme of under-utilized characters I now turn my attention to the Looney Tunes. In the short film game the Looney Tunes are without question my favorite cadre of characters. I love some of the smaller personages especially, however, they are fewer and further between than other groups. The Looney Tunes while they do have depth in talent are buoyed mostly by their titanic personalities. Having said that the two Ralph Phillips shorts that Chuck Jones directed have always been favorites of mine. They are lyrical and whimsical celebrations of childhood imagination. Of all the characters in the Warner canon he is who I’d most want to see more of owing mostly to the fact that he has only these appearances. Establishing him as a dreamer makes him suited for shorts or a TV series and he could be easily incorporated into the Looney Tunes comic published by DC Comics, I’m uncertain if he ever has been.

So here are the two shorts, the first of which was nominated for an Academy Award.


Hero Whipped 4: A Question of Form

The Walking Dead (Image Comics/Robert Kirkman)

It’s been a while since I posted one of these and much of the reason is because I usually touch upon a number of properties and I am left to ponder a while as I amass enough new-formed opinion to justify a new entry. However, three very specific things have occurred to me since I last discussed comics and the movies.

First, being a question of form in which the adaptation is made. In my return to reading comics, now more avidly than ever, there is nothing I have read more of than The Walking Dead. It really does play out like a post-apocalyptic soap opera with murder and zombies in the mix. So much so that reading Compendium One or the trades is preferable to monthly for that particular series. Having said that I admit having only seen the pilot of the show but two things I do know are it was meant to be a television show and I applaud Robert Kirkman for giving the show a different direction than the comic based on what I know. It’d be next to impossible to make a motion picture of The Walking Dead as satisfying as the book. The task would be rather herculean especially considering that the comic is still ongoing. Similarly, I have not read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice books, which is an itch I may soon need to scratch, however, one only needs to watch the first season of Game of Thrones to see it was meant for television, more specifically a drama on a cable network where the story will not be censored or interrupted by commercials. In certain ways, the serial treatment makes it more immersible once you get into the extras on the Blu-Ray it has you.

Maisie Williams and Sean Bean in Game of Thrones (HBO)

The moral of the examples above is that again the supremacy of the motion picture as the most desirable vehicle for adaptation is quickly being shown to be a fallacy. Some stories are more conducive to other storytelling modes and fans should take note and think about how, if at all, they want to see their favorite works reinterpreted.

And this kind of leads directly to my next point: one of the most anticipated films of the year is The Avengers. Part of the reason why is that Marvel has had a string of hit films which have featured a member of the superteam and thus though The Avengers may be in theory a new property there is a built-in fanbase. Conversely, not that this is an original notion, but DC is also planning a Justice League film. The main difference being there may be casting incongruities and all the major members of the League haven’t had their own film, or a hit, etc. So how can the Justice League film possibly come close to the The Avengers?

Marvel 1985 (Marvel)

Well, they can’t turn back time and make a Flash movie starring [Insert guaranteed box-office draw] here that makes infinitely more money than The Green Lantern but what they can do is akin to industrial espionage. Allow me to explain, when I was in Orlando recently as I was in Universal Studio’s Comictown I stopped in the Marvel store and found a trade paperback of Marvel 1985, a mini-series that came out just before I returned to comics. I really enjoyed it as a whole but what I really liked about it, and what I noted, was it could serve as a great introduction to the Marvel Universe to someone who knows zero about it based on the story it tells. Now clearly, the story of 1985 makes it such that it can be an introduction but it made me realize that if there is a character, or other device in The Justice League film that acts as a liaison between the film and the neophyte audience member it might just work better than expected.

The Justice League (DC Comics)

In conclusion, the method of adaptation usually can be said to tap in to the spirit of the work being adapted, or it should ideally. For example, after seeing Tintin I felt that motion capture would be a great treatment for other animated properties, especially those given lackluster live action treatments like Asterix, which I was glad to discover has been most recently adapted in a hand-drawn feature called Asterix and the Vikings.

Asterix and the Vikings (M6 Films)

10 Keys to a Better Life as a Fanboy: 8. It Won’t Change a Thing

Jeremy Sumpter and Rachel Hurd-Wood in Peter Pan (Universal)

This series of articles is designed to help you, the fan, try and divorce yourself from your attachment to source material and judge a film on its own merits and not in comparison to another work. These tips come from my own experience. I hope they are helpful.

The problem I think a lot of people have, and it’s a nasty trap that I’ve seen ensnare many, is that people seem to think that films are somehow definitive; as if that’s the final word on the work and that’s how it will be remembered for all eternity. While it’s true in a theoretical sense that film may be the most concrete and immutable art it by no means claims to be the coda, furthermore the verdict on the worth of a given piece of narrative.

Your favorite book or comic is being adapted into a film and you are pissed? Why bother? What for? I’ll explain why and this even works for remakes to an extent. It still doesn’t change an iota of the written piece that you love so dearly. If you disliked the mini-series based on Stephen King’s It the words in your copy won’t smear.

That’s an extremely hyperbolic example but surely you catch my drift. It’s all about perception and those can change as much as anything. So while it will be next to impossible for the film adaptation of The Catcher in the Rye to match the book in terms of acclaim I won’t deny it’d be interesting to see.

Not only is it waste of your ire to rail against an adaptation of something you love, it also is to an extent pointless, that piece you hold so dear is still there.

I’ve seen The Little Prince butchered on film. It’s still one of my favorite books and I can always turn to it and know that the story will turn out in my head just the way I see it. Just the way I interpret Exupéry’s words.

And that’s another thing: every adaptation is just an interpretation of a director’s vision regardless of how involved a studio is. It is by no means definitive, lest you agree, it’s just a variation on a theme. I personally think P.J. Hogan perfected Peter Pan and Spike Jonze got Where The Wild Things Are, others may disagree.

We all have baggage; it’s best to check yours before entering the auditorium lest it weigh you down.
 

Spielberg Sunday- E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (Amblin)


Owing to the fact that I have decided to honor Steven Spielberg this year with my version of a Lifetime Achievement Award I figured it was an appropriate time to dust off some old reviews I wrote when I took a course on his work. The remarks still hold true, he is an amazing filmmaker.

When a movie is a hit it’s sometimes called “home run.” But Steven Spielberg doesn’t hit home runs he hits Grand Slams. If there is any film that absolutely defines Spielberg in my mind it’s this one. This film is a complete and total success both as entertainment and within the framework of the director’s objectives.

It’s very odd to look at these films in retrospect after most of them have already gone on to become world-wide phenomena and see that many studios rejected not only this film but many other successful Spielberg ventures. Oddly enough Hollywood insiders have always viewed him as a risk-taker. This film’s success, however, shouldn’t have surprised anyone at all. In E.T. we have a wonderfully structured story that seamlessly crosses over from fairy tale to comedy to drama without ever missing a beat. It always keeps you emotionally involved both through the story and with the assistance of the score.

One of the most impressive things about this film is the dialogue. It is often humorous and insightful. The thing that makes it stand out is how succinct it is and how perfectly adept to the situation. A prime example of this is during the emotional good-bye between E.T. and Elliot. They meet each one points to their heart and says “Ouch” then they exchange pleas “Come” and “Stay.” Four lines of dialogue, four words exchanged between the two of them yet that says it all; can it get any tighter than that? The best part is that it works so brilliantly. The comedic dialogue is just as effective Elliot is asked, “Did you explain school to him?” and in response Elliot says “How do you explain school to higher intelligence?” There have been entire films on the subject of how futile public education is and in that one line everything has been said.

Another great detail in E.T. is the use of inside jokes. First, we see Elliot introducing E.T. to the characters from Star Wars and later in the Halloween sequence we see an homage to that film as well as to Night of the Living Dead and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. One thing that makes E.T. special is that it uses situations that all of us can relate to from our own childhood even if it’s only there for a second. There’s bickering amongst siblings, the use of comics, adults that just won’t listen to what you have to say, Halloween, being caught daydreaming by a teacher and many others. Spielberg implemented enough shared experience that even if we didn’t feel that Elliot was a snapshot of our past we could identify enough to get lost in the story. What also aids the story a great deal is the almost supernatural connection that E.T. and Elliot form. It’s akin to what identical twins are supposed to have according to parapsychologists. The connection of their emotional and physical states leads first to some very comedic moments with Elliot sharing E.T.’s drunkenness and also the magical mimicry of the John Wayne film. Later on it leads to some of the most emotionally wrenching scenes where E.T. and Elliot are sharing an illness. Everything is so beautifully set up in this film that you might even stop and consider, “Hey, didn’t that come out of nowhere?” but upon examining the film you’ll find there really are no holes in the narrative. An example of this being the bike flying one of the most brilliant moments ever recorded on film. It still catches me off guard but it was set up when E.T. levitated the balls in the kid’s room to demonstrate where he came from.

To measure a film’s impact it is probably best to look at landscape of the entertainment industry a few years later as opposed to just looking at initial box office returns. In both regards E.T.’s impact was enormous. There was a cheap copy-cat film a couple of years later called Mac and Me along with a very successful television series that took a different angle called ALF. Even scenes in E.T. had an impact, for example, the anti-dissection episode is now another staple in the sitcom book of ideas. The reason that this film epitomized Spielberg so well is not the emotional intensity although that has a lot to do with it and it’s most definitely not the fact that there are aliens involved. What makes it such a trademark in my mind is that it is such a resounding success.

This film is also timeless, it will never, ever, ever seem dated no matter how much magic computers can conjure up you’ll never be able to put aside a story as involving and touching as this one, it’s a classic and it’s quite hard to imagine someone making a film this beautiful, one of the best films ever made.

10/10

Review- Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (Columbia/Marvel)

Last year saw a rash of superhero films and I believe the consensus was that we as a moviegoing public were pleasantly surprised with how they turned out. While each of us may have had a different favorite overall, as a class, the superhero films of 2011 faired rather well. Now the number of films in 2012 I believe is less but the expectations are greater, which makes it a little strange that it kicks off with Ghost Rider. Now as is the case with any of these films I do preface it with my personal history with the character as I feel it does matter.

So far as Ghost Rider is concerned, though I have returned to the comics fold in the past few years, I know nothing about him coming into this film, which I think is likely the ideal for any of these films but it was a strange experience. Strange in as much as I can’t say I disliked this movie but only barely. I certainly found it very flawed and wanted many things to be better but I didn’t hate it. Not a ringing endorsement but a true and modest one.

Part of the reason I decided to watch this film was that it was reported in trades and elsewhere that it’d be a reboot and it kind of was but bearing that in mind it really skimmed over the pretty decent backstory this character has. Of course, owing to my ignorance of the character maybe the origin is even better than indicated here but it’s rushed through in a voice over. Granted we’re all weary of origins at this point but if you commit to something touted as a reboot you’re committing to re-sketching the character for dopes like me who know next to nothing about him.

The other issue is that much of the story hinges on two rites one religious and one irreligious that are really rather simplistic and anticlimactic considering how high the stakes are and how huge the tasks. Such large accomplishments with obstacles so small are rather silly.

This contributes to a certain inoffensive flatness in this film. It’s never really un-enjoyable but in this sequel that should’ve been the fix it seems the risk-taking is non-existent and the peaks and valleys of emotion are kept at a bare minimum.

In a similar vein to the above rite issue there’s also the problem that our hero gets a temporary reprieve from his gift/curse and that too is granted and reversed a bit simply. This dichotomy should be allowed to build and perhaps shouldn’t even be tackled in the “first” film of a storyline but the saving grace is that it is corrected cleverly.

I’ve written quite a few times on the conundrum of Nicolas Cage. A Nicolas Cage who is locked in can be a great thing. A Nicolas Cage just going through the motions can be very hard to watch. This turn is much closer to the former than the latter, which is good because aside from Ciarán Hinds, as his nemesis, and relative newcomer Fegus Riordan who is caught in the middle of the battle, he gets little help from the supporting cast.

The special effects in the film are pretty good but the 3D is not as good as one might expect a native 3D film to be.

In summation, I did like the story both of the character and that the character is in. Clearly, the way in which it is rendered leaves something to be desired. Essentially, it’s sin is not quite enough ambition as opposed to The Green Lantern but I do find it to be an adequate, enjoyable and not dissatisfying film.

6/10

Hero Whipped: Comics and the Studio System (Part 3)

The previous two entries in this series offered one connected stream of consciousness. You can read them here and here. In this installment I break from that narrative and take a look at how comics could benefit from emulating the better parts of the imperfect and once standard studio system that films employed for many decades.

The Studio/Indie Parallel

Disney and Marvel logos. They merged in 2009.

One way in which you can definitely draw a parallel between comics and movies is that there is a definite distinction between the studio system/The Big Two and indies.

Seeing as how that industrial dynamic is similar between the two of them there are ideas that can be borrowed from the studio era and altered to accommodate comics. Not that in a perfect world I wouldn’t like to see movie studios re-adopt things but comics might be more apt to experiment with ideas such as these to get new readers.

Serials

Buster Crabbe in Flash Gordon (Universal)

I’ve written here on a few occasions about my love of serials. Now part of the cliffhangers design was to get kids into movie theatres on a weekly basis, even if they had no interest in the feature they’d show up to see the continuation of their favorite chapter play. How this could apply to comics is in the form of the five-page story (perhaps perfected by Harvey as their staple). The five-page tale would serve as a means to display another character in a given book and should be advertised. It could be an intermediate step before giving a character a book. All-Star Western, part of DC’s new 52, featured a B-story (maybe it still does I dropped it out of my pull list) and if it’s known about it could be a draw. Every reader of comics has a favorite character who is currently not headlining an ongoing series I think most would agree something is better than nothing and it could provide a boost.

Stars

Avengers Academy #23 (Marvel)

Speaking of headliners the star system is the next thing that can be exploited just a bit more than it is now. It is nice to be surprised by an unexpected appearance, however, if it is not crucial to the plot that the secret be kept guest appearances should be promoted. You may have people try a new title but it could also serve as an introductory issue for new readers.

Loans

Image Comics

In the studio system actors pertained to one studio or another but they would and could be loaned to a rival studio for a given project in exchange for a favor.

This does not mean I think it likely that the aisle would be crossed and Marvel and DC characters would co-exist in a story. However, each does still have imprints of its own and can send its big boys to those tales and vice versa, if necessary and applicable to boost readership and cross-pollinate fanbases. Preferably in standalone narratives that do not adversely affect continuity.

Trailers

Batman: Noël (DC Comics)

Now previews do exist and they can serve their function. However, just as trailers will inundate us there are months when you can’t get away from the same five pages.

A bit more variety might expand fan-bases for more books.

Self-Containment

Batman & Robin (DC Comics)

All above suggestions would imply and perhaps even demand a greater amount self-containment in each series.

One thing I’ve noticed in the New 52 is that, at least in some cases, there is less co-dependence. I started reading Batman and Batman & Robin in their new incarnations and there is little to no leaning on the other series thus far one needn’t read both if they choose not to.

That lack of co-dependence is a lot of what the above is about also. If you have a guest character in a new arc it can easily be its own entity and not need to play into a hierarchy.

Marvel Short Film Rumors

Nathaniel Moreau, Margot Finley, Bradley Machry and Jacelyn Holmes in Power Pack (Marvel/New World)

Pictured above is the cast from a pilot for a Power Pack series that was never picked up but along with Dr. Strange would be an ideal candidate for a short film treatment. There were rumors a while back that Marvel would produce shorts to play prior to its tentpole films. That seems to have died down but it shouldn’t a short film would be a great boon to a lesser character and not the investment or risk that a major summer release for a borderline top tier character would be (top tier in film terms).

Both Marvel and DC have established cinematic properties such that they can try and get lesser properties some limelight too. They are both studios and they should act like it with greater frequency.

Movie Tie-Ins

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (Little, Brown)

In keeping with that any all comic-based feature films need their tie-ins and branded to get their product out there. I purchased The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn recently with the all too rare “Soon to be a Major Motion Picture” sticker on it but a week or so removed from having seen the film.

However, novelist and comics writer Joe Hill had a great idea on Twitter this summer just before one of the huge superhero movies came out: Why not have comics at the movies when those projects come around? When else would an impulse buy be as strong? “I just saw this movie and liked it, yes I’ll buy a comic; it’s half the price of a soda.”

Conclusion

The studio system was imperfect but so is the current one. The idea of changing a system isn’t replacing everything about it but just what didn’t work. Some of these ideas form a parallel industry can help comics.