"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Film, Comic Books
Once again, it’s time for a column made up of various shorter items that have been accumulating in my In Box. Most of these notes are about various DVD releases that have been arriving lately, so we’ll just call this the Home Video Roundup, I guess.
You may or may not be aware of this, but The Middleman is now available on DVD.
We are very sad here in the Hatcher household that there won’t be any more, but on the other hand we do at least have these twelve delightful episodes. Highly, highly recommended. One of the best comics-to-screen efforts ever.
Also, just as a bonus, in San Diego this year the cast gathered for a live reading of the unfilmed thirteenth episode’s script. You can enjoy that now in seven parts on YouTube, right here.
Speaking of comics-to-screen, I finally got around to seeing Watchmen. We liked it fine; considering it’s a story I regarded as basically unfilmable in its original form, the movie struck me as being about as serviceable a job as could be done.
I confess I don’t get a lot of the vitriol I saw unleashed on this movie by the comics community. I thought there were plenty of things to like. Jackie Earle Haley, in particular, was terrific as Rorschach, and I thought most of the other actors did fine. I wasn’t thrilled with the direction, particularly the stupid music-video trick of super slo-mo shots SUDDENLY SPEEDING UP FAST FAST FAST for the action scenes, but it didn’t happen often enough to ruin the movie for me or anything. There were other bits in it that they might have improved here or there, I had a couple of casting quibbles, but on the whole even if those changes were made I still don’t think I’d have given it more than a solid C-plus. It’s just not a book that’s ever going to make a movie that will feel quite right for fans of the original story… hence, ‘unfilmable.’
It seems to me that should have been obvious to all of us going in. The people who made the Watchmen movie tried harder to respect the source material than a lot of other movie studios that have tried to adapt comics to film over the years, they kept quite a bit more from the book than I expected, and as a movie…. well, we didn’t hate it. It’s about on the level of a wait-for-DVD movie…. which, as it happens, is what we did.
Those of you out there who are getting so venomous about how disgraceful the Watchmen movie was and how the filmmakers just destroyed it…. clearly, you have never seen a truly bad comics adaptation. Like this one.
Or this one.
Or this one.
Those are cringeworthy comics adaptations. Watchmen is nowhere near being in that league.
What I notice in a lot of the fan press about comics-to-film adaptations is that it seems like we always want the moviemakers to love the comic as much as we do. Hollywood is getting hip to this and so every year they come down to San Diego Comic-Con and occasionally other places, trying to persuade us all that they, too, are comics fans. Sometimes it might even be true, but… so what? Does it really matter if Megan Fox reads comics or Halle Berry doesn’t? One of the most pathetic things I’ve ever seen was the pre-taped announcement Jennifer Garner made for SDCC when they were trying to drum up enthusiasm for the Elektra movie: at one point, Jennifer timidly assured everyone that the costume would be red this time. The whole thing felt like it should have ended with “Just…. just please don’t kill me, okay?”
If there’s anything wrong with Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, it’s that it feels like every foot of film was shot with the idea that the first priority was dodging internet fan backlash. The truth is that there’s no way it wasn’t going to get pasted in the comics press. Because Snyder and company had to make changes, and there are way too many fans out there who regard the original Watchmen comic as Holy Writ. It’s the book we wave at people when we try to prove superheroes can be Literature, there are too many people that use it to justfy reading comics, period.
Honestly? A lot of the changes that were made were necessary. You can’t do a theatrical-release movie version of Watchmen and get everything in from the book. You just can’t. Furthermore, the one big change Snyder and his crew made, the nature of Adrian’s plan, strikes me as a better idea than the one in the book.
But then, I’m the heretic who’s always thought the original Watchmen kind of falls apart at the end and places it much lower on the list of Alan Moore’s work than most fans do. So there’s that.
Nevertheless, I think the point stands. If you don’t care for the movie itself, that’s one thing, but railing about the changes in it from the comic book version seems just ridiculous to me. There will always be changes no matter what work you’re adapting. Sometimes those changes work — X-Men, Stardust — and other times they don’t. We should all know that going in and make our peace with it. Remember what James M. Cain (I think it was Cain) used to tell people when they carried on about how Hollywood ruined his books: “What do you mean? They’re right there on the shelf, people still read them.”
People still read Watchmen. I don’t see that changing. A movie’s just, well, a movie. This one was… okay. Not great but certainly not as horrible as it’s been painted. I think Watchmen is a project that most of us probably feel too strongly about to ever really judge a movie version on its merits.
Amazon keeps trying to sell me old serials on DVD and I have fallen for a few of them.
Batman, from 1943, is generally regarded as not being very good.
For one thing, since it was made right in the thick of World War II, it’s very racist. The serial features a Japanese villain, Dr. Daka, who turns his victims into brainwashed zombies.
There are also references to the government “wisely rounding up those shifty-eyed Japs, leaving Little Tokyo a ghost town.” Etc.
Nevertheless, it’s a mildly interesting historical curiosity — this is the first appearance ever of the Batcave, an idea the comics promptly stole for themselves right down to the grandfather-clock entrance. Also this is the movie that prompted the comics to slim down the originally plump Alfred the butler to match his screen incarnation, as played by William Austin (Brian tells you more about that here.)
The Batman ran for 15 installments and starred Lewis Wilson as Batman and Douglas Croft as Robin.
The DVD set us back four dollars and that included shipping. For that price, I’d recommend it, but don’t spend much more than that.
A much better ride is the 1949 Batman and Robin.
This is a more typical entry in the genre of Saturday-afternoon serials. The villain is the masked Wizard, and part of the fun is guessing his identity. The stunt work and fight choreography is first-rate, and the whole thing is such hell-for-leather fun you can sort of forgive and forget about things like the low-budget special effects and the ill-fitting Bat-costume.
Rumor has it that Hugh Hefner used to screen this for his friends at the Playboy Mansion in the sixties and that eventually led to ABC greenlighting the Adam West Batman TV show and doing it as a serial. Certainly you can see a lot of the elements here that the TV show parodied and there’s plenty to laugh at, but I have to stick up for this one a little. It’s fun. It always has felt to me like the Dick Sprang version of a Batman movie. Robert Lowery, in particular, plays both Bruce Wayne and Batman with such good-humored vigor that he seems to have stepped right out of a Golden Age comics story.
This DVD set replaces the VHS version I bought fifteen years ago. Both times I paid about seven dollars and that’s about right. It’s not the best Batman movie ever or anything, but I’d definitely recommend picking up the DVD if you come across it. It’s a good time.
We have more of these serial collections on deck — Captain Marvel, Superman, Tarzan — but haven’t watched all of them yet, so I daresay I’ll have more to say on the subject…
…Next week. See you then.
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