From Page to Screen - The Faithfulness of the Screen Adaptation - Part One: Zorro

From Page to Screen - The Faithfulness of the Screen Adaptation - Part One: Zorro

The history of the movie superhero and the faithfulness of their adaptation from page to screen.

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How happy are you with your CBM? Do you think they got the costume right? Is the cape the correct length in your personal vision of that character? Was the filmmaker faithful to the source material? Did they take too much creative licence?

In the annals of comic book movies on film, the history is rich with our colorful heroes and their displays on heroism on screen. In the early days, the budgets were measured at $20, 000 or less, but they did no less to thrill the Saturday matinee audiences. Of course, the superhero genre wasn’t new to popular culture. Fantasy writing had gone back as far as legend, when historical figures had been measured by exaggerated deeds, passed down through stories, sonnets and song. The concept of ‘metahuman’ or ‘mutants’ of course didn’t exist then, but their myth was no less than superhuman. The deeds of Hercules, Robin Hood, and The Lone Ranger continue to thrill ven today, albeit to an older audience. The recent news from Disney's Lone Ranger project was disappointing to say the least.

For our purposes here today, we’re looking at the classic interpretation of the superhero; skintight costume, abilities (sometimes seemingly) above and beyond those of mortal men. Just a look back into history of the superhero adaptation from page to screen.

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The first reference I could find to the first costumed superhero, as it is currently regarded, is Zorro. Created in 1919, by New York based pulp fiction writer, Johnston McCulley. Zorro first made his onscreen appearance a year later after his first appearance in print in 1920’s “The Mark of Zorro”

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Synopsis (From Wikipedia)

The Mark of Zorro tells the story of Don Diego Vega, the outwardly foppish son of a wealthy ranchero Don Alejandro in the old Spanish California of the early 19th century. Seeing the mistreatment of the peons by rich landowners and the oppressive colonial government, Don Diego, who is not as effete as he pretends, has taken the identity of the masked Robin Hood-like rogue Señor Zorro ("Mr. Fox"), champion of the people, who appears out of nowhere to protect them from the corrupt administration of Governor Alvarado, his henchman the villainous Captain Juan Ramon and the brutish Sergeant Pedro Gonzales (Noah Beery, Wallace Beery's older half-brother). With his sword flashing and an athletic sense of humor, Zorro scars the faces of evildoers with his mark, "Z."

When not in the disguise of Zorro, dueling and rescuing peons, Don Diego courts the beautiful Lolita Pulido with bad magic tricks and worse manners and she cannot stand him. Lolita is also courted by Captain Ramon; and by the dashing Zorro, whom she likes.

In the end, when Lolita's family is jailed, Don Diego throws off his masquerade, whips out his sword, wins over the soldiers to his side, forces Governor Alvarado to abdicate, and wins the hand of Lolita, who is delighted to discover that her effeminate fiancé, Diego, is actually the dashing hero.

"The Mark of Zorro" was very favorably received, possibly generating the first generation of movie fanboys. We're all aware of the place the film owes to the Batman mythos.

I guess there really isn't much to get wrong about Zorro. The movie poster appears the character is more pirate looking in nature, although that wouldn't be the first time a poster artist was unfamiliar with a character. Having seen the film myself, I have to say that it isn't the Zorro I knew, but that's the blame of the 1980's Filmation Studios cartoon.

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Over the coming years, there would be further Zorro film and television adaptations, all basically keeping faithful to the nature of the source material, that is, with the McCulley vision of the character. Other production companies have taken liberties with the character in the form of BKN Studios: "Zorro: Generation Z" which saw a descendant of De La Vega don the hat and cape, although this one rode a motorcycle and wielded a lightsaber like sword.

Most modern audiences are familiar with 1998's "The Legend of Zorro" starring Antonio Banderas being mentored by the aging Don Diego (Anthony Hopkins) to exact revenge on his enemy for the kidnapping of his daughter and destroying his life. Most aficionados of the character regard this as a fairly faithful adaptation, even going with the liberties taken by the director, Martin Campbell.

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So there we are, with a brief history of Zorro on film, how would you say this character has been treated on screen?

Faithful to source material or not?
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