Keys to a Successful Comic Book Movie Adaptation

A college age reporter in Kentucky got it right in this thoughtful article about how to make a successful comic book movie...

By CHARLIE COX
Contributing Writer

Respect the source material:

This is easily one of the most important keys to making a successful comic book movie as well as one of the most common missteps filmmakers make in unsuccessful adaptations. In adapting a comic, filmmakers have a responsibility to fans to be loyal to the source material. Creative license always is granted to a filmmaker, but one must not get carried away. Take "Sin City," for example: Robert Rodriguez worked meticulously with co-director and comic creator Frank Miller to ensure accuracy in the comic's film translation. The result was a visually stunning and brilliantly executed film, which still is one of the best-reviewed films of the year. The film even recently won special recognition at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, where it was announced that a sequel was under way. "Sin City's" success is an excellent example of the importance of respecting a comic book as source material.

Play it straightforward:

This is also a common area where lame comic book adaptations go wrong. Successful comic adaptations such as the "Spider-Man" and "X-men" films treat their stories as just what they should be - drama. Comic movies should feel like movies, not like watching actors joke around and play superhero. It's also OK to wink at your audience - just don't nudge them. In-jokes and one-liners shouldn't dominate the film or it is impossible to take it seriously. "X-men" and "Spider-Man" both found a perfectly comfortable balance of the two.

Cast characters, not actors:

Again, another common mistake made in producing comic book movies. An existing character in the comic book universe shouldn't be compromised and tailored to fit a movie star, no matter how big they might be. Compare Sam Raimi's masterful casting of Alfred Molina as Doc Ock in "Spider-Man 2" to Joel Schumacher's horrid misstep of making Mr. Freeze out of Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Batman and Robin," and you'll see the importance of putting a character in front of casting a big star.

Hire passionate and established filmmakers, not flashy music video directors:

For a director to take on a comic adaptation, he must care for the material and not just see it as an excuse to use flashy camera angles and fancy special effects. Bryan Singer, the director of the first two "X-men" films and who is currently shooting 2006's "Superman Returns," was an acclaimed filmmaker before he stepped behind the cameras for the first mutant adventure. Sam Raimi had developed many fans in the horror genre with his "Evil Dead" films before he took on the web-slinger. Both Singer and Raimi cared for the comics and treated them seriously as well. Compare their results to that of Pitof, the one named director of last year's disastrous "Catwoman" movie.

Make the alter-ego just as important as the superhero:

I realize I am mentioning "Spider-Man 2" repeatedly, but since it is the most lucrative superhero movie ever made, it deserves all the recognition, and I'll bring it up here again. Watching "Spider-Man 2," could you imagine there being a Spider-Man without Peter Parker? Of course not. Raimi does such an outstanding job of fully developing Peter Parker that it makes us care about Spider-Man even more. The drama of the film revolves around Peter Parker's journey of growing up and accepting that with great power comes great responsibility. All of the action in the film is necessary as well. It's never coincidental or irrelevant, and it pushes our hero's story forward. As much love as I may have for the first three Batman films, a part of me realizes that we have yet to see a Batman movie live up to its full potential. Although Batman is arguably the most human superhero of all, his alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, has yet to be fully realized on film. This is something I have high hopes will happen next week in "Batman Begins."

Ground the film in some sort of reality:

Often, directors lose sight of this when adapting comic books. Too often directors fall under the spell of large sets and big budget action sequences, and their films can become unrealistic. They simply sometimes lose sight of what is important. An obvious example of this is Joel Schumacher's cinematic wreck "Batman and Robin," a film that drove a successful franchise into the ground and single-handedly almost killed the genre. Nothing in the film is realistic or entertaining. The characters are all supposed to be human, yet none of them speak remotely like people would. The "X-men" films do an excellent job of being grounded in reality, as they use the resistance the mutants encounter as metaphors for problems in our societies. While the X-Men deal with some larger-than-life circumstances, we never forget that they are living people with real emotions.

Don't forget about the fun of the comics:

Last, but certainly not least, this key has been forgotten a couple of times. While a certain amount of drama is necessary and required for a successful adaptation, one shouldn't forget to balance it with fun. A glaring example of a miscalculation in this department is Ang Lee's "The Hulk." Panned by audiences and most fans, "Hulk" worked hard to build drama for the characters but made the grave mistake of not infusing it with any of the fun and excitement of comic books. The result was an overly-dramatic snooze-fest, which didn't make the box office numbers it should have.

Amen Charlie! Do you agree? Disagree? Want to add more keys to the formula? Discuss this on our boards HERE.
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