Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Crisis on Infinite Film Schedules

There isn’t a great deal that can be offered positively in the defence of what Hollywood and the mainstream American movie industry are somewhat blindly ejaculating into cinemas at present. If you’ve seen one film this summer then you’ve almost certainly seen them all. A shame really, when one considers the creativity that permeates the industry and on occasion does manage to shine through - despite the energy sapping efforts of the studios, spineless financial backers, marketing agencies and other soulless collectives.

It might be said correctly that at times there is most certainly too much money diverting, readjusting and wounding the creative process in film making, not just in America, but worldwide. The more funding required for a project the more ideas and opinions are added to the creative soup. The vision of a writer and/or director is then diluted so much that only an independently financed project or efforts of a maverick or genius can then skip through the oceans of red tape and malaise that the studios are happy to stew in. Too many cooks do indeed spoil the broth. It’s that blind flailing about which Hollywood does so well that has seen it become heavily engrossed in mining a rich but seldom used vein of material.

Graphic novels (for those with an inferiority complex about the use of the term “comic books”) have a long history in Hollywood and in cross media pollenisation. The film industry has flirted with a number of comic book properties in an ignorant and condescending manner ever since the days of Captain Marvel (1941), The Phantom (1943) and Batman (1943). Indeed it is the film industry that unwittingly ensured the popularity and longevity of many of the worlds most loved and occasionally loathed characters (Yes it is they whom you can blame for the recent resurgence in Ninja Turtle popularity).

2008 has seen a number of new comic book properties launched onto the silver screen, hot on the financial successes of Marvel’s Spiderman and X-Men franchises and DC’s revitalised Batman franchise. Those successes lead to The Dark Knight (the second instalment to the Batman series), Iron Man, a second attempt at the Incredible Hulk, and soon Comic Book land’s most eagerly awaited adaptation – Alan Moore’s Watchmen (if it ever gets through the legal wrangling clouding its release).

Marvel is leading the way having formed its own studio, allowing the company to take the reigns in how its properties are presented. In effect Marvel will be able to transfer multiple properties to the big screen and allow its “Marvel Universe” to take shape in film, offering stand alone stories in the context of a greater web of stories and possibilities. Other Marvel properties scheduled for release in 2009/10 are Punisher War Zone, Wolverine, Venom and Thor.

DC Comics are well in the race to push their wares, but they have some way to go in catching up to Marvel. Until now there has been no definite strategy at DC in how to present their properties, and much of this is owed to the fact that DC is generally perceived to be an insignificant division of Time Warner Inc. The studios generally had little interest in having a comic book company give significant input into the development of a film(s) despite the comic company being home to the involved characters and their writers. This is set to change – or at least that is what has been suggested recently by DC. Batman works and Superman is being rebooted. The Justice League is still a maybe and so are Wonder Woman and Green Lantern.

Given that comic books offer an almost inexhaustible resource of new and exciting stories that work well on film when executed with intelligence and respect, what properties would be ideal candidates for studios to look at? Well, that’s a tough question and one that every comic fan can argue and then add to a pile of diverse and wide ranging opinions with no joy as a result. Perhaps it might then be a more intelligent stroke that studios look to hire the comic creative instead? Allan Moore has had successes already with League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, and almost certainly the upcoming Watchmen. Neil Gaiman has had limited successes with Mirrormask and Stardust and Frank Miller whilst seen in some quarters of the comic industry as a legend, and a fool by others has also had successes with Sin City and 300 (let us try to forget Robocop 2). If the studios wanted to up the ante they need only look to the hottest writers in the business, in the form of Geoff Johns, Gail Simone and Grant Morrison, although I’m not quite sure that the film industry is ready for what Morrison might be capable of in such a medium!

Personally, I’d love to see film versions of the Doom Patrol (which inspired the creation of the X-Men), The Spirit (directed by anyone other than Frank Miller) or practically anything Gail Simone has ever touched.