ThePageBoy

Writing, Reviewing and Criticism In The Internet Age

Tag: Movies

Dredding it, or, ‘Do you see what I did there?’

If ever fans could feel aggrieved at the treatment of a Hollywood adaptation then Judge Dredd fans clearly have a case to make. First appearing in the second ever issue of the massively influential British magazine 2000AD Dredd became one of the most iconic and certainly one of the most successful British comic characters ever created. The writers used the dystopia setting and the violent characters as a chance to explore issues such as free speech, authoritarianism, the role of law and the police state. Such is the measure of the character that Judge Dredd has been mentioned in Parliament when British law makers have been discussing just these same issues.

Sadly though it couldn’t stay that way forever and in the mid-1990s Hollywood came a calling. It’s worth noting at this point in time Hollywood was in the middle of the what fans of actions movies would later call ‘the dark time,’ (not actually true but 90s action movies were god awful) and the chances the adaptation would be faithful were…well…not great…

If that non too subtle clue at the end of the last paragraph wasn’t a big enough give away I feel I should probably spell this one out as simply as I can, the Judge Dredd movie has as little to do with the original source material as I did with the JFK assassination – (this is a blog on the internet, you all should have known it was only a matter of time before I mentioned at least ONE conspiracy theory.) That said there is one final piece of information I should give in order to be completely honest with my pre-held opinions. Despite having almost nothing to do with the original comics ‘Judge Dredd’ is, in my opinion, easily one of the best Sylvester Stallone vehicles ever committed to celluloid. Yes, that’s right – it is high praise indeed.

Anyone who thinks they can detect even a trace of hipster-ish cynicism is wrong. This is genuinely one of those movies that wins out on sheer unadulterated fun and if anything, movies should be at least that. It’s become a staple of television schedules and a film beloved by men of my generation for its charm and cheese in equal measure. For those of you who don’t know, allow me to offer a recap of what is tenuously termed as the ‘plot.’ In a dystopian future society is kept away from the brink of anarchy by the judges –a group of law enforcement officers possessing the power of judge, jury and executioner all in one. The most feared is the notorious Judge Joseph Dredd, in the comics, a violent faceless figure of overreaching authority – here in the film, its Stallone. Obviously as the marquee star Dredd quickly loses his helmet and is allowed to wander around chewing the scenery and spouting ‘dialogue.’ The bad guy is the mysterious ex-Judge ‘Rico’ played with wide eyed and malevolent glee by Armand Assante who is clearly having the time of his life as he demonstrates how to turn a villain into a cartoon character over the course of about 90 minutes. Max von Sydow pops up as the paternal Chief Judge and as was mandated by law back then, there is a ‘comedy sidekick,’ played by the films one black spot, the execrable Rob Schneider.

The details of the story I will not bother to relate as they don’t really matter. This is a big, bonkers action movie. The explosions will be loud, the guns will never need to be reloaded, the scenery won’t stand up to the actors demolishing it and no matter how hard you hope the comedy side kick will make it alive to the end of the film. And to no surprise that is exactly what happens here. It’s dumb, loud and hugely over the top as well as being an absolute pile of stupid fun – (perhaps best exemplified by Stallone’s apparent complete inability to pronounce the word ‘law’, seriously…)

So, I really enjoy this movie but there is a part of me that feels a little disappointed. There are occasional flashes in the movie that there was the plan to maybe make a more ‘faithful’ version. The brief glimpses we get of the dystopia actually look as if they had some care put into them, the costuming is all really well done – thanks to the costuming work by Versace. But it wasn’t to be – originality may well have compromised the film’s box office takings so the film is the pure throwaway entertainment its makers were aiming for. If you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favour – get a few beers in the fridge, a few friends on your couch and have a great night in. For those of you to whom that may sound beyond grim, maybe you should take a different route. Go to your local bookstore and find some Judge Dredd; it’s a wonderful slice of British comic history, often gleefully over the top but always well drawn and always trying to make a serious point. Most of the comics are being collected and released as collections and are well worth looking at, if you’re a comic fan.

This may not have touched on all the adaptive issues here but, well, I’ve been away for a while and this is me trying to get back into the swing of things so there will be more intense adaptive discussions coming up in the next few weeks I promise. One question worth considering though, is, if the adaptation had been more ‘faithful’ to the world of the original comics would the movie have been as fun? Thankfully, in keeping with this week’s laid back approach to the adaptation discussion it seems that question may well have already been answered, here. It seems to be a new kind of Judge Dredd movie for a new generation of action fans not satisfied by just cheese. Frankly, I’m just happy they found someone able to pronounce the word law. (Seriously, look it up..)

Thanks

ThePageBoy

Ps. It’s good to be back!

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Punching is manly, or, ‘Imaginary friends often lead to huge explosions.’

Right,

After last weeks dose of book/film joy, which was, without too much generalisation,  pretty much universally aimed at women I decided to focus this week on something different. Something slightly more masculine. Something involving violence, punching, madness, explosions, Meatloaf, and Brad Pitt in some jeans. This long list of requirements left me feeling a little desperate, there would be no way I could possible find a film that was a book that met all of these criteria. Oh, wait a second…

Fight Club y’all….

Again, I feel I should hold my hands up and admit my own vested interest. I adore this film. It is far from perfect but David Fincher’s 1999 film has been one of my personal favourites ever since I first watched it and the more I found out about it the more I loved it. It is one of the most talked about, analysed and debated films in a very long time, so here I’m going to way in with my two cents worth.

The film stars Edward Norton as a nameless white-collar worker who is bored out of his mind by the existential malaise of the modern age and suffering from crippling insomnia, he begins by going to support groups for those with terminal illness and he finds that going enables him to sleep. On one of his travels around the country he meets the charismatic Tyler Durden and the two of them found Fight Club – a place for the men of this bored and disconnected generation to beat the hell out of each other.  As the film goes on Norton’s character begins to spiral downwards into Tyler’s world, culminating in the launch of Project Mayhem; Tyler’s project to destroy the modern world.

There is also a sub-plot with Helena Bonham-Carter as Marla, a loner that Norton runs into in one of his support groups, like him she’s also  looking for something and the two of them become closer and closer. Having done some reading into this, I found that Fincher wanted to make a coming of age film; he personally compared Fight Club to The Graduate, and whilst the two couldn’t be more different in terms of style and content the comparison does make a weird kind of sense.

Personally though I think that comparison misses something of Fight Club’s philosophical leanings. The ideology of Fight Club is incredibly bleak, unremittingly nihilistic and utterly contemptuous of modern capitalist society. For many people this is where their own personal dislike of Fight Club comes from, it seems to take away any and all hope of redemption for Edward Norton’s character. what this misses, is of course, that is exactly the point – for in Fight Club, we’re all trapped in one way or another.

Before I get too abstract then, lets focus in on the details of the film. Edward Norton is simply fantastic; all gaunt eyed despair and slowly disintegrating physicality. He manages to convey so well the emotional sterility of modern life and the sheer panic when Tyler’s true plans become clear to him. It may be a little cliché to say so, but I really do struggle to think of a film where he’s been as good, (as much as I love American History X I lean towards his performance here as slightly better in terms of emotional restraint and subtlety) In short, he carries this movie, amidst all the insanity we as viewers can still connect with the film.

Talking about crazy leads me quite nicely onto Mr Brad Pitt. Tyler Durden is possible one of the most charismatic creations in modern cinema; a swaggering ball of testosterone that every man wishes he had the balls to be – someone who truly doesn’t care about things like money, success, the opinion of your peers or your boss at the job you hate. Now, a lot has already been written about how Fight Club ‘touched a nerve in the male psyche that was debated around the world’ and much of the reason why rests on Brad Pitt’s performance – brilliant, violent and compelling to watch, his performance in this film is proof positive that Brad Pitt is a true cinematic star.

Interestingly the critical reception at the time of the film’s release was decidedly mixed – whilst many critics loved it, those that didn’t hated the film. People feared that it would lead to copycat Fight Clubs being set up; in many cases it was compared to Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange in the way that it glamorized violent behaviour. Now, whilst I can roll my eyes at the lack of moral intelligence that 30 years of cinema has foisted upon its critics, I do understand the point of view. Why? Because I just finished reading some Chuck Palahniuk….and let me just say that some of it, really isn’t for the faint of heart.

Fight Club is probably one of his more accessible book, and yes, that is saying a lot. Though it is dark and highly disturbing in places, just as the film it is easy and engaging to read. This was the book that pushed him into stratospheric  levels of fame; starting a short story Palahniuk claimed that he wanted to write The Great Gatsby, just updated. A story that was apostolic, one where the surviving apostle tells the story of the dead hero and in a twisted kind of way that really does work. So, enough flirting with the question is this a good adaptation?

Yes.

But, I’m not sure which is better out of the book or the film and at the moment; I’m sort of leaning towards the film. Let me get the obvious caveats out-of-the-way; I am well aware that comparing two different mediums and trying to come to any sort of objective judgement about which one is better is not really possible to do completely fairly so before you all get all sarcastic with me in the comments section I do have my reasons. Firstly, this isn’t Palahniuk’s first novel – that was the really quite good Invisible Monsters. So, publisher after publisher turned it down as being tom dark and disturbing and so Palahniuk decided to focus on a seven page short story he was writing for a compilation called Pursuit of Happiness. It was published and then expanded to full novel length and then re-published as Fight Club.

Without getting too mean then, this is why I think I prefer the film. In the book, you can’t see the scars. If you read the book, as talented a writer as Palahniuk is, it is possible to see the short story. Chapter six is by far the best bit of the novel, neat, contained just as every good short story should be. The novel feels a little stretched in places, something that has been spun out to fill the space. The film on the other hand, works as a cohesive whole – everything is slick, well designed and faithful to the original source material.  I know its rare for me to side with the film against the book but it isn’t by much, and without one there wouldn’t be the other. Where both succeed though is in the purpose that Palahnuik had for writing it. To quote the man himself…

‘..bookstores were full of books like The Joy Luck Club and The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and How to Make an American Quilt. These were all novels that presented a social model for women to be together. But there was no novel that presented a new social model for men to share their lives…’

One only has to look around at modern culture to see the effect that Fight Club has had. People have been arrested over it, loved it, hated it, read it and watched it. And they always will I think. It’s become part of the societal landscape and made it OK for men to admit they often felt  lost in this world they had forged. So job done Chuck, good work.

I feel a little strange saying a film adaptation is better than its source…Looks like I’m back to splitting hairs again…Ah well..

If you agree, disagree or think I’ve missed the point entirely, don’t worry. The first rule of the great and the good is talk about it. That’s what the comments section is for.

Thanks

ThePageBoy

“I vant to like this movie” or, ‘This really isn’t good for my blood pressure.’

Right,

So Marvel Month is over and done with and I decided I needed to make a clean break – establish some critical distance from the comics to the rest of the blog. So, thinking it over, I settled on doing a classic – something with a fine pedigree, something that is usually found in the classics section. As an English student I am a fan of the classics in the literature section and I have always had a fondness for the horror classics of Gothic literature. This was the thought process that lead me to the 1897 novel by an Irish writer by the name of Bram, one of my favourite novels and one of the first horror novels I ever read… Oh yes, this week is Dracula week.

Dracula is THE classic horror story and has been adapted multiple times, some of them now considered film classics. However I decided I would focus on a more recent adaptation by one of the best directors working in modern cinema. Francis Ford Coppola has been behind some of the best films of the 20th century; and for the twelve of you who don’t know, here’s a few highlights of things he’s been behind…

The Godfather. Yes, that one. widely regarded as one of the best films ever made. EVER. and Part II. And Part III. THE gangster movies of modern American cinema.

– Apocalypse Now.

Lost in Translation (executive producer)

Sleepy Hollow

Frankenstein

And many, many, many more. As a writer, director and producer this man has been one of the heavy hitters of Western cinema for decades now and in 1992 he was responsible for an adaptation of Stoker’s classic novel.

I feel for the sake of my own integrity I need to declare my own feelings here. I really, REALLY dislike this film. As an adaptation I think it is possibly the worst application of a text into a new medium I have ever sat through. If you’re a fan of this film, maybe it is for the best you come back next time because you’re not going to enjoy this one. If there is anyone still reading who wants to know how I’m going to justify this extreme opinion please bear with me whilst I state my case.

Firstly, the positives. The film looks nice. The design of the whole thing is really quite well done. The cast all know how to act properly.

Good, that’s out of the way…Now, onto the problems.

This film has some of the worst casting choices possible. I would have loved to have sat in the meeting discussing the casting options for this film; I imagine a room full of healthy and tanned American executives discussing Coppela’s latest project.

“So, we’ve got Jonathan Harker, he’s an English guy, seems to have formed the trope of the English Gothic hero. Who should we get?’

” I know, what about Keanau Reeves?”

“Really Charlie?”

“Yeah! He’ll be great!”

“Charlie, how much coke are you on? Keanau Reeves!? He’s from California! He has the emotional range of a roll of carpet samples!”

“Yeah, he’ll rock it! And for his wife, the perfect English Gothic rose? You know who I’m thinking – Winona Ryder

“Charlie – she’s from California! She can’t do an English accent to save her life!”

“No no no, these are the people we need to carry this film…now who wants some more drugs?”

And those are the people they went for. It does not work. At all. The first time Jonathan Harker opened his mouth I had to pause the movie and laugh for a good minute, Reeves is woefully out of his depth and it cannot help but show. Ryder as Mina Harker is better, but not by much and her topless scene smacks of the gratuitous. The rest of the cast is solid but burdened with a script that hinders every single one of them.The reason for this is a script that forces the actors into a plot, that in places, reads more like a poor Harlequin romance than a horror.

It is in the plot that this films lets itself down so badly – the novel sets out to establish the vampire as something dangerous. Not just dangerous, but damning – an encounter with Dracula will not only cost you your life but also your spiritual salvation. Dracula isn’t sexy. Or fun. Rather an encounter with a Dracula, in the book, is portrayed as something so horrific that it will cost you your soul – Mina Harker’s reaction to discovering that she has been tainted by Dracula is nigh on hysterical with terror. On the other hand, the film takes a very different approach…

This starts with the establishing opening sequence, where we see the character of Dracula in the past as solider, who, thinking his wife dead, renounces his faith in God and swears to come back from the dead using the power of darkness. I will admit that the film does this very well, the scene where the chapel fills with blood shows off the production and design and Gary Oldman as Dracula gets to show off his acting chops with his dialogue in Romanian. From here, the film takes an entirely different tangent as to what a vampire is. Instead of being something dangerous, the film effectively sanitized the idea of a vampire – Oldman becomes a sympathetic figure seeking the love of his resurrected wife that will redeem him and enable him to get him into heaven.

Now, if you are still reading this as a fan of the film, I want you to re-read that last sentence and then compare it to the tone and character arc of Dracula in Stoker’s novel and then try and tell me with a staight face that this is a good way of adaptating the text. It isn’t even accurate. At all. The idea of a vampire ceases to be dangerous and no ammount of erotic seduction or lavish production will ever disguise the fact, that this is a horror film that just fails to be scary in the smallest degree.

Now, I know what you might be thinking. “Jon, you just don’t like anything that deviates from the book you’re a fan of..You hate someone who disagrees with you and can’t deal with the idea that someone might have a different take on a character!”

Well, no. I have no objection to the idea of someone making bold choices with a character but this is not what vampires ARE. If you want to make a movie about a supernatural creature looking for his reincarnated wife fine. No problem. No objection here. But there is a well established literaray tradition of what vampires are and how they behave. This tradition isn’t just the work of writers from the 1890’s but something based on the myths and legends of Eastern Eurpoe stretching back centuries. To ignore and neglect this part of the vampire mythos is not good adaptation, if anything it is ignoring the history of the genre and character and trying to make it into something new. In fact, the movie is an indulgence, it’s a fantasy puff piece designed to appeal to the people who grew up to write Twilight fanfiction. Yes, that’s right – I am going to blame this movie for spawning that horror of pop-culture mediocre waste of time that infatuated a generation of tweens. And for that, there will be no pit of hell deep enough… *sigh*

I started with saying that this was a biased review. I love this book, I read it as a teenager and I have constantly re-read it and it has never failed to inspire a little terror every time. I was initally excited about this film version but all that I was left with, when the credits rolled was an over-whelming sense of a missed opportunity . Someone wanted to make a vampire movie but didn’t get what a vampire was, didn’t get why a vampire was scary and had no idea how to make it work with this lavish and over-blown production.

I wanted to like this. I did and I swear I tried to, but as I mentioned with my review of X-Men how you feel about a film does colour the opinion you hold as a critic and enjoyment of a film does tend to cover the worst of filmic sins. But this…this is just terrible.

Don’t let me convince you. If you haven’t either read the book or seen the film then take a weekend and you tell me. Tell me why you think they got it right as an adaptation or tell me if you agree with me and get it off your chest. This is not just bad – this is not getting it, missing the point and producing something that doesn’t deserve to be called a vampire movie, it’s a romance movie for those with a fetish for biting. Classic literature deserves more than that.

But, hey – that’s just my two cents 🙂

Thanks

The PageBoy

PS I promise that next week I’ll do something that makes me less grouchy…

PPS Oh, and the classic black and white Dracula is so so so so much better. Simply on the grounds that the actors all have English accents that sound like English accents puts it over and above this one in terms of quality.

Marvel Month IV – ‘I can’t even hate this’ or, Why film execs think we’re all stupid

Right,

It’s a widely held belief that those of us who reside in the dark and slightly musty area of the creative industry known as criticism really enjoy it when we get to talk about bad movies. Whilst this is true, I really don’t think someone gets into criticism, (maybe on a small film/book blog), simply so they can spout bile and hatred. In fact, thinking about it, I really enjoy bad movies. Watch them in a room with some good friends and a few bottles of drink the whole thing becomes sublime. Even on a critical level when a studio puts out a complete disaster there is a measure of, something approaching wonder, as to how something this bad was unleashed upon the world. The very absence of any technical skill, or artistic vision can approach a kind of modern art. If you don’t believe me, then please check out sublime ‘The Room,’ that elevates the bad movie to heights previously unscaled.

Mediocrity though, now mediocrity is special. The bad movies don’t enrage the critics of culture, what really gets under my skin, at the very least, is mediocrity. the important and crucial distinction for me is that a bad movie , at the very least, has attempted to do something. It may have failed, utterly, in every way but at the very bare minimum there was semblance of soul in the act of creation. Even without quality there can be integrity. Mediocrity is different; the most common way a film ‘achieves’ the dubious honour of being mediocre is really quite simply. A writer comes up with a script, its brilliant, bold and ground breaking – naturally it gets optioned off to a studio and given to a director who manages to get on board and come up with a bold vision to realise the potential of the script. So, our film studio takes the finished product to the marketing guys, the test screening people and it is here where the problems set in.  The finished product is too dark. It isn’t uplifting. Maybe it’s too cerebral for the cineplex crowd. And thus mediocrity is achieved.

The reason this gets me so blood boiling angry is that it pre-supposes that the vast majority of the audience for a major release is, well, kinda dumb. And so, to make sure that vast enough numbers of this cinema going public make it to see your, by now horribly butchered, picture then by all means sacrifice vision, integrity and insult the intellect of your market.

Now before anyone accuses me of wanting to abolish blockbuster movies in favour of monochrome art house movies where everyone speaks Danish, hold on. I love going to the movies, I don’t go to be a snob – I go to be entertained and mediocre films are so irritating because they set the bar so low for something that could be so great – Christopher Nolan’s Batman films proved that it was possible to do an intelligent blockbuster. And then there is this weeks film – ruined by the personification of mediocrity himself.

Hi, Ben Affleck. Yes, I’m talking about you. Because you, Ben Affleck made Daredevil just so, totally, utterly average.

Well, let’s be honest I am being unfair to poor Ben. The whole film feels like it’s been cut and edited down to within an inch of its life in order to get the running time under 100 minutes. There are a few niggly changes from the comics to the film but nothing that breaks the bank. However, whilst watching the film I was constantly aware that I wasn’t not loving the film. The visuals of Matt Murdock’s ‘radar sense’ were quite cool and I enjoyed the little nods to the comics by name-dropping certain Marvel writers and artists. There was nothing offensively bad about it but the whole thing lacked soul. Then I got about half an hour through. And then Matt Murdock tried to impress Electra (the token love interest) by having a fight with her. In broad daylight. Whilst dressed as Matt Murdock rather than Daredevil.

COMPLETELY UNDERMINING THE IDEA OF HAVING A SECRET IDENTITY!

Frankly, let me skip over the worse sins of the film because they can be covered by the same caveat. The film feels like a film trying to be the ideal blockbuster films. Character development are slimmed down to the point of anorexia and the characters who aren’t Daredevil seem to just serve the point of getting the plot onto the next fight. And Colin Farrell is the bad guy, oh Colin Farrell…

Farrell plays Daredevil’s villain, Bullseye – a villain with the ability to be uncannily accurate with anything he chooses to use as a weapon. Which is a really cool idea for a bad guy. Farrell,  on the other hand, plays this cool character as Irish. As cartoonishly over the top as possible. And as a joke. In a way Farrell is the clearest example of something I initially struggled to put my finger on; the film manages to take the imagistic nature of the comics without taking the substantive writing. Apart from Bullseye the punchline, another good example would be Daredevil’s relationship with the Catholic church. In the comics Daredevil is a lapsed Catholic with a mother who took her vows into a nunnery, he is riddled with Catholic guilt, constantly wrestling with the moral and spiritual implications of violence, goodness and justice. It’s deep and well-written, delving into the issues confronting us all as a post-modern urbanised society. In the film? We get lengthy of shots of Affleck perched outside churches in the rain and there are a couple of fights in a church. That’s it. Taking the cool, and neglecting the real content. It isn’t bad, it’s just superficial.

Thankfully the same can’t be said of the comic run I chose to compare and contrast with, Daredevil Volume 2 written by Smith/Mack/Gale/Bendis/Brubaker/Diggle and with art by Quesada/Mack/Maleev/Lark. The first thing to note is the art. I am going to make an effort to find any more of Joe Quesada’s art – his pencil work is fantastic, fluid, alive and serves as a visual love letter to the gritty streets of Hells Kitchen that the writing perfectly complements.

As I’ve already said I wasn’t impressed by the film, but it wasn’t till I begain to read the comics that I appreciated just how badly the film had let down the source material. The comics are dark but not in a way that is trite. What impressed me the most was the writing from Kevin Smith, who only really appears in a comparatively low number of issues but shows the deft touch with dialogue and story that made Clerks and Dogma a couple of my favourite films. Another fact that elevates my opinion of the comic is, from what I know, I haven’t even read what is considered a vintage run on this character. Make no mistake, I’m going to seek it out.

To conclude,  the film is a new way of adapting badly; by adapting superficially from the source material the film feels rushed and insubstantial, without any of the depth or attempt at grappling with serious issues. If you based your knowledge of Daredevil on just the film, as I did, then like me I’ll be surprised if you can say anything about Daredevil that is distinctive or unique. Not that I hated the character, based on the film he was a hero, but forgettable. Bland and safe and designed for mass market consumption. That isn’t the kind of hero I want to become invested in and I don’t think anybody else should either. We’re better than that. Better than the watered down, bland and insubstantial shite we are expected to pay our money to see. Save the £10 you’d spend on the cinema ticket when the next piece of mediocrity comes out. Go out and read a book, buy a Daredevil trade and find a hero you can really get invested in.

Thanks

 

ThePageBoy

Marvel Month II, or, ‘Why I love Kenneth Branagh’

Right,

Marvel month kicks off properly here, and I’m sure I can’t be the only one who, when thinking about the Marvel Comics films, immediately jumps to a middle-aged Irish-man with a burning desire to be Lawrence Olivier. Ah, Kenneth Branagh – good old Kenny; big Kenny B, a man who has been nominated for an Oscar in five different categories, a man who was married to the wonderful Emma Thompson and decided to have an affair with Helena Bonham-Carter as well as playing the title role in five different films/TV shows. In short, this man is the ultimate classically trained and RADA educated LAD. (not in the misogynistic, horrific rape culture endorsing way, mind you – that wouldn’t be cool..)

Yes, I know that he has got his fair share of dross on his CV but you know something, I don’t care. I think Kenneth Branagh is simply flawless, and yes, that does include his version of Hamlet which is about five days long and earned him the honour of being one of three people who make a punchline in Blackadder. (A shiny penny to the first person to get the other two and no using Wikipedia! That’s cheating!)

So Branagh, (*swoon*) was the man brought onto the juggernaut that is the Avengers franchise to direct Thor. I will admit, however, that at the news I wasn’t delighted. I was distinctly sceptical. Branagh seemed too cerebral a choice, someone reliant on dialogue and character to really handle, what I assumed would be a big noisy blockbuster. Now this attitude, I freely admit, was based on a shocking lack of knowledge about Thor’s comics and a little snobbishness about the kind of work I thought was beneath King Kenny.

Thankfully the film soared over my expectations. It was one of the biggest blockbusters of the year so I won’t waste too much time re-hashing plot, but suffice to say it involves the Gods of Asgard and the war with the Frost Giants, a sibling rivalry between Thor and his brother Loki worthy of the greatest tragedies and, of course, scientists.  In keeping with all Marvel movies there is the inevitable build up towards the Avengers nerd-gasm coming this year but even considered as a separate entity rather than a 120 minute trailer for another film, this is a very solid movie. To a large extent the strength of the movie comes, in my opinion, from Branagh’s direction and the cast. The gods of Asgard are old school in the theatrical sense of the word – these are Gods of wrath, violence and all the worst traits of humanity with the power to destroy the entire world. The relationship between Thor, Odin and Loki has more than an echo of King Lear to it; helped considerably by the thespian legend Sir Anthony Hopkins chewing through the CGI scenery as the Allfather and the hulking presence of Chris Hemsworth as the adolescent and powerful Thor.  Tom Hiddlestone deserves all the credit one can heap on him as Loki and I am delighted beyond words he’s returning as the villain for the Avengers. Idris Elba adds another touch of gravitas as Heimdall, as well as stirring up some cheap publicity by having the gall to be a black actor in an action film!

As the previous paragraph may have given away, I think the films strongest scenes are the ones that focus on the realm of Asgard and the power dynamics of the Gods. Also of note is the sequences where Thor rashly plunges into a fight with the Frost Giants and his final confrontation with Loki really adds to the grand, Shakespearean themes the film is trying to aim for. That said, I’m not a huge fan of the scenes here on Earth, as to keep the films running time down, it feels rushed, (especially the love interest with Natalie Portman) and personally I never get the impression that Thor’s exile on earth is a real struggle to overcome. That being said, the film succeeds for the most part in marrying grand themes of betrayal, power and jealousy with an action packed story.

So, a good movie. But a good adaptation? Well, this is where the whole thing becomes a little more complicated…

As I said in the last column Thor has been around since the early 1960’s in comic form, and his legends have been around for literally thousands years. This is, not just a literary story – Thor is a cultural juggernaut, it surely isn’t possible to fuse Nordic legend into a comic form without being not just crass, but hugely insensitive.

Or so I thought. And then I started reading what I consider to be one of the finest comic runs I have ever read – The Mighty Thor Volume 1 337-382. Written and drawn by Walt Simonsen and lettered by John Workman it is an incredible piece of work. The look of the comic is like nothing else, thanks to Simonsen’s wonderful art style and the sense of scale and grandeur is done so well thanks to the jaw-dropping lettering from Workman. The dialogue too,  is just as good as the film’s and in some respects, much better. This Thor feels even more Shakespearean than the film thanks to the sometimes archaic syntax and tendency of the characters to think or say what is actually happening mid scene! What I love  about this run is the sense of cosmic scale that the creative team has achieved; whilst there are times where the dialogue feels clunky everything is given the time and the space to breathe, all of the action feels like it has a sense of great importance and the characters are given the page space to be given depth and characterised to an astonishing degree. Loki, especially, is shown to be an incredible villain, one who will happily destroy someone’s entire life just for the fun of it.

The problem is, of course, that the film adaptation has to be something unique to the Marvel comic as opposed to a slice of cultural appropriation in the obligatory cape and big hammer get up. To an extent I wouldn’t say this is what the film is; it certainly encouraged me to actually pick up the comics and see what Marvel writers wanted to do and the stories they wanted to tell. In a way, Thor’s problem is one I feel could be repeated by the rest of these films in Marvel Month. Thor is so well-known that, in a way, the adaptation is always going to fall short. We all know the name of Thor and many of us are familiar with the legends and mythologies of Nordic culture – the Norse gods have even named the days of the week.

Many people might think that there are so many different stories that could be told with  these characters and just as with Batman and Superman there will be people who demand different tales be told. The problem is, of course, that it simply isn’t possible to adapt what is a continuing narrative, you can’t adapt Thor in the traditional sense of the word, as the source material is still being generated. However…what you can do it take the original concepts, and they clearly are the original concepts from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and add to the ongoing narrative that is being told. Strictly speaking, this is a transposition of the original mythos, world and characters into a new medium. And it’s done well. Really well. It makes the world of Thor accessible to a huge new market.

The more I think about this, the more exciting I think comic movies are – it adds to the story and the characters in a way that traditional narrative couldn’t. Roll on next week, as Marvel Month continues!

Thanks

ThePageBoy

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‘Why John Hurt is destined for a happy life in a facist state’ or 1980’s flashback!

Right,

First of all, apologies for the slightly morbid title – but I thought it best to title this one with a quote from the book, and when the book is considered in all of it’s glory there really aren’t that many quotes from this magnificent novel that aren’t as bleak as Labour’s re-election chances. If the small semantic clue I dropped in the last sentence wasn’t clue enough to the more lively cells in the great hive mind of the web, I adore this novel. It was one of the first great works of literature I remember reading from my early teenage years and it scared the bejesus out of me then and still does. All of this is to say, that any adaptation of this book has one hell of a bar to meet.

To that end, enter Michael Radford, whom, in 1984, with the backing of Virgin Films released what has become an acclaimed interpretation. Whilst I was optimistic,  the idea of releasing the film in 1984 initially struck me as a gimmick. Coupled with the tagline, ‘The year of the movie. The movie of the year,’ I was slightly concerned the makers of the film had inspired the marketing strategy from The Omen re-boot, (notable only for the 11.11.11 release date and being a complete load of old balls.)

Thankfully I was swiftly disabused of my cynical notions from the opening minutes as the viewer is plunged into the ‘Two Minute Hate’ and introduced to Winston Smith, played by John Hurt. As the protagonist of the story Hurt carries the film out of necessity as the book itself is all about the isolation that the world of ‘1984’ has forced upon him. Frankly, Hurt is simply incredible; a man blessed with the kind of face that looks like weathered granite, an actor ideally suited for conveying so much through silence, glances or twitches in the face.

The rest of the cast is extremely good but I will only mention one more here, (to see more on the cast of the movie just check out the IMDB page for the film) and that would be the chilling Richard Burton as O’Brien. This was Burton’s final film and his first after a lengthy hiatus but he is simply brilliant. Cold, calculated and utterly convinced of not simply his right-ness but the Party’s righteousness. Though a fourth choice for the part he is O’Brien – the next time I go to read the book I fully expect to hear his smooth and authoritative voice giving me the image of a boot stamping on a human face, forever.

This isn’t merely a post to sing the praises of this Brit-flick classic but to assess how this works as an adaptation. To return to the film’s opening, it highlights what I believe is the crucial difference between the book and the film, a difference that is inherent in the two mediums. The opening of the book contains personally, what I believe to be one of the finest opening lines of any book ever written, ‘It was a cold, windy day in April, and the clocks had just finished striking thirteen.’

Go on, read that again. Take the time and appreciate just how good a sentence that is. That is wonderful, frankly.

The opening of the novel plunges the reader into Winston’s world. It is close, lonely and fetid with paranoia. The milieu is superbly evoked, from the first line we as readers are presented with a brew of the familar and the strangely alien. With the film, immediately the viewer is submerged, not in isolation but by faces. Screaming faces. Watching the film for the first time it actually took me a few moments to realise who was Winston Smith.

This isn’t to criticise, don’t get me wrong – the nature of film is as a visual medium, and the directorial choice to present the viewer with a bewildering and strange image is a very bold one but for me, the power of the story comes from its closeness to Winston’s point of view, something that the close third narrative point of view was specifically designed to do and film, well not so much. The film is commendably close to the original text however, and this is hugely to its credit, the design and setting of the film tracks incredibly closely what I thought the world of the book would look like.

So, all good right?

Yeah – a harrowing retelling of the classic novel for freedom that elegantly juxtaposes the original text with its modern-day 1980’s setting. And now, I’ll stop using the language of an arse and actually offer some criticism. In one very important way, I don’t believe this is an adaptation of the book.

I’ll pause to let people re-adjust. Finished freaking out?

Good.

The film is hugely and apparently indebted to the book yet is that what makes the film an adaptation? I think it could quite easily be argued, no. The closer that a film comes to the original source material the more difficult it is to transfer that into an easily comprehended, coherent visual narrative. Books are, by the nature of their form, designed for the exploration of the psyche, motive, feeling and thought. This aren’t things that have immediately obvious visual markers and whilst the film transfers really well the experience feels more like an attempt at a straight re-telling rather than an adaptation of the story in a new way. The thing that really tipped me off to this was a thought that flashed through my  mind midway through the film.

‘Would I like this as much, if I didn’t know and love the book beforehand?’

Arguably? No, I don’t think I would.

There are a few more examples that back up what I’m saying, from time to time the script feels a little crowded – jamming in points from the book without the means of explaining WHY these things matter. Things such as the old rhyme about the churches of London, the coral in glass, Winston’s thoughts on his young neighbours are all crucial to the book for understanding everything that is going on from Winston’s perspective yet in the film these events felt rushed and crowded out by the main thrust of the narrative. However, there is one moment from the film that I feel gets the balance right, with the sequence in Room 101. Watching it took me back to the first reaction I had to the novel as a teenager. I don’t want to add too many more spoilers here, (check it out on YouTube) but everything about it works. The camera work, (with it’s emphasis on the faces of the two main charcters) along with the minimal violence and the tension of it shows how the film does have flashes of genuine adaptive genius, whilst showing all of the greatness British film making is capable of.

Maybe I’m not being fair and I will certainly admit I’m splitting hairs. Yes I know – the very fact this exists in a seperate and distinct form from the book does make it an adaptation but all I’ve tried to argue here is that, perhaps, adaptation should not simply re-tell, (no matter how well it does) but should give a reason for exisiting as a film – if a re-telling is all a film offers surely I could just re-read the novel.

I will also admit that there are book/films that demonstrate this much more extremely than this one, but if I’m guilty of being too harsh please let me say that it comes from just loving this book too much for my own good.

So.

There we go. Now go off and read the book, (no seriously, go read the book right now) then watch the movie and let me know what you think.

Thanks!

ThePageBoy

So onwards we go. Next time I promise to not split hairs as much and do a book/film that properly lives up to the term ‘adaptation.’ In the meantime, join the conversation, find @ThePageBoy1 on Twitter and keep talking about the best and the worst of books and films.

So. Here We Go.

English: Old book bindings at the Merton Colle...

Image via Wikipedia

Right.

So, hello there. First off, let me get the obvious out-of-the-way. I am well aware this may be nothing more than me squatting on this tiny corner of cyberspace and gently massaging my ego in front of about 3 people. Fine. To get around this I have pre-emptively adopted the a-typical defence of the frail ego’d ‘writer.’ I’m sure anyone with a brain cell count that vaguely approaches double digits will know how this one goes…

Everyone ready? Come on – join in…

“I don’t do this for you! I’m doing this for ME!”

From what I’ve seen of people who’ve employed this argument it usually takes place whilst sat in a darkened room obsessively checking the site’s traffic stats. Whilst crying.

To that end, this blog is here without expectation or hope of success. I’m doing this because it’ll be fun, so to those people who find this, please join in. Send me your suggestions, thoughts and opinions. Unless you disagree with me. Then you can just go elsewhere. I don’t want your sort hanging round here.

Secondly  – here’s my way of doing things when it comes to reviewing. And stuff..

::NO SCORES! Or numbers. Or thumbs up or down. Fine, I know there are some reviewers that use those things but frankly, I don’t see the point. I really hope, for the sake of anyone reading this more than anything, that my opinions couldn’t be simplified to fit on a good/bad binary kind of scale. The issues of adapting a book into a film are obviously complicated, and to boil all of that down to a score out of ten just feels, well, unfair. The other main reason is that the idea of providing a simple ‘objective’ score completely undermines the whole idea of writing an entire review! This is about opinion. And opinion should be nuanced, if it can be summed up as a score then honestly, I’m doing something wrong.

Apart from that I really haven’t gotten round to finding anything else to define this. Any book/film adaptation is fair game – a film that draws its plot, key themes and characters from a specific literary work, (if you’re a pedant) or any film that features the phrase ‘based on the bestselling novel’ in it’s trailer or promotional material (if you want an easy definition)

So,

Right.

Glad we’ve gotten that out of the way…