Alan Moore VS. Adaptations VS. Audiences

Going from the previous article, it has to be said: It’s not Alan Moore’s fault he’s so smart.

I don’t mean that condescendingly. Alan Moore absolutely is a beast when it comes to comics — he takes the medium apart, and puts it back together in ways no one would have conceived. He plays on different genres, somehow subverting and elevating all of them simultaneously. And he writes. He writes a whole lot. One would argue, too much. And while a lot of the words are details and references and sub-narratives, he somehow finds a way to tie it all back to the grander story and the characters. See that little thing over there at the corner of the panel? Yeah, he’s going to reference that 627 pages later.

Is it any surprise then that he hates every film any one has tried to make of his comics? His comics are beyond adaptation, in away — so reliant are they on the medium upon which he thought it up that they lose nearly everything in translation. With someone who pays too much attention to detail, to the point of taking three pages to describe a single panel to an artist, it is simply impossible to ever find a middle ground. Moore is a perfectionist, to the benefit of his fans, but to the woe of the general public and the production houses.

If the movies can’t please Moore anymore, do they at least please audiences? Matt Draper here already wrote an excellent delineation of differences between the films and comics, and Moore’s unbridled distaste for Hollywood. Nevertheless, I’ve listed down the films again for you to see, and for all of us to assess if beyond Moore’s own opinion in the matter, the movies are just a different kind of genius from his original works.

Swamp Thing

Why does Alan Moore Hate it: Funnily enough, I can’t find any indication that Alan Moore actually hates this rendition. What I am inclined to say is that he might dislike it purely because there’s no way a film can properly capture that existential horror that he imbued the comics with. The first-person point of view when Alec Holland comes to grips with what he has become is all kinds of horrifyingly amazing, and there is no way a third-person perspective could do it justice. That and adding action sequences, where instead there were originally zombies rising from the dead and gods of the forest called the Green, and I can see why Moore would nitpick.

Why you might like it anyway: Unfortunately, this is the only film on the list I haven’t seen yet, so I can’t really say. I am inclined to think though that a hammerhead horror film lover will find something to really love here. Also taking into account Wes Craven at the helm, and you must have something on your hands that isn’t so much horrific, as it is creepy, fantastic, and willing to push boundaries and buttons.

From Hell

Why does Alan Moore Hate it: Perhaps because they are nothing alike? This s something you’re going to hear repeatedly on this list — Everything is different, and the only similarity it has to the original work is the names. Taking away the point of view from Jack the Ripper himself was the first mistake that triggers all the other failures — it takes away that whole sane-or-insane narrative (as Jack as visions of the past and the future), the interplay of different conspiracies, and the humanity behind the serial killer. The existential horror is lost, along with the grimmer, more philosophical tone of the tome.

Why you might love it anyway: It’s your standard Hollywood period film — meaning it’s less soulful than a British one, but it’s definitely more camp and entertaining. It has the advantage of having Johnny Depp at prime prettiness, I’ll give it that. The rest of the cast does act circles around him and Heather Graham, but at least they can be pretty onscreen together. Once you accept that none of Moore’s darkness or intertemporal horror is making its’ way onto the screen, then you can sit back and just take the movie as it is — sufficiently horrifying at times, egregious and melodramatic from start to finish, but overall nowhere even near the worst thing you’ll ever watch.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Why does Alan Moore Hate it:Aside from relegating bad-ass human leader to eye-candy vampire sidekick? Try everything. The only thing the same as in the comics is the idea of incorporating different characters in literature into one special forces group. But the original team make-up isn’t the only thing lost. None of Moore’s commentary on literature then versus literature now, the roles of sex and violence and racism in old narratives, and distinguishing the human element from the monsters and the legends make it onto the big screen. Indeed, it seems like there was no effort to incorporate any of that, perhaps because they knew it would alienate a general audience — this is simply an action movie, and not a great one at that.

Why you might love it anyway: It’s a terrible film, let’s be clear. For a fan of the comic, there’s nothing here for you. Go reread the comic (pre-Century-series, because wow it got weird there didn’t it?), or watch Penny Dreadful. For people a few beers into a long night, though, it is so so so horrendously bad, ill-thought-out, and camp, that it becomes a good thing to watch when you need absolutely no simulation of thought. It does have Sean Connery barelling through the rest of the cast, who jump from quip to quip with no actual investment in delivery, and plenty of explosions and okay special effects. Why not right?

Constantine
Why does Alan Moore Hate it: This is the film that made Alan Moore swear he’d never allow a movie to have his name on the credits reel again — and with good reason. John Constantine in the comics is british to hell and back, with a signature tan trenchcoat, and a penchant of pissing off demons because he’s too sarcastic to manage them properly. John Constantine in the film is … not. The list of differences here would be too long to name. At the end of the day, the horror element feels toned down and way less eldritch too.

Why you might love it anyway: The visuals of the angels and demons are stunning, the action is exciting, and the aesthetic of the overall film is off the charts. Keanu Reeves works surprisingly well as an onscreen non-British non-vice-happy John Constantine despite Shia Labeouf’s presence. The world is explored sufficiently, with just the right sprinklings of fantasy and horror, without the nitty-gritty details becoming too egregious or alienating. Add in some amazing nuanced extended cameos by Tilda Swinton, Djimoun Honsou, and Peter Stormare, decked as they are in dark-magic-realist-fantasy-finery, and you’ve got a movie that you can unironically say is actually really, really good. I, personally, adore these films, and think you should rewatch it if you initially loathed it for the changes. It doesn’t even come close to being an okay adaptation, but as a stand-alone film, surprisingly, it works.

V for Vendetta

Why does Alan Moore Hate it: The film left out half of the characters, including arguably the main antagonist. In doing so, it left out half of the plots and metaphors and criticisms that the book was so rich with. Where was the commentary on class? On gender? On racism? On the puppetry not just of the plebs but of the highest members of state as well? On subtler forms of government control outside of outright dictatorship? On the individuals’ sense of power and self-policing? On anarchy — real boundless anarchy, not just anger directed at fascist regimes? Without the comics medium, these subtle provocations and references are lost. Without the benefit of length, the characters fail to reveal their pasts or develop into different things. Really, the movie has V and Evey in fascist London blowing up Old Bailey, but that’s where the similarities end. Even V, Evey, and the Chancellor are so fundamentally different in origin and personality from their comics counterparts that they only really share monikers.

Why you might love it anyway: Damn, if this isn’t a solid film. V’s Guy Fawkes mask didn’t become iconic just because it was cool, it was because it was attached to a very cool character from a very cool movie. Yes, it does reduce the breadth of the comics’ exploration of politics into inappropriate equivalencies in the midst of ~trendy action sequences. Yes, the love story’s a little too sugary for the rest of the plot. Yes, Natalie Portman’s accent is a little jarring at times. But all the individual elements of the film are completely unshakeable — the Wachowskis’ direction draws parallelisms to modern events to really reverberate across the audience imagination, the script is like a well-oiled machine, the cinematography hits all the right aesthetic-dystopic notes, the cast stand their ground against each other in the face of increasingly felt stakes, and the music swells as it should. It’s a skeleton of an adaptation, but a beautiful body of art on its’ own.

Watchmen

Why does Alan Moore Hate it: Watchmen was revolutionary — it changed the game for what comics could do and who comics were being written for, forever. It would take a whole book to fully discuss just how Moore was able to do this — the blending together of different narratives, mediums within mediums, using panels cinematically to reveal or obscure details, putting recurring elements to draw parallels or differentiate between character circumstances… and this isn’t even going into how he deconstructed the whole Superhero genre. Watchmen is a work of genius, simply put. That anyone thought it could be translated into any other medium is galling.

Why you might love it anyway: There will never be a great adaptation of Watchmen — Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons just did far, far too many amazing things with the visual-print media that no other media can ever emulate. That being said, Snyder does his damndest in making the film cinematic — and it works. It doesn’t do that panel-by-panel play-and-reveal that the original does, but it does have the benefit of incorporating some amazing music choices over some great action or dramatic sequences that have equal amounts of adrenaline and gravitas. The film was immaculately cast (with an exception of Malin Ackerman, sorry girl), and the script sticks to the best zingers and scenes despite having to forego most of the truly wonderful minutiae. Watchmen the film made sense — it didn’t change the fundamental themes or stories, and what it did change, it changed to make it work as a film. That was really the most anyone could hope for.

The Killing Joke

Why does Alan Moore Hate it: To be fair to this one, Alan Moore doesn’t just hate the film, he hates the story he wrote. He said he felt there was a lot of unnecessary darkness to the story — which, if you know anything about Moore’s work, is really saying something. He misses the “innocence” of superheroes, which has now been foregone in favor of grit and blood and tragedy

Why you might love it anyway: It has Batman, it has Joker, it is dark. Box office returns don’t lie — Batman and Joker and a bit of dirt and blood under the nails are how modern audiences like their rendition of the Caped Crusader. On a personal level, I sympathize with Alan Moore’s desire for the simpler days of really comic comics. I’m inclined to love that Mark Hamill came back to do his iconic and irreplaceable Joker, but everything else was a miss for me. I know a lot of fans tuned out once it was revealed Batgirl and Batman were having a romantic relationship, and everyone else who stayed tuned were disappointed at how stilted the animation was. At the very least, it plays out as a Batman caper, and it has all the one-liners that really elevated the comics delivered by some of the voice-acting best.

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