Saturday, April 15, 2006

Friday in a darkened theatre

So my wife and I are watching our recently-arrived Season 2 DVDs of Lois & Clark, and I found myself doing it again. The thing that all comics fans do, whether we admit it or not. It was the fifth or sixth episode from that season, the one where the cloned gangsters are trying to take over Metropolis, and Emil Hamilton turns out to be the guy that did the cloning.

And my fan reflex kicked in. It was an instantaneous, instinctive reaction. I immediately stopped caring about the story and instead I thought, "Wait a minute. That's all screwed up. They got it wrong." And I spent the next minute or so riffling through my mental Superman Fan Rolodex ticking off all the continuity mistakes the show had made.

Then I got over it, thankfully without starting to rant to my wife about it. Julie really loves Lois & Clark -- I rather like it myself, at least the first couple of seasons, but Julie really loves it -- and she would quite probably have thought I was being mean and making fun of her for liking something I didn't.

But I thought it through a little bit, and realized that this fan reflex of mine was a bit ridiculous. First of all, there was no way that the show could have got Hamilton "wrong," since it was his first appearance on it. Secondly, even if you are judging the portrayal as being consistent with his appearances in the comics, it WAS consistent -- because if you asked for the quick summary of Hamilton, it would be "He is a brilliant but misguided scientist, whose well-meaning experiment results in creating a menace that it takes Superman to put down."

Well, that's what he was on Lois & Clark. And in the Dini-Timm cartoon. And on Smallville. And, oh yeah, in the original comics. None of these Hamiltons bear more than a passing resemblance to one another, but the same through-line and plot points apply to all of them. So what was my problem? I should relax and let it go. The ESSENCE was there.

Realizing this made me think about how weird we get about the movie and TV versions of superheroes. Remember the seething fan rage about Spider-Man and his organic webshooters? Or when it was announced Michael Clarke Duncan was playing the Kingpin? Or when Jessica Alba was announced as Sue Storm? Or... I'm sure you can come up with your own example. God knows there are hundreds.

So what's that about? I'm just as guilty of it as anyone -- nobody has been snarkier than me about the cinematic versions of Captain America -- either version, whether it be the horror that was the Reb Brown Cap --

-- or the Matt Salinger straight-to-video version, with the Red Skull as an Italian concert pianist.

So, you know, I do it too. I'm just as picky and vicious as the next fanboy.

But what I've noticed in recent years is that even though Hollywood has been doing a lot better -- no, if you are honest you have to admit it, they have been. Take a look at the old Nicholas Hammond Spider-Man from the 70's show or the Rex Smith Daredevil from "Trial of The Incredible Hulk" and THEN come bitch at me about organic webshooters. Most comic-book movies, these days, seem to work fine AS MOVIES, they hit a reasonable minimum-entertainment value as popcorn action flicks, but we are just as crabby and hard-to-please as ever. This despite the fact that not only is Hollywood doing better at adapting... but they are actively COURTING us. San Diego has become overrun with studio flacks and actors pushing their next Hollywood project. Want to be really weirded out and vaguely embarrassed? Check out Jennifer Garner's videotaped message to the San Diego convention about how great the Elektra movie is going to be and how sorry she is that she can't make it to the con to show the clip package. "You'll all be happy to know that the costume WILL BE RED this time," she vows. Seriously. She said it. It's on the Elektra DVD as a bonus feature.

Think about that. Jennifer Garner taped an announcement begging the geeks not to boycott her new movie because her costume was the wrong color in Daredevil. I'm sorry, but there's something deeply messed up about that.

And this isn't even an isolated incident. Every major superhero movie has somebody out there hitting the convention trail, pleading for our good will. In fact, I was shocked to see, on our recent DVD acquisition, a bit in the documentary with Deborah Joy Levine talking about how scared she was to bring a clip package to the San Diego con back in the early 90's, trying to push this Lois & Clark show she was putting together.

So if the complaint was that we weren't being counted, or our opinion wasn't being considered, that's just not the case. That fight's over. We won.

Which leads me back to my original question... what WAS our complaint, exactly? Think of a certain comics-based movie or show that really annoyed you. What was your issue? That it wasn't done "right"? That there was no "respect for the original"? Bryan Singer's been stumping pretty hard for his new Superman movie. He knows what running the fan gauntlet is like after two previous cinematic outings with the X-Men. Fans are already lining up with their tomahawks after the first shots of Brandon Routh hit the net (The S is too small! The belt buckle's all wrong!) and yet, of all the characters in superhero comics, Superman is easily the most adaptable and resilient. Check out this amazing collage I found at the Superman Supersite:

Now tell me which one is the "real" Superman that Bryan Singer has to respect or we will spend the next six months on the internet screaming for his head on a platter.

See where I'm going with this? Maybe we should unclench about this Hollywood stuff a little bit. Enjoy the good and ignore the bad, and otherwise don't worry about it. Because if we're at the point where the studio requires that Bryan Singer or Brett Ratner have to show up at a con and swear they did their best to a room full of pudgy guys in homemade costumes, I think we can relax and move on.

See you next week.

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Blogger MCF said...

Yeah, I had the same reaction to finding out Hamilton was behind Capone et al, but when he turned out not to be a villain I didn't mind the different portrayal. On the JLU cartoon, Hamilton actually helps Cadmus clone heroes to combat the League, though it's done in the interest of national security.

I think Rex Smith and John Rhys-Davies were a better DD and Kingpin than Affleck and Clarke Duncan, and I'm probably in a minority. But you're right. Every fan locks on to the "right" version of a character, and can get stuck on whichever version he or she first saw or grew up with. I have a forgiving nostalgia for G1 Transformers and I loved Beast Wars, but anything since pales in comparison and I'll probably never watch another TF show. I had a problem with Fox doing a new TMNT cartoon, but it turned out to be closer to the comics and better than the one I remembered, which I realized once I found some clips of the old one online. Wow, time changes our memories of things.

I'm cautiously optimistic about the new Superman, based only on Singer's work with X-men and the hope that Batman Begins started a trend of GOOD DC movies. I'm still not sure about Routh--on the cover of the latest Wizard he looks about as convincing as Thomas Jayne in a Punisher t-shirt. I'm reserving judgment though.

4/15/2006 11:23:00 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

"Take a look at the old Nicholas Hammond Spider-Man from the 70's show or the Rex Smith Daredevil from "Trial of The Incredible Hulk""

I already have. No thank you.

I remember during the press push for the first X-Men movie, Famke Janssen was on The Daily Show, and she talked about the complaints she'd heard from fans about her character *before the movie was released*. It was a taped interview, and I was in my parents' living room in Houston at the time, but all the same, I felt like apologizing to her on behalf of non-insane X-Men fans. But then I realized I could just as easily call up the other three and collaborate on a nice letter.

4/16/2006 01:45:00 AM  
Anonymous stephen Cade said...

The Hulk TV movies after the series were worse than the series.
Their misuse of Thor was amusing, but since they were calling hin "Thor" it didn't work.

4/16/2006 03:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Cove West said...

I think you're being a bit unfair to the fans, Greg. Yeah, there are the guys who sit in their little shrines and send death threats to Computer Animator #36 on THE HULK because Greenskin has one too many armpit hairs, but for the most part, these are honest criticisms.

Take the organic web-shooters, for instance. Fans honestly wanted to know why the change was made. Was it to streamline the origin, so as not to spend screen time exlaining Peter's invention of the shooters? Or was it to make Peter less of "nerd who takes advantage of being a freak" type and more of a "normal kid who has all this weird stuff thrust upon him" type? Or any one of many good-natured story/plot/character reasons? Or was it, as many feared, simply Raimi not fully understanding the character and just the tip of the iceberg of a movie full of un-Spidey distasters? Or worse, was it just someone trying to be cute and thinking they could make a better Spidey than Stan and Steve, prelude to some hideous attempt to make him more "extreme"? First organic web-shooter, next Mary Jane and Norman having a fling resulting in evil adult twin children in SPIDER-MAN 3?

Or take CATWOMAN. Let's just assume that Pitof had actually made that one of the most awesome movies ever put to film, THE MATRIX and RAIDERS and THE GODFATHER all rolled into one. Does it still deserve to be called CATWOMAN? I love THE INCREDIBLES more than is probably Surgeon General recommended, but I'm under no illusions that it's the Fantastic Four, nor would I call it that if you called Bob Parr "Reed Richards".

I think Singer's X-MEN were great (especially X2), but I have a very hard time considering them to be the X-Men. In most ways, he was incredibly respectful of the source, but there's too much in there that labels itself "Bryan Singer's-Men" for me to be completely satisfied. BRYAN SINGER'S-MEN and BSM2 were worth every penny and deserved every ticket sold, but a part of me is still waiting for the X-Men movie.

Which brings me to SUPERMAN RETURNS. The movie might very possibly blow my mind like whatever kind of kryptonite it was that Quitely's Superman took before chillin' on that cloud, but I will always feel it in some way lesser because of that damn costume. Superman is the most recognizable character on the face of the planet; we all know what the costume is supposed to look like. Even in that collage, the non-traditional Supermen stand out like sore thumbs. Yeah, the Routh costume isn't as radical as, say, KINGDOM COME Superman or Electric Blue Superman, but it is still different. Which, to me, is the problem: Singer's people INTENTIONALLY made a costume that was different. Why? I dunno, but I have a pretty good feeling that it's simply because they wanted to be different, to "make their mark." And frankly, when you decide you're going to make your mark by altering the single most iconic figure ever conceived by man, even if just a little bit, that's a level of pretention that turns me off of whatever else you might have to say in the rest of the movie.

4/16/2006 05:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And frankly, when you decide you're going to make your mark by altering the single most iconic figure ever conceived by man..."

More proof, as if any were needed, that most people who use the word "iconic" don't really know what it originally meant.

4/16/2006 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger Apodaca said...

The one, true Superman is, of course, mullet-Superman.

Duh, Greg.

4/16/2006 02:54:00 PM  
Blogger Michael Bailey said...

I think my main problem with that particular episode is that Clark fakes his death and then "comes back" as a clone and everyone buys it.


Pretty much agree with all you had to say though.

4/16/2006 04:22:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

I *adore* the Trial of the Incredible Hulk. Even the silly DD and the John Rhys Davies Kingpin. And the Stan Lee cameo. Boo yah.

And Nicholas Hammond Spidey was fun. I love all that weird 70's stuff. Except maybe that Dr. Strange with the whiteboy 'fro.

4/16/2006 06:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With a few exceptions, the superhero movies of the past six years are better than the comics that inspired them. Mostly because each group of superheroes is isolated in their own universe, unlike the idiotic situation where Spiderman, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four are supposed to be not only in the same universe but the same city.

4/16/2006 07:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Cove West said...

More proof, as if any were needed, that most people who use the word "iconic" don't really know what it originally meant.

Which is why I said "ever conceived by man" and not "including those icons born of God or the gods." Something can be iconic without being an icon.

4/16/2006 07:48:00 PM  
Blogger --Greg Hatcher said...

I *adore* the Trial of the Incredible Hulk. Even the silly DD and the John Rhys Davies Kingpin. And the Stan Lee cameo. Boo yah.

And Nicholas Hammond Spidey was fun. I love all that weird 70's stuff. Except maybe that Dr. Strange with the whiteboy 'fro.

Hey, I love all those things too, in a sort of love-your-idiot-misfit-brother way. Even the Peter Hooten Dr. Strange... yeah, Hooten's a stiff and Clea's incredibly, incredibly BAD. But Sir John Mills and Jessica Walter are AWE. SOME.

I own all of them, actually. Along with Fox's Hasselhoff Nick Fury and the Generation X TV-movie and the Corman FF and, well, a lot of stuff like that. So I am actually the last guy in the world to be jeering at Lois & Clark.

I'm just saying, let's keep an eye on the ball here and not get all freaked out over stuff like Brandon Routh's belt buckle when, come ON, the bar has been raised SO MUCH HIGHER. If the Ben Affleck DD had been released in 1985 we'd have all thought we'd died and gone to heaven. That was what I was getting at.

But I loves me some crappy Marvel TV-movies, too... even Malibu body-builder Thor and blindfolded Rex Smith DD. I just don't have any illusions about their relative quality.

4/16/2006 09:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Matt said...

seems to me like the comments here prove that not everyone really got the article, or at the least, they ignored the article.

the point isn't that the complaints nerds have against these movies are valid or invalid. the point is that maybe we should shut up and try to enjoy them for what they are--which is sometimes really great.

but maybe i'm the nuts one--it's hard for me to get bothered by a costume, organic webshooter, or whatever if the movie/TV show is actually GOOD. then i'm more concerned with enjoying the story, characters, etc--which would appear to be the point.

4/17/2006 11:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For me, before watching the Spider-man movie, I had barley taken in any of the history. I had watched the odd show, here and there.

The organic webshooters, I thought, were part of the character when I watched the movie. I mean, why wouldn't they be?

When I found out later that Peter Parker invented them, I though, wow, that is stupid, he has the power of a Spider why wouldn't he naturally be able to shoot webbing.

So, for me, it's opposite. I think it's pretty stupid that he can't just organically shoot webbing.

4/17/2006 04:07:00 PM  
Blogger The Fortress Keeper said...

Honestly, many comic-book conventions simply don't translate well to film, necessitating some sort of change.

Do we really want to see Hugh Jackman in yellow and blue spandex w/Batman ears? Is that really going to look cool in 3-D?

As long as the essence of the character is correct - and the story, effects and acting are any good - I'm satisfied. Batman Begins, for instance, took a lot of liberties but felt a lot more like Batman than any of the recent DC comics pre-OYL. The same is true with the two Spidey movies.

I'm hoping Superman will be good, and am not going to base any judgements on the size of his belt buckle

4/17/2006 07:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"As long as the essence of the character is correct - and the story, effects and acting are any good - I'm satisfied"

Me too, imagine how shitty a green latern movie would be if they made it exactly how the spazweb fanboys would love to see it made with the celery guy and the guy that looks like an egg.

4/18/2006 08:00:00 AM  

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