Fussing about comic movies

The big news last night was the casting of Batman for the follow-up to The Man of Steel. I was surprised that Ben Affleck was chosen, mostly given his big name. The two big stars of the Superman movie were not the most famous people in that movie. Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, and Laurence Fishburne all brought more starpower than either of the two leads. I’d never heard of either Michael Shannon or Henry Cavill until they were announced to play Zod and Superman. So to cast Ben Affleck, who has been hanging around the top tier of movie stardom for fifteen years is a bit surprising. I’m guessing they hope that Henry Cavill will become a huge star in between Superman movies so he can hold his own against Affleck’s Batman. Here’s hoping… Though, at the risk of sounding too much like a blogger, I don’t think Cavill has near enough charisma or screen presence to hold his own against anybody dressed as Batman, let alone an actor who has proven his charisma numerous times.

That sounds like I’m a big Affleck fan. I like him alright. I don’t follow his career. I haven’t even seen Argo or Good Will Hunting. He’s a movie star though. He has that elusive movie star … (I’m just gonna go there) je ne se qua. And I’m guessing that his Batman will either play a small part, like Crowe’s Jor-El did, or he will outright steal the whole movie. If he plays a small part, he will still dominate. As much as I like Superman, Batman just looks cooler. He especially looks cooler when real people dress up like him. And if Batman shares an equal number of screen minutes with Superman, then Cavill doesn’t stand a chance. It won’t be a World’s Finest movie. It will be a Batman movie.

Cruising around Twitter and the blogosphere, I noticed a generally negative reaction to the news of Affleck’s casting. And I just don’t understand that. Dislike Affleck. Lose interest in the Man of Steel sequel movie. Whatever. I just don’t understand the people that accuse Affleck of potentially ruining Batman. Now this goes for all comic-to-movie, book-to-movie adaptations. The movie version is not the definitive version of the story.

The movie version is not the definitive version of the story.

We already have years of Neal Adams’ Batman comics. In my opinion, that is the ultimate telling of the Batman stories. That’s canon. Everything else, including movies and later comics, is something like fan fiction. Some is good, some is bad. Likewise to fussy comments about any franchise. “Did the movie of The Hunger Games ruin the book?” What?! No! The book is right there, intact. I’ve spoken with, and read articles by, many people who actively dislike Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies because of freedoms he took with the text. (And if you’re one of the people I’ve talked to about this, I’m referring to someone else that I talked to about the same topic.) I’ve even heard and chatted with a few that even regard The Hobbit movie as superior to the first set of Middle Earth flicks because the story was told with greater adherence to the book. That is, some people prefer a bad movie to a good one because it is ‘truer’ to the book.

This is the most common conversation regarding film adaptations of comics or books. “Did they get it right?” “Did they screw up my favorite book?” “They ruined ______!”

Now of course everyone is entitled to their opinion. But when I hear opinions like the ones above, I assume that those reviewers have little respect for the source material. Even though they claim to have utmost respect for the source, and that is the reason for there dismay at the crappy movie version. I would argue that they do not respect the source. Think about it. Do you feel threatened by a new crappy Star Trek flick? If so, what exactly are you afraid of? It’s not like JJ is going to personally come to your house and scratch your DVD of Star Trek II. (Lucas, on the other hand…) JJ’s just going to make a new movie that lazily borrows sequences from better movies. It’s a Star Trek greatest hits album, only with new (!) and exciting (!) cover versions of your old favorites. But you still have the originals. And if you let the new version distract you from enjoying the classic, then isn’t that your problem?

The same theory applies to book, or comic book, to movie adaptations. So there’s a new actor playing Batman. Ben Affleck is not going to rip up all your old Batman comics. Neither is his movie version to ever be considered the definitive version of Batman. If you esteem the next Batman movie so highly that you’re afraid for the character’s future, then you don’t know Batman. First of all, comic fans were panicking about Michael Keaton and he turned out to be awesome. In fact, he’s my favorite screen Batman, maybe even my favorite screen superhero. And if you’re afraid that a bad Batman movie will screw up the future of Bat-cinema, well don’t forget that Batman Begins came out a mere eight years after Batman & Robin, and its attitude was probably at least partly a direct response to the crappy Clooney flick. And thirdly, most importantly, stop putting so much emphasis on the movies. The Batman story is done. It’s already been told. Movies just add to the mythos. What works, stays. What flops gets discarded.

One more thing. Batman is a serialized character. The rules are a little different for him than they are for Lord of the Rings. But the philosophy of the film adaptation is the same. The movies are movies and the books are books. Okay. You’ve probably already talked that over. Different media, different rules, different goals, different experiences. Some changes are necessary. Omissions are accepted. Additions are to be fussed about.

What I do not like is the conversation about whether a film adaptation is true to its source. The “did they get it right” conversations bug me. It’s a staple of fandom to argue over accuracy and canon. But I say that it’s not only fruitless, but indicative of a disrespect for the original book or comic. As I said, comics are different because it is in their nature is to be refreshed. Books are finite and comics are of a nature generally closer to resembling infinity. But the attitude among fans persists. The disrespect for the source comes by giving too much importance to the adaptation. You expect the LOTR, or the Hunger Games, or the Batman, or the Star Trek movies to match your interpretation of the source? If you want the source so badly then why not go to it? Why bother about a movie that got it wrong if you can easily just go to the place that gets it right? Read the books you love, watch the movies you love, read the comics you love.

What impact can a supposedly bad adaptation have on the original? I say if it’s not zero, then maybe you don’t like the original as much as you think you do.

And here’s my big point: The movie version is not the definitive version of the story.

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