On my 16 hour flight to Sydney Australia, I did something risk to my brain cells: I watched the new Fantastic Four film. As a comic book nerd, it was pretty bad. As a film lover, it was pretty bad. For someone looking to be entertained, it was bad, but still kind of fun. And sure, it’s my perspective and there were parts of it that had some merit. Honesty, I think almost every film has something to offer, something good if not new. But it got me thinking. Considering they are making everything from my generation and my parent’ s generation’s childhood into a film or a franchise and pushing tons of money into them, why are most of them so, well, poorly made? You can have the greatest effects and sets and the biggest budgets and cast and still flop hard at the box office and in fan’s hearts.
No movie based on pop culture is a perfect representation, and that is a ying-yang of fan expectation. It gives them a new angle to something familiar, yet if too different or too far from the original idea and spirit of the concept it leaves that hollow feeling of deception. How DARE they try to pass this off as the Fantastic Four, or Jem and the Holograms, or dare I say it, (Teenage Mutant) NINJA TURTLES? Instead of “Thanks Obama” it should be “Thanks Michael Bay”. Production teams always take creative liberties, but when is it too much? Fans will always nit pick; there is always going to be SOMETHING they missed or misrepresented. But you can’t bombard too much at the audience either, especially those new to an idea. Do you know how hard some things can be to fit within time constraints? You want to have the most important aspects of the story down while fitting as much detail in as you can, but some things have to get scrapped and fall to the cutting room floor. If you wanted the perfect Harry Potter movies, they would be four hours each and not two. Lord of the Rings sure as hell wasn’t a walk in the park for Peter Jackson and crew. Despite this, there are ways of making it work. But some are not as well executed as others. On top of that, there’s translation. Writing and visuals are art forms, but as much as the two go together, they are also very different and difficult to convert one to the other without some missing pieces.
Have you ever seen Super Mario Bros: The Movie? Perfect example. It’s one of the most infamous box office bombs of all time. The movie was an attempted cash grab. They figure to slap the name of the game on the film, throw in some loose references, and no matter what the story and plot was kids and their parents would by it. Did it work? Well, kind of. Despite how many people did see it just to see a live action version of a popular game, even kids could see through the special effects what it was: a clueless attempt at trying to make the game make sense in reality. Even the film’s stars Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, and Dennis Hopper could not save it. In fact, before Hoskins and Hopper passed on, it was the one film they refused to talk about in interviews they hated the project so much.
Now, these films may have a few flares of ingenuity in them, but why did they flop as harshly as they did? Well, there is a lot of reasons. Changes both big and small in all stages of production can morph a film project like changes in staff, script, accidents, social faux pas (like hiring an all white cast for a movie about Egyptian gods), and legal issues. But one of the biggest is, well, us. Viewing them as fans rather than an unknowing public knowing, we can look into the accuracy of these franchises and criticize anything at anytime. We can feel we have the power to praise or condemn in an instant if it does not meet the standard in our minds. And while everyone is different in how we think a film for a franchise should be done, what we don’t understand is how difficult it can be to transcribe something so complex into a two hour screen play. They make it look so easy when in reality it is often a production hell.
So then with such risks, how do movies like The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy hit such a high gross in the box office? A raccoon with a gun and a giant tree pal that no one has really ever heard of seems like a huge risk, right? It’s simple: whoever did the hiring for the production team was a genius. Who better to direct a film but a comic book writer and pop culture creator that knows the company and the material to make it what most fans were anticipating and regular movie goers to fall in love with? In case you haven’t figured out who I am referring to, yes, it’s Joss Whedon. Film studios are getting smarter. They are hiring people that not only know their source, but love it and envision it to be a creative and retelling of something that is already known or yet to be introduced. They are thinking like the fans do, and it shows in their success and helping create even more fans. And not just actors and directors; make up artists, costumers, set designers, tech, concept artists, and effects artists all help the effort with their knowledge and love for their craft and their favorite pastimes whether it be books, graphic novels, or video games.
The key in all this is consistency. The seventh grade me knows this all too well. The X-Men movies were making it big after their first one in 2000. Brian Singer, who was into comics as well, worked hard with his team to meet the formula I mentioned. And it worked. He simplified a complex narrative for everyone to enjoy and it secured itself a sequel. X2 did even better and was considered the best comic book film next to Rami’s Spider-Man. But the ending is what made it for me. I loved many X-Men characters, but Jean Grey by far was the most intriguing for me. To be transformed from someone who wanted nothing more to be socially normal into a raging fiery goddess when revived by an entity known as the Phoenix Force. And at the end credits with the watery aftermath of the broken dam, you see it. IT IS THERE. In fire and spread wings for a few seconds is the Phoenix. This just didn’t confirm they were going to do a sequel; they were going to do one of the greatest story arcs of all time: The Dark Phoenix Saga. I recall screaming in excitement after the film finished, confusing my family as they do not have the comic knowledge I posses. And then after a few years, the sequel finally comes. And, well…
X3 happened. It just…happened. Now, it wasn’t awful. It’s the first X-Men where there is more action than talking. And they based it on a great X-Men story line called God Loves, Man Kills. But it wasn’t what they promised. It was not the Dark Phoenix Saga, the most recognizable plot in the X-Men series. So why didn’t they follow through? There was a problem. Bryan Singer, the director, was offered the job of directing Superman Returns. To direct a Superman film was a dream come true for him, so he told Fox Studios that he’d return to work on X3 with the Dark Phoenix Saga script once he was done with Warner Brothers. Fox was fine with this, until Superman Returns did well at the box office. They turned on Singer and scrapped the script and Singer altogether. Five directors and three script rewrites later, X3 was finally figured out. It seems silly and small, but small details can change the course of any major film project.
So where does that leave things with video games? Many have tried, and many have failed at trying to translate their imaginative and colorful work into film. Some are persistent despite results like Tomb Raider, Hitman, and Resident Evil. Some could work out well for recent post production films like Warcraft, Assassin’s Creed, and the Five Nights at Freddies film they are planning. Some become as unmentionable as Super Mario Brothers like the film adaptation of DOOM. And some, like Prince of Persia, just scoot by. And hey, everyone’s tastes are different; guilty pleasures are allowed. Anyone can enjoy sub par films. As I mentioned before, almost all films bring something new if not good to the screen. But I also think that it’s ok that the Legend of Zelda Netflix Show was a hoax. After the horrendous cartoon show in the 90’s, I feel some things should just not be touched. I am ok that some franchises are too difficult to translate onto the big screen. Maybe some of the things we love and hold in high nostalgic regard should remain safe in our minds. We can imagine and dream of the perfect film or sequel for it, but for the sake of saving ourselves and others from a visual disappoint on the Hollywood level. And yes, I understand how much everyone wishes George Lucas kept his ideas to “improve” his films in his head too. And that’s why sequels don’t tend to do well: we imagine what it will be, and then feel a sense of disappointment if it’s nothing close to what we envisioned it to be. With any media, much can get lost in translating it from one form to another. But I believe some thinks are just meant to stay pure because there isn’t a good enough method to present them accurately and with quality. From a work as timeless as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to something as dated as Fantastic Four, some works are best left as they are (that’s a hint, Disney and Tim Burton. Knock it off!)
For part of the industry, it’s all about making money. Fans can be considered, but nothing is up to us unless we get lucky and part of the production team are giant nerds like us. We get what we get, whether for better or worse. For some people, it’s just about being entertained. But even with that in mind, I think what most nerd that love their book or games or comic feel is this:
“If you are going to try and engage the general public with this thing that we love and have them appreciate it as much as we do, at least do it RIGHT. Do your research, don’t stray too far and remain dedicated. Entertain, but be smart about it.”
I know this is the hope for the next Star Wars films. And after all the post production mistakes George Lucas pulled, they seemed to have taken the above statement to heart. Because if you haven’t seen the trailers yet, it feels like it belongs with 4,5, and 6. And that is the best any fan could hope for.
What do you think? Write a comment below!