Death to comic book adaptations, long live the new art

Posted on Jan 28 2013 - 9:59pm by Lacey Russell

If each school year could be considered a season of a series, then my time as a cast member here at the flagship is coming to a close.

I’m the movie-reviewer/entertainment columnist guy, and I hope that something, even if it’s just one thing, that I’ve written in my couple years as a minor character here at The Daily Mississippian has either made you think or made you laugh. I haven’t gotten out and made a lot of friends in my time at Ole Miss, so these words, this ink and paper, have been my connection to all of you who read what I write.

I fondly look back on my time as “movie guy,” and I hope that some brave patriot will rise up to take my place when I’ve typed my last review in May — preferably someone younger, smarter and better looking than I.

Before we get to all that, though, there are movies remaining to be reviewed, awards shows to critique and one wanton act of a director’s head-up-assery to be addressed … which brings us to now.

Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg, once a hero of mine, has been one of the top names in the field of directing. He achieved his greatest successes in the early to mid-1980s with films such as “Scanners,” ”Videodrome,” an adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Dead Zone” and one of my top-10 favorite films of all time: “The Fly.” He still made quality films throughout the ‘90s but went on to greater success in 2003 with “A History of Violence,” followed a year or two later by “Eastern Promises.” Cronenberg is a hero to genre fans. His films explore the mind and body and aren’t afraid to get a little red in the process. He’s won countless awards and is one of the most respected people in his field.

He also thinks that comic book movies don’t qualify as art.

Wait, what?

In an interview with IGN this past year, Cronenberg was asked if he’d be interested in directing a comic book movie since comic book movies, and especially recent Batman movies, have proven that they are capable of functioning at the extreme upper levels of cinematic art, to which Cronenberg responded with: “Well, wait a minute, who says that they function at the extreme upper level of cinematic art? I don’t think that they do.”

It went downhill from there.

“I think it’s still Batman running around in a stupid cape,” he said. “I just don’t think it’s elevated. A superhero movie, by definition, you know, it’s comic book. It’s for kids. It’s adolescent in its core. That has always been its appeal, and I think people who are saying, you know, ‘“The Dark Knight Rises” is, you know, supreme cinema art,’ I don’t think they know what the f— they’re talking about.”

I think that a superhero movie, by definition, is a movie about a superhero. And what’s wrong with Batman running around in a stupid cape? Do I sense a few anti-Batman sentiments there, David?

His whole rationalization for his argument is as follows:

“I think that if you’re working within the expectations of the superhero comic book movie you’re limited. You’ve automatically limited your horizons and your expectations because you’ve got an audience that expects certain things, and you can’t frustrate those expectations and be successful, so you have to work within those limits. And they’re too strict, those limits, to allow you to really be creative as an artist at the highest level of art.”

I know he specifically means comic book movies, as he shares the modern art society’s general distaste of “funny books,” but by Cronenberg’s logic, any movie that comes from somewhere other than a screenwriter or director’s brain is not art.

Therefore no adaptation of any kind is art. Therefore around two-thirds of Cronenberg’s own films are not art, including “History of Violence,” which is, itself, based on a comic book. When this is brought to his attention, he wastes no time playing the “it’s different because I did it” card and hemorrhaging my respect from right out of his body.

What is it about comic books that makes them seen as the lowest form of entertainment? Directors of these adaptations always seem to be bending over backward to justify “lowering” themselves to doing comic adaptations.

I counter Cronenberg’s argument and say that recent adaptations by the likes of Christopher Nolan, Joss Whedon, Matthew Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Kenneth Branagh, Alex Proyas, Guillermo del Toro, and Bryan Singer have all raised the bar for comic-to-screen adaptations.

Cronenberg later asks how you can compare “The Dark Knight Rises” with Fellini’s “8 1/2.” The simple answer there is: You don’t. Movies are as varied as the people who make them. Art is as varied as the people who create it. Art is not something you look up in a textbook — it’s something you feel and express via some sort of medium.

So stick up your nose to us comic book fans and movie fans in general if you like, David. Batman will be around long after the world has forgotten how dreadful “Cosmopolis” is.


You can follow Josh on Twitter @joshuapresley