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It’s Only A Movie

May 3, 2012

With nearly everyone I know wetting themselves in anticipation of The Avengers, I figured I would write a little about my feelings on the poverty of ideas that has come to dominate the entertainment industry. Bear in mind, I am not saying that The Avengers will be bereft of ingenuity, I am merely commenting on the state of things as I see them.
I will admit, I’m not a huge comic fan. I don’t have long-boxes stuffed to the brim with bagged and boarded comics. I don’t run out to the comic store on Wednesday to pick up my subscriptions. My best friend Matt, however, lives that very life. Since high school he has made a point to indoctrinate me with his love of comics. I have read my share. I like the older ones: Will Eisner’s The Spirit, Carl Barks’ Donald Duck, Jack Coles’ Plastic Man, Winsor McCay, and especially the old EC stuff, Haunt of Fear, Crime SuspenStories and the like. There is magic in the pages and Matt has convinced me  that comics are in many ways superior to other forms.
There seems to be two main factors that contribute to the poverty of ideas that has saturated the world of art and entertainment. The first is form. There is this notion about that form is irrelevant. That what was good in one form, will, with very little effort, be good in another. You see it all the time. A few examples off the top of my head: Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter series will work just as well on film they said. In the end it cost the top executive at Disney Pictures his job. The Spirit movie should be a home run; instead it was a soulless experiment in CGI bereft of any of the playful elements present in its original form. The Smurfs made the transition from comic strip to cartoon but then the envelope was pushed too far with The Smurfs film.
The problem comes when, despite the fact that these projects are usually nothing more than executive attempts at monetizing memories, the public goes along for the ride. There is no push back. There are no calls to stop. There are no voices calling for attention to form. When there are, they are generally regarded as cranks, as is the case with Alan Moore. Over the years, despite his protests, his work has been exploited again and again, usually with dismal results. It is astounding and yet people clamor for more. When Watchmen came out, if you asked a fan why they were excited to see it, they most certainly would’ve said, “Because the comic is so good.” That is what astounds me. If the comic is so good, so brilliant, so ingenious, why would taking it apart and reconstructing in a different form make it any better? Can you really improve on genius? “Oh, the Mona Lisa is okay, but wouldn’t be cool to see it as a photograph?” “Romeo and Juliet is pretty good but what if we made it into a graphic novel? Wouldn’t that be cool?” I just can’t understand it.
The other factor that seems to dominate the market is greed. That may seem like a cynical or harsh term to apply, but it does. The people that make the decisions on what entertainment we will be provided with do not base their decisions on anything other than money. Did you know they are filming a sequel to The Smurfs? Why would they do that, you ask, it got terrible reviews and American audiences couldn’t stand it.. Because worldwide gross was over 500 million. They made five times what they paid for it. Why wouldn’t they? Artistic merit has nothing to do with it. While I’m sure that at least some of the people involved in actually creating the content have some semblance of love of the craft, the industrial nature of almost every branch of the arts ensures that what we see and hear is designed to appeal to as many people as possible. What better way to do that than to tap into the collective memory of the population? “You liked that show when you were growing up and feel somewhat nostalgic for it, we will provide you with an outlet for your nostalgia. Ten dollars, please.” “Why should we take a risk on unknown content when we can use content that is already proven to make money?” All ten of the highest grossing films of 2011 were sequels and more than half of them were from content that previously existed in another form, either book, ride, toy or TV show. Is this the cultural ghetto we’ve arrived at, a constant recycling of the same material till the source is stripped of all originality and impact? There is a reason J. D. Salinger refused to let his book be filmed. They are books. There is a reason Alan Moore protests when they exploit one of his projects. They are graphic novels not films. There was a reason C. S Lewis was opposed to his books being turned into films. They were books. But corporations don’t care. They will indulge the demands of the people, and the people, bafflingly, demand to see their favorite books turned into pale celluloid imitations. They demand to see their own memories re-imagined with better special effects.
It brings me back to where I started. I will most likely be seeing The Avengers. I don’t think Matt will let me not see it. But I will be thinking the whole time about how ridiculous those actors look with their falsely colored beards or bizarre rubber headgear. I never have that dilemma with the comics. Because in the comics, the Avengers are where they are supposed to be. They are in their proper form. Let me know if I’m wrong.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 3, 2012 2:58 am

    Valid points. Business supersedes artistic creation in Hollywood. However, while you touched on the over riding points of why these films get made you also have to look at the more subtle reasons why such a shift has occurred in Hollywood since its golden years. First, and foremost, the technology is finally present to digitally depict Iron man flying around and blowing stuff up with his suit. Have you compared him to the original Superman movies? I would take today’s superhero movies any day for visual stimulus over the original flying man in tights. When you don’t have the ability to tell a story you want, you seek inspiration other places and that is where a lot of original movie ideas come to fruition. Yet, today, since the ability to tell these established stories is available it’s an easy route for Hollywood executives. I’m glad to know there are still some us who do value original creation and the forms they take.

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