So, last night I ended up searching through the web for information on Gene Roddenberry's failed series Strange New World
(it's a long story) which helped to reveal just how much he liked to reuse plots no matter how many times pilots based on them failed right down to character names - one wonders just what was so special about the name 'Dylan Hunt' to Roddenberry that it got used for the main character in two failed pilots
before finally succeeding in Andromeda
...which featured a man frozen in time trying to rebuild civilisation. Again.
(Bizarre coincidence: this got mentioned in a SHWI post
Anyway, I digress. My search helped me discover this rather fun site
which has reviews of lots of obscure, strange and just plain bad films including much of the fodder that fills video stores and the late night hours on obscure cable channels. It's good if only for the fact it proves that I'm not the only person in the world to have seen and remembered such 'delights' as Radioactive Dreams
but it was a line in a review of Sylvester Stallone's execrably bad Cobra
that got my attention and prompted the main point of this post:
What makes a movie bad is how ineptly it accomplishes what it meant to accomplish. (That's so simple, it's almost Zen.) Thus, an exploitative soft-core movie (such as would be produced by, say Surrender Cinema) cannot truly be called "bad" simply because it's chock-ful of simulated sex scenes -- that's the raison d'etre of the movie, after all. On the other hand, most Surrender Cinema movies bite because they fail to be actually, you know, seductive. Failure to accomplish the implicit objectives.
Or, to get away from examples that you don't want your mother knowing you're familiar with, this is the reason that I'm one of the few reviewers to give Carnosaur 2 high marks. Sure, it's a mindless little movie about dinosaurs chomping humans in a nuclear installation -- but it's a tight, entertaining mindless little movie about etc.
So when we look at a movie like, say, Cobra (quit yer bellyaching -- Ken Begg would have been another thousand words into the review before he got to the point), we have to judge it against what it was obviously trying to be -- comparing the mortal Cobra with the platonic ideal of Cobra, if you will, and measuring the discrepancy.
Probably because I went to see Spider-Man 2 during the week, this got me thinking about comic-based movies. Specifically, why many comic-based movies feel disappointing even when they're not particularly bad movies.
And that's where the quote comes in - because so many of them fall short of the ideal form they could have attained. Now, this is a problem with many films - you can often tell, watching a bad movie, what the creators were aiming for but failed to reach, and adaptations from other media always have the original to try and live up to - but I'm just going to stick with comic-based movies as I know more about the subject and gives me an excuse (not that it's really needed) to put the metaphorical boot into Keanu Reeves. And anyway, if this post fails to interest you, be assured that the platonic ideal form of it would have done. (Note however, that the platonic ideal of a weblog post has been written)
You would think that adapting a comic (especially an ongoing one) into a movie would be pretty easy. After all, you're not only adapting an existing character or characters, you've also got several years (decades, even) of stories to pick from when choosing something that would make a good movie. So why, I always wonder, do the movie studios in their infinite wisdom decide to go for completely new stories which, almost inevitably, are not as good as ones that have already been published? It's not as if any of them are going to be that well known. For instance, the first Batman movie isn't a bad film, but as an examination of the relationship between Batman and The Joker it's not a patch in terms of story to, say, The Killing Joke. The ideal (or something a lot closer to the ideal, at least) already exists, so why not use it? Why just come out with some bowdlerized version?
I think that's why the Spider-Man films have been successful critically as well as commercially. At the risk of offending any hardcore Spider-Man fans who may be reading this, he hasn't inspired the same level of comic-book storytelling as other heroes and so, while the films are good, they don't have as high a target to aim for so seem better because they're closer to the ideal. There's no sense of missed potential in the films because there's not as much potential to miss. Compare that to Daredevil which was not only a poorer film, but also played a game of pick-and-mix with some of Frank Miller's best stories. There was a potentially great movie to be made from Miller's stories, but the potential was missed...annoyingly so, as they came really close in some of the non-superpowered parts. If there's ever a Daredevil 2, I dread to think of the damage they could do to Born Again.
Which brings me to the bit you've read all this way down for: Constantine. It does look like it may be the ideal form of something, but unfortunately that's just going to be the question 'What the hell were they thinking?'. Just how did whoever was responsible for this movie decide that the best way to portray the character of John Constantine - a blond English antihero, a man capable of conning the Devil yet haunted by the ghosts of those he's betrayed in the past, a man who can save the world but not be able to afford a pint to celebrate afterwards, the rake at the gates of Hell - was to make him American and get a
barely animated plank of wood Keanu Reeves to play him? Yes, a man whose sole talent is to say 'woah' while looking utterly blank to anything going on around him. One of the only reasons people think the Matrix films are deep and philosophical is merely because he looks utterly baffled throughout them. (You can already see Keanu's meagre talent at work in the movie's trailer, if you're particularly masochistic)
I'm not asking for perfect replication of Hellblazer in the movie (though I still don't understand why anyone other than Daniel Craig was even considered for the role), but somewhere out there in all the alternate universes there's one where there's a John Constantine movie or TV series that's not so hopelessly miscast (Chas played by a teenage boy?) and someone actually bothered to look at the comics before writing it and realised that the Hunger Demon story that launched the comic would make a great first film. Even I can appreciate that it might be a bit much to give the audience Dangerous Habits without some preparation.
But Keanu? Carrying a gun in the shape of a cross? All is for the worst in the worst of all possible worlds. Hey, maybe that alternate universe didn't have to endure The Phantom Menace as well. Lucky bastards.