Posts Tagged ‘Batman & Robin’

God Exists, And He’s Awesome

Friday, July 18th, 2008

Watchmen, the Citizen Kane of comic books, the last word in superhero stories, the Grand Poobah of clever clever sequential storytelling, has finally been made into a movie. Many years ago I lived in Wrexham, and this was around the time I was first getting into comics, so I would regularly trudge down to my local comic shop (more of a stall actually) and try to find something that was as good as Judgment On Gotham. Every time, and I mean every single time I went in there, the guy who ran it asked me if I had read Watchmen and that ‘they’ should make it into a film. I never really wanted to get in a conversation with him (he once asked me how many packs of condoms I thought he should take with him on a holiday abroad. The correct answer was that he should have probably got himself chemically castrated, just in case), but I always felt that there is no way Watchmen could be adequately filmed. It’s too long, too dense, and too entrenched in the medium of comics to work. As good as the story and characters were, the best thing about Watchmen is the way the story is told. And you would have to lose the whole Pirate thing.

 

It’s unfortunate that even amongst comics’ most ardent devotees, movies are seen as the superior art form, and the ultimate compliment (and goal) for a comic is to be adapted for the cinema. Ghost World is an okay movie but the comic is so much better. Spider-Man, X-Men and their sequels are adaptations and contractions of entire series, and don’t exactly tell specific stories (I’ll never forgive Sam Raimi for bastardising The Death of Gwen Stacy in the first one. Ah maybe, life’s too short).

 

However, and back on topic. The trailer to the Watchmen movie looks pretty awesome. No wonder Dave Gibbons is stoked. Maybe even the mighty Alan Moore will give it a look. C’mon Affable Al, it might be a laugh! Although I noticed that the music on the trailer is by Smashing Pumpkins. Now I like The Smashing Pumpkins. Mostly. After all, Billy Corgan is a well known control freak, and he invented ‘emo’ (does that make him an emomaniac?). BUT this song was last heard on the soundtrack to Batman & Robin truly one of the worst cinematic experiences of my life. Yes yes it’s an easy target, and even Joel Schumacher admits it’s terrible (apparently the DVD commentary is a hoot), but is this really an association the film studio wants to create? Maybe a grinning, neon Arnold Schwarzaneggar is just what this flick needs!

 

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The Seldom Seen Squid

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

I am conflicted about this whole Watchmen movie thing.

A lot of adaptations of comics seem to miss the best elements of the originals. One of the most notable things (if you were going to be unkind, the only notable thing) about Frank Miller’s Sin City was the histrionic chiaroscuro of the artwork, which is of course the one thing you don’t get carried over into the film version. It just ends up as a bunch of actors shot in grey tones. The characters and stories weren’t much cop to begin with, which is why I never bothered watching it. Similarly The Spirit was all about Will Eisner’s quirky and inventive approach to storytelling, page layouts and generally mucking about with the form, whereas the film version just redoes Sin City.

The best thing about Watchmen is its structure, and the canny tricks Moore and Gibbons used in their storytelling. Luckily enough it has good characters, some fairly complex themes and a good story (even though one of the main plot threads is half inched from an old Outer Limits episode, which Moore directly alludes to in one chapter), so a film version should at least be watchable and might even be great.

That pirate comic will never work as a cartoon though. The point is?the kid is reading the comic and then you’re reading the comic in the comic, and then you’re reading them both at the same time. That’s metatextual… or something.?Should have just left it out. It’s like Tom Bombadil!

Some of the appeal of Watchmen for comics fans are the explicit references it makes to superhero comics (and American adventure comics in general).?Of course, to a mainstream audience who don’t know their Charltons from their Gold Keys, that stuff is meaningless, and the superhero genre is a fairly recent cinematic thing. However, it looks like director Zack Snyder is creating associations with past superhero movies. The redesign of the Nite Owl costume makes its links with Batman even more apparent (who cares about The Blue Beetle, right?), and Ozymandias seems to have been reborn in the mould of Joel Schumacher’s rubber nippled greek god fantasies.

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Alice’s Adaptations In Wonderland

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

God bless Tim Burton. For being utterly predictable. While he has worked in a number of different genres, (heartfelt outsider biopic, gorgeous Hammer pastiche, and terrible terrible remake), most of his die hard fans would prefer to see him making creepy cute fairy tales for goth kids. Not surprisingly seeing as he excels at it. Batman Returns, for example, while being a pretty bad Batman movie, is actually a great Tim Burton movie.

With the appearance of images from his forthcoming Alice in Wonderland, specifically Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter, looking for all the world like Jervis Tetch from a long lost Batman & Robin subplot, it seems like he is back in his comfort zone. For all the talk of how Wonderland has been “Burtonized” it looks to be a fairly traditional adaptation, with a plummy voiced young vixen pouting her way through scenes that borrow liberally from Tenniel and the better known elements of the sequel (although not any of the trequels), whilst running into Very Famous People, semi recognisable under layers of make up/prosthetics/animation/over the top acting.

Burton's Alice

Of course an entire book can be written on the various interpretations of Alice (and at least one already has), and I’m sure Burton’s will be a visual feast, but I suspect that the quitessential Englishness at the heart of it will be lost. That’s not to say that artists of other nationalities haven’t been able to make good versions (for example, both Disney and Jan Švankmajer have made wildly different adaptations, both of which are terrific), but for me Alice is part of a long strand of English surrealism, along with Edward Lear, Rupert Bear, The Magical Mystery Tour, Nursery Cryme, Syd Barrett and Vivian Stanshall. It’s this feeling that was captured in Jonathan Miller’s 1966 TV version (described by Brian Sibley much more eloquently than I can here), in which the animal masks were ditched and the inhabitants of Wonderland were depicted as aging upper class eccentrics.

"I'm only a poor old man, 'arold" Wilfred Brambell as The White Rabbit in Jonathan Miller's Alice

Alice doesn’t need darkening or weirdifying. It’s pretty dark and weird to begin with, which is why it’s lasted so long and has lended itself to so many different takes. This new version apparently “has been freshened with a blast of girl power” (urgh. Is it still 1996?) but I don’t recall Alice being a shrinking violet. She  regularly stands up to a bunch of weird unfathomable creatures, doing weird unfathomable shit, and has always, I think, been a pretty strong character. Hopefully they won’t resort to having her doing backflips while firing twin AK47s…

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My Name Is Bruce

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

Further to my rating the SciFi Superfranchises by paying special attention to their most insignificant musical moments, it’s time to have a look at another pop cultural juggernaught through the music that was “from and inspired by” it, namely Batman.

I must be the only person on the planet that didn’t think The Dark Knight was the best thing since sliced Bat Bread. Sure,  it took the character seriously to a degree far beyond any of the previous movies, but I think that movie, and Batman Begins were a little too realistic. People always say Batman is a realistic character because he doesn’t have any superpowers, but looked at in the cold light of day, he’s just as much of a fantasy character as Spider-Man, Hellboy, or The Red Bee. This is a hero whose rogues gallery includes Clayface, The Ventriloquist and, er, Crazy Quilt. Let’s face it, if a millionaire did have his parents murdered in front of him as a child, rather than growing up to dress up as a bat and go out at 2 in the morning to kick people in the head, he would probably be paying high class prostitutes to shit in his mouth or something.

I can't wait for Chris Nolan's dark gritty take on this

What those films lacked was a tie in pop song. Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman had a whole album full of them, courtesy of high heels enthusiast, sexual adventurer and bonafide musical genius Prince. His Batman album is generally considered to be one of his poorer efforts by fans (it has the indignity of being lobbed at a zombie in Shaun of The Dead, and was once used as target practise by Danny Baker on the BBC), but I think this is partly due to the ubiquity of the film, which took movie marketing, not to mention hype to a new level. There’s some terrific stuff on that record. Electric Chair is sparse, dark and funky, Arms of Orion is a gorgeous ballad (inexplicably bumped from the actual film), and Vicki Waiting, Lemon Crush and Partyman are all frothy and fun. Fans should definitely check out the unreleased track Dance With The Devil, which is a moody piano driven piece, probably more in keeping with the intent of the movie than the rest of the soundtrack songs.

More Romero than Nicholson, and all the better for it

The main single release Batdance, is pretty gimmicky. In fact it’s not really a song, just a few grooves with samples from the movie, bits of the other songs from the album, and an absolutely blistering guitar solo. There’s some pretty substantial referencing of Neil Hefti’s infamous theme for the 60s Batman TV series in there as well, and the video is appropriately campy. I guess Prince was going through a particularly purple patch (ahem), so even the musical sketches he just knocked off were great. But as I said, he’s a genius

For the 1992 sequel Batman Returns, Tim “I’m a goofy artist” Burton reaches his goth apotheosis (gotheosis), by not only filling the screen with his trademark creepy cute flourishes, but by recruiting Goth High Priestess Siouxsie Sioux to do the tie in single. Face To Face, incorporates some elements from Danny Elfman’s score, and is exactly what you’d expect from Siouxsie singing about Catwoman ie. a pretty classy bit of work. It sounds to me at least like German art synth futurists Propaganda, which is no bad thing.

I always thought the best thing U2 ever did was Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me (but then again I think their best album is Zooropa, so what do I know?). Perhaps they just bashed it out quickly on tour, because the lyrics include the kind of sarky witticsims Bono was regularly trotting out in interviews at the time (“we don’t know what we’re doing. So it must be art”), and it’s a fairly obvious mashup of Kashmir and Children of the Revolution. But it sounds exciting and dramatic, and it briefly made Joel Schumacher’s dayglo Batman Forever look like it was going to be awesome (it wasn’t). The film also featured Seal’s Kiss From a Rose, which had been knocking around for years but Schumacher liked it! I only mention it here as an excuse to link to Jack Black’s definitive version.

For many fans the franchise was truly derailed by this point. Schumacher had previously directed a superb tale of similarly brooding nocturnal types previously with The Lost Boys, but he is forever defined as The Man Who (temporarily) Killed The Batman. Poor sod. He actually wanted to adapt Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Year One (surely the best Bat story by a long chalk), but the producers had other ideas.

Billy Corgan, yesterday

Batman & Robin is (rightly) bashed as the worst moment of the franchise (and, in some quarters, as one of the worst films ever) – Schumacher actually apologises for it on the DVD commentary. However it still has a pretty kickass song in Smashing Pumpkins’  The End Is The Beginning Is The End. Again, it’s exactly what you’d expect from Billy Corgan’s lot – enigmatic, moody and dramatic. Everything the film isn’t, in fact.

So which is the best Bat song? Actually I don’t know. One thing’s for certain though, they’re all a damn sight better than that shitty Hero song from Spider-Man!

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