Comic books are inherently visual. Making super-hero comics into movies is a natural and exciting extension of the medium. But this happens with differing degrees of success. Some movies, such as "Spider-Man," can capture the world of heroes and the action they undertake on the page. Other movies, like "Elektra," are such base attempts at moneymaking that they damage the comic-movie genre.
The great thing about comic books is the ability to tell a story panel by panel, with no limits on what the heroes and the villains can do. They can fly, shoot energy beams, morph into the background and explode. This was a definite advantage over movies for some time, but with the recent expansion of special effects, it has become more possible, even more necessary, to bring superheroes onto the screen.
Sam Raimi, of "Evil Dead" fame, used this advantage relentlessly in "Spider-Man." I feel like the first great stride in comic-movies was made here, watching Spidey swing between buildings like he did in a comic book. The CGI effects gave a similar, if not improved, version of the web-slinger battling Doc Ock on every level of the city.
Leaping from a comic to the silver screen has great advantages for cinematography. For example, "The Matrix" – a super-hero movie if there ever was one – was drawn out by the Wachowski brothers as a comic first. It inspired the incredible action and amazing shots throughout the movie.
Other directors ignore those advantages. Take "Elektra," "Batman Forever," "Spawn" or any cash cow masquerading as a comic-movie. Some executive at Marvel or DC says, "You know, we could make a bundle by making a movie based on this comic book. Lets get the costumes, the special effects and the big name actors all in one package. We’ll make cash on this movie, and lure in a whole lot of new readers to our books."
But they forget the writers.
This is an undeniably visual medium, and it is crap without a good writer. No comic book can hold a reader’s interest for more than a few issues if it’s got stellar art and awful storytelling. Movies have an even greater effect.
An awful script makes an awful movie that insults the fans (who are the reason there is a comic book at all) and frightens away possible readers by showing them an inferior hero. George Clooney was not the sole reason "Batman Forever" was such a flop. Sure, his Batman was flat and dull, but there were so many sidekicks, side characters and side plots that the movie was trying to fit in a 12-issue story arc into one two-hour movie.
Throwing spandex on some guy to walk around in public always seems a little jarring anyway. It is the world that needs to be translated. Daredevil’s sonar vision, Spidey’s acrobatics, things that film can show that comics can’t – the comic-movie needs to focus on these advantages to carve out a niche for itself.
And on April 1, when Frank Miller’s masterful "Sin City" comes to the screen, we may see this new niche in the medium fully defined. Robert Rodriguez truly translates Miller’s stark drawings into film. Watch the preview online and you, too, will suddenly have your April Fools’ Day planned out.
If this movie, like other good comic-movies, has a good script, then it may well be a revolution in the genre and comic-book movies made for years to come will look to "Sin City" as the guide.
How do you take the world in print and put it on the screen? First, figure out what is special and amazing about the world on the comic book page. Then, tell a good story. Special effects and whatnot – those are all great, too. But whatever you do, don’t forget the story. Tell it well.