There's something to be said about films, or TV, that are true to themselves. Representations of characters or stories that have come from another medium onto the screen inevitably bring with them a preconceived idea about what they should look like and what the story should encompass. Comics/Graphic novels are basically pre-made storyboards for screen adaptations and as such their problems usually lie with the choice for the adaptation. With so much choice out there, which story line are you going to choose? Which version of the characters are going to work best on screen? Unfortunately for the true fans the next question is the one that ruins it: Which version will make us the most money?
It is understandable that people are putting money into a project and they expect a return on their investment but in this day and age there isn't enough risk involved in allowing an artistic viewpoint to get the airing that it requires. Film classification seems to be constantly downgraded to capture a 'bigger market share', which for someone just wanting a faithful adaptation on the screen is usually a big let down.
I'll happily admit that I am an advocate for dark and violent films. Japanese films such as Ichi the Killer, Battle Royale and Oldboy are wonderful examples of film that is allowed to go where it needs to go, without the need to reign it in, to make it something that it isn't purely for monetary gain as seems to be the case with most 'Superhero' movies these days. It may be violence for violence's sake or it may just be the expression of an idea in the way that it was meant to be. If they don't tap into the merchandise market then is it a failure? Who makes these decisions? Nordic source text and their equivalent adaptations are another example of this. Think of the Millennium Trilogy, the originals, and their Hollywood remake. Certainly the originals were far darker, as was the subject text, and showed a far better version of the characters than the, in my opinion, flimsy remake.
There are some notable exceptions to this, but not from the more recently made. Most are early adaptations, before the power of Marvel Entertainment and DC got hold and made everything super-powered but non-deathy. All these superheroes with all these amazing powers and hardly a person is killed ever, I mean what are the chances of that happening? Deadpool I had high hopes over, and it nearly reached the heights I had expected when they were all talking about a R-rated Marvel film but again, even though the content was violent, it was done tongue in cheek, detracting from the darkness of being an awesome killer!
Example of these are Dredd, Watchmen, Blade, 30 Days of Night, A History of Violence and Sin City. They are all excellent films that are true to their origins and aren't compromising on their content, they give a more realistic grounding even if the story line is not so 'normal'. For me, bringing the comic to life in this way makes it a proper experience, something to relate to, something to identify with, even if the topic is far fetched such as vampires or futuristic cities and cops.
These thoughts have all been brought on by re-watching the film Dredd, and the news stories about trying to get another film or a TV series off the ground. Having ready some 2000AD when I was younger I am familiar with the concepts and the world of Judge Dredd but that doesn't mean that I love the comics. The latest film adaptation with Karl Urban is, in my opinion, a much superior film to many of the bubblegum adaptations that have been churned out recently, precisely because it doesn't hold back. The original material is dark and gloomy and violent and the film has been made in the same light. The character of Dredd himself is a miserable, law-giving automaton, unbending to people's pleas for mercy, sticking to the book, passing judgement on the many of Mega-City One with no concern for the well-being or situation of the perps.
Dredd's screenplay and story was written by Alex Garland (Director: Ex Machina; Screenplay: 28 days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go; Author: The Beach, The Tesseract). Garland has been working steadily away over recent years. Growing in reputation and bringing out some of the excellent work as listed above. It seems to me that his work, particularly in screenwriting is typified by realism, basing his writing in real life but with the elements of extraordinary intertwined. His work with Dredd really shows that he knows the score with respect to the source and conveys that well into the script. The basic premise of Dredd is a fight to the top. Lena Headley, as MaMa, runs and controls the PeachTrees habitat with an iron fist, dealing and doing as she pleases. Dredd, responding to a call, with rookie Judge Anderson are trapped inside and have to battle their way past a large horde of MaMa clan members to get to their boss. There is tension built into the film by the journey to get ever closer towards the end-game, MaMa's hideout at the top of the PeachTrees tower. But during this there are always going to be multiple flare ups and crisis points, all of which are dealt with in typical Dredd fashion: minimal fuss and maximum judgement. Even though the style is dark the comic elements still shine through like the use of highlights, hyper-real colours, slow motion blasts and shootings, like in the Slo-Mo scene where Dredd and Anderson break into the distribution point on Level 39 and shoot the place up. The over the top use of guns to provide cinematic flair is also evident with the Judge's LawGiver and, my favourite scene, where MaMa orders the use of miniguns to wipe out most of the floor that Dredd and Anderson are on, to no avail.
Blade was one of the front runners for comic adaptations way back in 1998. Wesley Snipes' Blade character has all the attributes of an over-the-top comic book protagonist. Larger than life, almost unbeatable and with an unquenching desire to rid the world of vampires. Again this film didn't hold back, particularly with the main component being blood, everyone wants it! Blade slices and shoots his way through numerous vampire baddies in his quest. This is certainly a film not going to work with a lesser certificate rating. Same story for 30 days of Night. An excellently dark story about vampires taking over a small northern town during the winter months when the sun never rises again doesn't hide away from the need to show things in all their gratuitous glory. Blood everywhere!
With Sin City the violence is there again, but the outcome is so stylised that it does detract from the effect, transporting you back into the comic book and away from the film experience, and the link to real life. This is a clear choice by the film makers to put their stamp on the film and follow through with the style of the source material. Beautiful artwork in black and white are transposed onto the screen with only the briefest of flashes of colour for emphasis.
Wanted is another adaptation that is done with justice. More realistic than the other topics, this is mainly about a normal guy who finds out/trains as an assassin. The world is real, the violence is real and they follow if through, true to Mark Millar's excellent original text and images.
I am going to reserve judgement on Suicide Squad until I can see it. What is undoubtedly a very violent and dark subject matter should be reflected in the film version. At present it has been classified as a 15 over here in the UK, which try as I might, can't help but put a downer on the expectations of this film. Surely a group of violent convicts and evil doers should be bringing the pain to anyone and everyone that they meet? Or am I just being a bit over-sensitive?
It seems halfhearted that you put all this effort into planning on making an adaptation of a gritty realistic text and then tone it down. I find myself frequently turning to foreign cinema in order to get my fill of dark and violent films instead of the gaudy, play fighting that occurs in a lot of the US made ones. Is it too much to ask for the have a grown up adaptation of a comic book? Not all source material is for kids.....
This isn't as pronounced in the TV shows that are being made these days. Some production companies are still working on bringing shows that do not relent in their depiction of violence on screen. BBC's Peaky Blinders is one of recent times that is all about violence and plotting and planning to overthrow anyone that gets in the way. Game of Thrones has a certain way with deaths and killing of characters, nobody is safe, and even if they aren't they can always be resurrected! The Walking Dead, a show about the Undead and survival, has to be by it's very nature violent, kill or be killed and does not bend from the path it has set out on.
What do you think about comic book films? Do you like the current crop of adaptations? Is there a space for darker, more violent films? And are they hampered by trying to appeal to the largest market possible at the expense of the ethos of the comic book?