Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Future's So Bright... (Transformers and Ghost Rider trailers)

This seems like a good time to gush about some upcoming movies that I'm irrationally excited about. I'm looking forward to a bunch, but there's two in particular I want to talk about, because they're adaptations, and there's something about them that's managed to catch my eye.

First, a note on adaptations.

The nature of the adaptation makes it a dangerous endeavor. It's complicated enough to judge any old movie, given the myriad criteria for awesomeness... atmosphere, pacing, effects, characterization, cinematography, sound, script, acting, etc. Then along comes the adaptation, introducing the new element of "referentiality." It's inescapable. No adapted conceptual basis for a story can escape from its original referent, and in a lot of ways, I think this is a good thing. After all, creative work deserves respect, and shitty remakes of good work should be judged with contempt (vis a vis most Stephen King films).

This isn't just a simple a versus b comparison, either. There's merit in staying loyal to your original, but there's also merit in manipulating the material in such a way that it takes on a new cast. I'd cite Baz Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet as a strong resetting of the classic material. On the other hand, I'd cite Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy as an example of a movie where changes to the basic setting and idea only served to water down the (very) original source material, making it predictable at the expense of its personality.

At any rate, some adapted and derived movies might deserve to be judged in a vacuum, but none of them get that privilege. Your original always haunts its resurrection.

Here are the films I'm excited about:

Ghost Rider - I got pretty excited about this one when I ran across it on Apple Trailers. Okay, so casting Nicholas Cage as Johnny Blaze doesn't seem like a prime choice in my opinion, but the producers and effects people clearly put feeling into this one. Watch the trailer, and note the focus of all the Rider-centered visuals: it's all fire and chains, which is exactly what it should be. They're not messing with rickety old graveyards or full rendering of the figure of Ghost Rider... they're making him a big, messy explosion of otherworldly sounds and colors. Sweet.

Transformers - Just heard about this one. There's not much to go on, except for a deliciously vague trailer, and the fact that it's being produced by Michael Bay. Some critics have said he's only good at explosions and metal-on-metal, as indicated by the huge success of The Rock with its target audience. As far as I'm concerned, he sounds perfect for a Transformers movie.

And aside from just thinking these are both cool ideas for movies, I also think these sources are good starting points for adaptation. Why? Because neither of these sources are too connected to specific, nuanced stories at the root of the respective franchise. Ghost Rider is an old comic that's been watered into a haze by a slew of artist and writers, and really, what we comic book people are left to remember are motorcycles and chains and burning skulls. Transformers is a similar deal... the franchise was so distributed across media, from television to the movie to comic books to action figures, that there's no longer a direct connection to the characters or the nuances. What I'm saying is that both of these franchises are really just remembered by the impressions and sensory memories they evoke, and this is a perfect starting-point for a film.

Contrast this with X-Men and Spiderman. Both of these franchises are still fawned over by their fan bases, who still have strong emotional loyalties to particular characters, and even to particular costumes. There's a lot of complex substructure in the X-Men, so these movies can't help but rub fans the wrong way. There's so much to disrespect. Incidentally, I think the X-Men movies have really been hard for fans to digest, so they've gotten a lot of second-degree flak. Spiderman did a better job of appeasing the die-hards. There's a new trailer out for that, too, by the way.

So, anyway, I can't wait for some shit-eating, head-breaking, effects-driven action, and I have great (though very simplistic) expectations for these movies.

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