Sunday, May 6, 2012

16642--Forgetting Why They Called the Meeting

 I can't be the only one who sees that Hollywood's entertainment industry bears a disturbing similarity to the smiling meteorologist on a TV news show.  If you don't see it, here's what I'm thinking: grand predictions and promises are made on a daily basis and, despite repeated failures to deliver, people continue to listen attentively the next day as though some golden wisdom were suddenly going to spew forth.

This time out, I want to focus my rant-viewer on adaptations from the realm of comic books.  These endeavors, putting the adventures of iconic heroes onto TV and movie screens have created a spotty history that we have been glad to see improve tremendously in recent years.  One of the stickiest points of translating things from print to video has always been to make the costumed characters look great.  Let's face it, you're largely talking about dressing adults in tight, colorful clothing, sometimes with capes, and presenting them as imposing figures of awe.  Whether hero or villain, you don't want the character to look ridiculous.  Oddly, what looks good on the comic page doesn't always work when brought to life.

 I've always felt the heroes have had the better history of looking good on-screen.  Villains seem to have a harder battle with not looking silly.  Superman has been given a great deal of screen time, portrayed by several different actors, and looks like he belongs right where he is in his red, blue and yellow next to all of the mundane normal people.  He has been confronted mostly, though, by ordinarily garbed antagonists with elaborate schemes rather than classic supervillains.  The few who have dressed for the occasion have probably had about a 50:50 success-vs-fail ratio on looking cool.  Batman's show from the 60s did a little better in the looks department, probably because a lot of the sets and colors were made to look like they belonged in a comic book.  On top of that, many of Batman's opposition sports dressy attire (Egghead, Penguin, Joker, etc.) rather than specialized costuming.  The Riddler likes to surprise, so sometimes he's in a suit and tie and sometimes a body stocking, but he looks believable either way.

S9dvdart.jpg Smallville, to digress back to Superman for a moment, kept their characters in civvies until the later seasons.  In fact, the producers made a big deal about staying away from even the Man of Steel's classic costume because they felt it was no longer something that a modern audience could relate to seeing.  I've seen it most of my life and I never get tired of it.  I was glad when they got those producers out and started suspensefully building toward Clark's growing up to not just wear the colors but to earn the inspirational mantle of a role model and icon.  I suppose the original team's attitude is part of what bothers me in Hollywood.  They didn't even realize that they'd lost sight of why they were doing the show in the first place.

Whether it's a new superhero who's managed to gain a lot of popularity or one of the older ones (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America), the character is the reason the work is happening.  More accurately, I suppose I could say it's the money-making potential of the character, but it's still that costumed figure that's the reason for everyone being on set and not whichever director or producer happens to be attached to the project.  To me, that says that audience eyes are going to be watching to see those four-color action figures brought to life not to see what Director X's ego looks like when presenting his special vision of the superhero who's going to have top billing no matter who else gets attached to the project.  Check the ego at the door.

Why are the movie X-Men wearing black leather and making fun of their source parentage's colorful wardrobes?  I guess somebody thought black leather would look cooler than the distinctive costumes the characters usually wear.  Why are all of The Avengers romping about in their new movie in their classic garb except for Hawkeye?  I actually had someone tell me they thought the character seemed really cool, but they didn't know his name.  Maybe they'd have known him if he dressed like a superhero.  Apparently, some Hollywood people didn't feel comfortable letting Hawkeye show off his fabulousness while decked out in the purple he's been wearing for decades.  I heard that one concept preceding "Superman Returns" (which went through a ridiculous rotation of cast, directors and writers before the job got done) included dressing Superman in black and having his chest shield unleash flying blades.  That affront to costuming and characterization was courtesy of Tim Burton and is far better off having never been produced.  Of course, he also got paid millions of dollars for doing no work because he's Tim Burton, so what does that do for his ego? 

When it's all wrapped, though, I'm interested in seeing the heroes we know and love, not what whichever replaceable director thought about the character.  These characters are supposed to be distinctive and iconic.  They're supposed to be brave and bold.  That means they shouldn't be embarrassed to go out in public in their capes and tights.  They should already know that they look cool without resorting to black leather to appeal to another demographic.  The song says, "You don't tug on Superman's cape," not Clark's jacket.  Batman's suit doesn't need nipples.  Our heroes need to look good and give us stirring adventures where they act like heroes and battle daunting opposition.  So long as they do that, we'll watch them happily all day without a second thought about the behind-the-scenes crew.

 Don't take me wrong: I don't want to discount good work behind-the-scenes.  I would be delighted, however, if people would stop letting their egos runaway with their good sense.  In Marvel's movie-verse, we've been presented with a Black Widow who's an undercover espionage agent who gets thrown into working with superheroes.  Sounds like her comic-counterpart.  I'm happy.  Clint Barton, however, has been presented as a security guard who can use a bow and arrow and disregard orders when he feels like it and still keep his job...and ends up working with superheroes.  This guy's not bold enough to wear even a little purple?  That one's not thrilling me so much.

Go back to "The Greatest American Hero", adapting a genre character to TV rather than an actual comic character, but a decent effort all the same.  In this, they exploited the "silly tights and cape" aspect by putting the hero in the superhero suit and letting him feel openly ridiculous about the look.  He had no choice, though, since he got his powers from the suit.  They were pretty good powers, too.  For that, I think I'd get past feeling silly.

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