Wed
Sep 19 2012 11:00am

And a Movie?

...And a Movie? Why do genre fans insist that their favorite book/character/etc. be a movie?

Why is it so important to the fans that there be a film adaptation of the franchise they love? Why do fans of books, comics, video games, and even television series clamor for six seasons... “and a movie”? For example, I’ve read a lot of articles over the past few days about how excited we all are that there’s going to be a Y: The Last Man film. But why do we crave the film?

The most obvious answer, and the least satisfying, is that we think our chosen franchise would make a good movie. If I’m a fan of Batman comics, and I am, then I’m confident that Batman could also inspire a great film or two. But the Batman concept has just as easily been adapted into a great television show, cartoon, video game, coloring book, action figure, roller coaster, and, yes really, a stage show. Why do we value the movie over the other versions? Why do we say, “I love this book, I hope someone turns it into a movie,” and not, “I love this movie. I hope someone turns it into a book”? (Even in the case of 2001: A Space Odyssey, where I think the novelization is much better.) What magic does a major motion picture have that can’t be found in other media?

I think it’s because movies are the great ambassador for genre fiction. Millions of people who would never read a superhero comic book will flock to a superhero movie. Similarly with dystopian young adult stories, re-imagined fairy tales, and off-beat, sci-fi comedies. After the movie comes out, the story that you loved in some other form is now loved by millions of others, which both financially supports your chosen franchise, and thus encourages continued publication, but also validates your fandom in the first place. “Look how many people like me love Twilight! All these people can’t be wrong!”

As an ambassador, the great strength of movies is not the charm of actors (present in live action television) or the presentation of the impossible (better done in video games, comics, and cartoons), but that movies are short, relatively. Movies have the most complete story in the least amount of time. Two hours is an easy investment for a new viewer. A short novel takes closer to five hours to read. A video game ten to fifty hours. Sure, an episode of a TV series is half an hour or an hour, and an issue of a comic reads in fifteen minutes, but you and I know one installment of a series is like one chapter of a book, and you’re really asking the new reader to commit countless hours of their life over the course of years. Two hours to get the whole story (plus coke, plus popcorn, plus air conditioning on a hot summer day) starts to sound like a pretty good deal.

Unfortunately, films are only good ambassadors if they are actually good, and, well, ninety percent of everything is crap. For every Men in Black there are nine League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And when the image launched into the public consciousness is one of a crappy film, it leaves a long shadow over the rest of the franchise. To this day, it’s hard to sell a comic book series starring Howard the Duck.

And we know it will probably be crap. Back in 2003 they announced at San Diego Comic Con that there was going to be a John Constantine movie. The crowd cheered. Then they announced it would star Keanu Reeves. And the crowd booed. Then Brian Azzarello took the mic. “This is why I hate you fuckers,” he said. “All you do is beg that we make a movie, then you complain about everything that’s made.”

And as unlikely it is to make a good movie out of anything, film is uniquely unsuited to tell long stories. While brevity is the strength of movies as ambassadors, it is their weakness as storytelling devices. The longer the story, the more it suffers from adaptation to film. Among the many failures of The Last Airbender is that it tried to cram the entire ten-hour first season of Avatar: The Last Airbender into less than two, leaving no time for character development. Similarly with Watchmen, The Golden Compass, and basically any novel to film translation. Going forward, I think we’re going to see more films like The Hobbit explicitly released as part one of three.

And that’s just for stories that are long. For stories where the ongoing, never conclusive nature of life is crucial to the story, then films with their conclusive endings are just terrible. The Walking Dead, which focuses on life continuing after the zombie apocalypse, would make a terrible movie but does, in fact, make a great television show.

(Which brings us to the one exception. If I don’t hear “I can’t wait for the movie,” it’s “I can’t wait for the HBO series.” Watchmen should be an HBO series. Preacher should be an HBO series. The Wheel of Time, Sword of Truth, God of War, Mass Effect, all should be HBO series. Not AMC, despite Walking Dead and Breaking Bad. Not Starz or Showtime, or any of the broadcast networks. HBO. Where they can say “fuck” and show tits but still win Emmys because HBO is classy like that. An HBO series, and only an HBO series, can validate a fandom the way a movie can.)

Which is all to say, it’s great to want a great movie, and think that one can make a great movie based on a franchise you love. It’s great to want to share a franchise you love, and feel happy knowing millions love the same thing you love. But a movie is just one way to explore a franchise, and not the end all and be all of storytelling. It is just one medium among many media, and one more way to tell a story.


Steven Padnick is a freelance writer and editor. By day. You can find more of his writing and funny pictures at padnick.tumblr.com.

12 comments
olethros
1. olethros
I think the HBO thing became a meme prior to the advent of Breaking Bad.
olethros
2. Vitiosus
I think you are missing one important reason why we want film adaptations over, lets say TV series or other mediums. Budget.

Movies tend to get a much larger budget, which means better special effects, more action and choreography to everything. But also more detail in the world building being put on screen. I think LotR is a good example of this, of using the extra budget you get with movies to do some great world building and action set pieces.

Compare this to lets say Game of Thrones on HBO, which has had only one real battle, and a couple action set pieces is all. Don't get me wrong, for a book like Game of Thrones its the story that is important so the HBO series medium is the best. But it does make you wonder what the battle of blackwater would be like as Directed by Ridley Scott.
olethros
3. mark.t.erikson
I have to disagree with you on the HBO point. I love HBO, and have loved pretty much everything they've done in the last decade or so. Even if I don't like the sound of a show's premise, if it's on HBO I'll at least watch the first few episodes. BUT, AMC currently have the two best shows on television, hands down, no contest: Mad Men and Breaking Bad. If it were announced that AMC were going to adapt one of my favourite franchises, I would be just as happy as if it were HBO.

As for why geeks want a movie version of their favourite franchise...I'm not in that camp. I used to be, but not anymore. In the lead up to the Watchmen movie, my brother said to me, "Your favourite thing is probably already in its perfect medium, because if it wasn't, you wouldn't like it as much." It was an epiphany for me. And he was right about Watchmen, certainly. The movie was slavishly faithful to the comic (especially if you saw the extended 4 hour cut) and yet nowhere near as good.
Ian Gazzotti
4. Atrus
I'm actually one of those who dislikes/becomes very apprehensive whenever a franchise movie is announced. Even with the usual problems that come up with every adaptation, a movie is good for stories that can be compressed in two hours and, as you said, many series or franchises, or even a lot of books, simply cannot. At least not without them becoming something else entirely.
The last few years have showed that TV series and miniseries can be just as good if not better than big screen movies (Band of brothers, anyone?), so why not pursue that alley instead of trying to cram 10 years worth of material into 90 minutes?
(Not that the 90% rule doesn't apply to TV as well. Just thinking about the BBC Gormenghast miniseries makes my hair stand on edge.)

I'm also not utterly fond of splitting a story in two or three movies, unless the story already lends itself to it and there is enough material to avoid padding. LotR? OK, the original was already split in three. Harry Potter? Half of the second part was dull. The Hobbit? Eh, who knows, but I was already worried when it was just two movies, let alone three.
Jack Flynn
5. JackofMidworld
The worst/best part is that you know it's probably not going to be as good as it should be. For example, there is no way that a Dark Tower adaptation is going to do the stories justice (unless Peter Jackson & Joss Whedon team up to do it with Viggo Mortensen starring ;-) but part of me still really wants it to happen, despite the fact that my rational mind knows I'm just going to be disappointed.
Sam Brougher
6. Azuaron
Well, I can't speak to everything, but Firefly fans didn't so much clamor for a movie so much as "more Firefly". We'd have taken more television, novels, comics, anything (some of which we also got, and were glad we got).

For books, it's often wanting to *see* what we'd only been imagining, and the need for that (in genre at least) is typically a movie, or an HBO show, because of the budget. I love AMC's The Walking Dead as much as the next guy, and the zombies do look awesome, but they don't have the budget to render a good looking dragon. Even HBO has to sparingly show the dragons and wolves because it costs too much to put them on the screen. The first big battle that was supposed to happen they "comically" knocked Tyrian unconscious to avoid showing it.

Until television channels get the needed budget, or graphics become cheap enough (somehow), fans of genre will keep clamoring for movies.
olethros
7. a1ay
Firefly fans didn't so much clamor for a movie so much as "more Firefly"

Very true. It already was in its perfect medium, and we knew it, but it wasn't going to get back to it - and a film was the next best thing.
Were X-Files fans really clamouring for a movie? There's no great groundswell for a Wire movie, for sure. (The musical was enough!)
Paul McCall
8. PaulMcCall
Movies are easy. Not easy to make but easy to absorb, to recommend, to generate a wave of response, build a fan base. Books are harder, you have to have the imagination to do your own set design, casting, costume design, lighting, etc. all within your own skull cinema based on the printed words. Movies are spoon-fed to us and these days that is the more popular path.
Douglas Freer
9. Futurewriter1120
I think it's mostly because everyone forgets the other forms of entertainment, and films have the nessacery budget to boot.
I don't care what form is used personally, but each has its own problems.
Comics, just as effective as film, limits you to one issue a month, so it might take you years to see the whole story.
Theatre, though perfect for emotional stories, has to limit itself on what it can put onstage.
TV is the next best thing for adaption, but you cant guarentee if the actors will want to stay.
Books really seem the best overall.
olethros
10. Dash McCool
Movies are still considered to be the premiere element of entertainment. As long as they have that cachet, people will still want movie versions of their favorite books, TV series and comics. The visual medium also bypasses our higher cognitive functions, which is one reason why movies have a powerful impact.

That said, although I'm not Mark Erikson's brother (#3 above), I'm one of those who thinks certain stories work best in their intended mediums. Watchmen has always been my go-to example for that. It's a superhero comic book that deconstructs superhero comic books, so no matter how good a translation they might have made, it loses an entire layer of meaning, thus diminishing the work.

The reason Azzarrello misses the point of the booing is that there are right and wrong ways to adapt something and although the movie version of Constantine wasn't a terrible movie as a generic action-horror flick, it *was* a bad adaptation of the comic.
olethros
11. Apocryphon
I think we would all enjoy Firefly as an HBO series.
olethros
12. jabah
A nitpick...2001: A Space Odyssey is technically not a novelization; the novel was written by Clarke at the same time the screenplay was being written (the novel and screenplay evolved together), with the intent that it would be a true novel and stand on equal footing.

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