When it comes to live action movie adaptations, comic book fans can be a bit frustrating sometimes. Most times i cannot understand why they have to nitpick at each and every little detail of a comic movie, not because of any particular failing displayed by the movie but because of some unfair and unnecessary comparisons they keep making with the comic book.
These so called failings are almost always non existent and will usually come down to a particular comic book fan’s presumptions about what the movie should have been like. It can be frustrating interrogating a comic book fan, attempting to understand the primary reason they would choose to cast a fairly impressive comic book movie in such bad light, only to get a rather loose description of the movie’s failings, not in relation to other movies but the comic.
These kinds of explanations can exasperate me, most because most of these movies will kick off with a ‘Based on comic book’ message at the start. which doesn’t mean that the producer is literally going to transfuse the comic book to the movie, but rather the directors are going to take the general concept of the comic book and maybe even its characters, but beyond that can choose to do what they want with it.
I have had this argument many times before, and my answer to such complaints about comic book movies is usually the same; that while comic book fans and their zeal will determine whether or not a movie gets to production, they only form a small fraction of the target market that the directors and writers are aiming for; and Holly wood knows that the wider population of movie goers will only judge the movie as just that, a movie, without making biased comparisons to the comic. And most times this pays off, with comic book movies raking in hundreds of millions.
Anyway, if it seems like i am rumbling on off topic, i am not. I am saying that i get exasperated when comic book fans fail to separate their vision of what a comic book movie should look like from what the producers choose to create. I am saying that it is important to watch a comic book movie as though it were independent of the comic book, allowing for a more objective view of the movie’s quality.
What i am also saying is that there are instances where i can understand the complaints comic book fans raise about live action adaptations.
Why? Well i am an anime and manga fan, and if there is one sector where comic books shine while anime and manga languishes in the dark, it is live action adaptations. Let’s face it live action anime adaptations have proven to be rather abysmal creations time and time again.
Something isn’t clicking in this particular industry, and while recent movie releases might call for a more sanguine outlook on the industry, it is none the less difficult to deny how much of a disaster the live action anime adaptation industry is.
To put it simply, these movies are horrible-most of the time anyway- whether it is an original Japanese adapted story or a western attempt at bringing an anime story to life. And the reasons for these failures will vary depending on the circumstances.
So first and foremost, let’s look at this situation from the anime point of view. Does anime actually play a part in live action adaptation failure? Yes it does, and here is why.
Let’s not beat about the bush, the problem with anime is that it is quite a complex entertainment medium. You just need to watch enough anime to realize this as fact. I wrote a post about [what makes a good anime] recently, and while i do believe that all those points about characters and story line and the whole lot matter, their is an X factor that is necessary to bring anime to life.
Anime is anime because it is anime, and by that i mean Anime stands out from every other media because it has a look about it, a feel to it that is different from your average cartoon. Anime is…well, different. And that is the problem with live action anime adaptations, bringing this X factor to the screen. I will use two well known examples to illustrate; dragon ball evolution, and the reason i might not watch Shamalayan’s After earth, The last air bender.
Last air bender was a terrible movie, both as an live action anime adaptation and a standalone movie. But think back to the months before its release. Sure we all loved avatar because of its stellar storyline, and that is what the movie screwed up most, completely shredding the series’ story. But that wasn’t what we where fretting about when we first heard the announcement that the series would be coming to the big screen.
Most of us didn’t even fathom the possibility that the director could mess up story wise, after all most of the work had been done for him. What scared us was whether or not the movie could capture the feel of avatar, those sinuously trance inducing movements that made the action scenes so great, the fluid motion of the bending and the demonically fast yet logically structured nature of the bending.
That is what many of us cared about, that the bending wouldn’t be up to par. Because most people that haven't watched the series would dismiss the importance of the concept, after all, how many characters had they come across in movies that could throw fire and water around? That wasn’t important to them, and it was simply a matter of great CGI.
But we otaku knew better. We knew that elemental bending wasn’t the simple concept of throwing elements around. No, bending was more than that, and it was its infusion of elemental manipulation with martial arts along with the dance like movements that allowed it to excel and in some instances drive the series. That proves how important the look of an anime is.
Most of us were quick to proclaim the movie a success the moment we saw the avatar trailer. Why? Because the bending looked perfect, exactly as we had pictured it. This is in contrast to DB Evolution. Forget about what you thought of the silly story line, the characters or the general execution. The fact is this dragon ball movie failed first and foremost in infusing the element of dragon ball into the live action setting.
This is why, unlike most people, i do not disparage dragon ball evolution as garbage. It was a bad dragon ball movie, but as far as i am concerned it was entertaining as a plain old martial arts movies. The moves were choreographed okay and the CGI was pretty good at that time. It was a martial arts movie, not dragon ball.
That is a fact difficult to explain to a non otaku. After all the characters were named accurately as they would be in the dragon ball anime and the concept of the dragon balls reigned within the movie; so they do not understand what we mean by this not being a dragon ball movie. They do not understand that what they watched wasn’t anime, that there is an element of dragon ball sorely missing from this movie.
Basically anime is difficult to capture on screen, to bring it to life. Here is the thing about anime; imagine a scene where an average character barges into a room and stares down at another character; that in itself doesn’t sound like a complex enough scene to try and explain why anime is so difficult to capture. But a similar scene in a normal cartoon wouldn't have the slightest similarity to the same scene in the anime.
Sure both have two characters staring at each other, but anime has a unique approach to its scenes and stories, the way it uses the lighting, the angle of the cameras, the shots….there is a reason we otaku do not accept a comparison between anime and cartoons. The fact is these two are so different at their core,
not merely in plots and characters but the…i have no other word to use but ‘feel’.
This is what most live action adaptations simply cannot convey on screen, the feel of anime is always missing. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that anime is simply too unique, and while one or two adaptations might somehow manage to capture it, most miss the mark by a mile. Its the reason i love super sentai; it is the closest thing to anime coming to life that i have ever encountered.
Actually pacific Rim is the closest thing to anime i have ever watched on the big screen. Whether he meant to or not, Guillermo captured the essence of anime in this movie. Of course none anime fans wouldn’t get, but so many scenes in this movie had me smiling because of how anime like they were.
Anyway, i had two more points to make about this topic but this post has already run too long, so i will tackle what the directors themselves do wrong in adapting anime to the big screen in the next post.