When you think of movies based on comics, what comes to mind? Superheroes, sci-fi, fantasy, some horror maybe; it’s usually pretty obvious if a film has its roots in some form of comic. But with the establishment of graphic novels as a legitimate art form and comics from all over the world gaining attention in North America, filmmakers have started turning to these for inspiration for all kinds of different works, genre based or otherwise. Some films, like the following ones, you might be surprised were even based on comics at all. So move over fan boys and girls, comic adaptations are for everyone now!
A History of Violence (2005)
Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Method are both solid films, but I would say A History of Violence is the last true masterpiece that David Cronenberg has made. It’s a stark, powerful fable about identity and the ability to escape your past; brilliant existential stuff, in my opinion. It’s also based on a graphic novel by John Wagner, the man who created Judge Dredd. Knowing this, you can definitely see comic book flourishes in certain moments, such as Viggo Mortensen’s character Tom sitting alone in the empty diner where he works, engulfed in shadows, or the precise look and feel of the climax at his brother Richie’s mansion. In this way, Cronenberg acknowledges the source material, while creating his own distinct vision.
Tamara Drewe (2010)
You don’t often see many film adaptations of comic strips. I guess it can be hard to capture the essence on screen of a form that mainly brings to life small moments (yes, Garfield, I’m looking at you), but acclaimed director Stephen Frears took a serious stab at it when he adapted Posy Simmonds’s British comic strip. Ostensibly about a young bombshell of a newspaper writer who returns to her small English village to wreak playful havoc on the people she grew up with, Tamara Drewe is really a series of vignettes of these characters lives over the course of a year. It’s a sunny soap opera with certain scenes that fit the structure of a comic strip. This makes for a somewhat unfocused film but kudos to Frears for trying to implement the comic strip format rather than imposing an artificial narrative structure.
Maybe the comic connection here is more known, but Park Chan-wook’s gut punch of a film was so visceral, so edgy, and such a raw defining film of the early 21st century, that it’s totally eclipsed the Japanese manga on which it was based. When we think of Oldboy, we think of the technically innovative hallway fight scene or the eating of a live octopus or that harrowing ending. What is less thought about is the source material and how many huge changes were implemented for the film, including the ending and the whole reason the central character is locked up in the first place. Spike Lee’s upcoming remake seems to be going for a more faithful adaptation of the manga than Park’s version, but even so, nothing he manages to pull off will be enough to overcome the memory of the blistering original film.
Weird Science (1985)
Sandwiched right in between The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink, John Hughes tried his hand at the teen sex comedy with what is probably the looniest film he ever made. Two loser teenagers decide to create their own woman one night using their vintage ‘80s computer equipment. Naturally, they end up creating a model-ready Kelly Le Brock. Hughes throws any visual gag or plot device that he can think of at the audience, with no regard for things like logic or structure. Yet this anything goes style fits considering it took its inspiration from the 1950s science fiction anthology comic book of the same name. Any weird idea Hughes ever had is here, including a Mad Max style showdown at a party with cast member Vernon Wells reappearing in his Road Warrior duds.
Bullet to the Head (2013)
At first glance, Bullet to the Head looks like a bluntly generic contemporary action movie. Look a little deeper and it’s still a bluntly generic contemporary action movie, but one that’s based on a French graphic novel that no one has ever heard of. What I don’t understand is why producers bothered to pay for adaptation rights for such a standard hitman story that could have been scribbled on some Kleenex during one of Stallone’s steroid injection appointments. Plus the haphazard handheld camerawork strips it of any sort of style, comic book or otherwise, making it look like any straight-to-DVD action movie languishing in the depths of Netflix’s database. Maybe somebody thought the foreign comic book association gave it some sort of cult art credibility. And I guess Stallone’s body is pretty much a cartoon these days… a deeply, deeply unnerving cartoon (please, somebody get that man some medical attention).
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