When I began this blog, I quickly wrote out a list of topics I might want to pursue in later posts. One of the items on my list was: live action movies made from comics. This is a topic that leaves me somewhat conflicted.
Live-action movies that use comics as their inspiration have been getting a lot better lately. This has a lot to do with special effects and trendy animation techniques. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who just hates the Spider-Man movies. They’re fun, and they retain some of the feeling of reading a comic book. Hellboy was also, in my opinion, very well conceived. I finally figured out that the directors of these movies actually grew up reading the comics, so they know how they should look. That is the second reason why the movies have gotten better.
Alternative, or underground, or small press, or whatever you want to call them, comics have also gotten some good movies made. Ghost World was good, and so was American Splendor. Those movies worked maybe even better as live action, because the stories involved real people in the real world – no special effects necessary. Although Harvey Pekar swinging through Cleveland in red tights would be entertaining.
But comic strips have gotten the raw end of this deal. I can’t think of a good movie adaptation of a comic strip. Popeye? Dick Tracy? Garfield? Dennis the Menace? Part of the reason I don’t particularly like actors portraying comic strip characters is that comic strip characters are rarely realistic. You have to go through great lengths to get a human being to resemble, say, Jason from FoxTrot, even though he is a cartoon of a human. When humans do goofy things that comic strip characters do, they don’t look funny. They look grotesque. I say this looking directly at Mike Myers, Mr. Cat in the Hat.
Could anyone really see Haley Joel Osment as Calvin? If you cringed as I did at that one, you’re getting my point. (To my knowledge, this was never considered, although I’m not sure whether it would be more or less profane than seeing Calvin pee on a Ford logo.)
Why not make an animated film, or an animated TV miniseries, of a comic strip? Traditional animation is not “in” right now, but it lends itself so nicely to the 2-D characters on the newspaper page. You get to keep the pacing, the look of the characters, and the overall tone of the comic. It’s a win-win-win. I’ll even throw one more win in there for good measure. The Far Side cartoon was a perfect example of this. How could you have real cows or CG cows to replace Larson’s drawings? It wouldn’t be The Far Side anymore. Larson’s drawing style was half the reason the strip worked so well. When they animated his drawings, it was still funny and it retained that lovely Far Side essence.
I’m no businessman (I say that a lot, because it is true). I’m just talking about the art of the thing. Moneywise, it probably makes more sense to get actors to play cartoon characters because you can say “See Brad Pitt as Dagwood” instead of “look at these fancy moving drawings.” To me, it makes sense that a two-dimensional animated film would recall the experience of reading a comic strip. But whoever looked to Hollywood for its good sense?
PS I have no idea who would play the Falling Rock crew in a movie. Who looks like Ernesto the giant lizard the most – Dustin Hoffman or Denzel Washington?