Saturday, July 26, 2008

Graphic Nouvelle

In the Dark Knight Consterns post, Trooper brings up one of his favorite points: That comic book movies are good now because the people doing them are people who understand and like them.

To which I would only add: And technology makes possible reasonable approximations of the graphics in those comic books. You can't make a movie about The Human Torch if you can't come up with a reasonable looking man-on-fire effect. You can't do a Superman movie unless you can reasonably make it look like one or two normal sized humans can incidentally trash a large city.

Another issue, however, is costumes. What comic book artists do is draw naked human bodies and color in where the costumes would be. Real life costumes, of course, hide definition. Take, for example, Superman.

Besides the bicep definition and the pronounced ribs, he's impossibly barrel-chested. Compare to Chris Reeve, who bulked up for his role as The Man of Steel.

He looks almost scrawny, doesn't he? This is a still, so he's in the best light they could put him in. In the movie he almost looks slender. Probably few, if any, humans actually have even an approximation of that form.

And Brandon Routh's not much better. Although obviously in superb condition, there's no way to create a fabric that doesn't hide definition.

Batman, on the other hand, started out pretty slender, and ultimately grew into Frank Miller's monstrosity. Miller, of course, is not what you'd call "naturalistic" in his styles. The angrier The Batman gets in The Dark Knight Returns, the broader and squarer his jaw gets. In this picture, here, he's actually dwarfing the horse he's riding on.

There were early actors who wore Batman's gray suit, culminating in Adam West--100% pure West. But by the time Keaton rolled around, they were adding fake muscles to the suit. Bale's Batman outfit is, at least, supposed to be bulletproof, giving some justification for the articulated look.

Meanwhile, if you take a bodybuilder and paint a costume on him, the look is much closer, though without the exaggerated V-shape of the torso, and of course without the scale alterations. (Comic book artists change the size of the hero for dramatic effect, which is a little dodgy in live action.)

(You knew that, right?)

Curiously (heh), the X-Men movies go this route for Mystique who, I believe, is usually depicted as wearing a long dress (though split on both sides to the hip). Rebecca Romijn hardly needs clothing, however. Does she look like a superhero? Who cares. We haven't seen hot blue chicks since the original Star Trek.

The X-Men movies made a lot of successful visual changes from the comic books. Could we take even Hugh Jackman (that guy's ackman is huge!) seriously if he were in yellow-and-blue spandex with giant eye-flarey-thingies? (Seriously, what is up with those?)

Another X-Men character is Dark Phoenix. Here's an inspirational photo.

Here's the lovely Famke Janssen in that role, though looking a bit less provocative.

And lastly here's our friend with the camera and models who like to be painted. Stirring, no? This guy's flickr page has a set of superheros, including higher-resolution versions.

The point, of course, is that one medium (comic book art) uses tricks that don't translate to other mediums.


  1. But take the example of Sin City. There they took the comics look and feel and incorporated it in the texture of the movie. The over emphasis on muscularity is something comics has in common with professional wrestling. They are catering to the same audience, teen age and pre teen age boys who have fantasies of being the overpowering muscular hero who would save the damsel in distress. Little do they know that the toughest guys are often the skinny little guy who would kill you in a heartbeat.

    The crazy spandex costumes are just a convention of the genre, like rainy streets and the sexy blonde in film noir. You can dispense with a convention if you stay true to the spirit of the piece. You can tell when someone doesn’t care or know about the comic involved. Then they camp it up like the original Batman and the early Superman movies. But you can go too far in the other direction as Ang Lee did with the Hulk. You need to strike a balance. Above all, it has to be entertaining. And fun. That’s what the new Marvel comics have done. It’s a genre no different than Star Trek or Star Wars or Westerns or Merchant and Ivory. If you stay true to the original spark of your material, you will make a quality film

  2. Sin City is a style we'll see more of. We already have, actually, with 300.

    The movie does a tremendous job of capturing Miller's style, and I think part of the balance that will need to be struck in the future is visual slavishness to the source--which will result in a lot of movies that are probably too similar to Sin City--and complete visual independence.

    It's hard to describe exactly how striking the use of Chicago--unmodified--in Dark Night is. You have shots right out of the comic book, but set in a very, very realistic setting.

    I haven't decided if I like it, even, but it was a bold choice.

  3. The use of computer generated graphics allows for the return of the epic movie without the cost bankrupting the studio. The Lord of the Rings and the Narnia movies are examples of using these techniques that can be used in any number of ways. As you point out, it gives the moviemaker a chance to approximate the effects of the comic book. A great example is as you cite, the Human Torch in Fantastic Four. Also, the Sandman in Spidy 3. Now I miss the days of the giant crab in Mysterious Island but the new technology might see some of my old favorites come to the screen. Even the Genghis Khan stories we discussed could actually be made using these computer effects. That would be cool.

  4. Well, the Sandman wasn't cheap to do, but it wouldn't have even been possible before.

    I think the problem, insofar that there is a problem, is that a lot of the old tricks with models and the like are being lost. The best directors know when and how to combine CGI with older methods so that things don't look so fake.

    Like any effect, CGI is best when you don't go, "Wow, that sure is some keen effect there."

  5. Yeah but you watch it with a craftsman's eye. The rest of us just go; "Cool!"

  6. True, but I also try not to be a complete douche, which happens to a lot of professional movie critics. (Or were they douches when they started?)

  7. Or were they douches when they started

    There's a fair number at EW that I would say "probably, yes." They're always sticking snarky political BS into their reviews.

  8. Not just politics, either.

    As far as I know, Roger Ebert had a hand in making one movie. He wrote the screenplay for Russ Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

    It's horribly dated but not impossible to watch.

    And he probably has more experience than 99% of the movie critics out there. Something to consider, I think, when you're snarking about a movie that was, you know, actually made.

  9. The problem with getting to a certain age is that you have perspective. So you know old films and styles and can spot a poor imitation right off the bat. The thing that I hate the most is an asshole like John Leonard who reviews TV for New York Magizine. He has to pepper his reviews with allusions to "high culture" where he tells us that Two and A Half Man falls somewhat short of the Illaid. No shit. If he had a basic knowledge of the history of television, he would have fifty different things to compare it to and be able to give a cogent and lucid review. I don't care if you read Euripides in college you douche bag. So did I. What the hell does that have to do with Laughlin Nevada CSI? Don't drop quotes and high brow crap in your reviews, if we wanted to be bored to tears we would be watching Merchant Ivory movies. Give me a break you nerdy egghead douche!!!!

  10. lol

    I try to stay away from that sort of douchiness, too, Troop.

    I'm not allowed to read the local "underground" rag because it pisses me off so much.

    There's a line that I have remembered for years: "In animation, as in biology, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny."

    This was from a story on "The Powerpuff Girls".

    WTF? It just pissed me off so bad--and all their stuff tends to be like that--that I'm just forbidden.

    (It's not even true, god dammit! Not in biology or in animation!)

  11. Besides, there's little point in comparing TV to not-TV or movies to not-movies, etc.

    It's nice to know that a movie scene rips of Da Vinci's "Last Supper" but going much further than that is heading into Doucheville.

    Movies that do too much of that tend to be douchey as well.

  12. He has to pepper his reviews with allusions to "high culture" where he tells us that Two and A Half Man falls somewhat short of the Illaid. No shit.



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