Monday, June 18, 2007

In Which The Author Complains About Shit - What A Concept!

Inevitably someone asks me in the comments why I bother to go see these horrible movies I end up loathing and tearing apart. Usually the answers are simple: that I don't really have anything better to do; that a trip to see a bad movie is still a trip to the movis; and that I do get a perverse enjoyment out of watching bad comic book movies so that I can tear them to shreds on my blog. It's easy, it's fun, and it's safe, just like baiting Milwaukee fans.

But I did have a reason for going to see the new Fantastic Four movie. Even though I knew full well it would be horrid going in . . . well, basically, I was paying to see the Silver Surfer onscreen for a few minutes. That's all. That's how much I love the Surfer - I'll gladly sit through a horrid film for the chance of seeing him flying around for just a few minutes. But boy - those few minutes where the Surfer is just flying around looking cool . . . yeah, that's the stuff. If you recall, I said earlier this year that Ghost Rider was the most direct translation of a character's visual appeal I'd seen since the original Superman - well, the Surfer in this film is simply phenomenal, a living breathing distillation of Kirby and Buscema and even Mobius's vision of what the character should be. Just as the Spider-Man movies are peppered with some of Spidey's most iconic poses, there are quite a few moments of Surfer action taken directly from the books. Every moment where the Surfer is onscreen and flying is magic.

But every other moment is pure grade A bullshit. Why does the Fantastic Four franchise look so low-rent? I mean, Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Hulk and even Ghost Rider all looked pretty great (regardless of whether or not the movies were worth watching) - but both Fantastic Four movies (or at least, this one and what I saw of the first in passing) have this sort of BBC live action vibe that undercuts every attempt at approximating the grandeur of the source material. This is supremely ironic considering just how grandiose the original books are: when I see Reed's lab in the film it looks like something out of a Disney TV Movie of the Week, not the lair of the world's greatest mad scientist. It's sad to see, considering that if they wanted too they could probably make the films every bit as splendid as the source material: if they applied so much as a hint of the visual panache it took to make the Lord of the Rings films to the Fantastic Four franchise, they could really create something special.

But no, the movies remain stubbornly rooted in a disappointingly literal iteration of reality. Instead of trusting the integrity of the source material, they have to undercut the wild science fantasy with intimations of plausibility. It's not about producing the best Fantastic Four film possible, it's about introducing the saleable concepts to the audience in the most painless and approachable matter possible. So instead of a twenty-five foot tall bald man appearing on the roof of the Baxter Building in the midst of seeming Armageddon to warn the Fantastic Four of the coming of Galactus, you've got Andre Braugher slumming as a generic army general, leading a platoon of central casting soldiers as the Silver Surfer digs giant holes in the earth's crust (...why?) The filmmakers are obviously afraid of their audience's ability to absorb too much in the way of bizarre imagery, so little details liek a fifty-foot tall spaceman in purple britches get swept under the rug in favor of, um, a cloud of rocks. (And how the hell does the Surfer take down Galactus single-handedly? That undercuts the entire logic of the character in one fell swoop.)

There is a way out of this bind, if the folks at the movie studio are paying attention. The success of the new film almost guarantees not only another Fantastic Four sequel but a Silver Surfer spin-off as well. (The fact that the character need not be played by an A-list actor - he's basically silver CGI - probably makes the potential franchise quite attractive for Hollywood.) The Fantastic Four films have intentionally skewed younger than any of the other Marvel movie franchises. In order to give the films license to be as fully amazing as they could be, the studios need to follow this logic to its natural conclusion: make the movies kids movies. Kids don't really have such a problem with sui generis weirdness as adult moviegoers supposedly do. Unlike most of the main Marvel properties, there is really very little in the way of adult situations in either the Fantastic Four or Silver Surfer mythos. I can even see them getting away with something like Mephisto in a G film - Disney's done the devil or some variation thereof a number of times. If you put it in the context of a kids' film, a character like Galactus is not a potential stumbling block for credulous adult audiences, but an extremely toyetic bad guy. The purely cosmic milieu would seem to be uniquely suited for CGI. The studios have done just about everything with CGI, from dinosaurs to insects to underwater to mainstream superheroes, but never aliens - not yet.

Of course, it's all academic - a quick glance at Wikipedia even tells me that they're getting J. Michael Straczynski to write the first draft of the Surfer film. So, you know, it'll probably be pretty horrid as well. But we can dream, right?

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