You wouldn’t like me when I’m angsty: Why it’s time to stop copying from Batman’s notebook

Man of Feels

Like many thousands of other people, I went to see the new Superman flick Man of Steel the other day. Whilst I quite liked it, I had my problems with it. Chief of which was the fact it was the same type of joyless, po-faced, sullen comic book adap we’ve been seeing ever since Chris Nolan reinvigorated the Batman series. I know I can’t be the only one getting sick of how ridiculously seriously these films take themselves.

I’m not saying that I would prefer a Superman film that undermines the comic at every turn, pointing out how silly things are. Not at all. I love it when films have confidence in the comics and strive to make what worked on the page work on screen. Films used to take the attitude of  looking at comic series and seeing what they could salvage, but now they’re mostly interested in being faithful to the source material. I’m also not against dark and gritty adaptations. The Dark Knight trilogy is fantastic and I love stuff like Sin City, Road to Perdition and Dredd. Thing is, dark and gritty worked for Batman because Batman was all downbeat and moody to begin with. The washed-out palette and realistic approach worked because it suited the character and world that he inhabited.

Comic books are renowned for having a multitude of takes on their characters. Spider-Man alone has had so many different iterations ranging from a futuristic 2099 version to a cartoon pig known as “The Spectacular Spider-Ham” it’s hard to keep track of them all. Practically every time a new artist/writer is hired, the series is technically rebooted and some new blood gets a crack at taking on an established character. Whilst 1997’s  Batman & Robin can go drown in a bucket of piss, this is one of the reasons why I don’t mind Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever as much as most people do. As long as the core character traits are kept the same, you can remix the tone, characters and world as much as you want. It’s like Shakespeare- as long as the essence is kept the same, people don’t give a fuck what you do.

What I do have a problem with is when filmmakers artificially grit up a franchise to appeal to the emotionally stunted moody teen demographic out there. It happened with The Amazing Spider-Man and it’s happened again with Man of Steel. Both films were tasked with rebooting a franchise and making the hero relevant and cool again (the necessity of which is debatable). Both films took the “darker” route and I would argue they both sold out their characters to do it.

I’m not the biggest Superman fan ever, but I like the character a lot and have enjoyed my fair share of the comics,  films and TV shows. I even played the craptacular Superman 64 back in the day. When I bought my ticket for MoS, I expected a grittier take on the franchise, but for the basic character to remain the same altruistic saviour figure he always has been. What I got was a mopey, brooding bellend in a skintight suit. Superman’s sincerity and earnestness doesn’t have to be cheesy. They could have made it work. But no, they washed out the colours and sucked out the joy.  Where’s all the protecting and inspiring good in people? Abandoned in his own selfish quest to get to know just who he really is.

This grittification reminds me of comics in the ’80s when many heroes were like huge steroid-abusing bears, muscling their way around swearing, killing and being “mature”. Looking back on them now, it’s funny how juvenile they are. Comics have thankfully got through that awkward phase and are now more diverse and legitimately adult than ever. The film adaptations need to do this too. At this rate, the much-talked about Justice League film will be Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman et al sitting in a room chain smoking, cutting themselves and looking for “deep” pictures to put on their Tumblrs.

I think the reason that people are supposedly connecting with the Nolanised breed of films is an overall weakening of audiences’ imaginations. People just can’t suspend disbelief like they used to. Nowadays you have to explain the fuck out of everything and meet audiences three-quarters of the way. People like to think they’re too cynical and clever for the older, cheesier superhero flicks, but they really aren’t. They’re too fucking stupid to get caught up in the escapism of it all. The Nolan Bat-films worked because Batman isn’t superpowered. All his tech is plausible and only slightly science-fictiony. When you present a realistic take on Superman who, may I remind you, can fly and has laser vision, you’re forced to really think just how he can achieve flight, rather than just buy the concept. I want to believe a man can fly, not just be told it. Same problem with The Amazing Spider-Man. Using the film’s own logic, explain to me how a teenager with no income can afford to bulk-buy crates of a commercially available web-like fluid and isn’t tracked down by any competent law enforcement agency once they find out there’s an outlaw swinging around using the stuff. Over-explanation is a killer. Think of Toy Story. Did you need an explanation as to how the toys could talk and became self-aware to enjoy the film? Would it have been better if you were told that an accident at a toy factory had caused all the voice chips in the toys to work at 40,000% capacity, granting motor skills and AI? Fuck no. The toys talk when people aren’t around. Boom. Done. Let’s get on with the story.

Some people are grumbling about reaching a saturation point when it comes to superhero films. I tell you what, I’m nowhere near. However, I’m not sure if I can take another dour, shoe-gazing version of a favourite hero of mine. Films need to be confident enough in the unique charms of their chosen properties and not paint over everything with the angsty “mature” brush. Basically, they need to be adult enough to have a little fun and not do something because it worked for Batman.

How I would unfuck the film industry

It’s been said for decades, but only now do I truly believe it – Hollywood is running out of ideas. Take a look at the endless adaptations, sequels and reboots on the slate for the rest of this year. The thing is, it’s not like there’s less creative talent in the movie business. There’s no shortage of actors,writers, directors, composers, set designers, fluffers etc. it’s just that in general, studios are less willing to stump up the cash for riskier projects. There have been some massive flops recently, including John Carter and the more recent Jack the Giant Slayer to make investors think twice before reaching for their wallets. It’s the audiences’ faults really, when given the choice of something new versus something familiar, they’ll go for the same old toss every time. That doesn’t mean you should exclusively cater to that. However, that seems like exactly what Hollywood is doing. They churn out sequel after sequel and only bet on a new intellectual property if they reckon they can squeeze a franchise out of it. It must be noted that I’m talking about the big budget studio system, not the independent circuit or foreign imports or anything like that. Some have predicted an industry-wide crash. You know what? I wouldn’t be surprised. The amount of money spent on not only the films themselves but the marketing as well is enough to bring tears to your eyes. They’re relying on more and more arses on seats and it’s going to reach critical mass. Soon they’ll need entire continents to pay to see their film just to break even. Huge flops like Carter and Slayer will become more common and then everyone will be playing their credit cards close to their chest. To be honest, I think the film industry is going to be proper fucked in the near future.

I’m just one fella. I have no power or sway. However, given the opportunity here’s how I would singlehandedly save the films I love so much and probably have loads of sexy ladies coming up to me and want to kiss me on the mouth. So, how would I pull off my promising “unfucking”? If I found myself in a meeting with all the studio heads and influentials, here’s what I’d tell them:

1) Stop whinging about piracy

It has been years and they’re still banging the same old drum. I can’t believe that in space year 2013 we still have preachy little adverts in front of our films. If you’re in the UK and just super-duper lucky, you’ll get the double of John Hurt talking about “The Last Cinema” and then some characters from some upcoming kiddie guff reminding you of “moments worth paying for”. Here’s the dirty secret: every mass entertainment industry has to deal with piracy in some form. The music industry in particular has been plagued by it. Think: when was the last time you heard them complaining? It was a while ago wasn’t it? You know why? They adapted. They embraced new technology. They shifted focus onto promoting live shows and tours. Oh, they held out as long as they could with the old business models that had made them disgustingly rich in the first place, but eventually they moved on. iTunes changed everything. Convenience is a huge factor. There are always going to be people who want stuff for free, but I’d like to think that the public at large agree with recompensing an artist for their work. It’s faster and easier to download a single on iTunes than it is to search for a torrent, make sure it isn’t riddled with nasty shit that’ll nerf your computer and then manually change all the track information to put in on your iPod. Plus, with the iTunes route you don’t have to worry about that whole “against the law” thing.

Films haven’t really got there yet. We live in an age where many people have decent home set-ups with big ol’ HD flatscreens. They’ve just got to accept that some people would prefer to watch films in the privacy of their own homes. They’ve got to accept that most kids watch films on their laptops. There’s been a huge societal shift in how people watch their films. Home entertainment sales are ever-climbing and services like Netflix and Lovefilm are booming. Basically, they need to offer choice- and not the sort of choice between paying £9 for a new release or fucking off. Embrace the tech. Several films have done this already. The upcoming Ben Wheatley film A Field in England is being released simultaneously in cinemas, on DVD and on TV. I’m right behind this. Thing is, it needs to be more than quaint Britflicks. We need a Michael Bay blockbuster to adopt this shit. Fuck, get James Cameron in on it. It seems studios will blindly follow everything else he “pioneers”, why not this? Surely they see the benefit of leaving it up to people to choose how they want to interact with the product? Not everyone has a cinema down the road from them, y’know. Christ, more people could end up seeing your damn franchise spawning flick. More money. Fancy that.

2) Make the cinema experience better

This is a no-brainer. If you regulate it, they will come. I adore going to the cinema. I’ve loved it ever since I was a kid. Thing is, most of my cinema visits are marred by the general public. When I went to see Spielberg’s Lincoln, there was a couple of acne-assaulted gorps who talked throughout the entire fucking film. It’s very difficult to pay attention to the softly-spoken Prez when you’ve got that inane shit thrusting its way into your ear. That’s not to mention people and their FUCKING PHONES. I honestly don’t know why there isn’t a plastic box or a locker for depositing your phone as you come in. You get a thing like a valet ticket and get your stuff back at the end. People have proven they can’t be trusted to not check their phones for 90 minutes. It’s not phonecalls that are the problem any more. It’s the bright-as-fuck screens that catch your attention in the dark. I’ve seen what these people are doing. They’re checking Facebook or Twitter or some other such unimportant shit. It’s incredibly distracting. Listen, if it’s so important to text/sext/Facebook/whatever that you can’t spare and hour or so, don’t go to the cinema.

The issue is that people don’t respect the cinema experience any more. If studios aren’t going to let us view how we want and insist that we go to the cinema for our filmic needs, then they need to strive to make it the best experience possible. Don’t just use colourful CGI cartoon wankers to merely tell us that it’s worth paying for, prove it. Very rarely do I have an uneventful, nice trip to the pictures. There’s always some prick spoiling it for everyone else. Plus, there’s the added indignity of having to pay over the odds for one of the 45 super-regular 3D showings because the three 2D showings occur at batshit inconvenient times. Don’t think we haven’t noticed, you sleazy bastards. What I’m saying is, police every screening. Zero tolerance policy. If there’s an usher there, ready to tell people to turn off their phones and chuck out any troublemakers, people will be able to focus on enjoying the film. Hell, it may encourage audience to act like actual adults. “Yeah? Well, the economy’s still a big ol’ prolapsed rectum, so where are we going to get the money for all that from Ben, you smug twat?” I hear you cry. Shut up, I’ll tell you in a minute.

Everyone knows cinemas are too expensive. Thing is, people seem to bark up the wrong tree when it comes to blaming. They blame the cinemas and their ludicrously priced concessions. It’s not really their fault though. People don’t seem to realise that selling stinky hotdogs and vats of watered-down Coke is where cinemas actually make their money. Studios and distributors ask for an insane percentage of the opening week box office with the takings then working on a sliding scale, with the overall share ending up around 50/55%. Studios have started getting greedy though, reckoning they can force cinemas over a barrel and hold blockbusters to ransom, as exemplified with the recent Iron Man 3 debacle that nearly caused the film to not be shown in several big name cinema chains in the U.S. I would suggest that studios allow cinemas to walk away with slightly more of the overall takings, meaning cinemas can lower ticket prices. People will flock if admission is lower, I guarantee it. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard someone decrying the high price of popping out to see a film. Either that or make the cinema worth the premium pricetag by getting the studios to pick up the bill for the kick-ass ushers I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Cinema used to be the accessible art form, where anyone could take their minds off their troubles for a while for just the change in their pocket. It’s a shame it’s moved away from that. Time moves on, shit gets more expensive, I get that. However, I think people should be encouraged by the popularity of Netflix and the like. Low monthly prices and a fair selection of films for much cheaper than you can get anywhere else. Plus, it’s legal, so people don’t have to feel like scumbags.

I hate the modern film industry. Its avarice and mercenary nature seems barely hidden any more. There used to be an artifice of wanting to entertain, but that seems like a joke that steadily grows in irony, especially when you have fucking robots like this wax droid in charge of the next greenlighting decision.

My G.I. Joe: Retaliation retaliation

If you’ve read any of my stuff before, you’ll likely know my position on 3D and all the stuff that goes with it. If not, here’s a quick rundown. It’s a pointless gimmick that can’t die out soon enough. I don’t care if you bring up Hugo or Life of Pi – just because a couple of films work against the odds, it doesn’t justify the rest being a pile of crusty old toss. It’s still a bunch of overpriced nonsense that serves as something shiny to get the magpie public to waddle in to cinemas.  If you disagree it’s because a) you aren’t a film fan and are just interested in surface gloss and visuals or b) you’ve sold your firstborn to get a 3D set-up at home and don’t want to think your partner left you because you bet your chips on a doomed format. I’ve been there, man. I was Team HD-DVD for a while. It’s alright, you can cry on my shoulder. Let it all out big guy. Anyway- that got away from me. That whole thing is a debate for another time.

What I’m really here to talk about is G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which is currently chundering up the box office. In case you’re not aware, Retaliation was originally slated to come out last year and was delayed 9 months in order to post-convert it into 3D. I was one of the three people who saw the first one and it was a colostomy bag of vapid shite, CGI sheen and Transformers wannabe-ism, so hopes weren’t high for the sequel, despite them bringing in Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Bruce Willis.

With the film practically in the can, some coked-up douchebag insisted it be in 3D and here we are. Just because the film isn’t awards material doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a responsibility to its audience. I dare say that there are people out there who loved the first one and couldn’t wait to see where their loveable band of forgettable, barely-there characters went next. “Fuck them!”,comes the booming voice from Olympus, “delay and dimensionalise! Basically, they’re showing open contempt for their audience. It’s being marketed as GI Joe 3D and it fills me with anger each time. I can’t stress this enough,  I don’t personally care about the sequel delay or about the franchise as a whole. What I do care about is what it represents. The depressing fact is that their little 3D-ifying gamble worked, with Retaliation clocking up a $130 million global haul in its opening week. Even taking into account the fact that fewer people may have seen it at higher cost, that’s still an impressive number and I hate everyone who handed that money over willingly. It’s like paying to have your food spat in.

“But it’s just a bit of dumb fun” and other arguments don’t cut it this time. They don’t care about entertaining you. They care about seducing you into a cinema seat and sucking your wallet dry. Didn’t like the film? Tough shit. They’ve got your cash and there’s nothing you can do about it. I would have loved to have seen this film bomb right through the floor because these shitty business practices are ensuring that ticket prices are high and you get less for that premium. Unfortunately, the general fucking public had other ideas. “Less for more” is going to become Hollywood’s anthem in the coming years, trust me. The filmmakers don’t really care about reviews. What they’re going to learn from this is that the public will eat up and pay over the odds for any old shite even if it’s compromised to fuck and been delayed to buggery. The public have taught Hollywood that it’s financially sound to delay a film just so it can be put through a computer. I think it’s fucking disgusting.  If you don’t care about any of this and think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, fine. Just don’t come crying to me when you have to mortgage your goddamn house to see G.I. Joe 3: Holy Shit I Can’t Believe We Got Away With It. 

Some thoughts on the much-mooted Bioshock film

Honestly,  thinking about Bioshock  and things pertaining to Bioshock  is taking up about 90% of my brain space at the moment.  Partly because the hopefully brilliant Bioshock Infinite  is out soon and partly because I’ve been replaying the two existing games in preparation for the 26th. When I first played the original game back in 2007, it blew my mind clean out of the back of my skull. When talking about it now, I compare first stepping into Rapture to seeing Star Wars  for the first time. The world created was so fantastic I bought the concept of Rapture completely and yearned for more knowledge on how and why a city was built at the bottom of the sea. Games are often described as “cinematic”, but I think that’s a pretty weak comparison. You wouldn’t say a film was “book-like” because they’re completely different mediums. However, I have always thought that the world of Rapture could easily make the transition from console to screen. Creative director and Irrational Games head honcho Ken Levine recently came clean on why the in-production Bioshock  film was shit-canned. Whilst I’m grateful that we didn’t get some compromised cash-in piece of crap, I’m disappointed that a silver screen trip to Rapture seems further away than ever. I was once asked what film I’d kick into production if I was just handed a hefty budget. My two answers were “Westworld  remake” and “Bioshock  movie”. When pushed, the ‘Shock  won. So it got me thinking- how the hell would approach a Bioshock  film?

Having recently replayed it, I’m really not sure that the first game’s story would be the best place to start. Why? Well, Bioshock  numero uno often used the game mechanics to tell a story. There were subtle hints at the player’s true purpose everywhere and I can’t see the game’s famed twist working quite as well when it came to adaptation. If translated faithfully, the story of “Jack” (the player avatar) would be 10 hours long and be utterly generic, because it’d be missing the crucial elements in the game that raised the bar from a story-telling perspective. You could make a film from something like Modern Warfare 3  or any of the Uncharted  series pretty easily, because they’re intentionally aping blockbuster films. Bioshock  would be a significantly tougher cookie.

If I had it my way, “prequel” would be the strongest curse word there is and would definitely get a kid detention at school if uttered. Having said that, I honestly think a prequel film to the first game would work. Have it be about the rise and fall of Rapture itself. There’s a huge uprising alluded to in the game’s various audio diaries that would make a fantastic finale to a film. I know there is a prequel book simply called “Rapture” out there, but I haven’t read it yet, so maybe I’m unwittingly stealing ideas from that. Whilst the first game used the medium’s mechanics to tell a tale (if I keep saying it enough, people will agree with me) you could have the film do the same with its mechanics. Y’know what film is fantastic at doing? Tragedy. I’m picturing Rapture as a city version of Charles Foster Kane, especially at the peak of its swaggering, arrogant power. Apart from the inherent flaws of Objectivism built into the city’s creation, genetic magic sludge ADAM is basically to blame for Rapture’s downfall. It basically enabled people to do anything they wanted, from giving themselves supernatural abilities like shooting electricity and fireballs to being able to completely change their appearance. Thing is, people start getting  too “spliced up”, become addicts and start becoming deformed maniacs, killing anyone for a drop more of the sweet ADAM they crave. Just thinking about the slow introduction of these poisonous elements gives me a nerd boner. It’s got the potential to completely invalidate the notion that all video game films are shite.

This is all getting dangerously close to shit fanfiction so I’ll leave it there. Still though, I think it’s an interesting topic. Could a Bioshock  film be done? Should it just be left as a game? Should I shut the hell up and get myself a girlfriend? You decide! (although I have a strong feeling the answer to all three will be “yes”)

Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Hubbard!: Why a “12A” rated Die Hard flick sticks in my craw.

If you haven’t heard, A Good Day to Die Hard– the fifth film in the franchise, came out yesterday worldwide and is rated a 12A in dear Old Blighty. In its originating land of freedom and burgers, the film is rated “R” and was edited (or to use more of a trigger word: “censored”) to appeal to the biggest possible audience when shipped over here. It’s important to note that our beloved BBFC didn’t censor it. Fox submitted the film and was told that it would be rated a “15”, they then subsequently asked for advice on how to trim it down to the preferred 12A rating, they submitted the new cut and got the rating they wanted. See here for full details: click.

This baffles me and pisses me off in equal measures. Look, I watched the original Die Hard way too young at about age 11 and it was the greatest thing I’d ever seen. I have seen it countless times since then and it’s still a fantastic watch. The following two films are great too. I even like Die Hard 4.0, despite it taking a left turn at Credibility Avenue and driving directly into Doolally Junction. One of my major problems with 4.0 (aka the retch-inducing title of Live Free or Die Hard) was how toothless it all felt. The swearing was sparse and mild and the violence was bloodless and lacking in punch. Violence and swearing do not a good film make, but when you have an established series where these things are practically hallmarks it really goes against the grain.When a character can’t even say their famous catchphrase because it has naughty words in it, you know something’s gone wrong. (OK, pedants, he DOES say it, but the word is obscured with a gunshot, which is a whole jar of weaksauce.) There is an unrated cut of 4.0 out on DVD (not Blu-ray yet despite multiple releases, the absolute BASTARDS) where the digital blood is re-instated and McClane gets to say “motherfucker” like a champ. I was surprised at how legitimate it made the film feel. It’s not big or clever, but it feels right (which is incidentally my personal slogan for my upcoming gigolo business venture.)

Which brings me to A Good Day to Die Hard. I planned to see it opening day at the IMAX, but as soon as I heard that it was a 12A for no good reason, I cancelled my tickets. If they’re not going to meet me halfway, then fuck ’em. I’m not going to pay over the odds for a butchered, inferior product. Especially with the knowledge that there’s a meatier cut out there.Yeah, there will undoubtedly be an unrated cut on DVD/Blu-ray but that’s not the point. With all the emotional blackmail campaigns about not pirating films and actually going to the cinema running, doesn’t it seem like stunts like this are teaching consumers the exact opposite? Why waste your money on seeing a watered-down, neutered cut at the cinema when you can watch the proper version at home?

Lionsgate did this over here with The Hunger Games. The original submitted cut of the film was rated a 15 and they sought advice to bring it down to a 12A. I understand that decision though. The Hunger Games has an inbuilt teen audience thanks to the three books. Whilst Lionsgate obviously wanted to make as much dough as possible, something which the golden 12A certificate ensures, I’d like to think a big part of  that decision was the fact that they didn’t want to make a film that fans of the books weren’t old enough to see. But this is fucking DIE HARD.

The thing that really cemented my feeling on this was when I questioned whether the original Die Hard would still be a coherent and solid film if edited and trimmed down to a 12A. After much thought, I don’t think so. Sure, you could edit out that bit where the topless woman gets dragged out. You could linger less on McClane walking barefoot over broken glass etc, but at the core of it, it’s a mature, claustrophobic tale. Even if you cut out the majority of the swearing and violence, you’d still have objectionable material there because it wasn’t fucking made for kids. I really don’t think you salvage any sort of understandable narrative from it. I could be wrong on this. There probably are teen-friendly cuts of Die Hard aired on cable TV in the U.S. which is governed by the humourless FCC. Still, anyone with a brain knows that that isn’t the best way to watch a film.

Maybe I’m just getting my knickers in a twist over nothing. By all accounts, the film isn’t very good anyway and has problems far beyond what a bit of blood and a couple of fucks will fix. Still though, I really hope this isn’t a trend.

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