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Sin City

[Graphic Novels, Comic Books, the Fantastic Faux]

- by Tristan Waldroop


Besides the obvious fact that the movie format is easily adapted from an already written and storyboarded comic book, why are we seeing so many comics made into movies?

I grew up reading comics. While my friends were trading baseball cards I was sneaking into my dad’s expansive “Heavy Metal” collection, the world that was opening before me was enormous, and I was hooked. I remember staying up all night reading the “Transcendental Adventures of this and that” and “Horrors of something or other” all based in a time period that I didn’t understand dealing with topics I didn’t get, and being completely fixated until morning when it would be time to go to school and I’d be too tired to do that so I’d play sick and feign sleep until my mom left, at which point I would get up and read more.

Through what I considered the only pure form of file sharing, some other comic geeks and I managed to get together a meager library of our favorite comics. I’d swap my X-Men for Kevin’s Fantastic Four, he would turn around and trade my X-Men to Andy for a Batman, Andy… well he would give the X-Men to Crazy Lou for a can of Copenhagen chew…

The point to be made is that the market for films made from stories that already have a huge audience is huge. Trying not to dip out of the comic book genre, and only because I feel it’s pertinent to our current discussion, I’ll mention briefly J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings,” which bounced to film effortlessly (aside from a difficult year of filming and nearly 2 years of post production) and lucratively (because of the millions large international fan-base).

So now we’re seeing that making films out of comics isn’t just an opportunity to make loads of money, it’s an opportunity to play with film and filmmaking in ways that would otherwise be received awkwardly from audiences.

Lets face it, American audiences aren’t the most open in the world so stylized film making has always been left up to European filmmakers, directors of photography hailing from Warsaw or ushered in quietly under the radar by slowly exploring a style throughout a decade or more, creating eras in film history.

What the comic genre has done for film-makers is it has given them a way of trying radical styles, letting them put their Major in film with a Minor in Symbology to the test, visually packing films pushing an audience that’s already in love with the material, without the worry of people walking out of the theatre or receiving hate mail.

At this point I’m undecided on my position; this article is my own exploration of whether I’m “digging” comic genre films. I won’t know for sure until I see some of my favorites come to life, looking ahead to the Fantastic Four release at the beginning of May.
“Sin City” was the most recent adaptation I can think of, so let’s start here. Coming from the realm of graphic novels it pushed me to actually go back and read Frank Miller’s comics wondering if they had captured that “thing” that Mr. Miller was going for, and they had. Scene for scene, and this is probably because Frank got to direct his own comic, matched.

The style was held onto, beautifully. The grit didn’t quite come off the page only because it would have turned the stomach of even the staunchest Hell’s Angel member and had to be turned down for a larger audience, but what amazed me, after seeing what the “Blade” comics had become, after seeing Batman get nancified for film and sitting idly by while “Road to Perdition” was completely ignored in the box office was that “Sin City” literally jumped off the pages of the book onto the screen and into the open hungry arms of an audience that didn’t even know the comic book ever existed, due to, based on a scan of my own reasons for seeing the movie, Jessica Alba appearing in the trailer and wielding a lasso. Come on guys.

Also a large part of the country wide migration to the theatre had to be the fact that here was an interestingly shot film that we could watch even with all the style and not feel like we had a Polish DP’s foot in our mouths because the whole story was based in a world and came from a mind where things looked, moved, and talked like this giving us an almost superhuman ability to suspend disbelief for nearly 3 hours even through lines like Dwight’s “It’s time to prove to your friends that you’re worth a damn, sometimes that means dying, sometimes it means killing a whole lot of people.” A sweet line, tough as hell, but doesn’t leave you wondering what’s going to happen. (I’m getting there, my own opinion is slowly forming.)

Still, I liked it. Which I think is where the power behind comic genre films comes from. It’s an audience that’s already been primed through exposure to the content by either having read the material in comic book form, or seeing the trailer enough times to know that Jessica Alba as Nancy in leather chaps on big screen is as amazing as Haley’s Comet and not to be missed.

In summary, Sin City accomplished what it set out to do which was to tell Frank Miller’s grisly dark tales and it was worth my ten fifty at the theatre. Just remember that once Nancy Callahan comes on-screen a hat, or better yet an upside down bucket of popcorn (unsalted) in your lap is strongly advised.



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