If there’s one thing you don’t want to do in the world of films, it’s enrage the wrath of a fanboy. After all, hell hath no fury than a Star Trek fan choking on his cornflakes at his mum’s dining table (because obviously he lives with his mum) after seeing a promo shot of the new Star Trek film and noticing that Mr Spock’s ears are clearly a third of a centimetre shorter than the Star Trek Encyclopedia says they should be then going on to pen death threats to everyone even vaguely involved with the making of the film.
That’s apparently the reason that producers of new sci-fi films take them to conventions is to try to get the obsessed fans on their side as soon as possible and even take on board some suggestions. (I assume it’s a commercial consideration rather than one of personal safety, though; I mean, the worst that’s going to happen is that you’ll have people like the Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy making sarcastic comments. It’s safe to say you’re not exactly going to end up in Salman Rushdie territory.)
Still, it’s for that reason that adaptations of graphic novels often end up controversial and, indeed, despised by fans of the originals. On one hand you’d think comics would be easier to adapt than their prose counterparts as you’ve already got visual depictions of characters and scenes but then, that naively ignores fanboys and their obsessive ways. Alan Moore famously distances himself from all film adaptations of his work to the extent of having his name removed from them, but are they really all that bad? Here, controversially, I’m going to argue that they aren’t. Well, not all of them.
Maybe the fact that graphic novels give you so much visual material to work with can be a hindrance after all; I felt that Sin City was so faithful to the books that it almost seemed like a largely pointless exercise, a bit like the equivalent of film adaptations of famous novels for people who can’t be bothered to read the book and want the film to be exactly the same. Or they can go the other way: the adaptations of Warren Ellis’ Red and Mark Millar’s Wanted were so far from the source material that the producers could probably have got away with passing them off as totally original creations. Then there are the cases where films do exactly that: the Matrix, whilst not being a direct lift of Grant Morrison’s Invisibles series, has enough references to it that Morrison considered suing.
Just to throw a spanner in the works, I’ll start with one that is: From Hell. Okay, it’s mildly entertaining, but it totally misses the point, and the brilliance, of the source material. Based on Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution by Stephen Knight, From Hell examines the controversial theory that the Ripper killings were part of a Masonic conspiracy to cover up a scandalous Royal marriage, with Moore carefully considering all the points and annotating his work with academic precision. Unlike pretty much all other books written on the subject, Moore points out it’s highly likely we’ll ever know what really happened and is essentially carrying out a thought experiment into the plausibility of the theory, frequently repeating in his appendix that a huge amount of what he depicts is speculation, even if it’s very thoroughly sourced. For those reasons, it’s probably the best, most pragmatic and most considerate book written on the Ripper murders.
The film, however, is gibberish: it has Johnny Depp’s Inspector Abberline falling in love with one of the prostitutes whilst investigating the case and trying to prevent her death when he uncovers the plot, only to die of an opium overdose when he fails. Which, I suppose made for a more exciting ending than the death of the real Inspector Abberline, who expired of old age in Bournemouth.
V for Vendetta, in my opinion, was better. There were changes from the book but they worked by tightening the plot and structuring the storyline better. Whilst it watered down the source material it was still a pretty anarchic message for a Hollywood blockbuster to be putting across. It ends with the destruction of the Houses of Parliament, for Gawd’s sake! (And they really did film it there; I actually saw them doing it as I was going home on the number 11 bus from a Ben Folds gig).
It’s undeniable that the films never show the scope, depth and insight of their source material, and Moore’s anarchic humour is rarely displayed, but all I’m saying it that some of them still work as films on their own merits. The film of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen nearly does, even if it’s essentially the kind of gung-go, Boy’s own piece of Victoriana that the book was actually parodying. Killing off Sean Connery at the end didn’t bode well for a sequel but maybe that’s for the best, as the second book is full of all sorts of strange stuff including an encounter with HG Well’s Dr Moreau that sees him creating strange creatures by cross breeding humans with some of the most beloved characters in children’s fiction including Rupert Bear. But the film was okay!
Right, I’m well aware that my argument may be falling apart, now I’ve admitted one of the films was terrible, one was good and one was reasonable. So, let’s move onto the biggie: Watchmen. It’s probably been called the Ulysses of graphic novels, I would imagine. And, in a way, it is, for the way Moore stretches and plays with the graphic novel form, employing different voices and media and sewing numerous plot threads together as the story unfolds. Once again, the film strips away a lot but I don’t think the film you’re left with is half bad. And they slightly changed the ending but – dare I say it? –for the better (even if it was largely because they left out the subplot that largely explains the original conclusion). Still, it should definitely lose points for having My Chemical Romance cover a Bob Dylan song at the end. I reckon they should have just used the 1960s ‘na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na Batman!’ theme song but changed it to ‘na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na Watchmen!’
Well, that’s my opinion. Not four bad films, but two good ones, an okay one and a ropey but still vaguely enjoyable one. So I’ve said it. The films of Alan Moore’s books aren’t so bad after all. Obviously the books are better but there’s still merit in some of the films. And if you’re a Star Trek fan or an Alan Moore obsessive then please send your death threats via email. Hey, it’s the twenty first century, after all.