Saturday, January 08, 2005

Hideously long and not part of the top 10

There's another 'film of the comic' coming out soon, this one is called Constantine and like many films based on a comic it looks pretty poor. Snotty write ups in film magazines talk about 'geeks' getting their knickers in a twist over the damage being done to 'their' comics and laugh at the silliness of it all. Seeing as the film industry seems intent on sucking dry it's back catalogue with pointless remakes and sequels and stripping classic (and not so classic) books of all their meat and flavour I can't help but wonder if some of these magazine writers should just shut up. Granted there's a certain breed of comic reader who wants to complain about every little alteration of 'their' comic and within and without the comic reading community there's no end of people ready and willing to criticise a film before they've actually seen it (ouch, that comment's hitting a little too close to home!) but what's really galling about some of the changes foisted on many adaptations (particularly, but not exclusively, on comic adaptations) is how arbitatry the changes are and how little they improve upon the originals, lets face they usually turn out to be pretty poor. Having finally seen the Lemony Snicket film I have to say that I was pretty underwhelmed, oh everyone did a great job in (mostly) sticking to the spirit of the books (which is something to be grateful for) but the damage to to the stories themselves was quite severe, packing 3 of the books into one short film and then zipping through the story lines at breakneck speed seemed to strip the books of some of their strengths, detail, incident, characterisation. Not to mention the fact that the voiceover suggested that black macabre humour was not the intention of the books but rather a morose sadness with a slightly uplifting hopefulness clumsily tacked on the end.
Constantine, as the adaptation of 'Hellblazer' is to be called seems to have fallen into the trap of messing too much with what made the originals so good. Gone is the grimy UK setting, gone is the insouciant brit who looks a bit like Sting circa '81, all spiky blonde hair and arrogance. What we now have is Keanu Reeves in New York. I'm not anti-Keanu, he's not a great actor by any stretch of the imagination, but he does well in fun films that require someone to look convincing whilst spouting gibberish against a greenscreen. The real problem with having Keanu is that it pretty much broadcasts the fact that we’re going to have a film that will feature empty gibberish for dialogue and a load of special effects, the iconic look of John Constantine is gone and so will his character, and that was what made Hellblazer worth adapting in the first place.....
Ah, except that's not really true is it. Obviously I'm talking about Hellblazer of about 15 years ago. Back in the mid-80's Alan Moore (who I may have mentioned before) revitalised Swamp Thing into a very fine comic indeed and during his run co-created with Steve Bissette and John Totleben the character John Constantine. As he describes himself early on Constantine is 'a nasty piece of work guv, just ask anyone', and what he did was shake Swamp Thing up as much as Moore did. But Moore never really used him that much, oh he's pretty integral to the plot of the stories he does appear in and the changes he forces the Swamp Thing through are pretty important, but he doesn't actually turn up in many of the comics that and when he does it's not really about him. I love Swamp Thing and I love Constantine in them but where he really comes into play is when DC gave him his one title and asked Jamie Delano to write it. And for about 40 issues that's we he did, and they were (and are, I'm rereading them now) brilliant. Delano is not actually a great writer, his output has been inconsistent but when he gets it right he's well worth following, with Hellblazer he got it right. Delano gave Constantine a past, he portrayed him as been the cocky arrogant upstart that Moore introduced but he added and extra layer of guilt and self doubt to the mix that really made the character shine. Delano's plots of demon yuppies bartering for souls, gaybashing football hooligans sent of to do the devils work, child murders on working class council estates killing through their tedious lives, men who work so hard to create a epic version of themselves they become fiction, dead policemen coming coming back to life as vicious dogs, and so much more were the perfect mix of black humour, weird arcana and honest social commentary of a very real Britain. With artwork by John Ridgway that was rough, detailed, down to earth and realistic the stories were given the best showcase (an excellent artist will do more than just sum up the scripts in pictures, he’ll add to and improve the story with his art, that’s what happened here) and when he left early on he was replaced with other creators who had something to live up to and worked very hard doing just that. Once Delano left the comic floundered, Garth Ennis, who went on to become very popular, crafted some fun but forgettable and less than average tales, Paul Jenkins tried hard but didn’t always manage to pulled it off, Warren Ellis came up with some shallow stories that revelled in nastiness and so it went moving further and further away from the original. Now Constantine seems no older than he did over 15 years ago and just gives mean and meaningful stares, says a few vague enigmatic things and calls people 'mate', 'cos he's streetwise and cool instead of actually have a ‘character’. Some of the stories are fun and entertaining but that’s about it, which is why I rarely dip into them nowadays. Maybe it’s a comic past it’s sell by date, maybe it made more sense back then, maybe everything that was worth saying with it’s been said. Maybe a film staring Keanu Reeves is all it desrves now. I’d still like something more though.


trebuchet said...

Give Keanu a chance. I think he will very good in this film, even if they did change the story's setting and features of the main character. Keep an open mind.

paulhd said...

Hi Trebuchet, thanks for the comment. Keeping an open mind is of course very important, as I said somewhere in the post complaining about a film you haven't seen is not a totally fair thing to do, however....
My main bones of contention don't actually require me to see the film. Changing the location is not a cosmetic thing, an important aspect of Hellblazer was the Britishness of it, even when it has been set in the US it still had a British character and that gave it an interesting spin (Brian Azzarello is a good author yet his I didn't care for some of his issues because even though it's having Constantine wander around the US apart from the odd bit of slang Constantine could've been American which robbed the comic of some of it's spark) I hope this doesn't sound bad but I noticed that you're from the US, maybe it's different for you when films, whether they be adaptations of previous fictions or based on real life events are altered to appeal to you (this is not a criticism of you or other Americans, but a criticism of studios) It can become a bit galling, particularly in the case of a film like U-571 which replaces the heroic actions of British soldiers with the heroic actions of American soldiers and then claims that it's a tribute! Sometimes the alteration works, such as the first Candyman film, no damage was done to the story and the film is very good, of course very little has been added to the story so once again studio bosses don't believe the average American wants to see a film that doesn't have American accents or an American setting. Looking it at it another way, I personally would not be interested in seeing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Street Car Named Desire or Taxi Driver for example redone with a British setting, or a French setting, or any other setting because it would miss the point of the originals. To stop moaning and just repeat the point, the Britishness of Hellblazer no matter where it was set was part of what made it a good comic.
The other issue is more than not liking the altered features of the character or being mean about Keanu. To me the hair (and eyes) were Constantines 'costume' if you like, this is why I say he had an iconic look. The hair was a hang over from his punk days with a slight updating to make him look a little 'spic' like in his shirt tie and trenchcoat. The menace and the threat in his eyes spoke a lot about his personality (of course I believe that far to many of the writers on Hellblazer have reduced him too, a bloke who 'stares') Keanu, as striking as he is does not have the right look, the look embodied the character therefore we're on dodgy ground. As for the character, a film will always have to simplify and reduce, but when an actor has a limited range thne that actor should not be playing a complex character.
Those changes lead me to suspect that Constantine will not do justice to the comic, even if it does it won't really be a true adaptation of the comic. It comes down to one of my main points, why adapt something and then change what works? The changes aren't even their because of the change in medium, just to appeal to the low tollerance of an imagined audience.
In the end though, rest assured that unless the reviews are incredibly bad I'll be seeing the film and as soon as the lights go down I'll clear my mind of all bad thoughts and wait to be entertained.
Sorry for such a long reply to a short comment, hope you read it though and hope you let me know what you think.