Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Miller's Tale

So, we watched "300" on the way out to Colorado. I fell asleep at one point, and it was tough to see the laptop from the back of the bus, so I still feel like I haven't really watched the movie, but it got me wondering about several things:
  1. Why was I the only one laughing? Do other people just not find humor in stilted, artificial dialogue? Not that it was all stilted, mind you, but there were some lines at least as hilarious as "you're breaking my heart" (see: "Star Wars Episode III" or "why George Lucas shouldn't be allowed to write dialogue anymore").
  2. Why is there such a humongous overlap between manly macho films and blatantly homoerotic films? I'm looking at you, "Top Gun."
  3. What is it about Frank Miller that inspires directors to fanatically preserve the integrity of his work? Out of the three recent films based in part or in whole on Miller's work ("Batman Begins," "300," and "Sin City"), two have been panel-by-panel transliterations from comic to screen. Meanwhile, you've got the Wachowski brothers replacing Alan Moore's subtlety with a sledgehammer and changing every major theme (ordinary people may be driven to do terrible things--prostitution, fascism, terrorism; anarchy vs. fascism), and you've got Fantastic Four movies that replace Lee/Kirby creations with space clouds. Why can't other (better) comic creators instill some modicum of the respect (if not the fanatical devotion) that Frank Miller receives?


6 comments:

Matt said...

To a point, I think 300 was just emulating Sin City. Snyder saw what worked and went with it.

Plus, I think the fact that the directors of both of those films seemed intensely interested in having Miller ridiculously involved has something to do with it too.

I think as far as the translation goes, it mostly boils down to the property at hand and the companies involved. With Marvel and DC's main properties, you've got Big Studios going after them (or being shilled them, depending), resulting in the films being streamlined for the broadest audience possible. Sin City and 300, while beloved within the comic book medium, is relatively unknown to the outside world, which means an eager director could feasibly get away with being experimental with the cinematography and style of the picture.

I would blame studio involvement for almost any misstep involving these pictures. That could mean choosing a director who doesn't really have the Sam Raimi-esque love of the medium or by pushing a director into changing the film to make it suit the public better, but I think when you come right down to it it's the suits that screw it up.

Now, personally, I didn't mind Galactus as a cloud so much. It didn't make me happy, but I honestly couldn't think of a way for the filmmakers to put the big guy on screen without making him look ridiculous and taking the audience out of the film.

Also, I think the absurd dialogue for 300 works specifically because of the faithfulness of the translation. All of the noir-ish dialogue from Sin City plays out cool in your head, but comes off kind of stilted when read aloud. If the films had been more "mainstream," it NEVER would have worked.

-M

NeverAsk said...

For me, the ONLY way to watch 300 is with the rifftrax for it. The MST3K crew have a field day with the stilted dialogue (...His spear was pointy. His loincloth was itchy....). They also did good trax for RotS and Top Gun, by the way.

The translation to film seems to go hand in hand with the ease of reading with the source material. Miller's works are mainly visual, with quick, rhythmic narrative that drives you through the story. His comics are like a ride at Disney World: the visuals make up for the loose plot outlined by the dialogue and pre-show. I don't know about you, but Moore's stuff takes a bit more of a commitment to completely understand. It's easier to just boil it down until the result is sentiment rather than true interpretation.

Tom Foss said...

Now, personally, I didn't mind Galactus as a cloud so much. It didn't make me happy, but I honestly couldn't think of a way for the filmmakers to put the big guy on screen without making him look ridiculous and taking the audience out of the film.

That didn't seem to be a concern with the rest of the film(s), though. Nothing takes me out of a film quite as fast as Jessica "Oh dear, I seem to be naked again" Alba.

Incidentally, I think a large part of the reason that the dialogue works in Sin City is because it, like everything else, is part of that noir style that the film's trying to evoke. 300 doesn't have that same rigid sort of established style behind it, and that's part of why it stands out.

I agree, though, that Moore's stuff tends to be more nuanced than Miller's. I even understand that some of that will be lost in the translation to the screen. But there's a difference between "loss" and "wholesale alteration," and I think replacing Moore's anarchy with the more politically correct and socially palatable conformist democracy is the latter. It's not like it'd be box office suicide to endorse that kind of political position--just ask "Fight Club."

Will "Filby" Staples said...

What is it about Frank Miller that inspires directors to fanatically preserve the integrity of his work?

Maybe because Miller's made a place for himself inside the film industry and Moore hasn't? I dunno, it's a good question.

LurkerWithout said...

Directors are afraid that Miller will sneak into their homes and eat their brain meats. TRUE FACT!

Or make them watch Robocop 3 again...

Jason said...

I think that Miller welcomes the worship of the guys who direct his work just as much as Moore scorns it. Miller's way leads to the filmmakers hewing far too close to his books and creating nothing more than animated versions of his comics. Moore's way (apparently) makes the filmmaker want to make the worst film of their career (I kid, I kid, I actually liked V).