Look, you guys are business people; you’re here to make money. I get that. You see a product that’s a couple decades old, the people that liked it are now at an age where they have disposable income (and kids to buy tie-in products for!)
So you find an IP and you want to make a movie about it. And therein lies the problem. It’s not good enough to grab the initial audience, which is often a niche audience to begin with. No! You want to appeal to the masses. And, in doing so, you have time and time again, watered down the source elements and stripped away defining features in an attempt to give your product mass appeal.
What you usually seem to succeed in doing is creating a product that fails to appeal to its original audience because it isn’t anything like what they remember, and fails to bring in any new fans because, let’s be honest: they weren’t familiar with the source material, and weren’t likely to care about any adaptations in the first place.
I’m looking at you, Jem and the Holograms.
You too, Dragonball Evolution.
To be fair, DBE actually gets a fair number of major plot points and characterizations right, it just places them in a garish environment nothing like the source material. It’s also guilty of another (generally, I guess, more profitable) mistake: the unneeded origin story.
Take for instance, several popular superheroes. Superman, Spiderman, and Batman are all in the public’s conscious. Superman crash-lands to Earth as a baby, Ma and Pa Kent teach him to be the perfect boy scout, he becomes a reporter in Metropolis and a superhero as well. Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive(ish) spider, his uncle gets killed, he becomes a freelance photographer, and a superhero. Bruce Wayne’s parents are killed, he goes on a bat-shit (lol) crazy training regimen, uses gadgets to (as a superhero) defeat villains in the most terrifyingly non-lethal ways possible. We know these stories; we don’t need to keep seeing them.
What Batman Begins did right was, it gave us an origin story that stuck to the original facts but built onto it new and exciting ideas and angles. Batman Begins makes excellent usage of Ra’s al Ghul, an otherwise B-list villain, and ties him into the whole mythology in a fascinating way.
But wait, you say. DB ISN’T part of the American consciousness. Well, that’s exactly my point. Americans who like Dragonball are way more into Dragonball Z than they are into Dragonball. A DBZ movie was the only one anyone really wanted. But wait again, you say! The people who haven’t seen DB or DBZ are going to NEED that origin story!
No, because as I already said, they didn’t care about the source material in the first place and were unlikely to see an adaptation of it anyway.
Meanwhile, IDW’s Jem and the Holograms comic book is well-acclaimed and seems to be doing fairly well as far as I can tell. And surprise, surprise, it’s staying fairly true to the source material.
Now, on the flipside, we do have another issue.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is based on an independent Canadian comic book, and for condensing six volumes of work (one of which wasn’t finished at the time) into a feature-length movie, it does so remarkably, faithfully well and is even critically acclaimed and now considered a cult movie.
Alas, it made only about three quarters of its cost back in ticket sales. I can’t say, overall, whether or not the movie has pulled a profit in the long run. But I bought the DVD and later the Blu-Ray; I bought the excellent tie-in game that in its own right is a wonderful throwback to River City Ransom. I bought the graphic novels, then I re-bought them after they were remastered in color. I bought into the entire franchise, one that I didn’t even know existed until a friend, who was already a fan, made me watch the movie.
THAT’S how these things grow.
I really, really, really hate to use Michael Bay as a positive example in this situation, but let’s talk Transformers for a second. While it’s true that Transformers never really went away, its popularity has waned for years and it hasn’t been part of the mainstream since the 80’s cartoon (arguably, since Beast Wars, but I do not consider myself a fan of that iteration.)
While I’ve never managed to make it through Revenge of the Fallen sober,
the movies do manage to portray the grandeur and spectacle of giant fucking robots fighting each other in the middle of fucking surburbia in a way the cartoons could only try. And, the movies did not shy away from the occasional minutiae and trivia that only hardcore fans would get.
She was a Pretender.
What those movies failed on was story and character. To say that they didn’t embrace the source material at least conceptually is a lie, in my opinion. And, you know what? When I went to see the first movie, I did so with three people who wouldn’t have gone otherwise accept to accompany me.
Now it’s true that we’ve always had bad movies based on cartoons and toy franchises and what not. Masters of the Universe took a bizarre Beastmaster 2 angle and had the majority of the movie take place on *yawn* Earth rather than He-Man’s fantasy world of Eternia. The cartoon had only ended two years prior; there wasn’t even time yet for it to become nostalgic. Although, to be honest, I think this was more of a budget issue than anything else. Now a decent budget can at least get you some good CGI or a nice, fantasy-esque place to shoot at.
Back to my original point, however, we’re facing two more of these (in America, at least) niche franchises that have rabid followings…and nobody else knows squat about them…that are being turned into movies by American film studios, and already the problems are stewing.
The first is Ghost in the Shell, which has already received a hugely backed petition to remove Scarlett Johansson from the lead role of Major Motoko Kusanagi. It’s not a knock against Ms. Johansson, but rather a plea to not only stay true to the source material, but to give Asian roles to, you know, Asian actors and actresses.
Secondly, we have the AKIRA movie, which went from being a dead project to now being a planned trilogy. I haven’t heard what the current plan is, but the original was to “set it in New York and rename all the characters.”
These are both stories that explore transhumanism and the changes to personal freedom and privacy that can occur when public security becomes extremely difficult to maintain. In AKIRA, the issue is that the government is corrupt, crime is high, and civil war is breaking out in the form of domestic terrorism; in Ghost in the Shell, there’s some corruption as well, but one of the main angles is that once the human brain becomes a [hackable] computer, the nature of crime itself becomes all the more insidious and difficult to detect and prevent.
Oh, did I mention that both of these franchise are written in a way that, at least partially, embodies and tries to deal with post-World War 2 Japanese issues that don’t really make sense when the stories are placed in another nation or the characters are no longer Japanese?
I’m not saying don’t make these movies, I would love to see good movies made of both of these (and many other) franchises, as I am a huge fan of both (and others.) I understand that adaptations require change, and that there is no way to please every person or to make even a single person happy with every change.
But, that’s kind of the point. Make these movies, but make them for me. Make them for the fan. Don’t try and make it for the guy who didn’t care in the first place. That’s just fucking stupid.
It’s very difficult to make something niche, un-niche. Even though the comic book movie boom seems to prove otherwise, it doesn’t. We may not all read comic books, but America loves superheroes.
Please. Just think, for once.