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Will Sin City Teach Hollywood a Lesson?
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Will Sin City Teach Hollywood a Lesson?

By - Posted Mar 31, 2005

Frank Miller, the man who managed, somehow, to make Batman darker, the man who wrote Elektra when she was a character to be reckoned with, the man who fused the ideas of manga and hard-boiled crime novels into the stunning chiaroscuro work that is Sin City--well, he's a bit of a maverick.

Similarly, Robert Rodriguez, who directed Spy Kids and El Mariachi, has always been a Hollywood renegade. He shot El Mariachi on his own for pretty much nothing and somehow got a studio to release it, to great success. He edits (and often scores) films in his garage in Austin. He put Quentin Tarantino in a movie...as an actor.

Two men who do things their own damn ways. And the movie Sin City, based on Miller's graphic novels and co-directed by Rodriguez and Miller, is just another example of their unwillingness to do things the way they "should" be done. Rodriguez told the Director's Guild to kiss his ass when they told him he couldn't list Miller as the co-director of the film.

But perhaps more astonishing than that, Rodriguez decided to do something no director of a comic book-inspired movie has ever done before--he made a movie that stays true to its origins. Crazy true, actually. Rodriguez and Miller used the graphic novels as storyboards and kept the mostly black-and-white look, the off-kilter dialogue, the pitch-black tone and intense violence.

Never has there been a more perfect translation from comic to movie. But you have to wonder, why? Why does Hollywood feel it has to tinker with established material so much?

The studios would probably come back with the answer that "Comics and films are different, and what works in one may not work in another."

Yeah, okay. That could explain why, say, in the Spider-Man movies, Peter naturally generates the webs he slings, unlike the comic character, who had web shooters he wore on his wrist that needed to be replaced now and then (current continuity Spider-Man just recently changed to have natural web-slinging abilities, but this is very new and most likely influenced by the movies). It's totally understandable that the movie didn't need that type of item, 'cause then they'd have to spend time explaining it, include scenes of him inventing the web gunk, running out at the wrong time, etc., and that's just not a very good use of time, movie-wise.

But that does nothing to explain, oh, let's say, Catwoman, which basically keeps the name and nothing else from the character's comic origins. They changed pretty much everything--the character's secret identity, her occupation, her temperament, how she came to be Catwoman. Then, to top it off, they put her in one of the most giggle- and barf-inducing outfits in the history of cinema or comic books. So, why even call it Catwoman? Why pay the royalties to DC? Just call it Pussywhipper or something, since it's all made-up crap that has nothing to do with Catwoman, anyway.

Not many comic-based movies are as flagrant in their disregard for the history of the character as Catwoman, but the issue still remains--Hollywood buys the rights to properties for a reason, and you'd think that reason was that the properties were solid in the first place. Not satisfied, however, the studios then mess with the ideas and characters so much that the fans aren't really happy and Joe Average moviegoer is unimpressed, thinking the comic book source material couldn't have been very good in the first place. No one wins, and the movies rarely find an audience.

A deeply unscientific study conducted by me in the last five minutes confirms that when moviemakers stay truer to the source material, and take at least inspiration for the storylines from the comics themselves, the movies do better. The X-Men movies? Aside from the ridiculous black leather outfits, pretty close to the comics. And whattaya know, decent box office. The Spider-Man movies? Really, really close to the comics, and huge money-makers. Even the Superman movies follow the pattern...err...the first two, anyway.

The opposite coin--The Hulk, Daredevil, Elektra, Supergirl, the last two Superman movies, two and a half of the Batman movies--these flicks stray significantly from the books and characters they were inspired by, and they ended up failing artistically, financially, or both.

The hope, the dream, for comic book fans everywhere, is for Hollywood to figure all of this out. If Sin City's early buzz is any indication, they're about to get the biggest and best evidence ever that respecting the source material, even when that source material is "just a comic book", will actually translate into better movies and bigger box office. Let's hope that Miller and Rodriguez, two rebels who do things the right way, not the easy way, will teach Hollywood a lesson the only way it can be taught--with lots and lots of ticket sales.

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