Transitions from graphic novels to movies have one inherent difference as compared to those from novels. While written works leave directors with leeway in terms of visuals, a graphic novel already has set visuals. The director, then, has to grapple with balancing his own vision, the writer’s, and the view of fans. Graphic novel writers (and fans) can be an unforgiving lot, when it comes to judging on-screen adaptations of their work. That being said, such movies are quite a vision to behold with their other-worldly effects and at-times dystopian and disturbing storyboards.
Take for example, the James McTeigue-directed V for Vendetta, starring Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving of ‘Agent Smith’ fame. This 2006 film is a favourite of quite a significant number of people. The movie is set in a Britain of the future and deals with a political terrorist, known only as V, and how he goes about subverting a totalitarian government. However, inspite of being a well-made film, it seems inferior to the original. Alan Moore- the creator of V for Vendetta, a genius in his own right, disagreed with much of the movie, and, if one were to read his original, it is hard not to see why. It does not do justice at all to the theme of anarchy that is so central to the graphic novel. Instead, a revolution-like feeling seems to serve as a convenient substitute. The makers of the movie also seemed to take the story away from the original setting and place it in a time-frame conducive to present movie-goers’ tastes. They also took themes from war troubles involving the USA to put the film in a place that isn’t too far removed from the present. While all this made sense in the film itself, McTeigue’s work seems incomplete because of it. This is a perfect example of why film adaptations don’t always work out.
On the other hand, there is the 2009 screen adaptation of another of Moore’s works, Watchmen. The original is a huge vision of a world with an alternate version to ours, including the end of the Vietnam War, and consequently, a completely different setting. The graphic novel is full of dystopian themes, but ends with hope; similar, in a sense, to V for Vendetta. There is a Cold War on the brink of turning hot; there are murders, rapes and conspiracies; megalomania reigns supreme. While Moore himself is critical of any attempts to translate graphic novels onto the cinema screen, I think this one is a pretty good effort. Directed by Zack Snyder, the movie to a large extent is faithful to much of the original. Additionally, the makers released an animated feature of Tales of the Black Freighter, a comic book within the original that serves as a counterpoint to much of what is happening in the story. The danger of such a movie is that it does not do much by itself in terms of creativity, an issue that is completely opposite to the one posed by V.
For a sample of what imagination can do to real events, there is 300, written originally by Frank Miller in the ’80s. The story is based on the Battle of Thermopylae, fought between the Persian and the Spartan armies. A heroic tale of epic proportions, it tells the story of how 300 brave Spartans fought against a million invading Persians. Honour, valour, treachery, political intrigue, hubris – all find their place within the story. Extremely macho and in parts full of clichés, the graphic novel, and Zack Snyder’s 2007 movie version, are not for the peace loving or the politically correct. Persians have been treated as pretty much barbarians, and the Athenians are referred disparagingly as ‘boy-lovers’. With Miller as an advisor aboard the project, the movie is surprisingly loyal to the original in form and style: the movie was shot using blue-screens to stay as stylistically true to the original as possible. The results are at times breath-taking, with some scenes replicated exactly as in the graphic novel.
So, what exactly is the point of such comparisons? First, Alan Moore is a disturbed genius. Second, graphic novels are grossly underrated works of art. Third, making movies out of graphic novels definitely isn’t the easiest job in the world. You’ll either end up making the artist unhappy, or the critics will pan it for being a copy job, or it’ll end up being a flop. If all this didn’t deter the above three movies, and more, from being made, I don’t see why that should stop directors from going ahead anyway.