Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Critic

There are things that annoy me. Like parents who can’t stop talking about their children. Or that guy who sets up shop in a Starbucks and talks, loudly, on his cell phone, about “business.”

And there are things that really annoy me. Like people who watch The Jersey Shore. Or that customer in the bookstore who, while you stand on line behind him, you just know is going to ask the Dumbest Question in the World (which, of course, would be, “what do you think my dad would like?” or some variation of such idiocy).

And then there are things that...well.

We try to keep it clean on the blog, so I won’t say what I want to say. But I’ll definitely get my point across. Likely with a hint of insanity thrown in for good measure.

This past Sunday, I was sitting down, watching what is probably my favorite show on television--CBS Sunday Morning--when I saw a teaser for an upcoming spot on the show. Their film critic, David Edelstein, was going to “take a serious look at comic book movies.”

Cool. That should be interesting.

So I grabbed a Snapple from the fridge and made my way back over to the couch. Now, as any of our regular readers can attest to, I am not what you might call a “positive thinker.” I tend not to ever be disappointed, or to ever have my bubble burst, simply because I expect very little in the way of good things happening.

It’s just my cynical, book editor nature.

Still, with this week’s release of Scott Pilgrim in theaters (an almost universally beloved indy comics series), I thought that maybe--just maybe--someone on TV would have something that’s not condescending to say about comics.

And then I was hit with Mr. Edelstein’s opening:

When I was a cub, I thought to be a film critic you needed a knowledge of film (obviously), art, history, Shakespeare …What I never guessed was that someday you'd need a PhD in comic books. Sorry, "graphic novels."

See what I mean about never expecting anything?

In print, the above skews only a tad condescending, with the term graphic novel in quotes. On television, it was a whole different story. Edelstein dripped with condescension, and with a shrug of his shoulders, he dismissed an entire genre of literature.

Sure, there are comic books--stories about capes and tights and punching--that do very little to stimulate the mind beyond...well, beyond allowing the mind to watch garishly dressed figures punch one another.

But then there are graphic novels, like Watchmen, or From Hell, or The Sandman, or Bone, that do so much more. In the case of Bone, we have a graphic novel that is very much responsible for teaching countless children how to read--and, more importantly, how to enjoy reading.

But, okay. Edelstein went for the easy joke to usher his intelligent, worldly audience into the story. Fine.

Beyond the superheroes, though, there's a kind of comic-book movie that raises fascinating questions. Some filmmakers don't just want to get the content onscreen. They want to reproduce-or translate-the form. Why? I'm not sure.

Edelstein then goes on to demonstrate how reproducing comics on the screen has never worked. And what films does he use as evidence? 1982’s Creepshow and 1990’s Dick Tracy.

To his credit, Edelstein also mentions the more recent Sin City, which was a triumph in panel-to-screen translation, for sure. Of course, Edelstein didn’t like that film, calling it “shallow.”

Which, again, is fine. No qualms when a movie reviewer doesn’t like a movie. That’s the job. But to paint with such broad strokes that comics-to-film adaptations don’t work? And to base that assertion on Creepshow and Dick Tracy? I dunno. Just struck me as ringing kinda false, is all.

Edelstein continues from his preamble to his review of Scott Pilgrim, which he also doesn’t like very much. And he brings up (what I can assume, since I have yet to see the moive, are) valid points about the film. That’s his job. He knows movies.

But then he feels the need to close with the following:

I find something unsatisfying about even thrilling stylized comic book movies. You don't see the world through new eyes; you escape into a childish and hermetically-sealed version of the past. You might get more from hiding under covers reading comics.

Hulk mad.

And it's that "hermetically sealed" line that really gets under my skin.

For the most part, the comics community is incredibly accepting, passionate, and loyal. Fans go to conventions dressed like who-knows-what, and they go to have fun in a judgment free zone. The opposite of "sealed."

And "childish"? Comics shops are havens of creativity--many of today’s best writers, directors, and actors come from a childhood or an adulthood of reading comic books. Comics work has inspired and directly influenced countless films, and novels, and peices of art.

But back to "Hermetically sealed." First off, it’s not hyphenated, because it ends in "-ly." Secondly, shut up. Just shut up. Get off your pedestal, and relax. Comics are fun. Graphic novels are fun. And the people that read them get enjoyment from them.

Plain and simple. Over and out.

Sure, there are those that take fandoms too far, but I’m also pretty sure that extends into film. Star Wars, anyone? Most fans are mild mannered and pleasant and utterly, boringly normal. Some aren’t. As long as they’re not hurting anyone else, who cares?

Sorry. Tangent. Back to the film critic.

Mr. Edelstein’s job is to review films. He should do that; he’s quite good at it. But to go out of his way to bash comics in general in a review of a comic film? Unnecessary, and quite frankly, infuriating.

And with all of the wonderful, beautiful work being done in comics today--and I mean comics, as in superheroes and way, way beyond--the comments ring false. And old. And kind of mean.

Maybe Mr. Edelstein should have gotten more from hiding under covers reading comics.

-- -- --

You can read the whole review right here. And, in case you're wondering, he didn't like The Dark Knight, either.


A Philosophical Nerd said...

I have a lot of history with comic books, myself, though I've bought very few of them. My experience with them has be vicariously through my friends. Really the only comics I've bought have been comics based on science fiction franchises I enjoy (e.g. Star Trek and Sliders).

That being said, the comic book movies I have seen have been, for the most part, great. But that's taking it on its own merits; I'm sure that fans of the comics the movie is based on might not enjoy it as much as I do because comic fans also tend to be pretty sensitive about changes being made in the movie adaptation.

Of course, I say that as a huge Star Trek fan, and Trekkies are also known for their obsession with keeping the status quo the same.

Mr. Edelstein should leave comic book movies alone (since he's apparently ignorant about comic books anyway) and turn his attentions to other Hollywood abominations, such as the countless reboots and remakes they are focusing on due to their lack of creativity.

AJG said...

I was hesitant to write the post, because I didn't want to seem like I was attacking Mr. Edelstein (not that he'd ever read the blog, of course).

As I was saying to Nathaniel yesterday, his review just got under my skin.

It was the typical, easy trope of the socially inept comic fan. By now, you'd think we've shed that image, but I guess not.

And I couldn't agree with you more--all we have now are remakes and old properties. Nothing new. That's the machine he should be raging against.