Monday, April 5, 2004

Speaking of comic book adaptations, Hellboy manages to not disgrace its source but neither does it quite capture what makes the books so special. My guess is that a $60 million budget is partly to blame though Del Toro was also not the ideal choice for director as his haphazard (to be kind) work on Mimic and Blade II shows. The movie equivalent to the books would be closer to a B-movie story with stylish visuals; think Ulmer’s The Black Cat but with Nazis and Lovecraft. The other casualty from the budget is that so much emphasis on blockbusterdom means that the books’ hauntingly evocative recreations of old legends had to go. Audiences want chills, thrills and a bit of romance, not cryptic and unsettling glimpses of their own mortality. As it stands, the finished film is fun but not much more. I couldn’t help but think what it might have been if a stronger screenwriter had been brought in as collaborator (though I have no idea who worked on it uncredited) or similarly a director on the level of say Terry Gilliam (who shares Del Toro’s taste of outdated machinery) or Tsui Hark or just imagine Jean Rollin.

(One trick that’s used frequently in comics but inexplicably rarely in movies is references to the past and a deeper world. For instance, in the Hellboy comics somebody might mention how this reminds them of that incident in Bulgaria in 1982 or they might laugh about something Hellboy goofed up while in the Andes. That’s not only true-to-life but solidifies character and setting to put it in Screenwriting 101 terms. It’s also not uncommon for there to be details in the background for the same purpose. Maybe movie studios are afraid to alienate viewers who might think they’ve missed an earlier film or maybe they just think viewers are so dumb this will just confuse them. And for all I know that could be true; they have the marketing research so it must be right. But just think of the mileage that Men in Black got out of its busy backgrounds, or the moment in Predator 2 where geekdom collectively brainmelted when seeing the Alien skull on the wall.)