Comic Con? It’d be funny if it wasn’t such a swizz…

July 30, 2010 by Simon Kinnear in Opinion with 2 Comments

Last week, my Twitter feed was bombarded with hyperbole, hearsay and a host of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs,’ as the Comic Con juggernaut ploughed through the Internet en route to delivering a load of shit movies into my local multiplex.

I was going to have a whinge about it at the time, but with too much other stuff going on, it went onto the backburner. Now, however, the excellent Ryan Gilbey has written this smart piece for The Guardian which sums up much of what I was going to write anyway.

That said, Gilbey still leaves unspoken some of the things that really bug me about Comic Con, so I’ve ended up writing the following whinge anyway.

Problem #1: Comic Con isn’t even a movie event. It’s for comics. I know we can no longer get through a Summer without Marvel or whoever raiding its back catalogue for some two-bit superhero who the public at large has probably never heard of, but when did Hollywood become an adjunct to the comics industry?

It’s a queasily symbiotic relationship that’s taken all the fun and surprise out of Summer. Hollywood is choosing properties based less on artistic merit than on brands with a loyal following, who will take on the burden of PR and deliver ready-made hits to the distributors. Conversely, this gives the geeks power, and increasingly they’re calling the shots on what gets made. The Green Hornet. The Green Lantern. The Jolly Green fucking Giant. Were he making the Trois Couleurs trilogy today, Krzysztof Kieslowski would probably be asked to drop one of the traditional Tricolore hues in favour of a more commercial shade.

…and with this power, comes fuck all responsibility. The geeks have one criterion only for what makes a good comic book movie: fidelity to the source. It’s partly why Ang Lee’s odd, artful Hulk was lambasted, whereas 300 – a film with all the identity of tracing paper – was acclaimed. Gone are the days when, say, Spielberg could make sweeping changes to the plot of Peter Benchley’s Jaws, or Orson Welles could adapt a novel without even reading the original book. Today, talented filmmakers actually bring in the material’s creator to co-direct.

Y’know those extended ‘teasers?'(I hesitate to use the word ‘trailer;’ as they’re closer to full-blown industry-standard showreels.) They aren’t just designed to whet the appetite, but to placate the opinion-formers that, yes, this is the comic they love and cherish. These days, if a talented director wants to make a comic book movie, they can kiss your authorial independence goodbye, and that includes Christopher Nolan; excellent though his Batman films are, he’s still pandering to the hardcore mob. Maybe that’s why the online geeks are policing dissent against Inception with such fervour. It’s a favour for not fucking up Batman.

But, really, who the fuck wants to see “eight minutes of footage” or whatever six months in advance? The joy of film is all about context, surely? Without knowing exactly where the characters are, what they’re doing or why, it ends up being “sound and fury, signifying nothing” (which makes me wonder: did Shakespeare have to preview key scenes for the Elizabethan fanboys hanging around outside the Globe during rehearsals. Of course he fucking didn’t.) I don’t want to see the big scenes from the movie in advance, thanks, because it will completely take me out of the narrative experience when I get around to seeing it in full.

But the geeks are happy enough, because they get to enjoy the false sense of ownership from getting to see this stuff first. There’s always an element of that snobbery even in highbrow meat-markets like Cannes (“What ho, Jeeves. I saw the latest Michael Haneke before you, you grotesque plebian scum!”) but at least the old-school festivals have an element of discovery. Comic Con is selling movies you’re probably going to see anyway, and just because the stars get holla’d at by a crowd of geeks isn’t going to make the end result any better.

Next Comic-Con, I’m taking a break from Twitter so I can go and watch a movie I know absolutely nothing about.

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  1. Dave CollingsJul 30, 2010 at 4:41 pmReply

    I do wonder who the geeks are? And specifically where they wield this power? I've certainly read my share of comics and am excited by the potential of CGI meets Green Lantern ring, but I'd never dream to think I could tell someone how to make their film. I don't think it's an opinion to ignore though, as the fanboys may well have a much better handle on what makes a comic book work than your average Joe Suit, but surely it should be the writers job to investigate this and work it into the script as needed/appropriate.

    I used to think I would love Comic Con (a lot more than Cannes), but recently I too am getting a nagging sensation that the event has become something horrible. The corporate boot has come a squashin' and it's simply a hype machine with some stalls. It's part of the slow trickle of information about films that eventually leads, as you've described, to an almost complete lack of surprise when you finally, you know, finally see the film. For example, did anyone really need to see Spiderman 3 to know what happened. And thanks to Empire by the way for informing me who the bad guy is in Toy Story 3.

    It's part of a very wide problem, 24 hour news often means a focus on what might happen next, rather than what did happen. It's not action then reaction, it's become prediction then disappointment. It's all about the slow, big build to not very much.

    I leave you with this snatch of dialogue that I never had once in the queue for Megadude 3.

    Dave: I read something really interesting about this film in Empire.

    Alyson: Really? What was that?

    Dave: I have no idea, I can't remember as it was 9 months ago.

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