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New Escapist Column! On “The Sandman” and the Art of Adaptation…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist yesterday. It’s a big weekend for media releases, and one of those new releases was The Sandman from Netflix, an adaptation of the comic book series from Neil Gaiman.

The Sandman is a remarkably faithful adaptation of the source material, often lifting images and dialogue directly from the comic. However, it’s also an interesting illustration of the art of adaptation as it purtains to ten-episode seasons of streaming television shows. It’s interesting to see how the source material is tweaked and altered to make it fit that familiar template, and what the adaptational choices say about what the streaming service and the production studio want from the show.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Video! “The Sandman is a Reminder of What Made the Comic So Beloved”

I’m thrilled to be launching movie reviews on The Escapist. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be joining a set of contributors in adding these reviews to the channel. For the moment, I’m honoured to contribute a three-minute television review of The Sandman, which is streaming on Netflix now.

215. Dune (#—)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Charlene Lydon and Joe Griffin, The 250 is a weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released Saturdays at 6pm GMT.

So this week, David Lynch’s Dune.

The galaxy is in turmoil. Rumours swirl of a plot against House Atreides. As Duke Leto Atreides takes control of the desert planet of Dune, he tries to track down the traitors in his midst. Meanwhile, his son Paul finds himself on the verge of an awakening that will have a profound impact on the future of mankind.

At time of recording, it was not ranked on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On “Hannibal” as the Perfect Adaptation…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. With Hannibal premiering on Netflix and generating a host of new appraisals and discussions, connecting with a new generation of fans, I thought it might be worth looking at Bryna Fuller’s television masterpiece.

In an era dominated by recycled intellectual property, remakes and reboots, it would have been easy to be cynical about another adaptation of Thomas Harris’ seminal serial killer novels, particularly given how severely the film franchise had degenerated since the triumph of Silence of the Lambs. However, Bryan Fuller used Hannibal as a showcase for a particularly ambitious and inventive approach to adaptation, one that used an existing set of iconography in new and innovative ways. Hannibal was the perfect adaptation of a familiar property, breathing new life into it.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! “Watchmen” and the Limits of Textual Fidelity…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last Friday. With the release of Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen, it seemed appropriate to cast an eye back to Zack Snyder’s cinematic adaptation.

I have a huge amount of admiration for Snyder’s version of Watchmen, even if I don’t think it actually works. It is a Herculean effort to bring the story to the screen, one committed to directly transposing as much of the source material from page to screen, but often without really stopping to think about what the dialogue or imagery actually means. It is in many ways a demonstration of the limits of slavish devotion in adaptation. It is a counterpoint to the argument that all it takes to adapt a major work from one medium to another is literalism.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

“… You Wanna Get Nuts?” The Unique Legacy of Tim Burton’s “Batman”…

Tim Burton’s Batman is thirty years old this year, having opened in Irish cinemas thirty years ago this weekend. It leaves a complicated and underappreciated legacy.

To be fair, at least part of that is down to how the series ended. Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman and Robin count among the worst blockbusters of the nineties and the worst comic book movies ever made. Taken together, they were responsible for killing not only that iteration of the cinematic Batman franchise, but also for effectively killing the superhero as a blockbuster genre until the triple whammy of Blade, X-Men and Spider-Man kick-started it again at the turn of the millennium.

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Non-Review Review: The Lion King (2019)

It’s a very strange comparison to make, but the film that most obviously comes to mind when watching Jon Favreau’s The Lion King is Gus Van Sant’s infamous nineties remake of Psycho.

This is Favreau’s second “live action” adaptation of a classic Disney animated film, even if that descriptor is somewhat misleading. It might be more accurate to describe The Lion King (which was shot entirely in virtual reality) as “verisimilitudinous.” It is designed to approximate “live action”, rather than being live action itself. On that note, the film is a technical triumph. On the level of pure craft, The Lion King is a staggering accomplishment. It is a virtual reality film that is in many ways indistinguishable from reality itself. However, the onion has even more layers to it. It is a virtual reality film approximating the reality while meticulously and faithful reproducing a beloved animated film.

Join the cub.

As such, and much like Van Sant’s Psycho, there is an element of reflexive postmodernism to The Lion King. Both the Psycho and Lion King remakes feel more like conceptual art installations than movies in their own right. They are certainly more interesting as abstract objects than as actual stories. After all, the stories in question were so closely wedded to form and context the first time around that the idea of remaking them so literally and so faithfully seems absurd from a creative point of view. As such, the process of replication becomes intriguing of itself. Both Psycho and The Lion King are incredibly faithful copies that consciously lean into their uncanniness.

Favreau’s Lion King looks beautiful, but largely feels like a limit case. It is a certain approach to modern filmmaking taken to – and perhaps pushed beyond – its farthest extreme.

Pride of the Pridelands.

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Re-“Born Again”: Daredevil, Season Three, and the Limits of Textual Fidelity…

One of the more interesting aspects of the modern boom in geek culture is the increased emphasis on textual fidelity.

Much has been written about the high volume of adaptations, sequels, remakes and reboots that dominate contemporary popular culture. The trend is strong, even among this year’s prestige releases. A Star is Born is the third remake of the film, and there are many more stories besides. First Man is a story that covers well-worn ground, a modern American myth, albeit from a unique perspective. Suspiria is a remake of a beloved cult classic. Widows is an adaptation of a British television series. If Beale Street Could Talk… is taken from a James Baldwin novel.

However, it is also very revealing that so many modern adaptations of beloved properties are very much fixated on the idea of fidelity. “Faithfulness” has become a watchword for these adaptations, not just in terms of easter eggs, but in terms of basic construction. In its own way, this may perhaps be an extension of the emphasis on comic books and graphic novels as a key inspiration for modern blockbusters. Given how many comic book artists also work as storyboard artists in film, it is tempting to treat the source material as a storyboard, to adapt a panel into a still image.

This is an interesting approach, but one which often overlooks the actual act of adaptation as an art of itself. It is not enough to cobble together a film from a collection of familiar static images, and can occasionally lead to a very surreal and uncomfortable disconnect, with a filmmaker lifting very literally from their inspiration while also making something that bears little resemblance to the source material in any non-visual manner. The third season of Daredevil runs into this problem repeatedly, largely as a muddled attempt to bring Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Born Again to the screen.

Note: This article contains minor spoilers from the third season of Daredevil.

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Non-Review Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

The best and worst thing that can be said for Beauty and the Beast is that it beautifully recreates the animated source material.

A lot of love and affection went into Beauty and the Beast. The production design is amazing, a truly stylish blend of physical objects and computer-generated imagery to create something that feels like a hybrid between live action and animation. It is a very skillful blending of two different approaches to film making. On a purely technical level, judged as a mechanical adaptation, Beauty and the Beast succeeds triumphantly. It is a live action fantasia recreation of a beloved animated film.

More than that, Beauty and the Beast works largely because it is so effective an adaptation. Beauty and the Beast scores phenomenally well because it so carefully and precisely translates material that has incredible emotional power. There is a case to be made that the original Disney adaptation is one of the best films in the company’s canon, with some of the best songs and the most memorable set pieces. The live action adaptation ensures that very few of these moments get lost in translation, which lends the movie a compelling weight.

Unfortunately, it is also a reminder that a nigh-perfect adaptation of this version of the story already exists. Beauty and the Beast runs a muscular two-hours-and-six minutes to the animated film’s eighty-two minutes, but that statistic is misleading. The additions are pointless at best and distracting at worst. As a whole, Beauty and the Beast makes the animated original look like a more streamlined take on this tale that cuts a lot of the fat, telling the same story in a way that is at once more concentrated and more concise.

Mirror, mirror.

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Daredevil – The Dark at the End of the Tunnel (Review)

This month, we’re doing daily reviews of the second season of Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

Adaptation is a tricky business.

One of the more interesting aspects of the comic book movie boom that occurred in the years following Blade (although really kicking into gear with X-Men and Spider-Man) has been the discussion over narrative fidelity. It seems like a comic book adaptation is no longer truly judged on its own merits, but weighed against how faithfully it recreates its source material. It is not enough to produce a good superhero film, it is expected that most contemporary production teams should produce a good superhero adaptation.

Trinity.

Trinity.

This would have seemed ridiculous during the nineties. After all, Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns stand as two of the most successful superhero films of the decade, and they are arguably better described as “Tim Burton films” than “Batman films.” There was a point at which Tim Burton was planning to direct his own Superman film that would have been (very) loosely inspired by The Death and Return of Superman written by Kevin Smith and starring Nicolas Cage, a giant spider, and some polar bears.

Largely driven by the success of the Marvel Studios business model, however, it seems that contemporary superhero films and television shows are expected to show their work and to emphasise their connection to the source material.

"Let's turn this town into a warzone. A Punisher: Warzone."

“Let’s turn this town into a warzone. A Punisher: Warzone.”

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