I always intended to write this column…I swear. It’s just that something I encountered recently forced my hand. How ironic that it was on the website to which I call myself a contributor. Before we discuss just why “Unbreakable” was one of the best movies ever put to film involving comic books, let’s first look at the concept of comic movies and what it means to our little corner of the entertainment world.
Some of the most creative and visionary professionals are toiling away their lives and word processors writing these little things called comic books. They get minimal respect from those outside of their insular industry and their work is approached with an ever critical demeaning eye. They don’t respect us, but on occasion…they will take some of our better (or maybe I should say more marketable) ideas, and splash it on a screen at the local multiplex, providing some strange manner of vindication for our interest in the
four-color realm we know and love.
Perhaps that explains just why fandom sets away with obsessive anticipation at the announcement that one of our little “properties”, one of our little books, is being turned into a movie. I’m not excluding myself from this reaction of course, when I heard they were making an X-Men movie, I said, “Cool.” Spider-Man was announced from Columbia Pictures, and while my enthusiasm regarding this latest foray wasn’t as heightened…I thought to myself, “That’ll be cool.”
But why dammit? Did the X-Men movie in its near perfection alter the enjoyment I find and will always find from the X-Men comic? Hell no. Will the Spider-Man movie change my life? I doubt it. So why am I excited at the prospect of witnessing Marvel’s mighty mutants adorned in black leather and dashing across my local theater screen? I think the main reason, other than it could be great fun is that it suggests that someone is looking at us…finally.
I want the industry to explode back to its previous overblown stature. The days when creators reaped incredible financial benefits and took daily baths in their money bins must return at all costs. From a creative and production standpoint, the industry has never been as fresh, as diverse, or as prepared for the spotlight. The time is now, but in order for this to occur…people have to know we exist. We’ve got to find new ways to attack the mass market, and big budget movies are an appropriate entryway into the throes of mass media. Unless of course….they suck.
The most dangerous Catch-22 folks, because the majority of people involved in the production and conception of comic movies have never read a comic in their life, and when handed a stack for research, can barely suppress a deep chuckle. Comic creators do it for the love, because there isn’t any damn money in it. The big-time producer, the hotshot screenwriter, and the lackluster director are going to receive a huge paycheck regardless. In the case of a popular comics property, that inspires Happy Meal tie-ins and a line of action figures…it’s money in the bank. People are going to get paid, whether the thing is good, whether it’s true to the original idea, and whether we bitch and bitch and bitch about it everyday until our vocal cords fail. It doesn’t matter what we think because we’re lucky the idiots even came down into the nether regions of the comic world to poach from us anyway. This leaves us with one option…grin and bear it.
It’s not in our best interest to take these things too seriously because 90 percent of the time it’s going to be crap and at the end of the day…this shit isn’t real. It’s entertainment, it’s fun, it’s flashy…but it isn’t real. The way people treat it like its gospel, like it’s their whole world, like it encompasses their entire being is frightening. Relax. Get out more. Go fondle a member of the opposite sex. There’s more to life than comic books. Everything doesn’t have to be the best, the most accurate representation, or the most life altering experience you’ve had. Because if you approach this hobby, this interest, as more than that…you will always find yourself disappointed.
And remember that I’m not pretending I’m immune to this behavior. I’ve spent plenty an hour bitching about the lack of quality comic movies and comics-based material out there. Then I fondled a woman and that made it all better. Repeat after me…it’s not real.
I know what you’re thinking by the way. (What the %^$# does this have to do with “Unbreakable“!!?) Patience. Now…addressing the subject of this little self-help speech, what was so bad about “Unbreakable“?
First off, playing the name game, we’ve got Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, two of Hollywood’s prestige, bringing to life the script of the young director who is being compared to the next Spielberg, in the follow-up to the record-setting Sixth Sense. Wait a minute..this thing is about comic books!!? Where the hell did that come from!!?
We’ve just identified the first reason why M. Night Shyamalan did all right.
The entire movie was built around the mythology of comic book lore and no one knew about it until they sat down in the theater and the thing started. There were no toys, no Taco Bell tie-ins, and no desperate plea to be looked at and commented on with wide-eyed appreciation. “Unbreakable” was about comic books and no one was alerted to this fact until it was too late, tickets bought, popcorn leaving a greasy stain of your jeans, and arm securely around a date. Subtlety or deception, I don’t know which, but well played.
The information blurb that proceeded the film came under fire from critics who are in essence too sensitive about their hobby to realize Night’s true point. The words displayed on your movie screen weren’t meant to belittle or embarrass the comic reading public, it was meant to illuminate just how much comic books have become a part of our society to what we know are the privileged few. Look at the damn numbers…did you really feel like an outcast or a social misfit? Personally, I said, “Damn. I didn’t know it was like that.”
Realism was also another draw for me. David Dunn was more concerned with his failing marriage and relating to his son than he was with the possibility that he may be some modern day superhero. Real people have real problems…and most of our books forget that super people can have real problems too. The production was smart and the most touching scenes featured David’s heroic return to his wife, and his son’s emotional reaction to the truth about his father. And the man wasn’t wearing tights when they happened. Subtle, but there.
Mr. Glass’ fanatical respect for the medium was also refreshing. Yes it was exaggerated because he was slightly psychotic, but he believed comics to be an art form. I do, you probably do, but many people probably don’t. How could you not give props to Night for that?
And this is going to sound strange, but I liked the ending of “Unbreakable” from a comics point of view. I’ll admit that after first viewing it…I was a little confused. But the more I analyzed it, the more I realized…how do modern comics end? The hero is triumphant and the villain is left for the police, leaving the hero to move on to the next adventure. Ask yourself again what happened at the end of “Unbreakable” and maybe the answer will reveal itself. It took me a minute before I realized that the movie HAD to end that way. More subtlety.
All I can suggest is that you watch the film again with a different set of eyes. Stop thinking about how it relates to the comic industry and how your hobby is being represented. Take it for what it is. A piece of entertainment that enjoyed several ties to comics. Not the gospel. Not the last hope for us all. Not the ultimate vision. Just a story. You don’t like it, watch something else. Or just go fondle a member of the opposite sex until your negativity is quelled.
Next time: Returning to a place I’ve never been….San Diego. Comic-Con International. Marvel Comics Talent Search.