Thursday, March 23, 2006

More of Moore

I've thought about my previous post regarding Alan Moore and the movie version of V for Vendetta. I believe some clarifications are in order.

First, I kept referring to Moore's cinematic writing, which might seem to be inappropriate, as we tend to think of the art - the drawing - as the cinematic part. This would've been correct, had Moore's writing style been different. An Alan Moore script includes everything we will see: the position of the characters in the panel, the POV, what the characters do, what they look like when they do it; making the artist less of a creator and more of a deployer.

For example, this opening panel from the (unpublished) Nightjar script:

"Two tiers of three frames each with all the frames the same size, then a narrow strip along the bottom with frame seven quite small and frame eight being the title logo. If you've got a better idea then please don't feel intimidated by all this junk - just go ahead and do what you like.

First of the six flash-back frames that form the opening sequence. I'm still quite fond of the idea of maybe using some different medium for these first few panels to give them a different look. If you're doing the rest of the strip using a half-tone maybe you could do these frames in pencil? Just a thought... This first frame shows a view of an overgrown and untended terraced garden, looking towards the peeling back door which is opening towards us showing a rectangle of darkness within. Someone unseen is opening the door from inside - we can see his fingers clasped round the edge of it. The garden is deathly still, maybe just a couple of insects droning somewhere. There's junk everywhere - bricks, pram wheels, tin bath, plant pots - I want to give the impression of a frozen instant, like something out of an old photograph album. As an almost subliminal detail there is a small bird swooping low over the garden, it's shadow falling neatly beneath it. We have caught it at one split instant of it's flight. It'll be gone by next frame.

So yes, we are basically talking about much more than just the writing/narrating/plotting. This style places the writer in the role of scriptwriter, director, and actor, while the artist is the cameraman, set designer and "puppeteer" of the actors. It's a writing style which has become synonymous with Moore, and at times is even referred to by name.

Second, I am well aware that movies are not made for the sole reason of realising a story in another media. I mean, I'm sure Kubrik's main reason for creating "The Shining" was to reimagine Stephen King's horror story in cinematic tools, but to his producer, and that producer's boss and so on, the main reason was "Successful book by famous writer + famous director = Mucho $$". Movie licenses cost money, and a director/writer/producer can stand in a Hollywood studio and scream till he's blue in the face about the innovative qualities of the original piece and the cinematic breakthrough that the adoption will be, but the guys with the money only care about whether the original's name will sell tickets, and whether the adoption will be marketable enough for them to shill out the dough for the license.

This is partly the reason why Alan Moore's Magnum Opus, The Watchmen, still rolls around unproduced. A complex book that always been more critically than commerially acclaimed, and no real way to make it into a 90-120 minutes movie without losing either the comic fans (for being unfaithful to the original), or the movie-goers (for being too complex and heavy), or, more likely, losing both.
I think this is also the reason why V for Vendetta was made into a movie. I've no idea on how successful was the comic book, but the movie equation is golden with script written by the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix), and featuring Natalie Portman. Add a dark, gothic atmosphere and recent success of comic-book movies, and you have a seller. Sadly, not the seller I'm looking for.

Finally, I think my point regarding the cinematic qualities of V for Vendetta being the exact element that would make it a bad movie wasn't explained fully. I'll leave the overall concept, which was detailed in the previous post, alone, and focus on the key elements that "make" the comic book and would break the movie.

V for Vendetta has a very strict format. The story was seperated into 3 volumes, which are made of 3-4 issues, each issue split into 3 episodes. There are visual - monochrome, full page - separators between every episode, issue and volume, which help set the tone, like some grave, monolithic bookends. The plot develops accordingly, the internal and external narrative progresses accordingly. This almost beckons a movie trilogy, separated into acts and scenes in correlation with the segmentation of the comics. Any attempt to make it into one 2 hour movie forces some serious cuts to be made, damaging the story.

The panel narrative is built by short action scenes. Character enters room, waking woman, CUT to detectives brainstorming on computer, CUT to character and woman talking, CUT to police officer being informed, CUT to detectives talking, CUT to character saying goodbye to woman, leaves room and is stopped by policeman. (I'm leaving the actual details to limit the spoilers). The pacing of the panels, their positions, how many panels for each scene, etc. Those were created with the idea that the action will be read and viewed by a comic book reader, not on a screen. To adopt this to a movie would demand two things; either maintain the pacing of the action, and kill the scene, or ignore the original and "reimagine" the action (which would probably kill the scene...)

The comic book format offers some unexpected advantages. It's a silent film, and Moore takes full advantage of it. There is no background music to dictate the tone, for instance, but more than that, there is only as much "sound" as the writer allows us to experience. The above scene ends with the death of one of the characters, and the whole fight between the two is fast and silent (no sound effects like "Pow!" or "Wham!" etc.), the dying character looks at us with what is obviously a terrified shriek, made even more terrifying by the lack of sound. Just think of watching the same scene in the movie, and there is no sound. No music, no voices, nothing. Wouldn't have the same effect. On the contrary.

Superman's origin has been told about 4-5 times already (not including the changes forced by the Crisis and Zero Hour); Batman's origin was told about 3-4 times as well. The X-men were "rebooted" about 3 times, not including the "ultimate" version and similar projects. All of DC/Marvel characters have a history full of retold, retconned, reimagined, rebooted and rephrased stories told over and over again by dozens of different writers and drawn by dozens of different artists. In this view, the movies are just another link in the chain.
V for Vendetta was told once. Start to finish. It was drawn once. There was only one artist drawing it. This isn't "yet another version". So why make it?

There is an ounce of vanity to creating such a movie. A writer/director taking on themselves to create such a movie don't usually think "I will humbly deliver the genious of Alan Moore to the masses", but rather "I love this story, bet I can make a hell of a movie out of it", which roughly translate to "I can do this better". This doesn't fit the Wachowskis, whose breakthrough project was a philosophicalhilospohical mash-up full of narrative holes (which they attempted to plug with CGI effects and martial arts scenes) that failed to hold one movie, not to mention three. Any shred of actual, solid, cinematic quality was thrown to the four corners of the earth with the two bloated sequels which did nothing, told nothing, went nowhere, and cost gazillion of dollars to do it. There are some good directors/writers who are probably more capable of "doing it better". Terri Gilliam comes to mind. Tim Burton, perhaps. Johnny Depp as V would probably be perfect, and might give enough of his own interpretation to make us forget the original V, one of comic books greatest anti-heroes. Just for reference, Evey, a 16-year-old girl, is played by the 25-year-old Natalie Portman. There's a scene where Evey is supposed to fool another character into thinking she is less than 15. I just don't see that happen here.


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