Monday, September 5, 2011

Hollywood vs. source material

One thing about Conan the Barbarian (2011) that is not ripe for argument is that the movie was not in any way a direct adaptation of any single Robert E. Howard original Conan story. That is fact. Beyond that all seems matters of opinion. Personally, I felt that even as Howard 'pastiche' it didn't deliver. The setting did not feel to me much like the Hyborian Age. Jason Momoa, as Conan, felt mostly right although even there he might have been closer to the comics' Conan than the Robert E. Howard character. Naturally, any adaptation from one medium to another must make changes to present a successful story. You cannot film a book word-for-word, it doesn't work. You need to adapt. But, there is adapting and then there is "buying a concept at high level and not going any deeper and doing whatever you want."

I know movies are formulaic (I was in a screenwriters group for many years) but Hollywood seems so hung on formulas now that they always seem to believe they know what is better for a story, for getting butts in the movie cinemas. They buy concepts and run (Conan is a brutish guy with a sword in a fantasy setting) instead of examining the finer elements (civilization vs. barbarianism, historical eras lumped together with adventure and sorcery.)

I want to caveat the rest of this post with a big disclaimer - I am no Jonah Hex expert. But, I have read a handful of the original comics via the DC Showcase collection. Last night I caught parts (yes, only parts, not the entire movie - but I'm posting about it anyway) of the movie Jonah Hex and darned if I didn't feel like the same thing had happened to Jonah that had happened to Conan.

Josh Brolin felt like Jonah Hex, from what I saw. But the setting and plot were so far afield from the source material. Jonah Hex, the comic might have been billed as "weird Western" or "strange Western" but in the end, they were always westerns. The "weird" was more like strange murders or hairy hill men who were setup to seem like Bigfoot. I don't know - in the later tales I believe maybe there were more supernatural episodes (or the occasional Batman time-travel crossover) but in essence, they were clearly spawned from the "Man With No Name" Eastwood movies.

The movie took the concept - scarred Confederate bounty hunter - and smushed it into an Wild Wild West (the movie, not the t.v. show) almost-steam-punk extravaganza. Hex armed with a grenade shooting cross bow pistol? Explosions galore. Weird glowing ordinance destroying entire towns. The U.S. President recruiting Hex?

Compare that with the 11 minute short cartoon of Hex DC did direct-to-video, if you can. That cartoon succeeds in 11 minutes where the theatrical movie fails for 81 minutes. Hex hunts a bounty. The bounty has already been killed by a murderous prostitute. She nearly kills Hex. Hex delivers on the payback in appropriately grim fashion.

So, I guess, on reflection, at least Hollywood got a little closer to the source characters on these two movies. But getting the character right doesn't pay off if he doesn't seem to belong in the movie. Next time Hollywood buys on concept alone, maybe they should invest a little more time in exploring what they have.


  1. I'm not a Hex-pert either, I have one graphic novel with 4 tales in it and any one of them would have been better than the movie.

    Sometimes I think Hollywood actually wants to fail.

  2. I was fairly disappointed with Jonah Hex. I'm a fan of the character from the comics and I thought Brolin was OK but didn't care much for the storyline.