Spider-Man We Hardly Knew Ye (Or "Why Hollywood Sucks.")
By Wil Forbis - [Email]
Recently James Cameron of Titanic and Terminator fame announced that after years of trying, he had given up trying to secure the rights to make a live-action Spider-Man film. Hollywoodís elite were understandably disturbed; Meryl Strep reportedly climbed atop the Capital Records building and slit her wrists before being incapacitated by police using methadone bullets. Alec Baldwin, who had been hoping the role of Doctor Octopus could re-inflate his career, locked himself in his bathroom for three weeks and subsisted solely on a diet of carrot juice and toothpaste.
Despite all that hullaballoo, Iím forced to wonder if it isnít all for the best. Letís be honest, comic book characters really donít have a stellar record of being transferred successfully to film or television. It all has to do with the reality encased within the 70 millimeter. The concept of a man swinging around the city in a bright skin tight costume fighting other men in similar costumes is great in on the pages of comic books where suspension of belief holds eternal. But once you see that same image trapped on film the whole thing starts to seem, well... kind of gay.
Sure there have been successes. The Superman films held their own for awhile, until Christopher Reeve found himself being outclassed by a stammering Richard Pryor. The Tim Burton Bat-Man films were, granted, commercial successes, but had very little to do with character from which they were inspired (flaws to be discussed later.) And Stalloneís Judge Dredd was completely lacking in the British Pythonesque wit that powered the comic book, despite itís popularity as a video rental.
Nowhere have comic characters flubbed so brightly however, as on television*. From the campy Bat-Man series of the late sixties, to the faux paus feminism of the 70ís Wonder Woman show, or the more recent attempts at characters such as the Flash and Generation X, television always seems to extract everything cool about a comic and return a dried husk containing only tritisms and schlockiness.
Take the ill-fated 1970ís television show The Incredible Hulk with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. By the time the TV execs got done tinkering, it had been transformed from a stirring Frankenstein story for the atomic age to a series of haphazard plots about an extremely boring white man who turned into a grunting Neanderthal green man sporting a haircut that looked a cat whoíd just been through a car wash. You can almost see Stan Lee pitching the project and the response he must have gotten from the television top hats:
"Okay, as you know the incredible Hulk became the Hulk when Dr. Bruce Banner was..."
"Dr. David Banner."
"We ran the name ĎBruceí past some test audiences and it was determined people preferred the name to ĎDavidí to ĎBruceí almost 178 to 1."
"Uhh... well, okay. As I was saying, Bru... I mean David Banner becomes the Hulk by being exposed to a radiation bomb and..."
No, no, no, that wonít do at all. Recent studies have shown that a sizable portion of Americans actually donít like radiation. We canít use that. Perhaps he could be poisoned and become the Hulk. Or be from another planet."
"Well, the radiation bomb is very important to the Hulk mythology. It symbolizes the..."
"Mmmm, yes, very interesting Mr. Lee. Perhaps the Hulk could actually be an ancient magician who is cursed. Or a man who is part bear."
You can imagine Lee must have walked out of such meetings confident that the job of television executives was to water down and castrate any and all original ideas in the name of "appealing to the masses." So itís no surprise he later became one.
But itís not like the movie world is any less guilty of such offenses. They too canít seem to resist urge to completely revamp a characterís traits and appearance, confident that anything a comic hack created could only be improved by their ability. Take the above mentioned Bat-Man films, for example. One of the key changes was Bat-Manís costume: once a lightweight and ominous gray and black number, in Tim Burtonís hands it became a plastic tribute to the S&M fetish crowd. Kitschy perhaps, but completely worthless when fighting crime. Michael Keaton couldnít even turn his neck for Christís sake, (not the most useful feature if youíre in a vocation where people are always sneaking up behind you.) And Burtonís Bat-Man lost what was perhaps Bat-Manís most endearing and respectable trait: his sheer brutality. The most successful incarnations of the comic Bat-Man spent most of their time beating criminals to bloody, groaning pulps, all the while espousing violence as the only true way to fight crime. The film Bat-Man flopped along, dependent on Bat-gadgets and rubber muscles to enable him to take out his foes. When our heroes are forced to replace violence and hate with wit and James Bondian utility belts I think we need to take a long look at society.
As such, it may not be so tragic that a Spider-Man film will not see the light of day. His glib wisecracks, his arachnid acrobatics belong on the comic page. Once Hollywood gets a hold of him they will do what they do best: drain him of his zest, replace his wit and character a cardboard personality and generally make him fucking retarded. Perhaps the tyrants and Caesar's of Tinseltown can only feel comfortable working with characters as shallow and one-dimensional as themselves. And for that, we can only hope they all die in some hideous car accident with nary a plastic Bat-Man or grunting Hulk around to save them.
(* I will grant television one success: I was enough of a fan of the Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman series, that there were a few nights I actually chose it over The Simpsons.)
Wil Forbis is a well known international playboy who lives a fast paced life attending chic parties, performing feats of derring-do and making love to the world's most beautiful women. Together with his partner, Scrotum-Boy, he is making the world safe for democracy. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit Wil's web log, The Wil Forbis Blog, and receive complete enlightenment.