Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What the fuck is Alan Moore's problem?

Alan Moore wrote the illustrated versions of the stories V For Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell, and Watchmen.

He also wrote Miracleman, some issues of Swamp Thing, and the lavish collection Lost Girls, none of which have been adapted in film.

I just got done watching V For Vendetta on DVD. I saw it the theaters, and liked it but never got around to buying the home version. Not too long after watching the theatrical release I bought the DC/Vertigo graphic novel. This was one of the rare times I've watched a film based on a comic property and was NOT familiar with the source material.

A month or so ago I read the graphic novel, enjoyed that, so was inspired to finally pick up the DVD, especially since I was having trouble, from what I remembered of the film, what Alan Moore's issue was with it could be.

Turns out Alan Moore's problem is a problem founded in principle. Based on his previous experience, true, but also because he's a dick.

Alan Moore was utterly disappointed with the film adaptation of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen... which I get. The film was ass. He was also disappointed with From Hell, which I understand less because I'm one of the few people that liked the film, and (as we will see with adaptations of his later work) because I was surprised by how much of his incredibly rich story they actually managed to fit in.

Alan Moore is a great writer. I'm not one of the people who doesn't get it. I don't think the sun shines out his poo-hole like a lot of people do, but I cannot deny his talent. I've enjoyed almost everything of his that I've had the pleasure of running across. He's a master.

Maybe everyone telling him he's a master has not been all that beneficial. He's the ultimate expression of high-caliber talent thumbing his nose at 'commercialism', 'corporations' or something. Now I completely understand all the stanzas in the True Artist's Writ. The lines about not selling out, don't let the suits tell you what art is, don't compromise, don't let the work suffer, the work is your baby... blah blah blah.

DC did not treat Alan Moore all that well. So he left 'em. His prerogative. But he has also dismissed all overtures they've made to make it up to him. They would let him have a lot of money. They would let him do his own projects. They would build him a 50 foot tall baby Jesus made out of chocolate if he wanted it. They'd probably give him a lot of control over film adapatations.

As I understand it, studios have solicited his help on the projects they've done already. But because he didn't like the first two adapatations, he's done the same thing to Hollywood that he's done to the big American comic book company. Turn his back. Just think what Hollywood would offer beyond what DC could if they could get Moore in their camp.

But he won't have it because they don't 'get' him or his work. They'd just water it down, or change shit 'round because the essence is just too deep for the shiny-suited tinseltown types. Sarcastic as this sounds, I sympathise with the root feelings of Moore's disdain. Hollywood can and does schlock the shit out of a lot of properties. Depending on how fanatic a follower you are it might be impossible for Hollywood to do justice to your favorite property. Lord knows the idea of a movie about Elric (a book series whose importance to me is hard to overstate) gives me hives. But being a fundamentally different medium (no matter how cinematic comics are described as being) there is just no way there cannot be, uh, alterations from the source material. Movies are collaborative. While not unheard of for a film to encompass a singular, auteur vision, it is pretty dang rare. Not so in comics. There are generally one or two individuals in American comics responsible for 90% of the work. Moore's vision only has to pass through one person, his artist, on its way to the page. And as controlling as Moore might be it is difficult for me to imagine that SOME of the art didn't turn out differently than what he pictured.

So how dare he forgive his artist for changing his vision. Is every illustrator now some mad hack that was foisted on him? No. So how come the artists get a pass on their interpretation but a filmic treatment with its legions of staff involved gets the finger?

The people working on adaptations of Moore's work probably give their all to stick to the spirit of the work. They may not get it right by Moore's lights, but people want to work on these deep, dense works because they really like them. There is something in his work that makes you consider and feel in a way most writers will never get close to.

It took years for a decent version of Stephen King's work to come out. And that shit is STILL hit or miss. Moore is English, and a wiccan hippie, and despite that he still had good movies coming out for his work by the second or third film!

I've been really surprised (starting with From Hell) in the case of V For Vendetta and Watchmen how much of the story made it in there. With V there was a fair amount of updating and simplifying, but I didn't think A LOT of message was lost. They even kept in a lot of the controversial stuff you'd think Hollywood would be loathe to put up on screen.

And Watchmen. That movie is so spot-on to the graphic novel, the pages are practically the storyboard. Coming out of that movie, I almost felt it was too faithful... which is a really hard thing for me to say considering, as I've labored on about, fidelity is pretty important to me.

But as a fan of both comics and film, I at least have the sense to view each format in its own terms. And in the terms of their respective environments. If you feel like a filmic treatment of your grandiose work needs to show every nuance (and what would be the point of your work still being in print if that was the case), the environment of the entertainment industry posits a miniseries maybe instead of a theatrical release... but of course the budget within which to realize your vision is going to suffer. So what's the lesser evil? Getting look and style close to your work with some simplification? Or the production values suffer (and possibly the number of people that see it), but you leave in more of the intricacies?

I get the feeling Moore wouldn't let Hollywood touch any of his properties no matter what. He isn't the forgiving kind. DC messed up, he doesn't even speak to them anymore. Hollywood fucked up two adaptations, no way can they talk to me about how they could do better on my other stories. While I understand that DC licensed these out because they own the rights, regardless of Moore's wishes... and THAT in itself is a sticking point for Moore, it just seems to me there'd be some merit in Moore trying to involve himself to the degree that he tries to ensure the audience sees as much of what he intended as possible.

No one probably thinks the Harry Potter franchise or the first Twilight movie is a patch on the original works. But those movies are all a damn sight better than they had any right to be considering all the shit Stephen King or Robert E. Howard's work suffered. Not to mention all the horrible comic adaptations. You've got the Batman and SpiderMan movies you've got NOW. They weren't always like that.

If you are an author and you feel 'No way. No way am I going to let Hollywood touch my work.', I respect that. Most authors have no clout with the Hollywood machine and if they sell their work, anything could happen to it. Not so Mister Moore. He has people up to the director level who'd be willing to listen to his points, because he is someone who is universally touted as knowing what the hell he's talking about when it comes to story AND the creative types involved are ON HIS SIDE.

Alan Moore. Alan Smithee. Separated at birth?

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