“A History of Violence” screenwriter Josh Olson probably won’t be collaborating with “Transformers” director Michael Bay anytime soon.
During a closing-day Comic-Con panel about the art of adapting comics to the screen, Olson asked who in the audience had seen “Transformers 2.” When a few people applauded (and some actually whooped), Olson told the people sitting next to those making noise to smack them. “You guys are why movies are so hard to make,” he said, adding, “There’s an audience out there that is big, loud and dumb. … The more you keep feeding these monstrosities, the harder it gets to do good work.”
Olson was joined by David Hayter — who tackled adapting “Watchmen,” often called the Moby Dick of comics, as well as the X-Men features — and DC Comics creative affairs exec Gregory Noveck, whose job it is to serve as the liaison between the comics publisher and Warner Bros. in adapting DC titles. As Noveck put it, while there are several valid versions of Batman that have been put on screen, “What you want to avoid is the Joel Schumacher interpretation of Batman,” alluding to the director of the critically dismissed “Batman Forever” and “Batman & Robin.”
Hayter (apparently still recovering from the previous night’s “Watchmen” director’s cut event) was slightly more diplomatic, saying that when pitching a movie to studio execs, “Really what they want to know is, ‘How do we sell this film?'” He also noted that with strong material that’s already bonded with a sizable audience such as “Watchmen,” the primary goal should be “not to screw it up.”
The art of adapting comics is far from a mere academic pursuit. Indeed, as the industry makes the transition from widely recognizable properties like Superman and Spider-Man to such lesser lights as Green Lantern and Thor — as well as various projects being done for TV on a less ostentatious scale — the question of how to deal with the source material respectfully while ensuring that projects remain broadly commercial is the 64-million-dollar (and then some) question.
Still, as Olson noted, not all adaptations — or if you prefer, transformations — are created equal.