From Nolan To Beatty: The Comic Book Blockbuster

In today’s blockbuster climate it is proving more difficult than ever to enjoy “superhero” films.  More and more these films seem to be just going through the motions, attempting to cash in on the fad before it dissipates.  If science fiction epics were the hit genre of the late seventies and early eighties, superhero blockbusters are the hit of today.  Sadly, films like Thor, Captain America, Green Lantern, Iron Man 2, Iron Man, Sam Raimi’s Spiderman franchise, and X-Men 3 appear to be cookie-cutter replicas of their predecessors such as X-Men and Batman Begins.  Yet, even these predecessors lack the inventiveness and cinematic style of the original Batman franchise.  At the least, Tim Burton’s Batman provided a blueprint for Batman in the nineties, just as Richard Donner’s Superman The Movie had for the previous decade.

Though these films make for great escapist fare, few rival Warren Beatty’s now often overlooked Dick Tracy.  What Beatty does is successfully translate the atmosphere and style of the comic into cinematic language.  The techniques of montage and high contrast compositions are cinematic hallmarks of the era associated with the classic comic strip.  Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography explodes with the vibrant color that defined the strip.  The great innovation though is in the editing.  To achieve the quick tommy gun pace of the comic, Beatty turned to MTV, and perhaps for the first time legitimized those aesthetics for a summer blockbuster.  The Dick Tracy screenplay doesn’t suffer from a lack of witty dialogue, but rather from a weak plot, a staple of most comic book films, none more painfully so than Christopher Nolan’s sloppy Dark Knight.

So why can’t filmmakers today create a meaningful film from the graphic medium?  Probably for two reasons.  One, the studios that produce these films want them churned out as quickly as possible to sell more merchandise and milk the trend for every penny.  Second, the filmmakers themselves are probably so concerned with lofty cinematic ambition that they confuse and inhibit their own film.  So one is left with two extremes.  Each extreme representing the absolute worse possibilities in the world of studio controlled filmmaking.

Is there an upside to all this?  Not that I can think of.  Eventually, like all fads, this one will fade and make way for a new blockbuster trend.  In the meantime, we’ll just have to wait it out.

-Robert Curry


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