Greatest Comic Book Adaptations
#35 – Tank Girl
Directed by Rachel Talalay
The post-modern, pop-culture-obsessed British cult comic strip created by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin became quite popular in the politicized indie counterculture zeitgeist as a cartoon mirror of the growing empowerment of women in punk rock culture. Posters and t-shirts began springing up everywhere, including one especially made for the Clause 28 march against Margaret Thatcher’s legislation. It became so popular that there were weekly lesbian gatherings called ‘Tank Girl nights.”
This is one of those peculiar movies which you either love or hate. Lori Petty (Point Break) does a nice job in the title role and Malcolm McDowell is fun to watch as the chief baddie. Visually, while the movie’s post-apocalyptic set pieces aren’t terribly interesting, it does have a few interesting twists, such as mutant kangaroos and a Busby Berkeley musical number. Also, there is original comic artwork by creator Jamie Hewlett popping up between the action (cutting down on the costs of creating huge explosions and fight sequences), and the rock-and-rap soundtrack, supervised by Courtney Love, invigorates certain scenes and blends nicely with the visuals.
#34 – Dick Tracy
Directed by Warren Beatty
The long-running comic strip, created by Chester Gould, made its debut on October 4, 1931 in the Detroit Mirror and was eventually distributed by the Chicago Tribune. Chester Gould introduced a raw violence to comic strips, reflecting 1930s Chicago and did his best to keep up with the latest in crime fighting techniques, forensic science and advanced gadgetry to aid Tracy in tracking the bad guy down. It has been suggested that this comic strip was the first example of the police procedural mystery story and at the time, the “whodunit” plots were relatively rare in comic strips.
Some critics claimed Beatty’s film over-romanticized Chester Gould’s grittier, harsher comic strip, in which the criminals were depicted as narrowly conceived monsters and Tracy as an unflinching, square-jawed one-dimensional private eye. Be it true or not, Dick Tracy is an entertaining film and the long-gestating project is a labor of love which received seven Oscar nominations. It’s a spectacular movie with sharp editing, lavish imagery, opulent costumes and stunning set pieces courtesy of production designer Richard Sylbert and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, who rose to the challenge of adapting the look of the comic by using extensive matte paintings for the set instead of real city backdrops. Warren Beatty, the producer, director and star of the film also deserves much credit. Beatty makes a fine Tracy, playing him as a low-key, old-fashioned all-American hero. In addition to him headlining is the star-studded cast of Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino), 88 Keys (Mandy Patinkin), Flattop (William Forsythe), Itchy (Ed O’Ross), Pruneface (R.G. Armstrong), Mumbles (Dustin Hoffman), and Charles Durning as the police chief. Al Pacino plays Big Boy right – hunched and beady-eyed. Pacino’s abrasive scenery chewing gives the picture a jolt of energy as Jack Nicholson did for The Joker.
#33 – The Crow
Directed by Alex Proyas
The series was originally written by James O’Barr as a means of dealing with the death of his girlfriend at the hands of a drunk driver. Inspired by such diverse sources as the works of French poets George Bataille and Anton Artaud, the music of punk artists Ian Curtis and Iggy Pop, and the stories of Lewis Carroll and Edgar Allan Poe, James O’Barr conceived the character of The Crow as a supernatural force driven by equal parts of love and revenge. The Crow series was later published by Caliber Comics in 1989, becoming an underground success, and later adapted into a film by the same name in 1994. Three film sequels, a television series and numerous books and comic books have also been subsequently produced.
Brandon Lee died making this supernatural revenge movie, and, after the lawsuits and distribution problems, it was a box office sensation. The Crow is black valentine – a wildly romantic vision of the power of pure love to overcome all obstacles–even death. Although it is not a groundbreaking movie like some people have claimed, it is a genre film of a high order and a product of its time, with its high-decibel soundtrack featuring Motorhead, Stone Temple Pilots, Jesus & Mary Chain and Nine Inch Nails. Visually, it’s a treat. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski set new standards when adapting the graphic novels’ visual style. Filled with dark, lurid energy, The Crow is an action-packed visual feast that also has an unforgettable performance of the late Brandon Lee. The decision to tell the story, at least in part, from the perspective of young Sarah (Rochelle Davis) was a smart decision. By utilizing her point-of-view, The Crow not only attains an emotional level that it would not otherwise have reached, but it helps open the film to a wider audience. The film that killed and immortalized its star still packs a significant punch even when it descends into predictable action film cliches.
#32- Tales From The Crypt (1972)
Directed by Freddie Francis
The film was actually adapted from a paperback edition of the famous comic book. The story sees five strangers who, while lost on a tour of old English catacombs, wander into a meeting with a strange man in a hooded cloak who proceeds to tell each of them their unpleasant fates.
One of the best Amicus films, and also one of the greatest horror-anthology films ever made, Crypt was arguably the inspiration for George Romero and Stephen King’s Creepshow. Like all horror anthologies, not all the stories are great but the first and third segments are first-rate stories, and the ending of the fifth is a classic revenge scenario that plants the cinematic seeds for dozens of copycats to come. Crypt boasts lively direction, terrific performances (especially from Peter Cushing) and a heavy dose of black humour. Director Francis is quite possibly one of the five best horror filmmakers to come out of Britain alongside Alfred Hitchcock. His work in Tales is especially memorable, giving each story a lurid, comic book feel without ever being completely campy or silly and his straight-laced approach that permeates each story makes it much more effective. The film was hard to track down for years but has recently been released (uncensored) on a double-bill with another Amicus film, Vault of Horror.
#31- Ghost World
Directed by Terry Zwigoff
Written and illustrated by Daniel Clowes, Ghost World was originally serialized in issues #11 through #18 of Clowes’s comic book series Eightball, and was first published in book form in 1997 by Fantagraphics Books. A commercial and critical success, it was very popular with teenage audiences on its initial release and developed into a cult classic. The darkly written comic, spotted with intermittently somber explorations of friendship and modern life has become renowned for its frank treatment of adolescence. The comic’s success led to a movie adaptation of the same name, released in 2001.
The film succeeds where the comic at times fails by giving us characters we can actually care about. The strange satirical black comedy ranks among the most insightful coming-of-age movies ever made. It’s so ferocious, witty and savvy that both sophisticated moviegoers and intelligent teenagers will find it irresistible. The film offers interesting characters, smart dialogue, biting satire and a great cast which includes Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi. Terry Zwigoff, who brought us the brilliant portrait of cartoonist R. Crumb in the documentary Crumb does a fantastic job in adapting the characters to the big screen. The magic of Ghost World doesn’t lie in its resolution because Zwigoff doesn’t offer any. Instead it lies within the clever dialogue and in its lingering images of a lonely, misunderstood girl.