Thursday, August 10, 2000

Hollywood rarely does justice to favorite stories

There are some movies that just shouldn't be made.

Everyone has that special thing they want to keep just the way it is. For me, it's usually a book. But I suppose it could also be a television show from the past or a classic movie - anything you have special memories of. Whatever the case, Hollywood's vision never seems to equal your personal vision.

Hollywood seems to be picking on my memories lately. Most notably, filming has begun on the first installment of my all-time favorite, J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings." I've watched the developments on the Internet with mingled interest and reluctance. So far, it looks promising. Director Peter Jackson has sworn to stick close to the original, but already he's deviated from it in a couple of ways. Such is the way in Hollywood.

The job of producers and directors is to put people in theater seats. In the process, they generally weaken good stories with cheap sensationalism. For some perfect examples, let's take a look at some of the movies derived - and I use the term very loosely - from the works of my other favorite author, Edgar Allan Poe.

I don't recall ever seeing a film based on Poe's work that stuck closely to the original. As much as I like Vincent Price, his Poe films are the key offenders.

Poe's tale of a prisoner of the Inquisition wasn't good enough for a screenplay of "The Pit and the Pendulum." Instead, Hollywood had to turn it into the story of a jealous husband seeking revenge on his adulterous wife and her lover. Where did that come from? And how about "The Masque of the Red Death?" It's an already eerie tale that could have been transformed into a wonderful film. Instead, some genius decided it would be that much better if he injected some satanism into it. Huh?

But the Price films aren't the only ones to butcher Poe. I won't even get started on the Hollywood version of "Morella," which bordered on pornography. I honestly can't remember any sex scenes in the Poe story.

Recently there have been remakes of Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House" and Washington Irving's "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" that had very little to do with the originals. I enjoyed "Sleepy Hollow," but I've read Irving's story at least a half-dozen times and don't remember most of the things that happened in the movie.

At least in those films you can see a resemblance to the original. Sometimes really strange things happen in Hollywood. A few years ago, there was a movie called "The Lawnmower Man," which bore absolutely no resemblance to the Stephen King tale of the same name. That didn't stop them from plastering his name all over it - at least until he sued them.

All that being said, I took a stroll down memory lane on the silver screen over the weekend that surprised me a little.

Up until a few years ago, I was an avid comic collector. While my collection is not nearly as impressive as some others I've seen, it's certainly not one to snort at, either. If you delve into the boxes, I'd guess that 65-70 percent of those comics are "X-Men" or "X-Men"-related titles.

Given my past experience with Hollywood, it's understandable that I was a little apprehensive when I settled into the seat to see my favorite comic brought to life.

I'd heard very good reviews of the film from other comics fans, but my expectations were colored by memories of past comic flops. Too often movie versions of comics appeal only to readers of comics. Or if they try to broaden their audience, they end up ruining things for the comic fans and appealing to neither audience.

"X-Men" managed to strike a balance that few other comic movies have attained. While there were plenty of in-jokes and allusions for the comic fans, a viewer doesn't need prior knowledge of the comic to enjoy the movie.

As far as Hollywood's vision of my favorite band of crime fighters goes, I was pleasantly surprised. I knew Patrick Stewart would make a fantastic Professor X. There was really no one else for the role. And I was fairly certain that Sir Ian McKellan would be great as the X-Men's archrival Magneto. But the real surprise of the movie for me was a newcomer in the role of my favorite quick-healing, razor-clawed, bad attitude Canuck.

When unknown Hugh Jackman was announced as Wolverine, my initial reaction was "who?" Much to my surprise, Jackman was really able to capture the essence of the character that I've come to know so well over the years. I was impressed.

Likewise, wrestler-turned-actor Tyler Mane was perfect as his old nemesis Sabretooth. In fact, most of the characters were cast well.

The script itself was written to resemble a comic book plot. First the characters are introduced, followed by a lot of action. At the end, most things are resolved, but there's still plenty of fuel for the next issue, or in this case, the sequel.

The effects also gave the movie the feel of the comic. One particular scene sticks out in my mind. Near the end, Storm rises from an elevator shaft, lifted by the winds, with lightning burning in her eyes and gathering around her. In that moment, I wasn't in the theater anymore. I was inside the comic, and Halle Berry had become Storm.

Of course, there were the typical disappointments that go along with movie versions, but they were relatively minor. One was the decision to meld the characters of Rogue and Jubilee into the Rogue of the movie. I missed the fiery-haired, fiery-tempered Southern belle of the comic. I also missed her banter with another of my favorite characters, the Cajun X-Man Gambit.

On the other hand, I can likely look forward to seeing Gambit, Psylocke, Beast, Nightcrawler and other favorites in the sequels. If they are as well-made as this one, I hope the franchise lasts quite a while.

For now, "X-Men" gives me some hope for the upcoming "Lord of the Rings" movies. It proved to me that Hollywood can occasionally get it right. Well, almost.