“My Green Dragon”

[Edited to read better, hopefully.]

Why do we want to see comics made into movies? I mean, look around you: we really want to see comics made into movies. We’ll tolerate incredibly bad movies just because they were made from comics, and when an actual good comics-based movie comes along, we are…um, perhaps a bit too happy about it, don’t you think?

What’s the attraction?

Comics do lots of things movies can’t, and comics are worthwhile in themselves. Little kids don’t wish for comics to be made into movies, do they? No, they don’t. So why do we?

Is it that we seek a wider social legitimacy for our geeky hobby?

I’m going to argue no.

Zom over at Mindless Ones puts his finger right on it: just look at the art in that beautiful David Lloyd panel. V’s cloak is moving.

The train is moving, too.

It’s all moving.

It’s a moment, frozen apart from other moments, but it’s paradoxically full of implied motion. Powerfully implied motion. That’s part of the artistry, part of what makes it fascinating, part of what makes it compellingly dreamlike. On a static page, Lloyd gives us a wonderful evocation of a glimpse…an intimation of symbols and forces gathered in potential, in a vanishingly small slice of time and space that’s nevertheless connected to an infinitely open universe where time and space are not considerations, and through which slice we can pass. As Zom notes, the angle from which we are seeing V is even cleverly distanced from an angle that anyone actually in the comic could have access to — more intimation, and it presses on us. So it compels us, too.

And that’s why we want to see it move. Because we think that to see that image — just that one, precisely, not another one, not an adapted image but that very one — suddenly imbued for real with actual movement to match the movement that it suggests inside our heads, will relieve that pressure of suspended dynamism, or as I’ve said before around here resolve the pregnancy, that we’ve been carrying around from reading it. A detonation, as I’ve also said before: that’s what we seek.

So, that’s thrilling, if we can get it. But, it’s also disappointing on some level, because the pressure of intimation so important to that reading experience is obviously then missing from the corresponding viewing experience, or at least it’s watered-down in it. Though an exceptional director is of course capable of not letting it be missed, not letting it be watered-down, even if he has to substitute something else for it, most directors would stop — as we would — at merely resolving that intimation, instead of resolving it while at the same time subtly restoring it too. Hitchcock would’ve restored it, no doubt: he saw the value in images that vibrated that way, with menace or meaning about-to-be, dimly sensed at the edges or limits of action. But of course, there’s just one Hitch.

However that’s not to say there’s no one else who cares about preserving such things. This was, I believe, just what Ang Lee was attempting in his much-maligned Hulk. Scenes are filmed and then jammed together, creating a virtual “gutter” between figures (Banner Sr. talks to his wife, and she is right there, and yet they seem separated by an unfathomable distance, by a blind spot)…or, as in the case of Betty driving her car through a strange neighbourhood, angles are twisted so that reflections and objects don’t match up. Lichen blends with desert landscape seen from a helicopter, photographs come to life then freeze into stasis again, the desert and the bomb and 50s-style paint jobs emptied of people and the premonitory dream that exists outside time (well, as all dreams in movies do) all get mashed up together. Intimation is literally everywhere — so you get the Hulk fighting in the redwood forest (wow, and what’s more of a comic-art detonation than that!), but you also don’t get all the frozen moments stripped away from you, because Lee goes to extraordinary lengths to keep them anyway. He is always playing with this device, and never lets up. To him, quite clearly, this is the point.

And, isn’t he right about it? I don’t know if this is the best Hulk movie we’ll ever see…but certainly it’s the most dazzling one. The plot is pure dollar-store trash, the rationalizations of the science-fiction element are regrettably incomplete (not Lee’s fault — they wouldn’t let him make a four-hour summer blockbuster with two hours of expository dialogue in it), but the ornamentations are all made of pure gold: when Bruce Banner gets zapped by his gamma rays it is all that anyone has any right to wish for, it is a fantastically augmented moment that’s just like the comics’ brilliant suspense of action even though it is moving — and if things in Ang Lee’s Hulk sometimes get silly (too silly for comics readers? Astounding thought), he still throws music and silence and montage together in such a way that he does get to the heart of how to adapt comics’ best moments to film, with an idealistic faithfulness that’s hard to fault.

And yet boy, did he get faulted for it!

He shouldn’t have, you know: after all, he gave us everything we wanted. Editing as special effect. Time become space, become time again.

“In a way, Hulk was my Green Dragon,” he said in an interview.

Mine too, Mr. Lee!

I’d love to know what Guillermo del Toro thought of it, wouldn’t you?

We’re all a bunch of ungrateful children, probably.

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4 responses to ““My Green Dragon”

  1. You’ve snagged hold of the reason why I really don’t enjoy Snyder’s freeze-then-motion technique. There’s something gratuitous and, at risk of sounding like an arse, childish about it. It fails to recognise the the pregnant image has its own power, and its own value – brushes all that to one side so the kids can have their oh-so-obvious hit. Okay, it gestures to the frozen moment, but only in a token way.

  2. This reminds me of a brainless idea I had while watching X-Men 2…at some point a bunch of filthy mutants (die, muties, die!) are walking down a hallway or something, and for just a second I thought “oh shit, now they’re going to do the goddamn slow-motion Badass Walk”…which they actually didn’t, but it was right there, you know?

    And I thought: how could that be made dumber?

    I came up with “inappropriate music choice”. Cyclops turns a corner with Storm and zaps a big door with his eyeblasts, and then she whips up a big blizzard or something…shit like that, in slo-mo…and all the while we’re listening to “Shout” by Tears For Fears. As they go through the door to fight Magneto or Stryker or whatever.

    It would make no sense!

    And yet the awful thing is, it would make perfect sense. Just a yanking of a certain amount of emotional chain that’s lying there on the ground, practically begging to be yanked…because I think music videos and summer blockbuster comic-book movies are part of the same complex of desire…or should I say simplex of desire?

    Cripes, it’s practically a suplex of desire.

  3. Pingback: Linkblogging for 17/10/08 « Thoughts on music, science, politics and comics. Mostly comics.·

  4. Pingback: My Green Irony « A Trout In The Milk·

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