Why SciFi Movies Disappoint SciFi Readers Who Read The Book
(Same Goes For Fantasy And Comic Books)
Same goes for pretty much any movie that was a book first, really. Ask a Stephen King fan. But this phenomenon of disappointment is so much more pronounced for fans of SciFi and Fantasy and Comic Books. Why?
Partly because of the nature of movies bundled with the nature of the average moviegoer. In the dawn of the moving picture era, the movie itself was a novelty and a spectacle, just by being itself. A few elementary stunts, a visual gag here and there, and a good story were all a director needed to sell a movie.
But the novelty has long since worn out; movies are now a venerable art form. Seen at the theater, they’re still a spectacle and an experience in and of themselves – but that’s less about the movie and more about going out to the theater.
Today, nobody wants to pay to see a book translated directly into film. Film was never suited to that, because an hour and a half, or even three hours, just isn’t enough room to tell a story it takes 100,000 words to tell. Or even 50,000. If you made a movie going point by point through a story as written, you’d be lucky to relate 10,000 words in a standard 90 minute film.
And a lot of that film would annoy the crap out of the audience. Internal dialog doesn’t play very well in a movie. At least, not at any length. Nor do narrator commentary or flashbacks and flashforwards and radical scene shifts, or background and world building.
SciFi and Fantasy and Comics are REALLY BIG on all of those things. Because to one degree or another they hinge on things that don’t exist in real life and have to be explained or at least established as to how they fit into the world and how people deal with it. Often, that’s the whole point.
(Graphic novels, by the way, are the bisexuals of the movie-literature divide, usually able to work just fine on either side of the divide – they translate well into film because they’re already organized around a visual presentation, and novels are not.)
The whole point of a movie, though, especially recently and especially in SciFi and Fantasy and Comics, is WOW.
WOW is the visual pop that people want out of movies in general and want ten times more out of genre movies. What sells those tickets is what I think of as “special effects pornography.”
Just enough story and character development to string the special effects spectacles together. Like a porn is just enough to string the sex scenes together. Explosions and falling buildings and super cool aliens and robots are the money shots the average moviegoer wants in exchange for the ticket price.
As much as fans of the books and comics want the background and the worldbuilding and the multiple plot threads to be faithfully represented, they simply aren’t numerous enough to drive the market. Without the SFX porn the movie doesn’t make a profit and the DVD doesn’t sell and the action figures and Halloween costumes and t-shirts don’t move off the shelf.
So the producers and the studios and the writers follow the money. That’s what they’re there for. Oh, they love pleasing fans and making people happy – or at least, the best ones do. But the bottom line is the bottom line: folding green. If it doesn’t make money, in the end its dead to the theater.
But it’s also possible to go too far chasing the money, too deep into the SFX pornography scene. Look at the DC films lately. A Batman who is also a rifleman. A Superman who casually snaps necks and doesn’t give a shit about knocking down the heart of a city. The lovers of spectacle may love it, but the fans of those character in comic books are the ones who are most likely to buy the DVD and the Blu-ray and the Special Director’s Cut too.
Even casual fans of the characters, even the people who read the comics as kids and put them away when they ‘grew up,’ know that Batman isn’t a gun kinda guy and that not killing people or wrecking cities is Superman’s thing.
It may be all about creating the spectacle and setting up the special effects, but if you rip the cores out of familiar characters in the process, what you end up with is empty schlock. And while really awesome schlock may draw a crowd of one-time ticket buyers, it won’t inspire fans to love the franchise, buy the merch, see it multiple times or buy the DVD.
Even the unperceptive can feel when something is empty, even if all they really know is that it was “cool, but I’m not looking for the next one.”
As for the book-readers, they generally loathe the empty schlock movie versions. But even the really well done ones, once stripped down to fit them into a movie format and bent around the cool special effects scenes, are missing the cores that novels spend tens of thousands of words building.
No matter how great the movie version, a movie will never be a book. And that leaves the book fans unfulfilled – unless they go in eyes open, expecting what they see to reflect the strengths and weaknesses of a completely different medium.