When adapting a popular graphic novel for the big screen, the director and his team face any number of challenges. Perhaps the most difficult of all is keeping the legion of source material fanboys happy, a feat which often boarders on the impossible.
While an entirely faithful adaptation is simply not always possible due to the wildly different media in which movies and graphic novels operate, the best graphic novel adaptations are always careful to embrace their source material and give heed to what made it popular in the first place.
Not all adaptations need to retain every single element of their original creation right down to their very look (though some of the best ones undeniably do). What really makes a great adaptation is whether they capture the themes, mood and tones the source material sort to convey in the first place.
The five movies selected here differ wildly in terms of their content and especially in their visual style, yet all five are incredibly striking and memorable movies in their own right.
No concessions were made to tone down the film’s content to achieve a more family-friendly certificate; this is a subversive superhero movie for adults which combined Cold War paranoia with an intensely bleak narrative.
The highlight for me is the wonderful montage crafted over the film’s opening credits which does a perfect job of depicting the historical development of the Watchmen and also the alternative Watchmen universe over the twentieth century, all set to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a Changing.”
4. V For Vendetta
There are undeniably some minor faults with the movie version of the novel’s dystopian near-future, most glaringly perhaps Natalie Portman’s accent, but the finished article still works as a stinging critique of a complacent public who let government abuses go by unchallenged.
The Thatcherite setting of the novel may have been given a radical makeover in the film version but the powerful message that “people shouldn’t be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people” is still drilled home memorably.
3. Sin City
The movie adaptation of Frank Miller’s neo-noir novels benefitted greatly from the author’s considerable involvement in the finished article. The end result was an incredibly striking and memorable movie which thanks to the directors’ decision to shoot the film entirely on a digital backlot with the actors operating in front of a green screen. The end result sees the film play out almost entirely in luscious monochrome with the footage framed and shot like it it’s an animated version of the comic book panels themselves.
Dealing with extremely dark and horrific storylines involving prostitutes, crooked cops, serial killers and pedophiles, it’s hard-hitting and the filmmakers are unrelenting in their commitment to portraying the graphic violence found in the source material.
2. Road To Perdition
A sombre story of one man’s quest for revenge, it sees Tom Hanks shedding his nice guy persona for the role of former mob enforcer Sullivan. After his family is brutally murdered by his own employers, Sullivan makes plans for payback whilst bonding with his remaining son. It’s an incredibly atmospheric movie and one which quite rightly won an Oscar for its cinematography.
Mendes creates a rich and captivating world that, while not as obviously comic book as other movies on this list, is still rich in period detail. The dialogue is kept deliberately minimal with the stunning visuals designed to speak volumes in their own right.
In terms of a film which embraces its graphic novel roots, “300” is a truly impressive adaptation. The movie is essentially a two-hour testosterone-fuelled fight scene with questionable modern day geopolitical subtexts, but if you can look past these points temporarily and accept it as an all-action visual spectacle, it is a unique creation. The prominent role which author Frank Miller played in its creation has ensured that the stunning visuals which are found in his novel are replicated perfectly onscreen. He and director Zack Snyder delivered a movie which, much like “Sin City,” looks like a live-action graphic novel which blurs the line between realism and fantasy.
“300” is still an incredibly well made and effective adaptation of the source material. The blood-soaked and fight-laden panels from the novel are right there to see on the screen with Snyder delivering some incredibly striking and visceral battle scenes. It’s excessive and entirely style over substance, but perhaps it just needs to be viewed as what it is, a deliriously over the top and brainless action fantasy take on an ancient legend, and not something be read into too deeply.
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