Sunday, June 17, 2007

The League Surfs with the Alien

Saturday I wound up going to see Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.

I might also add that due to logistical reasons, this was the first time in months I've been to a movie anywhere by the Alamo, and while the crowd was really good, it just isn't the same going to a movie when I can't drink a beer and eat a pizza.

Anyhow, the past few years have seen superhero movies which have defied all previous expectations, merging special effects, well crafted stories and respect for the source material to bring terrific entertainment to the screen. In no way should you make the mistake of believeing FF: RotSS, is to be included among these films.

FF: RotSS is a bit of a throwback to 80's era comic adaptations wherein the source material was briefly glanced at, and a few production designers who may have done their homework slipped in a bit or two from the original comics, but otherwise, the movie was pretty clearly not taken terribly seriously as producers cashed in and tried to keep a straight face when reporters asked them about what drew them to the material.

In this movie, any memory of Sue Storm as a brilliant scientist is swept under the rug as she's offered the task of Reed's girlfriend/ administrative assistant, while mostly whining a lot about a fancy wedding (oh, you girls and your romantic notions!). Sue is one of my favorite Marvel characters, and its disappointing to see her reimagined as an "E! Network" watching girl who has defined herself by her relationship with Mr. Fantastic. Reed is unable to remember he's about to get married, the Thing is... uncharacteristically happy throughout the film, and Johnny comes to some sort of nebulous conclusion about not being a jerk. I think.

The whole thing has the production value of a late 90's TV movie, with some upped CGI. That said, a lot of Reed's stretching looks... not good. And Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm is hammy enough that one expects a trombone after each line to blurt out a "wahhh-waaahhhhhhh". Plus, man, that makeup sucks. If we can have a CGI Surfer, why not a CGI Thing?

The threats in this film are double as Victor Von Doom returns from the dead and... I dunno. That guy is nowhere close to the Von Doom of the comics, although the script does play toward Doom's tendency to always try to tilt the game in his favor. But this Von Doom is like a smarmy Owen Wilson character more than an Eastern European monarch hellbent on worldwide domination.

For being mostly a well mimed CGI effect (thank Pan's Labyrinth's Doug Jones) The Silver Surfer seems to be partaking in a completely different, far less stupid movie. Based loosely on the original FF comics featuring Galactus and the Surfer, the Surfer arrives ahead of Galactus as his herald, preparing Earth for his master's arrival. The Surfer seemingly believes he has no choice in the matter, and goes numbly about his tasks until confronted by the FF.

From here, things sort of go downhill for the FF as the bravery of their task from the 2/3rd points in the movie mostly seems to consist of breaking the Silver Surfer out of jail and then getting their butts handed to them by Doom. The actual presence of Galactus and mode of defeating the planet eater from the comics (which didn't leave the FF acting like slack jawed yokels, but Reed figuring out how to freak Galactus out by threatening existence if Galactus didn't back off) isn't invoked. Instead, it's a bit more abstract, and nebulous. It works, but it means that at no pint in the movie do the FF actually succeed at anything they attempt aside from running away. They just don't seem all that competent. And the final plan when Johny Storm does leap into action actually contradicts everything we thought we knew about the problems we believed he was having with his powers.

The producers also decided that of all the things in the FF comics to scrap, the one thing which just wouldn't work was Galactus' physical appearance. So, he's a cloud. Which is very Star Trek Next Generation, but not very satisfying. The movies are already horribly devoid of the Kirby styling which defined the comics for decades, so it would have been nice to see our guy, who has one of the most stylized appearances in comicdom... but, no... we get a sort of silhouette glimpse of his helmet.

BTW, I also think Ultimate Galactus blows. Bugs? Come on, man...

The movie is full of cute/dumb moments, meant to play to the same crowd who really likes Rob Schneider movies and who roared at the trailer for "Daddy Day Care 2: Daddy Day Camp" (Eddie Murphy was apparently too busy for this sequel, so cue Cuba Gooding "My Career is Over" Jr.). You can almost imagine the story session in which the writers thought NOTHING would advance the story like a dance sequence featuring Reed "stretch-o" Richards. It's funny 'cause he's strechy and stuff.

Oh, and the product placement... including a "It's got a hemi!" joke during some awkward Dodge product placement.

I really didn't have high hopes for this movie, and it still stunk. Weirdly, the portions featuring The Silver Surfer operate on a whole different level that, had the rest of the movie shown that sort of care, might have made for an enjoyable film.

This, however, is not that movie.


Steven said...

Back to the Shalla-Bal drawing board, is it?

Had to match your mastery of Joe satraini.

Anonymous said...

Ultimate Galactus is okay.

The League said...

Ultimate Galactus dilutes the concept into generic sci-fi terms and basically turns Galactus into the aliens from Independence Day.

Galactus was actually a character, and rather than make him scarier or more out there, Ultimate Galactus is just a faceless, easy to kill threat as a pile of bugs.

Yes, its okay, as in passable, but if Ellis thought he was coming up with anything new, he went the opposite direction.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but if they can't make CGI Hulk look decent, how the heck are they going to make Galactus not look silly? If he going to be a regular sized man? A giant? Even if he is a giant he still won't look big enough to consume a planet? Will he have a costume? Ultimate Galactus avoided those issues altogether. I'm not saying that's great, just that it avoided those issues. I kinda liked "Ultimate Extinction."

The League said...

I think, in some ways, Galactus would be easier to do than Hulk as Hulk is recognizably human, has skin, muscles etc..while Galactus is armor with a dude's face poking out.

He's traditionally depicted as a giant, so why not keep with that?

The bottom line is that when I see a filmmaker afraid to show whats in the comics as part of their movie (and a cloud which might or might not contain an armored Galactus is a cheap, cowardly move...) it shows me that they're still not comfortable with taking the comic adaptation seriously. Which means you wind up with something as clunky as FF:RotSS. You either commit or you don't do it at all.

I don't buy the "how can they not look silly" argument. The same could be said for any comic character, and the past few years have shown that, in the right hands, it can work.

And he doesn't literally eat a planet (ie: shove it in his mouth). It's a bit more complicated than that. I highly recommend reading the original Galactus/ Silver Surfer stuff available in mMrvel Essentials format.

I sort of liked Ultimate Extinction, but sort of felt like "oh, its another alien invasion. Okay." Part of what I dig in the original comics is that Galactus is one supremely powerful entity that can be reasoned and bargained with, and not a horde of aliens. Its a bit of a different concept.

There was nothing wrong with the story of Ultimate Extinction, it just wasn't Galactus.

RHPT said...

In Ultimate Extinction it's not Galactus, it's Gah Lak Tus ;)

I enjoyed UE a lot, but I always have a hard time believing that out of all the planets in the universe, little ol' Earth is always the one that can win against Galactus/Gah Lak Tus.

And if it makes you feel any better, League, they're thinking of making a SS spin-off movie.

And to save JMD some reading, Galactus uses his ship to drain the planet's energies and he "absorbs" it. What you have left is simply lifeless rock.

RHPT said...

Oh, and here's a CGI Galactus from the Marvel Ultimate Alliance game

The League said...


For a really quick look at Galactus' story, read the Kurt Busiek/ Alex Ross book, Marvels. It has a section on the arrival of Galactus.

Anonymous said...

When I think of Galactus, I always think of some Marvel parody where they show him as a toddler in the outfit crying. This ruins it for me.

I am not sure that changes from medium to medium necessarily betray an embarassment of the source material. I think that what we accept in the drawn or graphic form and what will look as good or acceptable in live action or CGI is a bit different. Not always, of course, but sometimes. Galactus might look like the 50 foot woman, I suppose, if done poorly. But come to think of it, maybe he could assume human form and just be a regular dude in the cool outfit and the rest of the time be the cloud.

The League said...

I'm of the school that you just leave well enough alone, unless adding detail that would be too tough to draw. I DO agree that Galactus certainly lends himself to different interpretations, but there really wasn't a good reason for not using the traditional depiction. And, in many ways, if you aren't willing to embrace the Kirbyness of FF, then you aren't actually doing FF. And I think Marvel, as partners in the film, should be willing to stand up for their characters and history instead of letting Tim Story, the guy who brought us Jimmy Fallon in "Taxi", make those decisions.

Its sort of the same as why they can't just commit and let Doom be the ruler of Latveria instead of some smarmy geek.

RHPT said...

I think what's even more puzzling is that the film studio bought the concept of The Silver Surfer. he's a dude on a surfboard. How Kirby/60s is that? And yet they balk at "the real" Galactus? Although I've read that this Galactus is supposed to be the Ultimates version, so in that sense it is a 'correct' interpretation.

The League said...

Cop out. While the general populace isn't aware of the character of Galactus or Ultimate Marvel vs. regular 'ol Marvel, this clearly isn't the Ultimate version of Galactus, and it REALLY isn't the Ultimate FF (nor was it the Ultimate Surfer).

When I pay $8 to see the Silver Surfer saga brought to the big screen, I want my @#$%ing Galactus.

Anonymous said...

I have no idea what any of you people are talking about.

However, sadly enough, I can remember a small quip in the movie 'Crimson Tide' where 2 sailors got in a fight over which Silver Surfer was better, and I remember the phrase 'Kirby's silver surfer' being mentioned.

Finally after all these years, I have resolution.


The League said...

yeah, Kirby's was better. I was the only person in the theater laughing during that conversation. I believe that conversation was part of Quentin Tarantino's briefly lived career as a script doctor before Hollywood caught on that extraneous conversations about the Silver Surfer may not add to movies about submarines.

Anonymous said...

I agree that at some point you lose the FF concept. But I think that you can't just make a carbon copy of the comics, either, when you transfer to the big screen. I mean, X-Men are about the costumes as well, but those were absent from the three flicks. But I think what you are talking about is more than costumes but also tone and approach (and the X-Men flicks seemed to be true to that).

I guess I never dug the amped up Kirbyness in FF or elsewhere. It seems a bit too silly for my tastes in sort of the same way the Silver Age DC stuff is (although I like the Kirby stuff better than that).

I guess it doesn't matter if the movie is going to such either way, and it sounds like it was going to.

The League said...

Yeah, the 60's and 70's Kirby design aesthetic isn't going to be for everyone. I'm just shocked that the folks in set design didn't try to incorporate ANY of that look to the technology, headquarters, etc... It's all going to look weird and dated in five years, and right now it doesn't look any better than the average TV movie.

(It looks like its even lit like a TV set for as many shots as possible with the fewest set-ups possible)

To me, that crazy high technology look is part of what makes up FF. I do think they maintain the "family" aspect of the comics. And when or if Franklin and Valeria are added to the mix, it will be interesting to see that family aspect really gel.

Unfortunately, the script is mostly hacky and goes for cheap, dumb jokes. And, man... I'm sorry but Chiklis just grates as The Thing. I can't believe I'm watching an FF movie and not loving watching Ben Grimm.

I'm not a huge FF fan, so it's disappointing when the elements I do like are all absent.

Anonymous said...

Yeah. I am not really a big FF fan to begin with, and although the surfer is cool, I never understood the cult that arose around that character. The problem isn't really that the FF flicks did or did not base themselves on Kirby or Ultimate universe, but that they are just bad movies. The effects are kinda lame and it is a bad B movie. They did not adopt the X-Men/Spider-Man approach but the Catwoman/Ghost Rider/Daredevil model. That's a shame.