Why Don’t We Trust Filmmakers?

Where is the trust? That is the question I asked after the recent flurry of criticisms leveled at Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice. It got me thinking about fandom reactions in general when it comes to characters making their transition to the big screen. Whenever an adaptation of a property is announced that is becoming a “major motion picture,” people get worried. They take to forums and blogs and social media, decrying how the movie will bomb and there is no way to capture the magic of the original work. Much of this is done without a single frame being shot. Why can’t we trust the filmmakers? The easiest answer is to point to the failures. Howard The Duck. Steel. Catwoman. The list goes on. People point out every flaw and every instance where the movie didn’t follow the book or comic character. They blame studio interference, directors who didn’t know the material, and actors who were just wrong for the part. People tend to forget adaptations and remakes that were successful; like The Maltese Falcon, The Godfather, Jaws, and many more. These great films were derived from another work but are still loved by moviegoers. Where was the outcry of deleted characters, changed scenes, or miscasting?

This battle against adaptations partly stems from people loving the source material and feeling that only the version in their head is true. Only the actors they picture will fit the part. They love the lyrical quality of the prose so much that no director can catch the beauty of the imagery on the page. For comic book films, this seems somewhat paradoxical. Unlike novels or plays or previous films, comic characters are not static. They have evolved over years of storytelling; changing, mutating, morphing into different versions depending on the writer and artist and readers. While certain elements are retained in each variation, much gets twisted and turned around to suit this new telling. It is the same for comic movies. Adaptations aren’t easy, and many articles have been written about the hardships of turning a seemingly unfilmable project into a movie. What works in comic panels or prose does not mean it will translate well onto film. What I’m wondering is, instead of immediately worrying about our favorite character being made into a movie, can’t we save judgment until we finally see the film?

My thoughts for this came up when the title and first images of the Man Of Steel sequel were released. Continuing from the announcement that Ben Affleck was cast as Batman, fans of movies and comics derided the movie, predicting its demise. While I admit I’m not a fan of the title Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, it is not an indicator of how the movie will feel while watching it. I may not like it, but I realize the title is not the whole movie.

The number of characters being reported for the movie is making people think it will be too crowded and fail, as many character-packed films like Batman & Robin and The Amazing Spider-man 2 have. This doesn’t concern me either. Many of the characters could have minor roles or little screen time. Just because Cyborg and Aquaman are (rumored) to be in the movie doesn’t mean they will get the same amount of screen time as Superman and Batman. It will all depend on how the film is written. And that seems to be what fans and critics don’t understand: how the film is written and structured.

The internet gives us instant access to information, but it also gives us the ability for instant opinions without having the whole picture. When Zack Snyder cast Ben Affleck as Batman, he had the whole story in front of him. He knew what kind of character Batman was in this particular film. Just because this is Batman doesn’t mean it is the same Batman from The Dark Knight, or Batman Returns, or Batman & Robin. I trust that Snyder knew the type of actor that would fit the character. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by casting choices before: Michael Keaton as Batman, Ian McKellan as Magneto, and others. But many couldn’t handle Affleck’s casting. They flashbacked to Daredevil, but the thing is Daredevil isn’t Batman.

Man Of Steel was a polarizing film for many and the sequel is shaping up to be as well. The news it is generating shines a light on fandom that paints many of us as cynical. We judge and critique without ever seeing a single frame of footage, sometimes before a single promotional photo is released. Why do we do this? Do we judge songs from just one note? Do we judge paintings after seeing a single brushstroke?

I feel that fans need to be more considerate of the filmmakers bringing our favorite characters to life. The criticism they get can be harsh, and at times, possibly unfounded. Let me put it this way. Say you are an author (which I am) and you have spent two years developing and writing a book. I pick that length, since it’s almost the length of time from preproduction to release for Batman v Superman. Now, let’s say that, without telling anybody anything of your book (no plot details, no synopsis, no cover) you post a random page from that book. It is only one page, and the reader has no clue about what came before it and what comes after it. Now, the internet reads your one page and says your book will suck. It will be the worst thing they will have ever read. They may not even read it, based on this one page. Really? Are you truly going to judge a whole novel on one page? Will you trample on the author’s feelings for a piece of work taken out of context? The author has worked on it for two years; they know the plot forward and backwards, have all the characters’ backstories, and know how every piece fits together. They can see, and know, the whole picture. Why do we feel we can do this for films?

We have a title and a few promotional images from Batman v Superman. That is our one page. But we are dumping on the work of many talented individuals without seeing the big picture. It isn’t just Batman v Superman, fans do this for almost any genre film being adapted. We get online and flame the filmmakers without the movie even being finished yet. It goes back to feeling that there can be only one interpretation, our interpretation, of a character or book. But we should reserve judgment. We should trust that the filmmakers can see more of the big picture than we can. So wait until the film is finished and you have seen it with your own eyes. Then you can judge it.

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  1. While I agree with many of your arguments, in my particular case, about this particular movie, I fully trust Zack Snyder to make another movie I won’t enjoy. While I can’t predict with 100% accuracy whether Batman v Superman will be good or bad, I can make an educated guess based on the previous work of those involved, just as all of us do all the time with many, many things.

    The reactionary nature of fans regarding genre adaptations is well known, but after a string of very successful comic book movies, I’ve seen it diminish in intensity. Pretty much anything released about the Avengers movie will be received with good will by the fans.

    • Yes, thank you, Hector. I don’t trust Snyder because I didn’t like his previous work.

      Plus, the studios release this info. And we can’t possibly expect only positive feedback, sorry. You send it to the world, there will be those who won’t like it. Personally, I wish they stopped talking about a film before it’s edited. It won’t happen. It’s their choice.

      That said, yes, there are many bigger problems (or, one would hope, qualities) than the way a costume will look on screen. But, let’s face it, even after the film is released they are not always properly adressed.

  2. Mario Lebel says:

    I think the bigger problem is that the internet has greatly contributed to developing a culture that is increasingly dependent on short snippets of information as a way to staying informed on the real world or the world of entertainment and pop culture instead of providing thoughtful presentations of facts. There is an increase in information traffic in addition to a reduction in the size (and arguably the quality) of that information. The rise of lists instead of articles on websites in an indication of that. Some people won’t read an article online unless the paragraphs are numbered, giving the reader the sense that the information contained in the article is short and easily read and absorbed.

    Similar to that is how people absorb their news about upcoming films. Movie news sites have let themselves be reduced to websites that host gossip and speculation on unreleased movies as opposed to providing readers with information and facts. I feel like the idea of breaking news has been warped from meaning news of great importance to “i’m the first one to share this news”. People care more about what Batman will look or sound like than they care about how good the story will be. The cool factor is more important than narrative.

    What also boggles my mind is how people care so much about analyzing the most minute pieces of information about a movie prior to it’s release but completely dismiss it without a second thought after its release. Colin, I understand that this is also a concern for you. The willingness to judge a movie prior to it’s release using only marketing material but dismissing it entirely when it doesn’t exactly match the viewer’s expectations. I share that feeling and that is without considering the often large discrepancies between the final cut of a movie and the movie that marketing gurus have sold to me.

    I don’t know who it was that said a picture is worth a thousand words, but i’m sure he or she wasn’t talking about a blurry picture of Ben Affleck dressed as Batman. That’s inconsequential to me. I do not feel the need to know everything about Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice before I see it. I haven’t like all of Zack Snyder’s movies (I really dislike some of them) but they’ve always been interesting to think about.

    I generally decide whether or not i’ll see a movie based on who is making it as opposed to who will star in it or which character/series/whatever it’s based on. That’s not the only reason i’ll go see a movie but once I’ve decided to see a particular movie, I stop looking for information about it. I do not need to have the writer, director, actors or producer tell me about or convince me to watch a movie i’m already prepared to see. I don’t want to subject myself to production company’s marketing garbage nor do I want the people involved in the movie to impact my reaction to the movie. There is plenty of time to do that after I’ve seen it. A lot of these issues are related to what I like to call the Cult of New. New isn’t synonymous with good and it’s certainly not a virtue in and of itself. I’d rather discover and be surprised by a movie that was release a year, two or ten years ago than to be disappointed by a new release because I’ve read everything there is to know about that movie before it’s release.

    Wow, this is a mighty big comment. I wasn’t trying to take over your article for my purposes but this is topic that often confused and frustrated me. It was great to read about your thoughts on it. I particularly enjoyed the trust angle. Thanks for the interesting article!

  3. R.C. Killian says:

    As has been noted a few times: I don’t trust this filmmaker, because I don’t trust this filmmaker. He made an abysmal version of Dawn of the Dead, a monotonous version of 300, and a soul-less visual carbon copy of Watchmen.

    I didn’t question Affleck, though I’ve never been remotely big on his acting, because that I will reserve judgment on.

    The title is stupid, but that isn’t enough for me to disavow the movie, so I’ve said little about that, either.

    But I think Zack Snyder is awful, so that’s where my “precognitive” criticism comes from. Thoroughly informed, and based entirely on full-fledged–non-snippet–evidence. I don’t trust any of the things you trust him with, because I’ve seen what he’s done before and been thoroughly displeased.

    As with anything, you can completely reasonably feel otherwise. But I feel absolutely no reason to be considerate of–barring your independent, self-deluded, self-budgeted types and such–what I think is possibly the worst studio director in many years. He’s earned his scorn, and so it’s what he’s going to get from me.

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