Once Upon a Time, There Was a Grimm Fable

Snow White riding Bigby Wolf in his wolf form

How many of you are familiar with fairy tales? I mean REALLY familiar –  not just seen the Disney movies or read the sugarcoated stories retold in picture books. “What’s the difference,” you may ask? “How can they be any different from the versions I saw in those classic Disney movies?” Well, Grimm wasn’t just the name of the brothers who collected many of these tales – “grim” also describes the overall nature of the stories. Tales like The Little Mermaid and The Little Match Girl were often very graphic and many times, had a depressing ending. Even in the original Cinderella story, the stepsisters went as far as cutting their feet in order to fit the glass slippers. In Little Red Riding Hood, the woodsman cut open the wolf to find Red and her grandmother whole and replaced their spot inside the wolf with stones. Indeed, in that day & age, children’s stories were much, much different than their modern counterparts.

In 2002, a former artist for TSR (the company behind Dungeons & Dragons) began penning a comic series about the fairy tale characters of old and how they became stuck in our reality. This series, he called, Fables.  Fables mostly takes place in an area of New York City appropriately called, Fabletown, which is where the majority of the human characters (or those who could change their shape to human) live. Old King Cole is the mayor of Fabletown, with Snow White as his right-hand (she actually runs the town) and Bigby Wolf as the sheriff. Other notable residents of Fabletown include Jack Horner (of every Jack-based fairy tale), Prince Charming (a broke, but charming con artist playboy), Bluebeard, Pinocchio (now a real, albeit permanent, boy), and Beauty and the Beast. Fabletown also has a separate entity known as the Farm, which is where many non-humanoids are encouraged to live so that they don’t attract attention from who they call, “Mundys” (us). Some of those include the three bears as well as the three little pigs. According to the story, some centuries ago, the Fables were chased into our universe from theirs by a mysterious character know only as “the Adversary.” The Adversary waged war, conquering just about everyplace his army landed with the intention of enslaving the Fables. For whatever reason, once the Fables crossed into our universe, they became more or less immortal and for that reason, it was generally decided that they would try to stay away from Mundy affairs.

Due to the popularity of the series as well as the critical acclaim, executives rushed to cash in on the marketability of the comics by developing them into a television series. The first was NBC, who purchased the rights in 2005, but could not seem to get a script off the ground. Then in 2008,  ABC purchased the rights to create their own television series based on the comics. However, their script writers also seemed to not be able to make anything of it. Despite this, two series based on the premise of fairy tales becoming reality premiered this past fall: Once Upon a Time and Grimm.

Once Upon a Time

If you’re like me and saw the promos for this series on ABC, you were saying to yourself, “OMG, IT’S FABLES ON TV!!” And this isn’t too far off. Out of the two fairy tale themed tv series of this past season, Once Upon a Time, is clearly the most similar to the original source material. OUT, like Fables, is about the exile of notable fairy tale characters from their lands. But unlike Fables, this exile is imposed by the evil queen from Snow White & the Seven Dwarves (Lana Parilla) in order to prevent the prophecy of Snow White and Prince Charming’s daughter usurping her reign. Fortunately, Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and the Prince (Josh Dallas) were privy to the prophecy and were able to enter a complicated deal with Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) to ensure her safety just before they were transported from their world. As an adult (Jennifer Morrison), she is talked into coming to Storybrooke by her son whom she gave up for adoption 10 years prior and has been adopted by the Evil Queen. He tells her that all the residents of Storybrooke are from fairy tales, they don’t remember who they are (save himself, Rumplestiltskin, & the Queen), and they are unable to leave the town.

“Wait a second – that doesn’t really sound like Fables at all,” is what some may be saying, and yes, that is true. Beyond the surface resemblance of fairy tale characters being trapped in the real world and their near-immortality (Time stands still in Storybrooke while Fables’ popularity keeps them alive), there isn’t really much in common between the two titles. Fables not only remember the stories that made them popular, but are able to leave Fabletown at will (although it isn’t recommended). The one major benefit that OUT has over Fables is the fact that it is aired on a Disney-owned network, which means that popular characters who had only been named in Disney movies (such as Pinocchio‘s Jiminy Cricket and Sleeping Beauty‘s Maleficent) were able to make appearances in episodes. It is an interesting series, but due to the oversaturation of good Sunday night TV, I couldn’t justify watching it over series like Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, or The Walking Dead.

Grimm

Grimm, on the other hand, is pretty much nothing at all like its inspiration, which is probably a good thing. Unlike Once Upon a TimeGrimm is made up of a cast of relative nobodies, the most recognizable of which most likely being Russell Hornsby (former star of the ABC Family series Lincoln Heights) and Silas Weir Mitchell (most remembered from his recurring role as criminally insane Charles “Haywire” Patoshik of Prison Break). Grimm takes the old Grimm brothers tales and assumes that they were all based on reality. The Grimm brothers were apparently a part of a line of monster hunters known as “Grimms,” which extends down to Portland Homicide Detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) who suddenly begins to notice people changing into odd creatures. His dying aunt is unable to give him much information about his new predicament before being hospitalized, but she leaves him her old trailer full of weapons and notes on the wesen (or creatures) he is to face. Russell Hornsby plays his partner, Hank, who does not know about Nick’s new task. However, on his first case as a Grimm, he meets Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell), a reformed Blutbad, or “Big Bad Wolf.” Nick mistakenly attacks him on his first encounter, but grows to rely on him for knowledge of the wesen world when he realizes Monroe is indeed as harmless as he claims.

The main reason I love Grimm so much is because as a fairy tale fanatic, I know that they were originally very dark stories, and Grimm keeps that in mind. While it’s nowhere near as gory or dark as Supernatural, for the major  four network channels (CBS, ABC, NBC, & FOX), it is a pretty dark series. There are vicious attacks, blades and claws being slashed, and plenty of skulking about at night. And with the level of backstory and mystery going on in its world, Grimm makes me want to not miss a single episode in case a minute detail may be missed.

Maj’s Top 5 Favorite Live Action Adaptations

It’s a good time to be a nerd and/or geek. That is something which absolutely cannot be argued. I never thought I’d live to see the day when many of the biggest blockbuster movies would be based on comic books and video games. Not only that, but video games are now a massive industry and rather than one incredibly great game being released annually, great games are now being released monthly. In addition to this, a new wave of people now call themselves nerds and/or geeks. And I am NOT going to get into whether or not only fringe interests (comics, video games, sci-fi, fantasy, etc) count as being geeky. One of my favorite things to daydream about is being able to go into the past and bring a geek into present day so I can show them trailers for movies & video games. In fact, I usually like to imagine it’s Eric Forman (from That 70’s Show) if only to put a face to the geek. We’d watch trailers like the original Spider-Man trailer with the World Trade CenterBatman Begins, the Smallville openings, the Avengers trailers, and many others. Kind of like a geeky version of the “It Gets Better” campaign, if you will. Anyway, now with fantastic geeky movies on the horizon, such as James Cameron’s Battle Angel (a film adaptation of Battle Angel Alita) and Legendary Films’s Mass Effect as well as the releases of live action movies Rurouni KenshinAce AttorneyThe AvengersThe Amazing Spider-Man, and The Dark Knight Rises just around the corner, things are looking especially bright. However, as fun as all of them look and sound, I cannot guarantee that any of them will be great. For every Men in Black, A History of Violence, or Ghost World, there’s at least 5 stinkers like The King of Fighters, Super Mario Bros., and  Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.  This is why I am going to look back at my 5 favorite live action adaptations.

Note: I am limiting these adaptations to visual media, like anime, cartoons, comics, manga, and video games. I am also limiting my favorites to those titles in which I’m familiar with both the original source AND the adaptation.

Captain America: The First Avenger

For a long time, I didn’t get the appeal of Captain America. He was a goody two-shoes who (compared to the most of the Avengers) didn’t really really seem to be all that special. Then I started playing as him in Marvel vs Capcom (teamed up with Captain Commando), and my appreciation for him increased exponentially. Soon after, I picked up Marvel’s Earth X series (which stars him) and liked him even more. Admittedly, I haven’t read every comic about him, but I do understand a enough about him to know if he’s getting treated fairly, and this movie definitely did him justice without being overly cheesy. I like to think one of the main reasons is because unlike past films, both his origin and return to present day weren’t squeezed into the same storyline. His campaign in the Army encompassed multiple years and ignoring them doesn’t do his story justice. Not only does this film take that into context, but it also accounts for the Army’s being overprotective of him because 1) he originally wasn’t extensively skilled in combat and 2) he was the only super soldier created. Not to mention that some of the comic’s favorites were included, even if they weren’t really explained, such as Bucky (who was given a different origin for the movie) and Dum Dum Dugan.

Initial D

This is yet another title that I didn’t initially take to (pun not intended). I remember hearing about it when I was in college, but despite being a big racing fan, I had no interest in seeing  or reading it. I can only assume that it’s because I thought it was about professional racing, rather than street racing. Anyway, I didn’t actually get into this until a few years ago, when I decided to pick up the manga at the library. Unfortunately, I’m only at volume 10, but that’s only because it’s VERY difficult to find the complete series of this in one place. If you’re not familiar with Initial D (which is legendary in Japan), imagine The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, except the main character is a master at drifting, and it takes place in the mountains instead of Tokyo. As for the movie, like most live action adaptations, there are some differences between the it and the original manga & anime series. However, everything that matters plotwise was kept intact, and that’s what’s important.

The Dark Knight series

There have been many interpretations of the Batman series, but it’s Christopher Nolan’s versions which seem to come the closest to what Batman is actually like in the comics. I know many people are probably saying, but what about the old Adam West series or Tim Burton’s takes? Well, while accurate for its time (thanks, Comics Code!), the Adam West series is nowhere near how dark Batman was supposed to be. Despite portraying Batman as the skilled detective he is, it is done in a laughable manner – almost to the point of spoofing him. As for the Tim Burton movies, while Batman is definitely feared, he also racks up a massive body count, which it has been generally established that Batman does not do. He [mentally] tortures and breaks bones like twigs, but he simply does not kill. Christopher Nolan’s interpretations, on the other hand, combine both of these essential elements without the excessive cheese factor.

Smallville/Superman

As I’ve mentioned before, I am a huge fan of Smallville, and part of that is because it introduced me to comic books. If you missed that post, Smallville was a show on the WB and CW which was essentially an updated version of the Superboy of old (the original Superboy was Superman as a teen, while the current Superboy is a clone of Superman & Lex Luthor). While it is definitely its own story, there are a lot of hints towards Clark’s future as Superman. As the series goes on, more an more references from the comics are woven into the plot. I consider it tied with the old Superman movie in that there are many elements which suggest that Smallville is heavily inspired by the Christopher Reeve Superman movies. Also add in the fact that some of the main cast from those era films have guest spots (many recurring) including Terrence Stamp (Zod in Superman II, Jor-El in Smallville), Annette O’Toole (Lana Lang in Superman III, Martha Kent in Smallville), Margo Kidder (Lois Lane in Superman, Ms. Crosby in Smallville), Helen Slater (Supergirl in Supergirl, and Lara-El in Smallville), and last, but certainly not least, Christopher Reeve (Superman in Superman, and Dr. Swann in Smallville).

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

I have been fascinated by the concept of Tomb Raider since it first arrived on PSX in the mid-90s. Unfortunately, the only reason I wasn’t a big fan right away was because I didn’t own a Playstation. However, that changed a few years later when I received Tomb Raider II and Tomb Raider III for PC. I quickly fell in love with the games despite the fact that I never finished either of them. Even though they come off as action-adventure games, the original Tomb Raider trilogy are much closer to puzzle games. In fact, most levels rarely feature any sort of combat. This is one of the main reasons I consider Lara Croft: Tomb Raider as one of the most accurate video game to film adaptations out there. The film follows the fairly simplistic formula from the first three games: Lara travels to various [seemly] unrelated destinations to find an artifact, Lara dodges traps in the process, Lara trains in her mansion, and most importantly, Lara has huge boobs. While I have heard people complain about the movie, I’ve never actually heard any reasons why they considered it bad. Until I hear a decent reason why, I will continue to think of it as one of the most faithful video game adaptations ever created.

<Note: Because of the sheer number of adaptations available, I honestly can’t just keep it to 5 – on the other hand, for certain reasons which I will explain, I cannot justify having them on my top 5.>

American Splendor

American Splendor is actually one of my favorite comics ever. It’s about a guy named Harvey Pekar and his life as a middle-of-the-road hardworking American in Cleveland, Ohio. In fact, the movie to me perfectly captured the tone of the comics. So if I’ve read all of it, and I saw the movie as well as enjoyed it, why don’t I have it in my top 5? Because American Splendor is an autobiographical comic series. That’s right – Harvey Pekar is a 100% real person…er…was. He actually died in 2010. But I would imagine having it on the list would be a cheap shot since the comic that the live action movie is based on comes from the most ultimate live action there is: real life.

Blade

Blade is most likely my favorite live action adaptation of a comic. At the time of its release (this was BEFORE Marvel began adding their name to the credits), I remember being one of the few who recognized the character as being a Marvel character. As this was well before I was regularly reading comics, I had remembered him from his guest arc on FOX’s Spider-Man cartoon series. Unfortunately, despite the success of the trilogy, the Blade comics are still fairly difficult to come by and because of this, I’ve only read one trade paperback of his.

Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass was an AWESOME comic & film. I actually got a chance to read the comic just before the movie was released and was thoroughly pleased with it. It was a gritty, VERY realistic take on what being a real-life superhero (like Batman, the Green Arrow, or Spoiler) would be like if they devoted themselves to taking down criminals & kingpins. And then I saw the movie. While the first half was more or less parallel to the comic (except we didn’t know who Red Mist was until his betrayal), the second half was absolute movie insanity. I simply couldn’t understand why the endings were so wildly different…until I found out that the comic series didn’t end until AFTER filming had ended.

Space Battleship Yamato

About four years before the original Battlestar Galactica aired in the US, there was single-season animated series that ran in Japan about a lone warship dispatched to a planet light-years away from Earth in search of a machine which could remove radiation from the planet. The single-season series was called Space Battleship Yamato. It even managed to make its way to the US under the title, Star Blazers. The movie was absolutely great (even though the middle was a bit slow). Unfortunately, I’ve never seen any of the original anime series or movies.

Speed Racer

Speed Racer is another movie that ranks as one of my favorite adaptations ever. It was also one of the few movies that I could watch over & over again without being tired of it. It has action, racing, a decent plotline, and it seems to be relatively accurate. On the other hand, what would I know about the accuracy since I haven’t seen the original anime series. I do happen to notice that it generally falls within one of three categories: 1) You saw it and LOVED it.  2) You saw it and didn’t really care for it. 3) You didn’t really care enough to see it. Unfortunately, most of the populace seems to fall under column 3.