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.

That Survival Movie

This Friday marks the American release of a movie which is based on an internationally loved novel. It is the famed story of a number of children who have been selected to become part of a gruesome game in which they must kill each other in the name of survival. In it, three of these children band together to aid each other in bucking the system – two boys and a girl. That’s right, I’m referring to the title which has previously spawned a 16 volume manga series as well as two movies from its native country: Battle Royale.

Shuuya Nanahara, Noriko Nakagawa, and Shogo Kawada in the new movie

I first heard of Battle Royale about 10 years ago, when my college had a showing of it. At the time, I was completely unfamiliar with the storyline and characters, so it all blended together for me. Some time later, I realized that there was also a manga series which was being published.

<Trivia: Battle Royale is not only the first manga I ever bought, but the first manga series I ever completely read and owned>

One of the best things about it becoming a 16 volume manga series was that the authors were able to delve into the mannerisms and backstories of each of the characters. In fact, my favorites ended up being the martial arts master Hiroki Sugimura and insane seductress Mitsuko Souma. In fact, now that I have finished both the manga and the novel, I feel like I am completely ready for the movie. However, I haven’t quite had an opportunity to see it again since.

I realize some of you may have seen all the hype for it and be asking yourselves, “what exactly IS this Battle Royale all about?” You see, Battle Royale was a Japanese novel written in 1999 about 42 classmates who are selected to battle for survival on an island. The game itself is called “Battle Royale” and it takes place in Japan’s near-future as a form of entertainment. The classes are randomly selected once a year and the participants generally don’t know they are selected until they wake up in a classroom and are receiving a lecture on the rules of the game. Each person is given a bit of food and water as well as an object to ensure their survival. This object can be anything from a tracking device or megaphone to an uzi or shotgun. The main characters of the story are Shuuya Nanahara, Noriko Nakagawa, and Shogo Kawada. Shuuya is a rebellious rock fan who tries to prevent playing the game and hopes to unite his classmates against the system. Noriko is a girl who has a crush on Shuuya and is inspired by his hope. Shogo is a mysterious recent transfer student who seems to know more about the game than he lets on. Of course, there are people who do choose to play the game, like Kazuo Kiriyama and Mitsuko Souma and Shuuya’s group must avoid them.

Shuuya Nanahara, Noriko Nakagawa, Shogo Kawada, Kazuo Kiriyama, and Mitsuko Souma from the Battle Royale manga

Much like any live action adaptation, the new movie seems to only keep only the essential Battle Royale storyline, such as the children being randomly selected for a survival game, the fact that there’s 2 boys and a girl, and that it’s being watched by millions across the country. However, I’m not too thrilled by the fact that once again, the characters (all of them this time) seem to have been completely whitewashed. Also, judging from the trailers I’ve seen, the movie almost seems to center around the Noriko character. Despite these changes, I absolutely plan to check out this movie as I am a huge fan of live action adaptations. In addition, I look forward to seeing how many more changes were made.

2012 – Year of the Hoverboard?!

You've been to the future, Marty, but even you probably didn't see this coming

When Back to the Future Part II first premiered in 1989, many of us were enamored with was seemed like a great (and possible) future. In this movie, 1980s teen Marty McFly travels with Doctor Emmett Brown to the year 2015 to prevent his son (Marty McFly, Jr) from getting arrested and potentially permanently tarnishing the McFly name. When Marty gets to the future, he (and we) are amazed at all the things that 2015 holds – games that don’t require controllers, flying cars, the Cubs winning the World Series, Jaws 19, powerlacing shoes, self-drying clothes, dehydrated food, but what probably captured the imaginations of viewers most was a small device called a hoverboard.

If the Cubs ever make it to the playoffs, Steve Bartman will be there to cut their dreams short

The hoverboard was essentially what appeared to be the future of skateboarding. When Marty “borrows” it from the little girl, he begins another Back to the Future signature scene where he skitches a ride on various vehicles to get away from Biff Griff and blah, blah, blah, you guys know the story.

Anyway, even though this movie came out 20 years ago, fans of the film series remain absolutely CONVINCED that most of the events from this movie will come to pass. While many things remain unavailable to this day, such as the genetic aging treatments,  the flying cars, and dehydrated pizza, some things ARE actually available. Fingerprint-based security systems, projection TVs, and controller-less video games, of course are on that list. But what may be most surprising are the fact that power lacing shoes and the hoverboard are a reality as well. Yes, you read that right: MATTEL IS FINALLY MAKING THE BACK TO THE FUTURE HOVERBOARD. Much like last year’s powerlacing shoes from Nike, it seems that these are going to be a limited supply of prototypes that were highly influenced by pressure from fans. According to a press release put out by Mattel, the hoverboards should mostly be able to glide (rather than hover) along the ground. There’s even a quick reminder that they don’t work over water.

Elijah Wood had Kinect way before it was cool

Mattel has also mentioned in their press statement that they are looking for a minimum number of order before they even start production. Lemme tell you what that means – it means that if people order these, then they’re going to have an R&D team working on this day & night to have fully operational hoverboards by 2015…just like Nike promised to with their powerlacing shoes offer. Good times are coming, Back to the Future fans. Good times are coming, indeed.