Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween Grab Bag: John Bolton's Army of Darkness Adaptation

I suspect that movie adaptations are more likely to turn into period pieces than other kinds of comics, but, even so, this is more interesting as a pop culture artifact than it is as comics.

This is a pre-Spider-Man Sam Raimi, back when he the B-movie version of Joe Dante. (Poor Joe Dante: one of the great sins of modern Hollywood is that he's not directing movies like The Transformers or Tropic Thunder). Based on the Bruce Campbell scene and the dance interlude in Spider-Man 3 I suspect that Raimi would like to get back to his roots in more disreputable (or should that be "less reputable") movies. (My inner-Ambush Bug fan is a little bit alarmed that super-hero movies have become "reputable" in quite the way the have over the last few years.)

Plus, it's painted! Maybe it's just for the prestige value, but John Bolton's concept - undercutting a traditional heroic fantasy illustration style with Ash's smart-ass narration - almost makes it seem like it has genuine aesthetic and thematic purpose, too.

And if Bolton had made this story his own - had been able to rethink it from the ground up - this could have worked. But he doesn't - he's stuck with the Raimi Bros.' script, a good script, but one where undercutting heroic tropes is just one kind of gag or, rather, the pretext for one kind of gag. So what happens is that Bolton's concept ends up making sense (in that I can see what he's up to and why he decided to do it that way) but is still not true to the spirit of the material.

Army of Darkness - the film - is really just a collection of gags using characters and conventions of B horror and fantasy movies. It's loose and jokey, and anarchic. But "painted comics", if not by nature than by association, are the opposite of loose, jokey, and anarchic.

And it isn't just that Bolton's work misses the spirit of the movie, it misses the spirit of the lead performance. What Bruce Campbell does in Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn is as central to making that movie work as what Jack Nicholson does in The Shining. In that movie Campbell gives one of the great physical comedy performances in contemporary cinema (up there with Steve Martin in All of Me): a definitive take on the body rebelling against the mind with equally hilarious and hideous consequences. Though his work in Army of Darkness isn't as inspired, it still builds on what he did in the earlier movie.

But, like I said, it's a physical performance: all about movement, about creating a character that behaves like a cartoon, which would be ideal for comics but not for painted comics. It's Bolton's depiction of Ash that really ends up sinking the book: he's too stiff and there's (overall) no sense of movement.

Since none of Ash's characteristics come through in the art, it all has to happen through the narration, and it just feels like there's way too much of it. In fact, because the narration is in something that's recognizable as Ash's voice, it makes the absence of character in the art all the more apparent.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

I think you're right that Army of Darkness is rooted in genre tropes, but as Scott Nokes has pointed out, it's also an Arthurian movie--specifically, a loose adaptation of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Nokes has argued that it's the only adaptation to acknowledge the novel's darker side, a suggestion I rather like.