Monday, July 19, 2010

Whiteout: Attack of the Sub-Par Comic Adaptations

Typically, you can tell how popular comic series are by how quickly they are adapted into other formats. 30 Days of Night, Sin City, Wanted, Kick-Ass and 300 have all been turned into big blockbuster movies, and that doesn't even include all the big superhero movies or series of movies like Spiderman, X-Men, Wolverine, Punisher, Batman, Superman, Hulk, and the upcoming Thor, Captain America, Green Lantern, and The Avengers, not to mention Linda Carter's popularity on the Wonder Woman TV show. And of course, the Scott Pilgrim series gets released in cinematic form next month. Frankly I'm surprised the excellent Pride of Baghdad hasn't had it's movie rights bought yet. The studios see it thus: The readers and people who love these comics or graphic novels are a built-in audience, so making these movies would seem to be as close to guaranteed success as you can get (see: video game to movie adaptations). But unfortunately, the visions of comic creators and movie studio execs rarely commingle, and the result is often less than the sum of it's parts.

So let's take Whiteout, based on the Greg Rucka (Hellboy, Batwoman: Elegy) series of the same name. Right off the bat, studio execs didn't like the idea of two female leads, and so scriptwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber wrote in a male replacement into their screenplay. Apparently the studios were afraid that the movie would not draw large audiences if the film had two females in the leading roles. Apparently, these studio folks forget the critical success of Thelma and Louise. Not that it matters much, as in the film there isn't a scene not involving US Marshall Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale), often with no other speaking characters around. She's pretty much the movie's compass, with others having little to add to the scenery of the film.

The movie takes place in the most unlikely of scenarios, an Antarctic murder mystery. At a geographical research settlement in the middle of nowhere, people are getting ready to leave before winter sets in. Among them is Stetko, who is resigning her place as Marshall on the base to go home. Before she can get ready to leave, she's informed that a dead body has been discovered and so she checks it out. It looks at first like he fell from a cliff to his death, but a strange stitched-up wound on his leg is odd, and on further investigation it looks like he took an ice ax to the chest. Further investigation leads to a group of scientists who were searching a remote area for meteorites but may have come upon something much bigger, and murder for greed is certainly nothing new.

All the while, a large storm approaches the base, threatening to leave anyone not gone when it hits stranded for the winter. It's here that Whiteout gets it's name, from the storm in which you can't see anything in front of you and you can freeze to death in seconds. It's this phenomena that may be the scariest villain of the film. If you get confronted by the ax-wielding murderer, you might get away unscathed. If you get caught outside by the whiteout, it's over. This however also leads to the biggest disappointment of the film; The snow effects are terrible. Both real and fake snow were used in the filming of the movie, but unfortunately it's extremely easy to tell the two apart. Certain sections (including a big outdoor storm scene) fail to look the slightest bit realistic, and in this type of movie, you need those effects to look their best, because the rest of the movie needs a distraction.

Now I haven't read the original graphic novel, so I can't make any informed comparisons between the original and the movie, but I find it hard to believe that the original story was so simple and formulaic. Worst of all, there is no real mystery. We find out everything at the same time as our protagonists, with no clues left for the audience to form their own theories before the mystery is solved. Worse, coincidence seems to be paramount, as everywhere Stetko goes, there's the black-covered ax murderer to stop a potential source of information from talking. And yet the only cringe-worthy plot point has little to do with the murders or the storm. In a minor plot piece a major character accidentally loses their gloves while being chased  by the murderer outside, and they suffer major frostbite on two digits of their hand and later must have them amputated. It's easily the creepiest part of the film and also shows the dangers of just being outside in Antarctica.

There's little to the special effects or the story, so acting has to save this movie, right? Sorry, no. Though Beckinsale does everything right in her lead role, the supporting roles are played by little-known actors such as Gabriel Macht and Colombus Short, and not because they're such great unknown actors. It's not their fault, really, it's just that the characters outside of Stetko are given so little, there's no real character for the other actors to cling to. Even Tom Skerritt is underused, as the scene-chewing ability he's gained from almost fifty years of movie making are largely unneeded here.

For a film that took almost ten years and three production companies to make and at one time had Reece Witherspoon in the lead role, I was still largely hopeful for this movie. But Kate Beckinsale has a reputation for picking poor films (Underworld, for all it's leather catsuit fun, was by far the best and hardly a great film, and I still want to see Vacancy) that is exacerbated by this one. I didn't have a bad time watching Whiteout, but I can't in good faith recommend it to anyone else, certainly not if you've already read the graphic novel. Even if you haven't, I'd recommend you read instead of watch, and leave it at that. Then watch X-Men Origins: Wolverine. See, now there was a FUN comic book adaptation.

Just as a note: I'm going to start taking recommendations for future posts of The Latest Issue. I'm still getting by with my own concepts, but if anyone has anything they want to recommend me to see, whether movie, game, comic or even book, you might see it in the future here on the site! For recommendations, just pop me an e-mail (it's in my profile) and thanks in advance for your contribution! I'd be nowhere without the people reading, and it's for you all that I'm still writing at all. So thanks again!


Opinioness of the World said...

Whoa they changed the two female leads to only ONE female lead?! Why am I not surprised! Those bastards. Although it IS interesting that you recommend a testosterone-laden fun comic movie adaptation in the form of 'Wolverine: X-Men Origins.' I mean, I loved it could I not, a practically buck-ass naked Hugh Jackman!! But where are the recommendations for the female-fronted films???

Gianni said...

Well, recommend some female-fronted film to me! :) I'm all ears, and when I see one I truly enjoy, I'll write about it. Promise.