Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Birthday Wishes for the Dream King

Hi all, Tim here from Antagony & Ecstasy.

Today, somewhere outside Minneapolis, fantasy writer Neil Gaiman celebrates his 50th birthday (or not; birthdays don't seem to fit the persona the author has created for himself. But I don't have to care). And while he's better known for his comic books and novels than for his work in movies, his short cinematic career is filled with enough highs that it seems more than fair to commemorate the man's half-century.

Gaiman's film career got a rough start with his BBC miniseries Neverwhere: cheaply made and hurt by an underbaked structure, it's not half as memorable as the novelized version of the same story from the following year (the morbidly curious can find it on Netflix Watch Instantly). Fortunately, Gaiman first theatrical project was quite a bit more promising, as Miramax tapped him to write the 1999 English dub for Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke. The challenge of telling a densely mythological story in which details fly at the audience without pause was perfect for an author whose own created worlds were so rich, and his Mononoke script maybe remains the best thing he's done in the movies.

In 2003, Gaiman directed his first film, the mockumentary A Short Film About John Bolton; for a freshman effort it's not half-bad, but a bit stiff and overly talky. Better by far was his next project, the script for MirrorMask, directed by longtime collaborator Dave McKean. Gaiman's plot is a standard-issue Alice in Wonderland riff, but its simplicity is a virtue: McKean's incredible visuals are the true star, and Gaiman managed to walk the fine line of telling an elemental story with enough detail that the protagonist is real enough to like, without unbalancing the rest of the fantasy. The movie is unjustly overlooked, the script most of all.

2007 was a banner year: summer saw Matthew Vaughn adapting his book Stardust, and he also co-scripted Robert Zemeckis's Beowulf that fall. The first of these is fairly reedy and thin, through no fault of the author's; his delicate fairy tale was made leaden and obvious through clumsy filmmaking. Beowulf, while problematic, at any rate found Gaiman and Roger Avary bringing the ancient British poem to life with crisp, fresh language that is modernized without being idiotically slangy or informal.

Gaiman's finest cinematic moment came when Henry Selick adapted his children's book Coraline for the screen in 2009. Here we find the spirit of his prose captured perfectly, finding the exact blend of innocent wonder and literary worldliness that marks the writer's work. One of the best animated films in years, Coraline is a promising demonstration that Gaiman's work, no matter how overwhelmingly written, can be turned into the best kind of cinema in the hands of a gifted filmmaker.

Most of the rumored Gaiman adaptations in the pipeline are in one stage of development hell or another, some for more than a decade. So let's play producer: what Gaiman project do you want to see made into a movie next, and who would you have on either side of the camera?

16 comments:

Volvagia said...

The Sandman with Gilliam, Aronofsky or Lynch behind the camera and either Michael Cera or Henry Hopper (c'mon, you know Restless will at least be good) in front of the camera as Dream. Death? Would Ellen Page be type-casting?

Andreas said...

I just want to point out that Gaiman directed another short film: Statuesque for the BBC, made around Christmas '09, which starred Bill Nighy and Amanda Palmer, the latter of whom he married today. It can be found on YouTube.

I can't wait to see what comes of his work next. Coraline was great, and he's had a Death: The High Cost of Living movie in the works for a while, which might be amazing in the right hands.

Still, I'm not eager to see The Sandman filmed in toto. I just don't feel like there is any way to do the story, its scope, and its characters justice. (Besides the amount of it that plays heavily and distinctively with the comics medium.)

Volvagia said...

I'm not saying it would be the most advisable thing, especially since I haven't read the comic, but if a Sandman adaptation were to happen: let's see if Gilliam has another ravishingly, messily beautiful masterwork like Brazil in him.

Mr. K said...

GOOD OMENS, directed by Joe Dante. Not Gaiman's (or even Pratchett's) greatest work, but a fun one with lots of fun ideas & visuals, that I think Dante's skillful satire would elevate.

Volvagia said...

Ummm...looking at Dante's filmography, I wouldn't particularly want him touching a novel.

Merseytart said...

Gaiman has an episode of Doctor Who coming next year. I can't wait.

OtherRobert said...

I love MirrorMask like nothing else. It is perhaps my favorite fantasy film of all time. I think it's a lot more complex than just another Alice redux, especially considering the mythology created within the world. It's more of a Baum vibe in the later Oz books, with the characters in the twisted fantasy world directly reflecting, distorting, and reconfiguring the struggles of the real world into soul-searching challenges. Don't even get me started on the score to the film, cause once I pop I just can't stop myself.

Tim said...

There is a rumor that Eric Kripke, who created Supernatural, is working on a pitch for a Sandman television series. Now, I don't know Eric Kripke from Adam - could be he's the most inspired choice in the world - but something about a network TV version of Sandman makes me die a little inside, and by "a little" I mean "all of me".

Alison Flynn said...

I would love to see The Graveyard Book put on film if the right director is at the helm.

Mechanical Shark said...

American Gods as a short-run HBO series.

Arkaan said...

Sci-Fi or HBO Television series.

The Sandman

By Joss Whedon

Starring James Marsters (Desire), Ian McKellan (Destiny), Ben Wishaw (Dream), Alyson Hannigan (Death) and others. I have a full cast list here somewhere.

Brigdh said...

Though I also cringe a little at the thought of an Eric Kripke-produced, network TV version of Sandman, I do have to admit that the length and tangent-quality of the story probably would work better as a TV series than as a movie. But, you know, on HBO or something.

I also would like a movie-version of Good Omens. Although a lot of my favorite parts of the book are in the narrative voice, I think it could be very adaptable, and has a story that could lead it to be really popular.

The.Watcher said...

But Tim, Kripke did a wonderful job on the first 5 seasons of Supernatural, and is my favorite network show, so I fully trust him with Sandman.

Also, I am in favor of Sandman being a TV show as opposed to a movie, cos truthfully, I have not a clue of how you could adapt something as fleshed out and massive as Sandman's world into a 2 hr film.

I mean, look at how great Walking Dead turned out to be - maybe Eric could pitch the idea to HBO or AMC.

Volvagia said...

Supernatural? Really? Seems like generic network Freak of the Week garbage to me. Sorry, but the staged sitcom has more "freshness" potential than FotW. Which is why I watch The Big Bang Theory. That and Sheldon Cooper (an asexual heteroromantic at last check, progressing from an aromantic.)

Oliver said...

why do us film geeks always have to play with the idea of adapting other media into film? film is film. I'm not trying to stuff Halcyon Digest into a film, why should we be dry humping Sandman to death? It's a fucking masterpiece and it'll only ever be mediocre as a film or mini-series or collection of Bazooka Joe comic strips. it was made to be a graphic novel, leave it a graphic novel. instead of wasting time with brand name bullshit, let Neil Gaiman write a script or direct a film. I want to swallow a brick every time I hear about this nonsense, it's a waste of his talent. We're riding his coattails hoping for lightning to strike twice (we can only have so many Coralines) when we should just trust in his artistic skill.

WE SHOULD ALL BE ASHAMED.

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