woensdag 30 september 2015

Today's Column: Crossovers and childhood dreams

September's column has arrived:

Column: Crossovers en kinderdromen

Oh boy, did I devour Batman versus Predator as a kid... Even though the subject matter was far more gory and gruesome than your typical Batman story and may not have been wholly suitable for a youngster my age. I think I turned out alright (I don't abide blood sports, for example). Of course, this wasn't your typical Batman story, since it was also a Predator story and those are usually the stuff of R-ratings. If they're not, they fall short of being a Predator story like the fans expect or desire them, which is one of the reasons no doubt the PG-13 rated movie Alien VS Predator was so lamented by the fanbase. But it does present another challenge when adapting crossovers: incompatibility. Batman is one of those characters which can suffer multiple age ratings, though the grittier, harder Dark Knight stories are usually received more fondly by the majority. But Predator, if done right, simply isn't suited for people under 16, or shouldn't be from a social viewpoint (like teenagers under 16 are not going to check out stuff the law says they can't, in the privacy of their own homes). Likewise, King Kong versus the Smurfs seems equally incompatible, though that's more because of the vastly different subject material rather than the age category. I put that in for a joke, but needless to say you can find some fan's home video depicting such a meeting on YouTube easily enough.

Fact is, crossovers are popular, and have always been so. Ancient Greek mythology already got that ball rolling by throwing several notable heroic characters together in the story of the Argonauts, like some Avengers of Classical Antiquity (and again in the Trojan War). Thanks to our contemporary Avengers, crossovers are a hot topic again, which even leads to rival studios teaming up (in itself a bit of a crossover) to bring the fans just the crossovers they want to see (I'm talking about you, new Marvel Spider-Man!). But crossovers are hardly a novel notion in the annals of film. Universal joining its iconic horror creatures together sounds more like they're remaking the likes of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man rather than them mindlessly copying Marvel, though it's likely a bit of both. But this wave of crossover movies will die down soon enough, since crossover stories usually are far from world class material.

Most of them actually are total gimmicks, cashing in on people's own perceptions of chance encounters between notable characters from different walks of popular culture. Not much story is needed really, the idea of two (or more) characters meeting, often fighting, suffices to draw attention. Batman versus Predator got it right at least, but Batman/Aliens proved less stellar material. The original King Kong versus Godzilla was a total dud, a typical Japanese Kaiju movie in which Kong looked nothing like the giant gorilla previously smashing New York. Crossovers are always fascinating, but not many of them are truly good. They're not designed to be, nor do they need to be. The characters meet, the characters part ways again, usually never to meet again. In the meantime, money exchanges hands between audience and producers. That's all there is to it really. Or is Marvel going to change this? After all, the notion of a shared universe that can endure for a few decades is a new thing, at least. And the number of crossovers between that universe's characters keeps growing, but there needs to be more story meat to it to keep the audience from losing interest. Same thing for the upcoming DC Cinematic Universe. But it remains to be seen whether the same will hold true for the Universal Monsters, the iconic Kaiju creatures or other popular franchises thrown in the mix together. You'd kinda need a separate universe for those, to keep these crossovers outside of continuity if needs be. That's how they always did it in the comics, to explain away why superheroes of different companies didn't join forces/clash more often if they inhabited the same realm: they didn't actually, these crossovers took place in other universes, outside of established continuity. A handy loophole, one that Marvel and DC can't seriously utilize anymore at the movies because that might make them lose face. But it works well enough for the likes of Freddy VS Jason (an actual movie), Tarzan VS King Kong (an actual book), or Godzilla VS the Smurfs (pure fiction).

It needs to, to stop fans from contemplating the possibilities to severely. Because if the Fantastic Four once fought Godzilla, Godzilla squabbeled with King Kong, King Kong battled Tarzan, Tarzan fought Predator, Predator warred with Aliens, Aliens plagued Batman and Batman co-operated with Spider-Man, that would mean Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four share the same universe! Now if only I could fit the Smurfs in there somewhere...

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