A Brief Look at Foreign Comics Adapted into Film
Italy’s Dylan Dog is interesting in that it is one of the first foreign comics adapted by Americans for the big screen. With the video release of the little seen feature film coming July 26, we were given to consider the foreign comics we know as readers and may have never seen the film versions. The first adaptation of Dylan Dog was a homegrown effort, 1994’s Dellamorte Dellamore (known in English as Cemetery Man or Of Death and Love) from director Michele Soavi.
Other countries have tried their hand at adapting their homegrown comics as films, with about the same level of fidelity and success as most American attempts. For example, there the dreadful 1966 movie based on Peter O’Donnell’s brilliant Modesty Blaise. Not to be outdone in awfulness, America tried their hand at a prime time series, starring Ann Turkel. The 1982 ABC pilot aired and got some reasonable reviews but Americanizing it robbed the show of its charm. The direct-to-video My Name is Modesty, released in 2004, was far worse.
America didn’t do any better with Britain’s beloved Judge Dredd. Danny Cannon and Sylvester Stallone share credit for ruining a wonderful concept with their ham-fisted 1995 feature film.
Italy’s Danger: Diabolik was turned into a 1968 feature film from horromeister Mario Bava based on the Italian comic character Diabolik, a 1962 creation by Angela and Luciana Giussani. The film is noteworthy simply because it was bad enough to be used as the final episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
More iconic was the 1968 film from director Roger Vadim, based on Jean-Claude Forest’s Barbarella. Starring Jane Fonda, it was psychedelic and campy and tremendous fun. Maybe that’s why attempts at a remake have stalled; hitting those notes is a trick most filmmakers today struggle with. John Philip Law deserves credit for appearing in both Diabolik and Barbarella in this year, showing his agent had no taste.
Maybe they should just faithfully adapt the source material much as the successful series about everyone’s favorite Gaul, Asterix, who has starred in 11 films since 1967.
They all could have taken lessons from Japan which pays a lot more fealty to the source material when adapting manga to anime or film to manga. A prime example is the seven films based on Lone Wolf and Cub. The first screened in America in the 1980s under the title Sword of Vengeance, just as comics fans were being introduced to First Comics’ editions of the classic tale. Shogun Assassin, also shown in the US, took the first film and a chunk of the second and for people unfamiliar with the concept, as I was when I screened it for Fangoria, it was eye-opening. Known as the Baby Cart series, they launched in 1972 and remained revered.
Of course, Belgium’s Tin Tin will take his turn this winter but that’s a story for another day.
Back before they began making the present Asterix film series (back in the ’70s, in fact), my ex- and i always felt that Terence Hill and Bud Spencer would have been perfect for live-action Asterix films.
(Hill, BTW, has produced, directed and starred in a series of TV versions of Lucky Luke comics…)
John Philip Law also had a cameo in CQ, a wonderful sendup of the European film industry in the era of Barbarella. Their film-within-a-film Dragonfly stands on its own, especially as it DOES stand on its own on the dvd – they edited all the clips together to show the whole film at once.
Besides Japan, France is probably the most active non-American country for comic-based film adaptations. Besides Asterix they’ve produce a bunch of their own, including Lucky Luke, Michel Vaillant, Blueberry and Largo Winch. Also, the mini-series XIII starring Stephen Dorff is based on a very popular series of the same name. It’s partially responsible for a new interest from American producers into their material as production is soon to begin on number of projects including Bullet to the Head, starring Sylvester Stallone.
Recall actually seeing Danger: Diabolik in the theatre when in high school, along with my friend Gerry. His mother was French and had given him some of the comics, of which I was totally unfamiliar and (unlike Gerry) I couldn’t read a word of French anyway. Gerry also introduced me to ASTERIX, one of many things for which I will always be grateful to him.