I’ve had a bunch of questions on the forthcoming movie version of mine and Cully Hamner’s graphic novel RED, which starts shooting next month (I think). Let me try to field a couple of them.
First off: RED, the book, is 66 pages long. If you were to film 66 pages of comics, you might, might just about get 40 minutes of film out of it. If you added a musical number. The comics-page to film-minute ratio is pretty bad. A straight adaptation of a 150-page graphic novel might, if you squint at it, get you a 100-minute film. But it’s unlikely, because comics and films use time so differently. One page with four lines of dialogue on it can be slowed to a crawl to the point where you have to spend several minutes digesting the information on it. In film, however, four lines of dialogue is four lines of dialogue, and you can’t just pronounce it very slowly for the same time consumption. Beyond filmic/dramatic effects like the pause or montage or whatever, film is timelocked.
So, yes, RED the film is very different. Not least because it needed to generate more material than the book itself actually constituted.
It is in fact best to consider RED as a short story being adapted into film.
Next, and related: RED-the-book is also something of a chamber piece. There are essentially only four characters. (And a lot of people who get killed.) Now, while you can perfectly well make a film with only four characters in — or even just one character — those films tend not to be massive commercial propositions. And Summit is in the business of making commercial films. Also, they needed to expand RED from a half-hour to an hour-and-a-half. So, yes, there are a lot of new characters.
The new characters are all in theme, all in the same line of work as (Paul in the book, Frank in the film) Moses. The theme being, in part (and also poked at in my other books GLOBAL FREQUENCY and RELOAD) the unexploded bombs of the 20th Century.
(This actually gave the Hoebers the excuse to have fun with old spy tropes like CIA Nutter Guy — there’s a lovely piece of business with him in the first half-hour that amused me no end.)
I don’t think any of them are bad. Also, did you see the goddamn cast list that’s signed on for those characters? Bruce Willis as Moses, yes. But also: Morgan Freeman, Mary-Louise Parker, John C Reilly, Helen Mirren, Julian McMahon, Brian Cox, Ernest Borgnine and Richard Dreyfus. It reminds me a bit of those 70s films like THE TOWERING INFERNO, that had in them everyone you wanted to see in a film, all at once. RED is a bit like that, only with more automatic weapons.
Bruce Willis: when you look back over his filmography, that man’s actually had an incredibly weird career. DIE HARD and all that, sure… but also FIFTH ELEMENT, TWELVE MONKEYS, PULP FICTION, an adaptation of a Harlan Ellison short story for TV and getting a film adaptation of a Kurt Vonnegut book made by sheer force of will. Not bad.
The tone: no, the film isn’t as grim as the book. The book is pretty grim. But it’s also pretty small. When I sell the rights to a book, they buy the right to adapt it in whatever way they see fit. I can accept that they wanted a lighter film, and, as I’ve said before, the script is very enjoyable and tight as a drum. They haven’t adapted it badly, by any means. People who’ve enjoyed the graphic novel will have to accept that it’s an adaptation and that by definition means that it’s going to be a different beast from the book. The film has the same DNA. It retains bits that are very clearly from the book, as well as, of course, the overall plotline. But it is, yes, lighter, and funnier. And if anyone has a real problem with that, I say to you once again:
Helen Mirren with a sniper rifle.
I mean, if you don’t want to see a film with Helen Mirren with a sniper rifle, I’m not sure I want to know you.