Skip to content →

Some Notes On RED

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.

Published in comics talk Work


  1. Ant Ant

    This is exciting to me, oh yes.

    Helen Mirren with a sniper rifle, indeed.

  2. Jeremy Jeremy

    I’ve read the script too, and I think my biggest problem with it is that tonally, it is much more upbeat than your graphic novel, which I loved because of it’s grim, serious cautionary-tale vibe, of government incompetence, agencies of murderers being run by bureaucrats. The script for Red seemed to me to lose much of the uniqueness of your story because it became another light, entertaining spy thriller. Not to say that it will be bad, necessarily – as you say, that cast is pretty splendid. But it would be nice if Hollywood took a chance on making a more challenging action thriller.

  3. Come to think of it, why DIDN’T we have a musical number in the book?

  4. Daniel Daniel

    You had me at Ernest Borgnine…

  5. >>>Helen Mirren with a sniper rifle.

    I hope she keeps it. She can get use out of it if that remake of The Long Good Friday is ever greenlighted (please tell me it has not yet been — or ever will be).


  6. Josh Hechinger Josh Hechinger

    You had me at Brian Cox, and I didn’t even need to be sold on the film.

  7. 908peruvian 908peruvian

    John C Reilly !!! Brian Cox !!!! VERY NICE !!!!!!

  8. The Hoeber brothers wrote Montana? Those are some funny guys. In Montana, these hitmen/bruisers were playing poker, and the movie kept coming back to them mid-game. The guy who lost each hand had to shoot himself somewhere. At one point, the movie returned to the game and all the players were shouting because they were pissed off at the guy who just lost, who then said “What? You didn’t say we couldn’t shoot through the same hole” as he put a gun to his already shot-through paw.

  9. Ernest Borgnine is still alive and making movies? Hot damn!

  10. Can the last line and maybe some art be next week’s shirt?

  11. Peter Peter

    I’m still trying to imagine how amused Helen Mirren was when she read the script and realized her character would handle lethal weaponry.

    BTW, does this news beat Billie Whitelaw wielding a pump-action shotgun in HOT FUZZ?

  12. Dieter Dieter

    I don’t want to be an ass, but I’m thinking about wether Ellis would think the same if he hadn’t been paid (and I hope well paid) for the rights to the movie.
    Would he praise a graphic novel based movie, with additional characters and/ or changed story/ tone/ mood?
    I’m not saying he wouldn’t, but I can’t help being a bit suspicious.

  13. […] Wh­en­ War­r­en­ El­l­i­s‘ Red­ w­as o­pt­io­n­e­d l­ast­ y­e­ar, it ca­u­sed­ little excitem­en­t. A­fter a­ll, it w­a­s on­ly on­e of d­oz­en­s of shoot-em­-u­p com­ics bein­g­ sn­a­pped­ u­p, a­n­d­ it’s n­ot a­ fa­n­ fa­vorite. (Tha­t’s n­ot to sa­y it’s a­ ba­d­ book­, or tha­t it d­oesn­’t ha­ve its fa­n­s, ju­st tha­t it’s n­ot exa­ctly Spid­er Jeru­sa­lem­.) Bu­t it ha­s rou­n­d­ed­ u­p a tru­ly w­onderf­u­l c­ast that b­oasts B­ru­ce­ W­i­l­l­i­s, Morgan­­ Fre­e­man­­, He­l­e­n­­ Mi­rre­n­­, an­­d John­­ C. Re­i­l­l­y­. N­­atu­ral­l­y­, su­ch a l­arge­ cast make­s i­t pre­tty­ e­vi­de­n­­t that the­ sl­i­m story­l­i­n­­e­ has b­e­e­n­­ e­xpan­­de­d con­­si­de­rab­l­y­, l­e­adi­n­­g E­l­l­i­s to addre­ss fan­­ fe­ars on­­ hi­s­ per­s­onal webs­i­te. […]

  14. […] When Warren Ellis‘ Red was optioned last year, it caused little excitement. After all, it was only one of dozens of shoot-em-up comics being snapped up, and it’s not a fan favorite. (That’s not to say it’s a bad book, or that it doesn’t have its fans, just that it’s not exactly Spider Jerusalem.) But it has rounded up a truly wonderful cast that boasts Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, and John C. Reilly. Naturally, such a large cast makes it pretty evident that the slim storyline has been expanded considerably, leading Ellis to address fan fears on his personal website. […]

  15. […] EDITED TO ADD: my thoughts, earlier in the year, on the changes being made to the book for the film. […]

  16. […] wurde nun mit prominenter Besetzung verfilmt: Die Prämisse zu dem Film ist ähnlich doch warnte Warren Ellis schon vor geraumer Zeit davor, dass eine Verfilmung einer 60-seitigen Graphic Novel nicht orginalgetreu […]

  17. […] It seems that the adaptation is a departure from the original, but I have not read the source material. Still, there are already comments swirling around the just-released trailer about the grim-tone of the original being switched for a more humorous slant. Ellis seems pleased with it though and is quick to point out that it is an adaptation. […]

  18. Matt Matt

    Helen Mirren with a belt fed machine gun, John Malkovich doing the CIA Loon Thing – and the thing is, RED as a trade is still there on my shelf. I am so pleased for you, that your work is reaching a larger audience and I will be seeing this when it comes out.

  19. Timothy Timothy

    It would be very cool if, as an extra, they shot a short film adapting the graphic novel scene for scene. Watching 40 minutes of Bruce willis killing lots of people sure sounds like 40 minutes well spent to me.

  20. […] spies put out to pasture who aren’t ready to be retired yet. Red writer Warren Ellis has posted about its differences with his graphic novel, but heck, I’m in with the concept and cast. […]

  21. Fod_xp Fod_xp

    When I saw that cast list my mouth dropped and then I saw Ernest’s name and *I SHIT YOU NOT!!!* came in my pants, on the spot. Luckily I was at home.

    Instant win already and I WILL be seeing this movie.

  22. Want!

  23. […] Response: Well…Warren Ellis covered most every base here, and I can dig it. The comic is its own thing, and adapting it directly would have made a really […]

  24. […] Warren Ellis » Some Notes On RED (tags: blog comics film movies red time warrenellis) […]

  25. Ernest Borgnine! That brings back memories. It’s always odd to go over someone’s filmography on the IMDB and find that they were in fewer things than you remember. That’s a bunch of actors who seemed to be in every other that I saw when I was young – Elliot Gould, Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine even – who were, if you go down the list, only in a handful. Although Borgnine must have had the most perceptive agent ever, because he’s been in so many films that are TV staples. I had even forgotten he was in The Dirty Dozen.

    And Helen Mirren with a sniper rifle, yes. John Boorman gave us Helen Mirren in a metal breastplate; Michael Powell gave us The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and also Helen Mirren in the altogether (in “Age of Consent”), which are of equal value in my opinion; Warren Ellis indirectly gave us Helen Mirren with a sniper rifle. She was put on this earth to inspire men.

Comments are closed.