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Creative Freedoms

In light of creative liberties, we are breaking the mold a bit on horror to discuss the creative freedoms directors express in film adaptations. When is it okay to take liberties on a character? Should it be an accurate representation or a fresh reimagining? Why do some creative ideas receive praise where others are criticized? How often do these creative freedoms succeed? Why do the fail?

To delve into this, we will look at a brief history of creative freedoms in film. Many in recent memory have been in the comic book realm. Creative freedoms on characters like Deadpool (Wolverine Origins), Blackheart (Ghost Rider), and Juggernaut (X-Men: Last Stand) have been met with severe criticism. Other liberties on characters like the Joker (The Dark Knight), Quicksilver (X-Men: Days of Future Past), and Ultron (Avengers 2) have found a resounding ovation. In the horror realm we have seen liberties on the Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises lead to disdain from the audience. In fact, few times has creative freedoms in the horror genre led to positive results. So what are the differences between all of these interpretations?

The most obvious difference between most of these comic characters and horror characters is that the comic characters are being adapted from comics, where the horror characters are being adapted from previous films. With comic characters comes an understanding from even the most die-hard of fans that the character will likely take some tweaking to be acceptable to non-comic fans and the general public. This means the director needs only find the proper balance to achieve adaptation nirvana. In horror the problem is quite the opposite. There is, in most cases, a successful film interpretation out there already. By essentially reimagining the character in a reboot, you are assuming improvements needed to be made. If there are no significant improvements, then you have simply reached a fork in the road that is by all accounts a catch-22. Either you reproduce the film and give the audience nothing new, or you attempt to make changes and butcher the character altogether.

The butchering of a character is certainly possible in the comic realm as well. Just look at the pale-faced emo from Ghost Rider that somehow took the name of Blackheart. Or the dreadful abomination that was Deadpool at the end of Wolverine Origins (luckily that is one that will be soon remedied). But then we have those moments of absolute surprise, like Ledger's turn as the Joker and the scene-stealing speedster Quicksilver.

So where does that leave us with upcoming comic films that appear to be getting it all wrong on screen? Is Leto going to give us a respectable Joker? In an attempt to humanize Apocalypse, did the crew take away what makes Apocalypse Apocalypse? Often in cases like these, when we end up surprisingly impressed, we look at the creative freedoms and say, "well, maybe that liberty wasn't such a bad idea after all". But what we are really saying isn't that the character's design turned out to be good, it's that the character's performance was amazing despite the initial design.

While not true in every case (no flawless acting could spare us the failures of Blackheart and Juggernaut), it is often simply a matter of the directing and performance of the character rather than how they look. As the saying goes, you can't judge a book by its cover. The failures of creativity-past has generally been one of missed opportunities in a scene or a lack of clever writing rather than an issue with the costume or actor chosen (Ryan Reynolds was always meant to play Deadpool, but the conception was all wrong in their creative liberties). Perhaps this is something that can be learned from the horror genre. It's not a matter of reimagining the character, but merely reimagining the character's actions or the world around the character. When you already have cinematic source material, it isn't a means of ease, but rather a detriment to produce something fresh and respectful. Just like in the comic world, you are playing with fire even when you might not realize it. Maybe it's time to realize it, and be vigilant of the successes and failures we have witnessed in recent memory.

© 2020 Sickle and Efrit | Dalton Vanhooser & Kyle Hagan