Variety reports that a new adaptation of Witchblade is in the works. Am I the only one who thinks this is a bad idea? I’m not worried about the usual things. I’m worried it’ll be as bad as the original. Besides, there’s already been a TV adaptation that would be a far, far better source for a movie script.
Over the decades, there’s been a staggering number of films and TV shows adapted from comics. Think of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers in the 30s, Batman and Superman in the 40s, Batman and The Green Hornet in the 60s, and then the deluge that began in the 70s that’s now included Blade, Daredevil, Dr Strange, Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, Hellraiser, Swamp Thing and countless others.
Now, just as kids always ask themselves “who would win in a fight: Superman or Spiderman?” (Superman, obviously. Unless Spiderman had some kryptonite, of course), so comics/graphic novels fans have debated endlessly the question “Which was better: the movie or the comic?”. With very, very few exceptions, the answer is clear: the original. Few adaptations of any material, whether the works of Charles Dickens or the works of Stan Lee, have ever matched the original’s quality. Even with those shows and films that were really, really good, such as Superman, X-Men and Batman Begins, there’s still always some doubt.
Witchblade was one show where there was no doubt. The highest rated original show on TNT when it aired, it was leagues ahead of the original.
If you ever think about reading the comic, don’t. It can be summarised thus: woman in metal bikini fights crime with ray gun. Ugh. However, the TV show threw most of the original material into the bin, thankfully, and turned it into something that was at times both disturbing and thoughtful – interspersed with mindless stupidity (this was TNT, remember).
Even the basic premise of the witchblade itself was changed to something far more evocative. Alien artifact that fell to Earth and can fire lasers? Sounds crud. How about “a branch ripped from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”? Whether this was intended as metaphor or literal truth, it’s still something that makes you think long and hard: a branch from the very tree that stood in Eden. What would a branch from that tree be like? What does its existence mean? The show was filled with these kinds of biblical and metaphysical allusions, ranging from episode titles in Latin to the appearance of the Wandering Jew (albeit it as the Wandering Roman) and the spear used against Jesus on the cross by his guards.
The end of the first season was notorious for its ‘reboot’. Having killed off just about every main character in the show, the producers turned back time to the beginning of the season and started again. Yet even then, it was more a sign of good writing than bad writing. All the story arcs had led to that inevitable ending, which was entirely in keeping with the fatalism of the show: that ultimately there are things about the world that we don’t understand, that we can’t control yet that want to control us and it doesn’t take much for that to happen. Even the mechanism of the reboot was cleverly foreshadowed: a character who appeared without explanation in background and foreground shots throughout the season is revealed as having the power to turn back time using the witchblade; he knew what was going to happen and has been watching and waiting.
Typical reboots, such as the endless reconfigurations of Alias and the dismal Viper, also tend to ignore everything that happened before them. Witchblade‘s second season cleverly hinged on a time-honoured theme: “What if you could go back in time and change one thing? What effect would it have?” For starters, one character, who spent the entire first season as a ghost, gets to live while the villain ‘dies’. But the second season then continues on a different path. Cleverly, it still touches on the first season’s story arcs, leaving the audience in the know about characters’ hidden agendas, without those agendas having to be explained again. Important characters from the first season appear, but in different guises and as incidental characters. Despite its “action channel” setting and trite roots, it actually made you think, this show.
All good things have to come to an end. Despite the writing in the second season being poorer than in the first, the show continued to garner good ratings. But the star, Yancy Butler, had a ongoing struggle with alcoholism that she frequently lost. TNT ended the show, deciding she was too much of a liability to risk so much money on.
If the proposed Witchblade movie can echo the best qualities of the TV show, then I’ll be looking forward to it. But if it just uses the comic as a template, it’ll be another nail in the coffin of quality movies.