After a slew of casting backlash in the last couple weeks, I thought I’d gear this edition of Redhead Temper towards not only the phenomenon of supposed poor casting choices but also the probably more pertinent phenomenon of people reacting equally poorly. I’m not arguing for a better, more understanding response, mind you. I’m merely exploring the trend for what it is and wondering why it is what it is.
So, let’s identify the “issues:” first, there was Ben Affleck as Batman. Then, there was fifty shades of oh-hell-no when Charlie Hunnam and Dakota Johnson nabbed the roles of Anastasia and Christian in what I can’t imagine will be anything less than an NC-17 rated adaptation of E.L. James’ bestsellers. And before I go any further, I’d like everyone to know that I am no expert on the DC universe, nor have I actually read the Fifty Shades books. Therefore, I’m not super inclined to have a strong opinion one way or another, which is the kind of clarity I feel is necessary to even talk about these two things at all.
Meanwhile though, Ben Affleck was also announced somewhat less spectacularly as our Ben in the Gone Girl adaptation that Gillian Flynn is helping pen while David Fincher will direct. Rosamund Pike is our Amy, and I think she’ll add the perfect blend of simple beauty masking a complex cruelty the character calls for. But will she have chemistry with Affleck? Isn’t Affleck a little old, I thought, Gone Girl being a personal favorite book of mine and therefore my investment and analysis went a little further than my sort of objective observations of the casting news I’m going to be focusing on here. But I think these general apprehensions and nitpicking of an actor’s face, body, voice, and overall presence even are good places to start.
Ben Affleck has undergone so many transitions in his career already that it isn’t unfathomable to me that he can play a superhero. He already tried with Daredevil but the flop facets of this film cannot be blamed solely on him. He was both intense and subtle in his sophomore directorial effort, The Town, and isn’t doing the kinds of comedies he had once taken part in with Kevin Smith. So why then are people afraid he will make Batman campy again? Is he too old? Is it star text at its absolute most hindering– that we know him as a family man now who appeared on SNL last fall a little chubbier than we all remember him being even with that 70’s hair in Argo? Does he not fit the Batman type? And if he doesn’t, then who does?
I’d venture to say that Christian Bale left a hole where the role once stood that fans can never see anyone else filling. Perhaps we can assume that anyone who was cast would have evoked the same kind of shock and disgust among fans. Maybe not. What I’m getting at now though is that I was considering writing this piece with the opinion that opinions don’t make a difference, unless studios consider all the people who won’t even buy a ticket for curiosity’s sake. Then I read a headline that questioned whether they actually would possibly recast the role.
I am so interested that we live in a media climate where people on twitter and Facebook and Tumblr might have enough pull merely because they have these outlets through which their voices can be heard, so much pull that we may actually come to control our media, our movies. Or can we? How much does public support actually influence casting, shooting, even distributing? What if the studio intended this Batman to actually be campy after all? Is it so bad to actually change things up? Again, I feel like if we heard our new Batman would be too similar to Bale’s, wouldn’t that be equally sacrilegious?
I think that’s truly what we’re dealing with here– a different kind of sacrilege than my last Redhead Temper discussed, but sacrilege nonetheless. We hold our franchises and novels and any other source material to be holy and when it is not treated as such, we as devout fans and paying viewers feel to be cheated, undermined, and ignored.
I have friends who read the Fifty Shades trilogy and announced the following sentiments upon my revealing who they finally cast: I’m not seeing it, he’s not tall enough, how is she supposed to wear the heels she’s said to be wearing if he’s not tall enough, she doesn’t look innocent enough, etc. I was fascinated by their attention to detail which, when looked past by those in power who should have just as much attention to detail if not more if they are to use their power to create something reminiscent and worthy, seems like a waste of energy. One friend even posited “George Clooney 20 years ago” as the perfect casting. But clearly, we cannot always have our ideal casting.
I’m guilty of it too; my cinematic brain churning all throughout Gone Girl, going back and forth between Scott Speedman or Bradley Cooper, Brit Marling or Rachel McAdams. It’s disheartening to remember you aren’t the casting director and that so much more than fitting a real person into a fictional character and living up to those fan expectations goes into planning and executing a film adaptation. So then the question becomes, do we even want to see the adaptations at all if we’re so afraid of feeling scorned? It’s a tough question to consider, I think. If people go back to the books after the films, will they envision something new than they did originally, something deceitful for its lack of accuracy? Will first time readers only be able to see the actors and not have that opportunity to build a cast in their heads?
I realize I’m raising more problematic questions than suggesting answers, but I think all we can do is try to cope. I can’t believe I’m about to say this but these movies will always just be movies– if one doesn’t like the new Batman in all his Ben Affleck-ness then just decide that after giving him a chance. Decide to stick with Bale or Keaton, decide to lump him in with Clooney and you will have something far more interesting to argue about liking “Batman” because you will have support for whatever answer you give to the question of “which one.” You have the comic books, in which these characters are always changing as it is, illustration wise as well as costume, story, tone, etc. And yet, I know comic fans complain just as much about some of these changes too.
And as far as adapting novels goes, you will always have your ideal casting when you read those books. You will feel all the more correct and mighty and righteous to come out of the film and tell me WHY Charlie Hunnam didn’t do a good job, as opposed to judging beforehand. And again, I think one has every right to judge; after all, they know these characters so well already. Yet, film and literature are two very different mediums, and the business side of film may always have something to do with why someone who had been rumored to play a character isn’t actually going to. It’s annoying, it’s frustrating, but it is unavoidable.
Further, I think the one immensely fascinating thing about these casting decisions and fan/audience culture today is a silver lining in disguise– for even if we cannot use the current media climate and social networking to change that which we are unhappy with, at least we have a support system online where, chances are, you’ll find someone who agrees with you. There is even a site with 22,000 or so supporters petitioning Alexis Bleidel and Matt Bomer for the Fifty Shades roles, and yet when Matt Bomer was originally mentioned, people complained that his homosexuality in real life would distract them from fully committing to believing him as the normative masculine role of Christian.
So again, we cannot please everyone but that’s probably why casting isn’t left up to a vote on twitter; the politics are too complex for us to grapple with and even if we were to understand them, our emotional connection with the texts and characters as they are written or have been played before would end in a chaotic indecision which would please literally no one, including execs and even some fans who would never see the films come to fruition.
Trust me– as much as fans may boycott now, the Batman revamp and Fifty Shades film will make money. I refuse to believe that we aren’t all at least a little curious, even as we are feeling burned initially. And maybe this curiosity is the first step towards coping, without feeling like you’re betraying your beloved book or character at all in the process. So, I end it with all of that muddled advice and the promise that I get it, but have to wait until late 2014 to see how well I can practice what I preach when Gone Girl finally comes out in theaters.