Adapting B.P.R.D. to film, or for television?

At the end of last month, MTV’s Splash Page posted highlights from an interview with Dark Horse Comics and Entertainment president, Mike Richardson, in which Richardson broadly hints that the next movie out of the Hellboy-universe might not be a third Hellboy, but a BPRD adaptation (the article is vague as to whether this project is being looked at or worked on by Guillermo del Toro or not).

I would be happy to see either a Hellboy III or a BPRD movie, so long as it is made with the same care and affection for the characters that mark the first two Hellboys, and I can see the logic in shifting the franchise to BPRD, but, as I have noted previously, what I would really like to see is for the team title to be made into a TV series.

Making the next movie about the Bureau instead of Hellboy would follow logically from the end of Golden Army, where Hellboy quits the organization, much as he does at the end Seed of Destruction in the comics. Moving Hellboy along would do for the movies what it has done for the books, which is to give the other characters more room for growth and development and for extending the storyworld beyond the horizons of a single, titanic figure.

One crucial difference between the comics and the movies, though, is that in the former, Hellboy quits on his own, while in the latter, Abe and Liz also quit. I think that any BPRD movie would need to reintegrate at least one of those characters to be viable. In terms of their cultural resonance, Hellboy isn’t Batman and the BPRD is not the X-Men, which means that the next film, whatever it is, and if it is, can hardly afford to lose all of the characters that have anchored the movies to this point.

It is easy to think of ways to bring Abe back into the fold, but, due to her pregnancy, it is difficult to see how Liz could be part of a BPRD movie without also including Hellboy. You could write a big break-up between the two, or have Liz’s power threatening to leave her control again, maybe leaving Hellboy as a single dad (wouldn’t that be interesting), but that seems a strange turn to take once you’ve decided to essentially marry Liz and Hellboy and give them a child. Can Abe provide enough continuity to make the average moviegoer or comics fan excited about seeing the film? Probably no way to answer that question in advance.

One way to short circuit this problem is to look at a BPRD movie as a reboot, but I’m not sure what that would look like, or if it would be smart given that much of the potential audience will only have the Hellboy movies for reference. Most importantly, Hellboy needs to be part of the background for the Bureau and if you don’t pick up where Golden Army leaves off, how do you effectively do that while also making a BPRD adaptation and not another Hellboy? Clearly you need to be more clever than me to figure these questions out.

This is one place where I think adapting the series for television makes more sense than a film. I think that a change in medium would offer more of an opportunity to restructure the storyworld in the adaptation process, if for no other reason than you don’t have to deal with the legacy of prior works on TV. I can easily see how a BPRD television series could be made without Hellboy as a primary character, as a recurring character, maybe popping up in flashback, or as someone who crosses paths with the Bureau on occasion, but I think you can make his presence felt without needing to build the show around him, given that you would be starting from a unique beginning on TV.

However, in a more general sense, I think that BPRD is simply better material for television than it is for film.

Movies adapted from serialized fiction, especially genres like science fiction, fantasy, or superhero, are a chance to see the spectacular aspects of stories rendered in a spectacular way, but inevitably, this comes at the expense of character and narrative development.

Yes, BPRD has its epic qualities, but you also have years of complex character interactions and stories that have been unfolding through multiple-interlocking layers of narrative for essentially the entire run of the series, and even back to Hellboy. BPRD, to me, suggests The Wire or Lost more than it does Lawrence of Arabia or Star Wars.

Hellboy, by contrast, is, on his own, a bigger than life character and, maybe for that reason, in the comics, is used for more episodic storytelling than is the whole, evolving crew at the BPRD. Generally, I think that it is probably easier to take a single character and use him or her in different contexts because you have less to manage in terms of relationships and character development than you do when trying to focus on a group of people. In short, I think that movies play well to the strengths and qualities of Hellboy, both book and character, and in the same way, I think that television is a better medium for adapting BPRD.

Where would such a series find a home? That’s a hard question to answer, but I am thinking more SyFy or AMC than Fox or NBC.  Done right, this would clearly be a cult-y niche show, and a channel or network that has a business model that works with showcasing interesting, alternative type programming without requiring some sort of buy-in from a wider audience would be best. I also think that it would be helpful for the series to be programmed on a more intensive basis, ten or twelve episodes a season instead of twenty-two or twenty-four, and, with scripted programs at least, that is still more common with off network shows than it is for those on the big four.

Of course, all of this is from a fan’s perspective and what I’d like to see happen. Richardson may have been cagey in the MTV interview because nothing may get made. And that would be ok, too, at least so long as the books are still going strong.

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