Good movie, not as good comic – The Naked Prey
There’s a natural inclination to think that films translate well into comics, and vice versa. Seems obvious. They both combine words and pictures to tell stories, true, but there are hazardous pitfalls that prevent a success in one from becoming a success in the other. Comics might look like pre-production storyboards, but they’re not. They have their own ebb and flow, their own lyricism. And movies? Ditto. Twenty-four frames per second doesn’t equate to twenty-four pages.
The Naked Prey is a pretty damn good film. But it’s one that was turned a blah little comic. For one good reason.
For those unfamiliar with the plot of this 1966 release, Prey starred Cornel Wilde as a guide leading an arrogant group of Great White Hunters on safari through the African wild. (There are numerous sad shots of elephants being felled for their ivory, which makes your toes curl in this day and age. It’s the anti-Hatari!. ) When they meet up with a group of natives, they hurl insults at them instead of offering them the customary gifts. The next time the Africans come around, they aren’t in as hospitable to the interlopers. The take them back to their village and use their own cruel and unusual methods to dispatch them — rings of fire with snakes in them, etc. Wilde is saved for last, and, in a premise later copied by Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, he escapes after he’s turned loose to be hunted. Then comes his struggle for survival, as he has to battle the elements and the warriors bent on finding him as he runs, bobs and weaves his way toward civilization.
It’s a simple premise, yes, but its success lies in the execution. The vivid settings combined with the sparse wordplay though much of the film’s runtime gives it an artistry beyond the violence. It’s a fine example of the old “show, don’t tell” adage. And this is the shining feature that gets a bit lost in a comic book, a medium which is often compelled — sometimes needlessly — to go heavy on the descriptions and thought balloons.
In fairness, the Naked Prey comic book tries. It doesn’t choke on its own verbiage like some tedious adaptations. Often there are moments that are underplayed rather than dwelled upon. Take one of the big takeaway scenes from the film, the killing of the cruel, cowardly head hunter (not to be confused with headhunter). This is all we get:
It’s the action in the second half of the film, as Wilde goes on the run, where the celluloid sings. Again, the comic could be worse. It could stuff every panel with narration, but there’s a refreshing inclination here to have one or two be silent. It’s still too much, though. Here are some of the better sequences — first, from the initial escape:
Second, during the hunt and flight:
The comic book isn’t bad, but it far too often goes into the main character’s head and describes what’s right before your eyes, a lot like that last panel. This is needless, because the art — from Joe Sinnott and Vince Colletta, talents who need no introduction — speaks for itself. As such, the whole thing feels like a missed opportunity. One is left dreaming of how memorable the comic could have been if it had gone a quieter route. Again — this isn’t a bad book. But it’s not as good as it could have been, and nowhere near as good as the movie. The many perils of adaptation strike again.