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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: Accept Your Punishment

Posted on 18 April 2014 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. This time, we cover Marvel’s most popular vigilante, THE PUNISHER, and the unsuccessful attempts to build a film franchise around him. 

mikezeckpunisherHow is this for a film-ready concept? A man takes his wife and two children on pleasant picnic in the park. Unfortunately, it happens to be in a part of the part where a mob hit was being held. Being discovered, the mobsters kill the man’s family in front of his eyes, and leave him for dead. Only, he didn’t die. He survived and began using his military training to hunt down organize crime. He becomes a vigilante to make the streets safe.

Sounds good, right? It’s pretty close to the back story of Paul Kelsey, Charles Bronson’s character in the Death Wish films, a fairly successful franchise in and of itself. So a film based around the above character should be golden, right? Wrong.

Well, this is the backstory of the Punisher, a Marvel character who holds the distinction of being a three time loser when it comes to starting a film franchise in his name. The question is why?

THE-PUNISHERThe first attempt at bringing him to the big screen was in 1989 in the form of Dolph Lundgren in The Punisher. I already covered this film in the series here, so I won’t go over that familiar ground again. I will say that I find it hard consider that film a serious attempt to bring the character to the screen, especially considering that financial difficulties prevented the film from getting a U.S. release.

Budgetary concerns were also an issue 15 years later when the character actually did appear in the film that was released in the States. Jonathan Hensleigh asked for a budget of $64 million for his version of The Punisher. He got less than half that from Artisan Entertainment with $31 million. This meant the shooting would take place in Florida, not New York. It meant that the script had to be rewritten time and time again to keep it under budget. And, since most of that budget went to the cast, effects and scenes had to be done on the cheap.

Although, considering what we got for that money, we don’t know if adding more cash would have made the film any better.


Punisher2004posterThe Punisher was a case of Hensleigh, who not only co-wrote the script with Michael France, but also made his directorial debut with the film, not understanding what his audience wanted. He thought if he threw in characters from the comics such as Joan, Mr. Bumpo, Spacker Dave and the Russian, he’d be free to disregard anything else that made the comic book character great. He also thought as long as he threw mindless action at audiences, they’d willfully ignore some of the idiotic shortcut he made in the narrative.

You don’t have to wait long for the first misstep. Frank Castle, a.k.a The Punisher, played by Thomas Jane, is now an F.B.I. agent who kills the son of a crooked businessman in a sting operation. The businessman, Howard Saint (Jazz Traveltini), decides to get his revenge by having all of Castle’s family killed.

Lucky for him, the Castle family was having a large family reunion not long after. So, not only does Castle lose his wife and children, but also his mom and pop, Aunt Mitsy, his sister and her no-account dork of a husband ,and that strange cousin who smells like Vicks who you only see once every five years. Ante, you have just been upped!

I’m sure Hensleigh thought that by turning the original “eye for an eye” trope into an “eye for an eye for an eye” and upping the number of dead Castles would be just the type of “more” audiences would eat up. He was wrong.

thomasjanepunisherThe fact that the death of Castle’s comic book family was brought on by a random twist of fate adds pathos to his origin. If he had his picnic in another park or another time of day, his family would still be alive. But forces beyond his control put him and his family there in that very spot. In the film, his own actions put his family at risk. His family’s death was less random, it was just his past coming back to haunt him. The former way works better dramatically.

And the massacre at the family reunion was, no pun intended, overkill. It was as if Hensleigh didn’t think a father watching his kids die, or a husband watching the woman he loved expire, had enough emotional impact. It did and does. Having every single member of his extended family might have seemed like a sure-fire way to push Castle deeper into the valleys of mourning and depression (while making Saint seem like much more of a menace), but what it really told audiences is that the film will be bigger than the comic, but not necessarily better.

Another example is how the Punisher is portrayed on the screen. For me, the character works best when he is direct. He finds a target, he kills the target, he moves on to the next target. This is not to say there is not a certain amount of planning that goes on, but none that slides over into the Machiavellian. So, The Punisher taking out a bad guy’s money laundering operation, that’s fine. His breaking up a partnership Saint had with a pair of drug runners, okay, that could work. Manipulating Saint into falsely believing his right-hand man was having an affair with his wife so Saint would kill them both? That’s a bit too much.

castle and russianBut my biggest problem with the film had nothing to do with the comic books. About halfway through the film, there’s a scene where Castle goes up to a Sheriff holding a press conference and basically says “I’m Frank Castle, and I want to know why you haven’t found my family’s murderer.” This annoyed the heck out of me because it was essentially a phony way of jacking up risk at the expense of the plot and characterization. Yes, it was presented as Castle wanting to let Saint know he was still alive. But why would he want do that? He was an FBI agent who has worked undercover and he had spent some time in the military. He should know that being off the radar would have some advantages. He could strike at Saint’s organization methodically without calling attention to himself and putting his mission of vengeance, and the people around him, in danger.

But, no, we get the big reveal at the press conference. I think the real reason why the scene was included was because Hensleigh wanted to have Saint send the Russian and, well, Sam Club’s Johnny Cash after him and put the neighbors he met in danger. That’s it. He wasn’t thinking of the story or characterization of even if it made sense. He had a result he wanted, this was the easiest way to get there, so it happened.

punishersainttoroLuckily, the film was saved from being completely awful by Jane’s performance and that of his supporting cast. Unfortunately, it opened opposite Kill Bill Vol 2, and, really, if you were looking for an action film to go see, wouldn’t you rather see that one instead? Many fans thought that, as The Punisher opened in second place with half the weekend grosses of  Kill Bill Vol 2. It would go on to just barely earn it’s budget back domestically, and only $54 million worldwide.

Those numbers might not seem like the kind that would warrant a sequel, but a sequel was in the works before The Punisher even hit theaters. The plan was for Jane and director Hensleigh to return, with The Punisher facing off against Jigsaw in the film. However, script problems stalled development, causing Hensleigh to leave. Scripts were worked on over the next four years by Stuart Beattie and a pre-Sons of Anarchy Kurt Sutter. Sutter’s script was reportedly final straw for Jane, who backed out of the film due to his dislike of it.

Sutter’s script was rewritten Nick Santora, Art Marcum and Matt Hollway (so much so that he took his name off the film as only one scene of his remained) and Leni Alexander was hired as director. And in 2008, Punisher: War Zone was released to an unsuspecting world.

punisherwarzoneposterI believe that this film was probably as close to the comic book version of the character as we’re going to get. You had the feeling that Hensleigh was trying to turn what would work best as a cheesy action film into a Greek tragedy. Alexander went the opposite direction and traveled down the Grindhouse road, earning the R-rating fans were clamoring for. From the opening, where Frank silently dispatches a mob family–one with a chair leg to the eye–to the gory origin of Jigsaw to the finale, where Castle must shoot his way through a three story hotel full of bad guys, the film had enough over-the-top blood and violence to satisfy fans of the character and the genre.

Ray Stevenson takes over for Jane in the lead role, and, being five years older, adds a sense of world-weariness to the role. The film is less a sequel than a soft reboot (the origin is referred to once, and the body count is only Castle’s wife and children), but it falls more in line with the comics’ Punisher as a driven force of vengeance.

raystevensonpunisherI’m not saying that Punisher: War Zone should knock Citizen Kane off the top of any top ten lists, or even that it is a great film. But if you are a fan of the Punisher and hyper-violent shoot ‘em ups, then this film is the better Punisher film of the two.

Unfortunately, not enough people saw the film to make up their own opinions. The film debuted at #8 the weekend it was released, and only made $8 million worldwide, way below its $35 million budget. It was a flop in every sense of the word and killed the Punisher’s cinematic life dead. Lionsgate let their option on the character elapse, allowing the rights to revert back to Marvel. Marvel appears to be in no hurry to bring Frank Castle back in live-action, as the character has yet to appear in the studios far range plans for its characters, either in film or on TV.

The character does have its fans, one of which is Thomas Jane. During the 2012 San Diego Comic Con, he released a short film sequel to his version of the Punisher titled Dirty Laundry.

Next time, we take on another much maligned marvel movie franchise, Fantastic Four.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: To HELLBOY And Back

Posted on 04 April 2014 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. Today, we talk about a successful creator-owned franchise turned film franchise, Hellboy.

darkhorselogoLast installment, we talked about Dark Horse Comics and how the success of its Aliens and Predator licenses cause it to expand its operations. One of the most notable expansions came in 1994 when they started the Legend imprint.

Legend was a boutique imprint started by comic book legends Frank Miller and John Byrne to showcase creator-owned titles from the pair, all published by Dark Horse. It was here where Miller’s Sin City was home to, for instance, and Byrne housed his Next Men series. It was an answer to Image Comics, the other imprint started by superstar creators for their own creator-owned properties, only for superstars that might not be as young or hot as the Image 7. Invitations went out to a number of comic creators to join Miller and Byrne, and one of the creators who agreed to become part of Legend’s starting line up was Mike Mignola.

Mike Mignola was a comics veteran at the time Legend began, with over a decade’s experience. He got his start as an inker at Marvel Comics before moving on to become a pencil artist on titles such as Rocket Raccoon, Incredible Hulk and Alpha Flight. He also provided numerous covers for all companies, and eventually moved on to work on diverse projects ranging from blockbuster crossovers such as Cosmic Odyssey to esoteric fare such as Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

hellboysketchHellboy started out as a convention sketch Mignola did for a fan of your general, garden variety demon.  But Mignola liked the name so much that when the time came to create an original character of his own, he built a hero around the name.

Originally intended to be part of a superhero team, Mignola decided to focus on Hellboy exclusively when he couldn’t come up with a good name for the unit. Hellboy was a demon from hell summoned to Earth by the Nazis during the last months of World War II. The Nazis intended to use the demon against a squad of attacking Allied Forces, but unfortunately for them, they plucked an infant demon from Hell. The child demon was no use to the Nazi’s, who were quickly overrun. The demon baby was then adopted by the American forces. In a case of environment overriding heredity, the demon grew up to become a rough and tumble monster hunter dubbed Hellboy.

nextmen21Hellboy quickly became success for Legend and Mignola. As a matter of fact, the series outlasted the imprint, which folded in 1998, by 16 years and counting. Adventures of  the character continue to this day, and the series has spawn a number of spin-offs and tie-ins over the years. And with that kind of success comes attention from Hollywood.

Luckily for Mignola and his creation, that attention came from celebrated director Guillermo del Toro. The Mexican director had burst on the scene with Chronos and Mimic and was coming off the biggest hit of his career in Blade II when a chance to adapt Hellboy came his way. A fan of the comic, del Toro used his new found clout to protect Hellboy on his journey to the big screen. When the studio insisted he cast Vin Diesel as Hellboy, del Toro stuck by his and Mignola’s original original choice of Ron Perlman. When the suits wanted the character’s origin changed so that the character was a human and not a demon, del Toro preserved the character’s comic book origin. In 2004, del Toro delivered us Hellboy.

Hellboy_posterThe result is a very good film.del Toro was a big enough fan to capture the Lovecraftian pulp noir of the comic book, but was also a skilled enough director to make the film entertaining. Hellboy adapted the series first story arc, Seeds of Destruction, in its entirety–with Easter eggs from other stories thrown in for good measure. Perlman made a pitch-perfect Hellboy, capturing the tough guy persona the character needed and deserved expertly. The rest of the cast were solid, if not entirely famous names, who worked well together and built a believable universe out of the outlandish property.

The film made just over $99 million worldwide against a $66 million dollar budget, which was hardly the stuff sequels are made from. But it’s success on the home video market earned it a shot at a follow-up. del Toro returned four years later to bring us Hellboy II: The Golden Army.

hellboy2posterThe film was originally supposed to come out in 2006, but its original studio, Revolutionary Pictures, went out of business. Universal Pictures stepped in to pick up the reins. del Toro decided not to adapt a story from the run in the comics, but instead focus on an original story taken from  folklore–an ancient war between the elves and humanity. If the first film featured Lovecraftian beasts taken directly from the comics, this film featured myth-inspired beasts that would be right at home in the film del Toro did before Hellboy II, Pan’s Labyrynth.

If the first Hellboy barely backed into a sequel, that would not be the problem here. Hellboy II almost doubled its $85 million budget with an worldwide gross of over $160 million dollars. However, a second sequel would not be soon coming. del Toro got involved with making the Hobbit film for a while before backing out of directing that film, and then moved on to Pacific Rim. But during the publicity rounds for that film last year, both del Toro and Perlman stated that they would be interested in making a third Hellboy, but it appears to be in the early stages at best.

Next time, we’ll discuss one of Marvel’s most popular characters two appearances on the screen. Yes, we have finally made it to the Punisher.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: Versus

Posted on 21 March 2014 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. Today, we talk about a film franchise based on a comic book featuring characters created in the movies, Aliens vs. Predator.

Alien was not adapted from comic books. It was an original story from Dan O’Bannon and script from O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett.

Predator was also not adapted from comic books. It sprung from the minds of screenwriters Jim and John Thomas.

So, why am I talking about the Aliens Vs. Predator franchise in a comic book film column? Because if a comic company didn’t decide to pit the two against each other, the film franchise might not have existed.

darkhorselogoDark Horse Comics is a small, independent publisher based out of Portland, Oregon that was founded in 1986. Like many other companies that sprung up around the same time, Dark Horse’s output was unique and eclectic, typically printed in black and white, and featured a selection of titles that just didn’t fit in elsewhere, titles such as Concrete, Trekker, Black Cross and the anthology Dark Horse Presents.

If the company kept up with this publishing plan, it might not be around today. But in 1988, Dark Horse went into the licensing business. It went to 20th Century Fox to license that studio’s properties. From the studio, it got permission to adapt the Alien franchise, which at the time was riding high from its second installment, James Cameron’s Aliens, and Predator, which was Fox’s box office hit from the year before.

It’s these licenses that helped Dark Horse become one of the big four publishers today. The company started publishing books in each franchise the following year, and each title was a resounding success. They parlayed that success into acquiring more licenses, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Wars, and developing original, creator owned properties such as Sin City and Hellboy.

This success would have been enough to put Dark Horse on the map. However, an idea came out of a corporate brainstorming session that was sheer genius. They decided to create a line of books where the Aliens would face off against the Predators across the universe, with humans typically caught in the middle. This idea was a fresh one in the world of comics. Many companies would cross licensed characters over with their own stable of characters, but not with each other.

darkhorsepresents34The first Alien vs. Predator story debuted in the aforementioned Dark Horse Presents, issue #34, cover dated November 1989. Over the next 21 years, Dark Horse would publish eight series where the alien hunters would face off against each other, one series where the pair would battle with another licensed franchise, The Terminator, two intercompany crossovers with Image Comics where characters from the latter’s Darkness and Witchblade series’ got caught in the war, and one intercompany crossover with DC Comics where Superman and Batman teamed to stop the carnage the Aliens and Predators created.

However, while the Alien, Predator, and Aliens vs. Predator franchises were doing great in the comics, the film franchises were put into mothballs. The Predator franchise never survived the poorly received Predator 2 in 1990, and it was 1997′s Alien: Resurrection that put that franchise on the shelf. Of course, nothing that has ever sold tickets will stay dormant for long, and seeing how well pairing of the alien monsters went in the comics, Fox decided to try the same gambit in the films.

alienvspredatorposter2004′s Alien vs. Predator might have been inspired by the comic book pairing, but it didn’t adapt any of the comic book stories. The film was set on Earth in the present day, unlike the comics where it was set in a dystopian future where Aliens conquered the Earth. The plot involved an ancient pyramid found under the ice on an island just off the coast of Antarctica. A group of scientists working for the Weyland Corporartion go there to investigate. Unfortunately, the scientists are soon joined by a ship full Predators, who have also come to examine the site. It turns out that the pyramid was home to a dormant race of Xenomorphs, a race that the investigating humans inadvertently awakened. The humans soon find themselves as pawns in the of the ritual battle between the Aliens and the Predators.

The film presented itself as a prequel to the Alien Franchise. It was written by Alien‘s scribes O’Bannon and Shushett, featured the Weyland Corporation, which played a large part in the franchise and cast Lance Henrikson, who played an android named Bishop in Aliens, as Charles Bishop Weyland, the owner of the corporation. However, some fans considered the fact that humans made contact with the Aliens years before Ripley and company did took away a lot of atmosphere of the Ridley Scott original.

However, this was not enough to keep audiences away. Alien vs. Predator tripled it’s production budget and guaranteed the sequel it hinted at in the closing moments. That sequel, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, arrived in 2008, giving purists more to complain about.

aliensvspredatorrequiemposterThis film continues right after Alien vs. Predator, as a Alien bursts out of a dead Predator’s chest on the spaceship ride home. This causes the ship to crash land outside Gunnison, Colorado. The hybrid Predator/Alien escapes and starts infecting townsfolk with alien embryos. A Predator “cleaner” answers the ships distress call and begins hunting the hybrid through the area. Once again, the humans become pawns in the cat and mouse between the hybrid and his Aliens and the Predator.

If having Aliens come in contact in a secluded frozen wasteland was enough to raise hardcore fans ire, having them traipse around in the American Rockies was enough to drive them insane.

The film, like its predecessor, tripled its budget. However, this was only just enough to make it the lowest grossing film in any of the franchises, and it was also the worst reviewed of any of the Alien or Predator film. To date, there has been no movement on a second sequel to this franchise. Instead, we got a trip to the Predator homeworld in Predators, and a ipso facto prequel to Alien with Prometheus.

Up next, we talk about another Dark Horse success story, Hellboy, at its trips to the silver screen.

 

 

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: The War Over WATCHMEN, Redux

Posted on 07 March 2014 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. Today, we once again interrupt our regularly scheduled program to cover new information about a film we already covered, Alan Moore’s Watchmen.

silver snyder watchmenIn terms of bringing Watchmen to the big screen, Joel Silver would be the alpha, and Zack Snyder would be the omega. Silver was the producer who first started process of bringing Alan Moore’s seminal work to theaters, but it was Zack Snyder who was able to finish the job. So, the two diverse and opinionated power players will be forever inexorably linked. But this doesn’t mean that they have to get along.

Through a serendipitous coincidence, Silver and Snyder produced films that were released a week apart. Silver is a producer on Non-Stop, which opened last week and Snyder is a producer on the sequel to his film 300, 300: Rise of an Empire which opens today. If the two films were released further apart, Snyder wouldn’t have just a quick turn around on answering Silver’s comments on his version of the Watchmen and I’d be writing about the Alien vs. Predator franchise like I had originally planned.

joel silverJoel Silver was interviewed by ComingSoon.net in conjunction with Non-Stop‘s release, and, as these interviews typically go, the interview spanned Silver’s entire career. Naturally, the topic of Watchmen came up. And since the bombastic Silver is never one to shy away from expressing his opinions–at length–we get exactly what he thought of Snyder’s version, and how his would have been much, much better:

CS: Speaking of ones that got away, as a die-hard Terry Gilliam fan I have to know if there’s anything juicy you can tell me about his conception of “Watchmen”?
Silver:
It was a MUCH much better movie.

CS: Than the one Zack Snyder made…
Silver:
Oh God. I mean, Zack came at it the right way but was too much of a slave to the material.

CS: Agreed.
Silver:
I was trying to get it BACK from the studio at that point, because I ended up with both “V For Vendetta” and “Watchmen” and I kinda lost “Watchmen.” I was happy with the way “V” came out, but we took a lot of liberties. That’s one of the reasons Alan Moore was so unpleasant to deal with. The version of “Watchmen” that Zack made, they really felt the notion. They went to Comic-Con, they announced it, they showed things, the audience lost their minds but it wasn’t enough to get a movie that would have that success. What Terry had done, and it was a Sam Hamm script–who had written a script that everybody loved for the first “Batman”–and then he brought in a guy who’d worked for him to do work on it [Charles McKeown, co-writer of "Brazil"]. What he did was he told the story as-is, but instead of the whole notion of the intergalactic thing which was too hard and too silly, what he did was he maintained that the existence of Doctor Manhattan had changed the whole balance of the world economy, the world political structure. He felt that THAT character really altered the way reality had been. He had the Ozymandias character convince, essentially, the Doctor Manhattan character to go back and stop himself from being created, so there never would be a Doctor Manhattan character. He was the only character with real supernatural powers, he went back and prevented himself from being turned into Doctor Manhattan, and in the vortex that was created after that occurred these characters from “Watchmen” only became characters in a comic book.

CS: That’s fascinating. Very META.
Silver:
Oh yeah. So the three characters, I think it was Rorschach and Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, they’re all of the sudden in Times Square and there’s a kid reading a comic book. They become like the people in Times Square dressing up like characters as opposed to really BEING those characters. There’s a kid reading the comic book and he’s like, “Hey, you’re just like in my comic book.” It was very smart, it was very articulate, and it really gave a very satisfying resolution to the story, but it just didn’t happen. Lost to time.

CS: Things happen for a reason, it might have changed the whole landscape of superhero movies right now as well.
Silver:
But I did like the movie, very much. Zack did great stuff in it!

I suppose before I go any farther, I should talk about the Alan Moore’s ending to the Watchmen series, which Silver briefly touches upon above. For as great as the series was, as ground breaking as the series was (more on what I thought here), it’s ending, in my opinion, was pretty damn awful. So, consider this your SPOILER WARNING.

Watchmen monsterIn the comic, Ozymandias’ grand plan to stave off nuclear annihilation was to create a giant, hideous creature, and then teleport the living, breathing creature into Midtown Manhattan, where it would promptly die, killing millions as it releases a psychic backlash as it undergoes its death throes. The nations of the  world would think this was the beginning of an alien invasion, and would put aside their differences to to unite to combat the supposed foe from outer space. The plan goess through and works.

Not only was Moore’s ending a swipe, inadvertent or not, of an old Outer Limits episode, but also it was a garish break from the realistic sci-fi of the rest of the series. Yes, you had a character that was a walking nuclear bomb, but at least his existence was explained by some pseudoscience. The beast’s didn’t get quite the same treatment.

On top of that, the plan doesn’t seem to be one that would work that well. You mean to tell me that the U.S. and U.S.S.R. wouldn’t be back at each others throats when the rest of the aliens failed to arrive? And the beast itself, the government wouldn’t chop it up to see how it worked? They probably find out a lot about it, perhaps even Ozymandias’ role in its creation.

Anyway, the ending did have to be changed for the film, on that I agree with Silver. I don’t agree necessarily that his ending was that much better.

The ending Silver describes corresponds with a Sam Hamm script for the project that I read years ago, one I spoke about here. The only other major changes I recall from that script would have been a tacked on action sequence where the heroes faced off against a superpowered villain at the Statue of Liberty (which would obliterate Moore’s deliberate plot choice of having Doctor Manhattan be the only superpowered being in the story) and removal of all the ephemera (the Minutemen, the Tales of the Black Freighter, etc) from the source material.

But the ending, well, it was a Twilight Zone ending with none of the irony that made Twilight Zone endings great. It kind of laid there on the page. Obviously, we were supposed have our mind’s blown, but the way it was presented, in an almost laughable way, it fell flat.

There are several things to take into consideration with Silver’s statement. One, you have to realize that Joel Silver is a producer in the Hollywood tradition of old, where he is a bombastic promoter of everything he puts his name on. Of course, he would think his version of Watchmen would be better. It’s not in his DNA to say any different. And another thing is while Silver made it sound like this ending was Gilliam’s idea, it definitely came from Hamm. Granted, I wasn’t privy to any communications between the parties in 1988, and how much influence Gilliam had on the script, but the ending came from a script with Hamm”s name, and only Hamm’s name on it. If Gilliam was so enamored with Hamm’s script, why did he bring McKeown in to rewrite it? Because he wanted to change it. Who knows if the ending was one of the things Gilliam wanted to change?

zack snyderBut thanks to Silver, Gilliam was thrown under the bus, and is being viewed as the bad guy in this. Well, at least in Zack Snyder’s eyes. Only one week later, talking to The Huffington Post while promoting 300: Rise of an Empire, Snyder and his wife Deborah decided to address Silver’s words–by taking a shot at Gilliam:

Was “Watchmen” the most “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” project you’ve ever been a part of? Now Joel Silver is criticizing you for being a “slave” to the source material while touting a very different from the source material script that Terry Gilliam was going to film.

Zack Snyder: It’s funny, because the biggest knock against the movie is that we finally changed the ending, right?

Right, you used Dr. Manhattan as the threat to bring the world together as opposed to the alien squid.

Zack Snyder: Right, and if you read the Gilliam ending, it’s completely insane.

Deborah Snyder: The fans would have been thinking that they were smoking crack.

Zack Snyder: Yeah, the fans would have stormed the castle on that one. So, honestly, I made “Watchmen” for myself. It’s probably my favorite movie that I’ve made. And I love the graphic novel and I really love everything about the movie. I love the style. I just love the movie and it was a labor of love. And I made it because I knew that the studio would have made the movie anyway and they would have made it crazy. So, finally I made it to save it from the Terry Gilliams of this world.

In Gilliam’s version, Dr. Manhattan is convinced to go back in time and prevent Dr. Manhattan from existing. But the specter of his existence is the threat to the world, which is kind of what you did at the end of the movie anyway.

Zack Snyder: Right, of course. It’s just using elements that are in the comic book already, that’s the only thing I did. I would not have grabbed something from out of the air and said, “Oh, here’s a cool ending” just because it’s cool.

Deborah Snyder: But it’s interesting because, you’re right, it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. You have people who are mad that the ending was changed and you have other people saying, “Oh, it was a slave to the graphic novel.” You can’t please everybody.

Zack Snyder: And that’s the problem with genre. That’s the problem with comic book movies and genre. And I believe that we’ve evolved — I believe that the audiences have evolved. I feel like “Watchmen” came out at sort of the height of the snarky Internet fanboy — like, when he had his biggest strength. And I think if that movie came out now — and this is just my opinion — because now that we’ve had “Avengers” and comic book culture is well established, I think people would realize that the movie is a satire. You know, the whole movie is a satire. It’s a genre-busting movie. The graphic novel was written to analyze the graphic novel — and comic books and the Cold War and politics and the place that comic books play in the mythology of pop culture. I guess that’s what I’m getting at with the end of “Watchmen” — in the end, the most important thing with the end was that it tells the story of the graphic novel. The morality tale of the graphic novel is still told exactly as it was told in the graphic novel — I used slightly different devices. The Gilliam version, if you look at it, it has nothing to do with the idea that is the end of the graphic novel. And that’s the thing that I would go, “Well, then don’t do it.” It doesn’t make any sense.

I can’t imagine people being happy with that version.

Zack Snyder: Yeah! If you love the graphic novel, there’s just no way. It would be like if you were doing “Romeo and Juliet” and instead of them waking up in the grave area, they would have time-traveled back in time and none of it would have happened.

Between this and his response to the casting controversy over Batman Vs. Superman, Snyder is coming off as a man with a larger than normal ego but with thinner than normal skin. This is not a good combination for a Hollywood player, especially one whose milieu is comic book adaptations. Reading Snyder’s response, you’d think that Joel Silver accused him of being a being the antichrist and of selling kidnapped babies on the black market. You’d think that Silver’s remarks were a vicious and petty slam on his genius, and that he didn’t say anything nice about Snyder’s Watchmen at all. Well, Silver’s comments are reprinted verbatim above. You can see that that wasn’t the case at all, unless of course, the kids these days consider “But I did like the movie, very much. Zack did great stuff in it!” the biggest diss in the world. OOH, SNAP!

Actually, scratch that. You’d think Terry Gilliam did all those things. Snyder doesn’t mention Silver once. But he is more than ready to place all the blame on Gilliam’s feet. I especially love the exceptional arrogance when he says that he was saving Watchmen from the Terry Gilliams of the world. Listen, Zack. I know this is hard to hear, but you really, how do athletes put it, you can’t hold Gillaim’s jock strap. Uh, uh, I know what you’re going to say. Stop. I have three titles for you. Time Bandits. Brazil. 12 Monkeys. Your argument, no matter what it is, is invalid.

secondwatchmenteaserI will give Snyder credit for one thing. His ending is better than either Hamm’s or Moore’s. He is correct when he says it ties into the story better and is more effective in reaching Ozymandias’ goals. And I do grasp the satiric bent Snyder was going for, and I got it when the film first came out. I knew the costumes in the film were meant to be a commentary on the latex, nippleriffic costumes of the first Batman franchise and others. However, the other changes did not work quite as well. The extended sex scene totally misses the point of the Dan/Laurie pairing from the novel and has the strong odor of crass titillation to appeal to the lowest common denominator (and also shoots a hole in Snyder’s claim about being interested in being true to the tone of his source). And having the heroes, all essentially athletes at the top of human potential, be able to kick bad guys six feet in the air or turn bricks to dust with their punch was very distracting from the narrative.

But outside of this, the film is way to faithful to the source material. That criticism is valid. What many comic fans (or fans of any media that is adapted to film) fail to realize is that films are different from comics. There’s a different machinery at play. What works in a 12-issue miniseries will not work in a 2 hour movie.

I’ll admit, the fanboy in me did get a certain amount of glee from hearing dialogue taken directly from the comics repeated verbatim from the mouths of the actors. However, at times the film was less a film, and more a rote, less visceral recap of the graphic novel. I felt myself forming a mental checklist of the plot elements that Snyder was bringing to the screen instead of getting lost in the story, like I should have. And a lot was lost in the translation. Snyder didn’t adapt the elements from the graphic novel, he presented them. And his visual style took a lot away from Moore and Gibbons’ style. The result? It was a faithful adaptation that lost a lot of the grit and gravitas of the original. That’s my main criticism of it.

Wrapping up, I consider the Terry Gilliam Watchmen one of the classic lost films that we’ll never have the opportunity to see. If he was able to make the adaptation work,I doubt that the final product would have resembled the Sam Hamm script in the least. It might not have resembled the comic either, but it would have been inventive and imaginative. But we will never know what we would have got because we didn’t get it. Therefore, it’s silly for Snyder to say his version is better than the one we would have received from Gilliam. But the fact that he felt so threatened as to say that really says a lot about Snyder and his personality. And what it says is not very nice.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: HULK…NOT THAT GOOD.

Posted on 21 February 2014 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. We take a look at a Jade Giant’s first go around on the big screen.

I am of the firm belief that if Hulk ended with the scene where Betty meets up with the Hulk in San Francisco, we’d be talking about it as one of the best comic book films of all time. Unfortunately, it didn’t end there, and what came after makes it instead one of the most disappointing comic book films.

hulk1coverThe Hulk was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as a sort of Jekyll and Hyde for the Atomic Age, and Cold War version of Frankenstein. He was Bruce Banner, a nuclear physicist who was work on a gamma radiation bomb. He is caught in a bomb blast while rescuing a teenager who wanders on to the testing site and instead of killing him, the radiation turned him into a superstrong beast that would appear whenever he got angry.

Initially, the concept was one of Marvel’s early failures. The Hulk’s first series only lasted six issues.  But as the character appeared in cameo appearances in some of Marvel’s more popular books such as The Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four there was an upswing in popularity. The character first got a co-starring strip in a comic called Tales to Astonish , eventually a series of his own.

The character reached the apex of its popularity in 1978 when the character received a live-action TV show on CBS. The Incredible Hulk starred Bill Bixby as “David” Banner and Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk. The TV show changed the origin so that Banner got his powers through genetic manipulation rather than being caught in a bomb blast.

The series lasted until 1982, with three follow-up TV-movies from 1988 to 1990. The same year the final made-for-TV movie debuted, the process of bringing the Hulk to the big screen began. Producers Avi Arad and Gale Anne Hurd began the development process, with Universal brought on board starting in 1992. Screenwriter Michael France was hired in 1994 and developed a script that had the Hulk fighting terrorists. This script was rejected and France was replaced by John Turman the next year. Turman’s series of scripts hewed closer to the comic books, with General Ross and the U.S. Military as the primary villains.

Here is where it gets convoluted. France was brought back in as writer in late-1996. However, when Joe Johnson was brought on to direct, the studio asked the projects producer, Jonathan Hensleigh, who wrote the hit Jumanji for Johnson, to reunite with the director. France was paid off and let go without ever writing a word. Unfortunately, Johnson passed on the project, and Hensleigh moved into the director’s chair. Turman was back to write a couple drafts, which were rewritten by Zak Penn. The highlight of this round of scripts was a fight between the Hulk and a group of sharks.

HulkposterTaking that into consideration, it’s no surprise that Hensleigh took over the writing reins himself, with the Hulk fighting convicts who were altered by gamma irradiated insect DNA. Hensleigh’s rewrote the script with J. J. Abrams, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, and the project made it all the way to the casting stage before Universal, realizing that it had a $100 million picture in the hands of a first-time director, got cold feet.

Exit Hensleigh in 1999 and re-enter Michael France at this point.  France took another shot at the script, with rewrites from Michael Tolkin and David Hayter in 2000. Hayter brought in the Hulk’s comic book adversaries The Leader, Absorbing Man and Zzzax.

It wasn’t until 2001, after more than 10 years of development, that the Hulk film made the final leg of its journey to the big screen. That was when Ang Lee, fresh off his Oscar nomination for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, came on board. He brought James Schamus on to rework the script. This time it actually took, and the film was on the way to the big screen.

hulk20Lee cast the relative unknown Eric Bana as Bruce Banner/the Hulk and surrounded him with quality actors such as recent Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly, Oscar nominated Nick Nolte as Banner’s father, and the so-awesome-he-doesn’t-need-a-stinkin’-Oscar-nomination Sam Elliot as General Ross.

The first two thirds of the film are borderline genius. Lee seems to have had a lot of fun constructing the visual, employing split screen imagery that replicated comic book panels, which created an awesome, pop art-esque effect. The origin is once again tied to genetic engineering rather than weapons of mass destruction, but one important aspect of the comic book version’s backstory made the jump to the screen. Banner’s rage issues are tied to an abusive relationship with his father (in the film, dad tried to kill a young Bruce).  This was an introduction in the comics that added layers of depth to the character.

bruceandbettyThe film reaches a crescendo as the Hulk escapes from a military installation and travels from the desert to San Francisco, fighting the military all the way. It was the comic book Hulk brought to life and it was awesome. Even better, the Hulk is only stopped by the appearance of Betty in the Bay Area. Beauty soothed the savage beast, and it was an element of hope for the future. If the film ended with the shot of Bruce in Betty’s arms, it would have been one fine movie. But like I said, the film didn’t end there.

hulk and dadThe real, awful ending, which looks like the textbook definition of tacked on, begins with Bruce’s father, David, coming to the high tech prison where Bruce is being held for a talk. Now, this is a man who was committed to a mental institution after a failed attempt to kill Bruce and a successful attempt to accidentally kill his wife. This guy, THIS GUY, gets to walk unimpeded onto a military prison so he can talk to the son, a man with rage issues that causes him to turn into a huge monster.

Unbeknownst to the guards, David submitted himself to a similar experience that gave his son his powers. Only this time around, the elder Banner was given the ability to absorb the physical properties of anything he touches (much like the comic’s Absorbing Man). While this is a pretty great power, David wants more. He wants to leech the power his son has, and that is the true reason for his visit.

David grabs a conveniently exposed power cable and turns himself into living electricity (much like the comic’s Zzzax) and attacks Bruce, causing him to turn into the Hulk. The two fight, Ross drops a bomb on them, David dies, the Hulk escapes.

The fact that this ending is mind-numbingly stupid is only hampered by Nolte’s hammy overacting during the scene and the absolutely horrid CGI during the battle sequence.

This ending was enough to kill the film for me. I can’t hate it, but I can’t rate it any higher than a noble failure. I wasn’t alone. Even though the film made a respectable amount of money worldwide, the next appearance of the Hulk was a reboot. We’ll be talking about that when we get to the Marvel shared universe.

Next, a film that technically isn’t based on a comic book property, but wouldn’t exist without a comic book.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: David Lindsay-Abaire: The SPIDER-MAN 4 Script Is NOT Mine

Posted on 31 January 2014 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. We take a break from the parade of comic book films to update you on a previous entry.

David Lindsay-Abaire

David Lindsay-Abaire

Back on December 6th, as part of this feature’s look at the Spider-Man franchise, I discussed several scripts making the rounds on the Internet that were supposedly written for the abandoned fourth installment directed by Sam Raimi. In the column, I doubted the veracity of the scripts, and it turns out that I was right. How do I know? The author of one of the “scripts” let us know.

Pulitzer-prize winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire sent an e-mail to FBOL Head Honcho Rich Drees to let us know in no uncertain terms that the script found online was not written by him. As you can tell from the excerpt from his email below the script is most definitely not his.

Dear Rich –

David Lindsay-Abaire here.

I wouldn’t normally respond to an article like this, but things can linger on the internet for years. And if I’m going to take some knocks online, I’d like to think they were based on a script that I actually wrote instead of some fan fiction that someone tacked my name onto. With that in mind, I wonder if you could at least update the article to add some kind of note saying that it’s been confirmed that the script in question is not in fact by David Lindsay-Abaire. (For what it’s worth, my script was 122 pages, and featured Kraven as the villain.)

 

I am more than happy to help Mr. Lindsay-Abaire set the record straight. In addition to this post, I will be updating the original post to reflect his correction concerning that script. Hopefully, this column will come up when people search Google for Mr. Lindsay-Abaire’s Spider-Man script, so fans won’t waste time on the fake script.

This does seem to be the first time that Kraven was mentioned as a villain in the franchise. It would have been interesting to see Lindsay-Abaire’s take on the character.

We will return to our regularly scheduled History of the Comic Book Film post with our next installment.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: Giving The Devil His Due

Posted on 17 January 2014 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. Today, one of Marvel’s second tier characters gets the movie treatment–Daredevil.

daredevil1Daredevil was the red-headed stepchild of the Silver Age Marvel Comics. He was one of the last concepts introduced in the companies resurgence, and the lack of effort showed.

While the character had a good hook (Matt Murdock was a lawyer blinded by radioactive waste as a child who gained radar sense in the accident, and he used that power to fight crime), he came off as a pale imitator of the other urban vigilantes at the time. He was a superpowered Batman (complete with the Joker-like Jester and Penguin-like Owl as adversaries), or a boring version of Marvel’s own Spider-Man.

Marvel struggled for over a decade to try and create a unique identity for the character. He got a costume change seven issues into his run. He gained a second alternate identity for a time (Mike Murdock, supposedly Matt’s flashy, hipster brother, but really also Matt in disguise). He moved from New York to San Francisco and back again. He got a sidekick/slash love interest in Black Widow for a brief period. But nothing seems to stick. By the late 70s, the title had gone to a bi-weekly schedule, the last resort Marvel used before it cancelled a title.

Enter Roger McKenzie and Frank Miller. McKenzie presented Daredevil in a darker, noir style of stories, which the character fit immediately. However, artist Miller didn’t think McKenzie was taking the character too far into the noir world, and threatened to leave the book. Instead, McKenzie was fired and Miller was given the task of writing and drawing the feature.

This turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to Daredevil. Miller plunged the character deeply into a grim and gritty world of gangsters and ninjas. Death was always an option and betrayal was always near. Miller’s Daredevil was a haunted, damaged hero, one who was almost too willing to stoop to the level of the killers he faced.

Frank Miller in his Daredevil cameo.

Frank Miller in his Daredevil cameo.

Miller introduced an old flame of Matt’s who became the assassin Elektra. He took old DD villain Bullseye and turned him into a raving psychopath with a particular obsession with our hero. And he also made Spider-Man villain Kingpin a feared crime boss more in line with real world crime figures. Miller eventually put these characters on a collision course, one that ended with the death of Elektra at the hands of Bullseye, as ordered by Kingpin.

Miller’s Daredevil was a shock to the system, not only to the character and the title, but also to the larger world of comics as a whole. Miller was at the for front of the artist/writer movement at Marvel, his reboot sharing the shelves with John Byrne’s Fantastic Four and Walt Simonson’s Thor reboot as well. But he was also part of the larger comic book deconstructionism that Alan Moore and others were working on at other companies.

Miller’s work on Daredevil influenced the character for decades to come. While the character did have some rough periods (namely, the 1990s), Miller set the stage for writers such as Denny O’Neil, Ann Nocenti, Kevin Smith (yes, that Kevin Smith), Brian Michael Bendis, and Ed Brubaker to create excellent Daredevil stories. Even Mark Waid’s current awesome, kinder and gentler take on Daredevil would not be possible without Miller’s influence. And Miller’s influence was also heavily felt in the 2003 film adaptation.

There had been several attempts to bring Daredevil to cinematic life. The earliest was in the mid-70s when Angela Bowie was shopping around a Daredevil/Black Widow TV project. The character also had a back door pilot with The Trial of the Incredible Hulk. But the character’s trek to the big screen began in earnest in 1997.

daredevilposterThat’s when 20th Century Fox first optioned the rights to the character, with Chris Columbus in line to write and direct the feature. This first time didn’t pan out and the rights reverted to Marvel. Disney made a play at getting the rights, but the project was instead set up at Columbia Pictures, with Mark Steven Johnson brought on to rewrite the script. Eventually, they passed and the rights moved on to New Regency in 2000 with Fox now on board to distribute. Johnson was also named director of the film.

Casting began on the film. Guy Pierce was approached to play Matt Murdock, but he passed because comic book stuff really wasn’t “his cup of tea.” (I guess he got used to the taste of that kind of tea, because a decade later, he would go on to be the main bad guy in Iron Man 3). Matt Damon also got the call, but passed over issues with the script and director. Eventually, the role went to Damon’s friend, and fan of the Daredevil comic book, Ben Affleck.

Colin Farrell, once also up for the role of Daredevil, took the role or Bullseye. Jennifer Garner beat out actresses ranging from Selma Hayek to Jessica Alba for the role of Elektra. And for the role of the fat, Caucasian Kingpin, they chose the muscular African-American Michael Clarke Duncan. That might seem to be a fairly egregious bit of miscasting, but Duncan did better in his role than the other two did in theirs. Farrell’s overacting got a bit too much sometimes, and Garner was as believable as a Greek shipping heiress as Brad Pitt would be as the ugliest man alive.

But while the film had its share of miscues, and is a constant target of scorn and derision from comic book fans, I liked it. Well, it had me on its side after it gave Kevin Smith a cameo as a mortician called Jack Kirby, but I thought it was an okay presentation of the material. I really liked the way they added elements of the comic book series into the film. The dialogue for the Elektra/Bullseye fight was taken almost word for word from the Frank Miller dialogue in the comics when Bullseye killed Elektra.

While I liked the film, I didn’t care too much for what came out of it. With grosses in excess of $179 million, Fox wanted to capitalize on Daredevil’s success. They did so by giving us Rob Bowman’s Elektra. They really shouldn’t have.


elektraposterI can’t really garner much animosity for the film. My only remembrances of watching it was being bored by it. But this film failed because it didn’t know what it wanted to be. The script by Zak Pen, Stuart Zicherman and Raven Metzner was at war with itself. Was it a superhero movie setting Elektra against superpowered villains? Was it a martial arts tale? Was it a thriller? Was a Hallmark-lite version of female self-discovery? Whatever it was going for, it didn’t do it well.

Elektra took in more than its budget, but was still considered a disappointment. That combined with a growing disdain for Daredevil made any sequel to that film impossible. Eventually, talks turned to a reboot with David Slade at the helm. When he left the project, there was only a limited time left on Fox’s option. A last minute of getting a reboot up and running by Joe Carnahan fell through, and the rights reverted back to Marvel. But Carnahan did put together one great sizzle reel.

Marvel has decided the future of DD did not lie on movie screens, but on your computer. It is developing Daredevil for a series on Netflix.

Next up, the noble failure that was Ang Lee’s Hulk.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: Off the Radar

Posted on 03 January 2014 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. Today, the success of X-Men and Spider-Man send studios looking for adaptations at smaller comic book publishers.

By 2003, movies from comic books were a big deal. The success of the X-Men and Spider-Man films indicated that there was gold in bringing comic characters to life, and Hollywood wanted to get in on it.

Unfortunately, most of the big guns were taken. Sony had Spider-Man and Thor, Fox had the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Daredevil. Universal had the Hulk, and any DC Comics characters had to go through parent company Warner Brothers first.

Luckily for producers all over town, the comic book industry had expanded so there were a number of other viable companies putting out comics, all with characters ready to be brought to the big screen. Well, the powers that be might have thought they’d be ready. But as we’ll see, sometimes audiences thought differently.

BulletproofMonkBulletproof Monk, the comic, was a comic book by committee. The concept was originated by two men who never put fingers to keyboard, nor ink to Bristol board. Michael Yanover and Mark Paniccia created Flypaper Press and a content farm for their ideas, which they would hire writers and artists to flesh out and produce.

One of these concepts was one that would take the Asian Kung Fu film, move it to a city and add Star Wars type mysticism to it. They hired Michael Avon Oeming, who would later gain fame working on Powers, to do the art and asked relative newbie Brett Lewis and indie veteran R.A. Jones to do the writing. Gotham Chopra, son of Deepak Chopra, was brought in as a consultant on the Eastern mysticism in the story. And that story became Bulletproof Monk.

Yanover and Paniccia started shopping the concept to Hollywood before the second issue even came out. They got interest from John Woo, whose movies were an inspiration for the concept. Woo eventually agreed to produce the film. His frequent collaborator, Chow Yun-Fat, was cast as the titular monk. Heath Ledger might have made his comic book film a few years before his turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight, as he was in line to star as the Monk’s assistant, Kar. He dropped out to accept a role in The Order, and Seann William Scott took his place.

Bulletproof_Monk_8627_MediumIf Yanover and Paniccia were thinking they might have a Men in Black style underdog hit on their hands, they were sorely mistaken. The film opened to horrible reviews and only made $37 million worldwide against a $52 million budget.

Bulletproof Monk might have been committee designed to be a film franchise, 30 Days of Night was a comic book concept that went nowhere, was then proposed as a film idea and was shot down, before IDW Publishing decided to publish it as a comic. It is also one of the most inventive approaches to horror to ever come down the pike.

As the film Insomnia told us, parts of Alaska experience 24-hours of sunshine for weeks at a time. The flip side of this is that they also experience 24-hours of night for weeks at a time.

30-days-of-nightNow, consider if you were a vampire. You have to hunt your prey—humans—for food—blood—in the small window of time you are both awake. The sun is deadly to you, so you stay behind closed doors and windows in the day time when people are out doing their business. And most people stay indoors when the sun goes down, so your pickings are slim—from the late shift workers, college party crowd, etc.

For you, a month of darkness is a great thing. Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith thought so. That’s why they wrote 30 Days of Night, a comic about a cadre of vampires that relocate to Barrow, Alaska and use the small town as their personal smorgasbord.

The series sold loads of copies, spawned numerous print sequels, established IDW as a publisher of note, raised the profile of both Niles and Templeton (who were nominated for Eisner Awards, comic’s version of the Oscars, for the series), and attracted Hollywood’s attention. Yes, the concept that was at first unwanted as both a comic book and a film would end up being a success at both.

04934874_In 2002, Sam Raimi’s Senator International picked up the rights to the comic. Niles wrote the first draft of the script, which was rewritten by Stuart Beattie and then again by Brian Nelson when director David Slade came on board. Josh Hartnett played the town Sheriff, Melissa George his estranged wife, and Danny Huston played the leader of the vampires.

The film was a success, making $75 million worldwide against a $30 million budget. It was a huge success on home video, which led to a direct-to-video sequel and two prequel miniseries on FEARnet.com.

2-poster41You get the feeling that Disney was itching to get into the comic book film business for a long time, because in 2007 they purchased the rights to the Top Shelf miniseries, The Surrogates, a high-concept story set in the sci-fi genre, for its Touchstone shingle.

The story concerned the future of 2054, where everyone has an idealized, mind-controlled robotic duplicate of themselves that they use for everyday interaction while they stay home in their ugly flesh and blood bodies. When someone starts destroying the Surrogates, which kills the owners in the process, an anti-Surrogate cop needs to get to the bottom of the mystery behind it.

surrogates_movieThe film, produced in part by Elizabeth Banks, was directed by Jonathan Mostow and starred Bruce Willis as the cop. The cast also included James Cromwell, Ving Rhames  and Rosamund Pike, which would make for a pretty good film, you would think. Unfortunately, critics gave it mostly negative reviews. The film made $122 million worldwide, a disappointing figure when you think it cost $80 million to make.

Whiteout was another high concept comic book series. Published by Oni Press and created by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber, it is a murder mystery set in the scientific stations of Antarctica. It centers on a U.S. Marshall by the name of Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale) who must investigate the murders of several scientists before she retires her post.

Whiteout_posterThe comic was nominated for a number of Eisner’s, but the 2009 film adaptation was not what you’d call award-worthy. Many would pin the blame for the film’s flopping ($17.8 million worldwide versus a $35 million budget) on it having a female lead. But the 7% fresh rating it got from critics couldn’t have helped. Pity poor Gabriel Macht. This film, in which he plays a UN agent, came at the end of a three year span of completely awful movies he starred in (joining 2007’s Because I Said So and 2008’s The Spirit).

Next, Kevin Smith’s favorite hero gets the big screen treatment, does well, and is never seen again.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: Spider-Man Begins…Again

Posted on 20 December 2013 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. Today, the Spider-Man franchise starts anew.

Marc Webb-AES-074713The Raimi era was over and Sony needed a new director to take over the reins. The found him in a director with only one film credit to his name, and that was a quirky romantic comedy.

Outside of a handful of music videos, the only credit on Marc Webb’s resume was 2009’s (500) Days of Summer. That film made a splash, but it’s not the kind of film you’d expect would inspire confidence in directing action films.

But Webb got the job nonetheless and began the process of building a script around a screenplay written by Alvin Sargent, James Vanderbilt, and Steve Cloves. The Lizard would be the main villain, although two other villains—Proto-Goblin and Big Wheel were also considered. Gwen Stacy would be the romantic interest instead of Mary Jane Watson in this go around.

Webb began to looking for a cast for his movie. For the teenage Peter, he chose British actor Andrew Garfield. Garfield was 27 at the time he was cast, making him older than Tobey Maguire when he was cast as Peter Parker. Emma Stone was chosen for Gwen Stacy, with Rhys Ifans playing Curt Connors/the Lizard, and Martin Sheen and Sally Field playing Peter’s Uncle Ben and Aunt May.

Amazing_Spider-Man_theatrical_poster_02The first half of the film was a rehash of the origin and it was a bear to get through. It was like someone was sitting with a clipboard and a check list and just going through the beats needed. “Okay, this is how he gets bitten by the spider, this is what we are going to use instead of the wrestling scene, here’s the discovery that he has powers…”

But I think a lot of the changes were good, if not an improvement on the original. Peter Parker in this one wasn’t a put-upon loser, he was a kid who never got over being abandoned by his parents. He was an outcast because he was damaged, not because he was a nerd. This rose criticisms of him being “too emo.” Well, A) I like emo music and B)it makes the character more believable in my eyes.

Giving Peter his advanced aptitude in science back was also a great step. Yes, he makes his own web-shooters again after Raimi took that iconic part of the comics away from him because he thought it was unbelievable. However, I always considered it an important part of the character, and was glad to see it back.

The-Amazing-Spider-ManPeter being good at science also made the romance more believable this time around. Of course, that was due to the filmmakers turning Gwen into a science prodigy (how’s that for believability, huh Raimi?). Both the both character’s love of science gave them a common interest, which is more than Peter and Mary Jane had in the first set of films. Add to this the fact that Peter is a good man who sticks up for those weaker than him, much like Gwen’s police captain father, and you have another level of attraction.

The film made $752,216,557 worldwide, which was the least of all the Spider-Man films but still good enough for a sequel. Or two. Or three. Sony not only announced that there would be The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but also an Amazing Spider-Man 3 & 4 as well.

amazing_spiderman_two_ver4_xlgJames Vanderbilt was back to write the film, and his screen play was rewritten by Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman.  After a brief period of uncertainty about his return, director Marc Webb signed on, and Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone were contracted for two more films.

The first sequel will feature Jamie Foxx as an OsCorp employee who is transform into the supervillain Electro. It will also feature Paul Giamatti as a Russian mobster in an OsCorp armored suit in a modern take on the Spidey villain, the Rhino. Dale DeHaan will play Harry Osborn, and it appears that he will spend some time as the Green Goblin. There will also be references to the Vulture and Doctor Octopus in the film as well. It will be a very busy film from a bad guy perspective.

movies-the-amazing-spider-man-2-filming-7Who will not be in the film is Shailine Woodley. The actress was cast as Mary Jane Watson and spent week filming the role before it was revealed that the part was cut from the final film. Rumor had it that negative Internet reaction about her looks might have played a part in the cut, and that the part will be recast for The Amazing Spider-Man 3. I spoke about that here, and my hope is that we’ll see Mary Jane, with Woodley playing her, in the next sequel.

In addition to the sequels to the main film, Sony also announced that it would be producing films on The Sinister Six and Venom as they try to spin off the franchise into a shared universe, which is so popular these days.

All in all, I think this is betting a lot on a franchise that hasn’t really proven itself as of yet. But Spider-Man is such an iconic character that even if this doesn’t work, more films will be made starring him. He has come a long way from his early days as a horror film misinterpretation.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: What SPIDER-MAN 4 Might Have Been

Posted on 06 December 2013 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. Today, we look at what the aborted fourth Raimi Spider-Man film might have looked like, and the answer isn’t pretty.

David Lindsay-Abaire

David Lindsay-Abaire

In January 2008, things were looking good for Spider-Man fans. Spider-Man 3 was the biggest hit of the franchise thus far, and Raimi, Maguire, and Dunst had all signed on to do a fourth installment, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. Sony was even planning a fifth and sixth installment as well.

Then the wheels fell off. Two years later, Raimi would be gone, taking Maguire and Dunst with him, and Sony would be rebooting the franchise less than ten years after it began.

There are two writings from this era that would give us hints as to how the fourth film might have worked out—if the writings are at all legitimate. The first is a First draft/Test draft supposedly written by Lindsay-Abaire, the second, a treatment by Raimi himself that was to contradict the Lindsay-Abaire script.  But there are enough red flags in each that calls their authenticity into doubt. (UPDATE: David Lindsay-Abaire has contacted us to say the script credited to him is NOT his.)

Let’s start with the Lindsay-Abaire script, which immediately raises two red flags. RED FLAG #1 is that the script is only 41 pages long. Each page of a script roughly equals out to be one minute of screen time, so this means Lindsay-Abaire’s script wouldn’t even be long enough to be a one-hour network drama, sans commercials.  RED FLAG #2 are the numerous grammatical and spelling errors in the script. Granted, it is a “first draft”, but you’d think that a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright would know the difference between “rite” and “right” and know that “Spider-Man” and “Daily Bugle” should be capitalized.

Dylan Baker finally would have become the Lizard

Dylan Baker finally would have become the Lizard

Lindsay-Abaire has the Lizard be Spidey’s only adversary in the script, but only gets his official film origin in a truncated pre-credit sequence.  I’ll call this RED FLAG #3, if only because Dylan Baker deserved better.

We pick up on Peter Parker in his new job as Assistant Editor of the Daily Bugle. How did Peter get this promotion? By faking a picture that looks like Spider-Man was stealing as per J. Jonah Jameson’s request. This is RED FLAG #4, for anyone who remembers Spider-Man 3. See, in that film, Eddie Brock is fired from the Daily Bugle by Jameson after Parker reveals that Brock doctored a picture of Spidey to make him look like a criminal. It’s a pretty big plot point. It’s the reason why Brock wants to kill Peter and be willing to become Venom to do so.  If Jonah was willing to have Peter fake photos, then Eddie’s faking photos wouldn’t have made that big of a difference and the last film would have been one villain shorter and that much better for it.

Anyway, the Lizard goes on rampages across the city and Spidey tries to stop him. In the mean time, MJ leaves Peter because he can’t give up being Spider-Man, so Peter starts getting closer to Gwen.

spider-man-vs-lizardPeter is still in the same ratty apartment he was living at in the other films (RED FLAG #5, if he got a better job, why not a better apartment? The script shows he’s been helping Aunt May with the extra cash, but still…) when he gets a call from the hospital. Aunt May has taken sick. She has an infection caused by radioactive isotopes in her blood and they need radiation (“like chemo”) to counter act its effects (which I’ll call RED FLAG #6. It mirrors a malady May experienced in the comics (Amazing Spider-Man #31 to #33, to be exact), but that was back before they knew exactly what radioactive particles in the bloodstream would actually do.)

Peter comes up with the only idea that will save Aunt May—injecting her with the Lizard’s blood! That will cure her! Um…RED FLAG #7: if she needs something like “chemo”, why not give her chemo? Or at least try chemo first before Peter goes after the Lizard? And RED FLAG #8, it’s pretty clearly established that the Lizard’s powers are cause by something he injected into his blood stream. Soooo, if Peter injects May with the Lizard’s blood, wouldn’t he be passing along his powers as well?

Spidey finds Curt Connors down in the sewer, working on a machine that will cure him of being the Lizard. Connors will give a blood sample if Spidey, who reveals his identity to a foe once again (RED FLAG #9), helps on his machine. Spidey asks what happens if the machine doesn’t work. Oh, there’s a syringe with the serum that could be manually injected (RED FLAG #10: Why not, you know, use the syringe instead of building a complex machine to do the same function?)

Of course the machine doesn’t work and Spidey has to chase the Lizard through Times Square to give him the serum, leading to the climactic fight scene. Spidey wins, Connors and May are cured, and we are on to the epilogues.

Lindsay-Abaire sets up the Hobgoblin as the villain for the fifth film.

Lindsay-Abaire sets up the Hobgoblin as the villain for the fifth film.

The first shows a man named Roderick Kingsley (who comic fans know as the Hobgoblin) entering the former Osborn mansion. It appears that he has bought the place. He notices the mirrored doorway that Harry broke in Spider-Man 2. Kingsley steps inside and notices all of Norman’s goblin paraphernalia. This brings us to our final RED FLAG # 11. I’m not schooled in the world of real estate, but you have to think that people would make repairs to the Osborn mansion before they sold it. And if they did, they’d notice the stash of goblin stuff in the secret closet. Which would be more likely: A) The realty company takes out all the goblin stuff and does something with it, B) a worker snaps a few pictures, sells them to the Daily Bugle and they get the scoop that Osborn was the Goblin, C) a workman steals the tech for himself, or D) they leave it as is, not even fixing the door, for the next owner to come in and do with it what they will. I pick anything other than D.

The second was Peter setting things right with Aunt May and the third indicated that Gwen Stacy would have been the romantic interest from then on out.

raimi writingEleven red flags are a lot, but the fact that the Lizard was the villain of the reboot does add veracity to the script. I can’t say the same for the “Sam Raimi Treatment,” which just might make 11 red flags by its second paragraph.

Like the Lindsay-Abaire script, the cover page doesn’t have a date (RED FLAG #1), but it goes into detail about how the script is not just for writers Gary Ross and James Vanderbilt and “executive in charge” Todd Black, but also that it is supposed to be considered over the Lindsay-Abaire script. This seems unnecessary because that fact should be obvious to all concerned (RED FLAG #2).

The four-page treatment also begins in the Daily Bugle. This is where the red flags will begin piling up.  Peter finds that J. Jonah Jameson is out as editor of the Daily Bugle, and is replaced a humorless man called Adriano Tombs. If you think that name sounds similar to the real name of Spidey villain The Vulture, you’d be right. Tombs is the Vulture in this film, the name changed from the comic’s Adrian Toomes (RED FLAG #3).

Why was the name changed?  Did “Raimi” simply forget how to spell it? Doubtful. But if he did, he probably had access to the source material at beck and call. Did they think Adrian was too wimpy a name? Tell that to the linebackers Adrian Peterson runs over on any given Sunday. Chose Tombs to act as a counterpart to Vulture? It’s too punny. There’s really no good reason to change the name (RED FLAG #4).

Get rid of this guy? Really?

Get rid of this guy? Really?

But there’s really no reason to get rid of J. Jonah (RED FLAG #5), who was the one consistently great part of the films to date. I know the films are built around Peter having a connection with the bad guy, but there were better ways to do it than getting rid of one of the franchise’s best characters, especially because there is another emotional connection yet to come.spiderman_vulture

It is also revealed that Tombs robs banks at night (RED FLAG #6). When the banks are closed (RED FLAG #7). As the Vulture, with a flying suit (RED FLAG #8). Yeah, that makes sense.

Well, Peter soon finds out that Tombs is the Vulture by examining the crime scene with his heretofore unseen utility belt (RED FLAG #9) which helps him find a feather that has Tombs’ DNA on it. Or in it. The treatment doesn’t specify.

Next we meet Mary Jane and she has a bombshell to drop—she has reconnected with her real dad (RED FLAG #10). Yes, the abusive father from the first film apparently was a step-dad? Adopted father? Anyhow, you’ll never guess who MJ’s real dad is? It’s Adriano Tombs! (RED FLAG #11)

Electro-Comic-BookThe Vulture makes the leap from robbing banks to stealing “nuclear power capsules.” (RED FLAG #12) In the process of stealing one from “Electro Corp,” (RED FLAG #13) he smashes a worker by the name of Max Dillon into a “nuclear power diode.” (RED FLAG #14) Instead of giving Dillon radiation powers, or, more likely, cancer, this accident gives him electrical powers. Thus enters the film’s second villain (RED FLAG #15), Electro.

Electro is so mad at the Vulture that he melts a Daily Bugle with a Vulture story in it (RED FLAG #16).

Meanwhile, MJ stumbles into Tombs’ secret lair and sees him fixing the mechanical wings on his Vulture suit. Let’s give the RED FLAG #17 for the lair being so easy to find, RED FLAG #18 for a newspaper editor being able to afford it, and RED FLAG #19 for having metallic wings when Spidey found a feather earlier in the treatment.

The next day, Electro attacks the Daily Bugle. The treatment doesn’t specify why, but it hints that either it’s because the Vulture’s pictures were in their paper (RED FLAG #20 for ripping off a plot point of the first Spider-Man) or to get Tombs/Vulture because he recognizes they are one and the same (RED FLAG #21 for not having anyone else make that connection, including the authorities. Come to think of it, Peter had scientific proof that Tombs was the Vulture since the third scene. RED FLAG #22 for him not acting on it).

Tombs escapes, but Electro tracks him down (How? Never said. RED FLAG #23). But now, instead of wanting to kill him, he wants to team up with the Vulture to kill Spider-man (RED FLAG #24 for Spider-Man 3’s plot point, which was dumb to begin with).

Next comes two emotional scenes from Peter’s private life.  First is a scene where he admits to Aunt May that he is Spider-Man (RED FLAG #25, because that completes the supporting character who knows his identity set) and that he feels bad for not helping save Uncle Ben’s life (RED FLAG #26, for once again going to a well that was used in an earlier film.)

Second is a scene with MJ where she tells him he was right about Tombs but breaks up with him over his self righteousness (What? RED FLAG #27). She claims to be going to Los Angeles.

Anne Hathaway was linked to the role of Black Cat/Vultress

Anne Hathaway was linked to the role of Black Cat/Vultress

A sullen Spidey is on patrol when he sees a female cat burglar with white hair breaking into a “diamond storage house.” Spidey tries to stop her, but she gets away after Peter gets all moony-eyed over her beauty. A chase ensues and the pair comes across an arms deal by the docks. The couple breaks this up and gets so hot and bothered they go back to Peter’s apartment to have sex, complete with a morning after joint shower with female nudity that is stressed in the treatment.  Peter then asks the cat burglar for help taking down the Vulture.

Ah, where to begin with the red flags. This, as any comic book fan will tell you, introduces the Black Cat into the film franchise. This also makes the number of villains in the film to 3, which is never a good thing for a superhero film (RED FLAG #28). And for a franchise that hasn’t had anything more sexual than an upside down kiss or anything more provocative that a wet T-shirt, we get a sex scene (RED FLAG #29) and a gratuitous nude scene (RED FLAG #30) one right after the other. Hook-ups like this seldom appear in real life without alcohol involved (RED FLAG #31) and for a man who wears a mask to hide his identity, Peter seems a bit too quick to let a woman he met while stopping her from breaking and entering into his circle of trust (RED FLAG #32).

The bad guys, meanwhile, decide to go after Spider-Man by targeting Peter because they ‘can sense it’ (Really, that’s what the treatment said. RED FLAG #33). “It” is a connection to Spider-Man which has already been established in the other films (RED FLAG #34). Of course, to get to Peter, they go through Aunt May, who they take captive. Because that is what bad guys do. Don’t go after the nebbish science geek photog who himself doesn’t appear to be much of a threat, take out his aunt instead (RED FLAG #35).

ultimate-spider-man-animated-electroSoon, the city is plunged into darkness. Spidey and the Black Cat go to the “Main Power Facility” and find a twenty-foot tall Electro (RED FLAG #36) fighting police officers.  Spidey needs him lured between two “energy pillars” so Black Cat lures him there by revealing some cleavage (RED FLAG #37), enticing giant Electro to follow. He does and when he is between the pillars , Spidey flips a switch and sends even more power into giant Electro, overloading him and causing him to explode “like a miniature nuclear bomb,” causing mass destruction along the east side of Manhattan.

Yes, not only did Peter willingly and deliberately kill the bad guy (RED FLAG #38), something he hasn’t done so far in the franchise (RED FLAG #39), but he does so in a way that, at the very least, the cops on the scene (RED FLAG #40) but most likely hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who have the unfortunate luck to live within range of Electro’s blast radius, die as well (RED FLAG #41). I mean, even miniature nuclear bombs are massively destructive.

Peter shows some remorse, but not much before Black Cat shoots him with a tranquilizer dart she produces out of thin air (RED FLAG #42).

3024718-vulture-marvel_knights_spider-man#4-vs_black_catA chained Spidey wakes up in a warehouse to find the Black Cat and Vulture working together (RED FLAG #43). See, she had to do it, because the Vulture kidnapped her sister, in one of the most convoluted yet not at all telegraphed traps in film history! (RED FLAG #44). And there the sister is, tied to the same pile of explosives that Aunt May is! (RED FLAG #45). And the Vulture is holding the detonator! (RED FLAG #46) Spider-Man frees himself, webs the detonator away from the Vulture and Black Cat attacks the Vulture. The Black Cat does the lion’s share of taking down the bad guy (RED FLAG #47) while Spidey frees the hostages. Spidey does web up Vulture for the cops.

Black Cat and Spidey make up, and Peter leaves the task of protecting the city to her, a burglar who has shown little to no interest in helping the city at all to this point and whose one defining trait is that she can’t be trusted (RED FLAG #48).

After a heart to heart with Aunt May where she forgives him, he bumps into MJ (What? All fights to LA delayed? RED FLAG #49). She has changed her mind and wants to be with Peter, who refuses, because that is what their relationship has come to by this point (RED FLAG #50).

The film ends with Spidey on top of the Brooklyn Bridge, feeling a “sense of regret” for being Spidey all these years (and apparently, all the lives he saved as well. RED FLAG #51). He tosses the mask off the bridge, deciding to give up being Spidey once and for all, you know like he did for a half hour in Spider-Man 2 (RED FLAG #52).

Granted, all treatments are rough with holes to be filled in at a later date. But this one is awful. If Raimi did write this treatment,  the only reason for it being so awful that I am willing to accept is that it was a poison pill for the producers in order to entice them into accepting  another version of the script. “They want Black Cat? Oh, I’ll give them Black Cat…in the worst way possible!”

John-Malkovich-The-Vulture-Spider-Man.JPGIf that’s the case, it backfired. John Malkovich was signed to play the Vulture and New York magazine’s Vulture website listed a plot that sounded an awful lot like this treatment.

Or it could be fan fiction constructed by what was known about the film and scenes from the older films and made up the treatment from whole cloth. I am leaning towards this one, because I want to believe an even deliberately awful Raimi treatment would be better than this.

Regardless, neither script got made. The above article lists everything from Raimi wanting Avatar like special effects in the film to toy licensor Hasbro raising concerns that the 60-year old Vulture wouldn’t sell many toys in their toy line as a reason for Raimi’s exit. However, the official party line is that Raimi wanted more time to create a workable script than what he was given and Sony, wanting to keep the sequels previously announced release date intact, refused to give more so Raimi left.

This of course caused Sony to start from scratch on a reboot (a process which ironically necessitated Sony moving the release date back anyway). We’ll talk about that next time.

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