Imagine this. You find a way to clone long dead people. You also just happen to have DNA from each member of the 1927 Yankees. So, naturally, you clone Ruth, Gehrig and the rest to create a team with the goal of having them all play…soccer.
Now, Murderer’s Row might be great soccer players. But you’d want to see them play baseball. You’d be disappointed otherwise. That’s the feeling I get after watching The Wolverine trailers (both the domestic one and the longer international one, both are posted below).
Not many comic books could survive the transition to the big screen unchanged, but Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s 1982 Wolverine miniseries could. There is no glaring contradiction to the film continuity in the story, and, for a while, it looked like we might just be getting the most faithful X-Men adaptation to date.
Gone is Logan meeting Mariko first (now he meets her father Shingen first–back in WWII!), no shocking revelation about Yukio’s loyalties (she’s revealed as working for Shingen from the very first frame she’s in), and what’s added is a mopey, mourning Wolverine who is losing his powers. Yay.
Granted, it does look better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but if the film was nothing but Hugh Jackman sitting in a La-Z Boy and eating Pringles, it would still be better than that film.
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’ll talk about the first three of the best “superhero” films that only appeared in comics after the films were released.
Fair warning, you might have issue with these three film franchises being covered in the next three installments being called “superhero” movies. I’m here to make the case they are. But even if you don’t buy my argument, you have to admit the connection between these films and the world of comics is a tangible one.
These franchises have a lot in common. Each received life in comics after its first film opened, and the world of comics played a part in their creation to some extent. Each franchise was started by directors whose talent made them the biggest names in the film world. And each franchise was a case of diminishing returns after the big splash made by the first installment.
Some might ask, “Why is RoboCop on the list and the other famous Orion release of the ’80s, The Terminator, not? Couldn’t that film be considered an unofficial comic book film?” Yes, it could. But the ties between RoboCop and comics are a little bit stronger.
Director Paul Verhoeven has admitted in a 2002 interview with Dutch website XI Online that RoboCop, Verhoeven’s first major American film, was inspired by British comic book character, Judge Dredd, and you can see it, too. RoboCop takes place in a similar dystopian near-future as Dredd, is offered as the last word in law enforcement like Dredd, and often acts as judge, jury and executioner, too, like Dredd. But I don’t think the comic book inspirations end there.
In 1974, Marvel Comics came up with a character called Deathlok. He was a soldier named Luther Manning from a dystopian future version of Detroit, Michigan who is fatally injured in battle. Before he dies, his body is retrieved and what can be saved is rebuilt into a cyborg by an evil corporation with the intent of using the man-machine to work towards their interests. He eventually gains independence and fights against his programming. RoboCop is Alex Murphy, a police officer in a dystopian future version of Detroit, Michigan who is fatally injured in the line of duty. Before he dies, his body is retrieved and what can be saved is rebuilt into a cyborg by an evil corporation with the intent of using the man-machine to work towards their interests. He eventually gains independence and fights against his programming.
Now, this could be a big coincidence, but if the powers that be were inspired by a comic with limited exposure in the U.S. at the time, they could have very well been familiar with the rather obscure Deathlok. Nothing has been said officially if Deathlok inspired RoboCop, so this is all speculation. But it is worth thinking about.
Regardless of the inspiration, RoboCop was an awesome film, well ahead of its time. On one level, it works as a great futuristic sci-fi action film. On another level, it is a cutting piece of satire of the era that still rings true today. Some of the jabs are obvious—television, commercials and the need for consumer products, others are more subtle—the jingoism of Regan’s America, the corporatization of public services, and violence in film (satire which was lost on the MPAA, who made director Verhoeven tone down the violence in order to avoid an X Rating, and many audience members).
The film was well received critically and financially, which means sequels. But director Verhoeven and writers Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner would not be returning for RoboCop 2.
But this did not seem like much of a problem. To replace Verhoeven, the powers that be chose Irvin Kershner. It might be a stylistic step down, but Kershner did direct The Empire Strikes Back, the much lauded second installment in the Star Wars franchise. For writing, they turned to the world of comics. They looked towards a name that was getting a lot of attention for a series that covered a lot of the same themes as RoboCop. The book was The Dark Knight Returns and the writer was Frank Miller.
On paper, this seemed like a project that while not being as good as the original, it would be good in its own right. However, on film, 1990’s RoboCop 2 was a resounding disappointment.
Judging by how bad his writing would eventually become, it would be easy to blame Frank Miller for how bad these sequels turned out. However, Miller has stated that the producers rewrote his script to an absurd level and what was on the screen only had traces of what he originally wrote. His original script was adapted into comic book form in 2003 by Avatar Press. It proved that he was right. Oh, Miller’s version was bad, just bad in a different way, but practically the only thing that remained the same in both versions was the introduction of a new cyborg officer (named…RoboCop 2! Hilarity!) and an even more war-torn Detroit.
Where Miller’s version and the version that made it to the screen went wrong was that both failed to grasp what made the original so great. Instead of uberviolence that pointed out the absurdity of movie violence, it was the type of gratuitous violence the first film mocked. Instead of biting satire, it was ham-fisted mockery of easy pop culture targets. Instead of shocking us with the depravity that humans can stoop to, it gives us a twelve-year-old drug lord and expects us to be shocked.
Miller did get something out of it. He was able to visit the set everyday to learn the art of filmmaking. He also garnered the first of what would be a string of cameos in feature films.
While the film was a critical failure, it made enough money to garner another sequel. Miller was brought back to write RoboCop 3, and he accepted the job thinking this time would be different and he would finally be able to reintroduce plot points that were removed from his script for RoboCop 2. He was wrong. While some elements Miller wanted made their way in—the forcible relocation of Old Detroit residents, the use of mercenaries to supplement the Detroit police force—his script was changed even more this time around, due to the way the character morphed through in his appearances in other media.
After the success of the first RoboCop, the franchise branched out into other medium. It became a Marvel comic book which presented a more kid friendly version of the character and ran from 1990-1993. Marvel, through its Marvel Productions arm, also produced a syndicated cartoon in 1988 which, while darker than the other cartoon fare of the time, was considerably less violent and gory than the film. The property also made its way into the world of video games, again with much of its content toned down.
The result was that the RoboCop brand became, well, more kid friendly. The producers of the film franchise recognized this and decided to make RoboCop 3 a more kid-accessible PG-13.
Peter Weller, who was excellent in the role of RoboCop, is gone for this installment, replaced by Robert John Burke. Nancy Allen stayed for a few scenes before getting herself killed off. The violence was toned down and kid-friendly plot elements such as a jet pack for RoboCop and robo-ninjas as his enemies put the final nail in removing all traces of what made the first film great.
There has been a remake in the works since 2005. Director Darren Aronofsky was briefly attached to the project before Jose Padilha was chosen to take over the reins. This should be coming out later in the year that this post will run, so I’ll just have to add to it as time goes by.
Next up, Sam Raimi examines the superhero archetype years before he directed Spider-Man.
The next Sin City has gotten it’s big bad guy…and it’s TV’s Mike Hammer.
Variety is reporting that Stacey Keach has been signed to play Herr Wallenquist, the German-American crime boss known as The Kraut who rules over Basin City with an iron fist.
The Kraut is seldom seen in the comics, preferring to work through lackeys and henchmen. When he is seen, he is portrayed as a physically imposing man whose face and neck is covered with scars. Creator Frank Miller describes the character to Variety as ”the one man who can’t be redeemed in Sin City. He is pure evil.”
Keach has a long and varied career on the stage, in films and on television, where he created his most famous role, bringing Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer to life in three separate TV series.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For opens on October 4, 2013.
When the first Sin City came out, I was amazed at the cast that Robert Rodriguez was able to put together for the film. It was a star-studded mix of Oscar-worthy thespians, summer blockbuster idols, solid character actors, and young up-and-comers–a veritable who’s who of the Hollywood elite. And it looks like he’s having similar luck putting together the cast for that film’s sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.
The Playlist is reporting that Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, and Juno Temple are set to join Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dennis Haysbert and Jamie Chung as new residents of Basin City. The website does not know what characters the actors will be playing as of yet, but, since production has already begun on the film, I’m sure details will be coming soon.
One casting announcement that should also be coming soon is who will be playing the titular “Dame to Kill For” from the original comic, Ava. With all due respect to Ms. Temple, the role calls for a more mature, classic Hollywood femme fatale in the mold of a Rita Hayworth or Ava Gardner type. Rodriguez and co-director/Sin City creator Frank Miller have gone on record saying that they were pursuing Angelina Jolie for the role.
Regardless, these three actors will be a great addition to the cast. Liotta specifically seems tailor-made for the art-noir world of the film.
Christopher Meloni may have played a straight forward, good guy cop on television’s Law & Order: SVU but he’ll be playing the flip side of that coin in Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame To Kill For.
Deadline broke the news that Meloni has landed the as-for-now unnamed police officer who, given the disposition of police officers we’ve seen in the original Sin City film, is most likely more than a bit bent.
Yesterday, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was announced as joining the cast which will also include from the first film Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson and Jaime King.
Although the film takes its title from the second volume of Miller’s Sin City graphic novel series, Miller and Rodriguez have devised a new storyline that has been intertwined with the graphic novel’s.
Recently, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been rumored to be circling a couple of genre projects and he has now made his decision as to which one he will sign with. Sorry Godzilla and Guardians Of The Galaxy, but Levitt has chosen to go with Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City: A Dame To Kill For.
Gordon-Levitt will be taking on the role of a gambler named Johnny, which originally had been offered to Johnny Depp. Although the film is based on a couple of Frank Miller’s Sin City comics storylines, the character appears to be a new one created for the one new storyline Miller and Rodriguez devised for the film.
Returning from the first Sin City are Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Bruce Willis and Rosario Dawson.
Deadline broke the news, stating that Marvel is now pursuing many of their other choices for the lead for Guardians Of The Galaxy now that Gordon-Levitt has passed on the role.
If the news had come from Mark Millar’s mouth, I wouldn’t have believed it. After all, this is that same man that stated back in 2008 that he was in line to reboot the Superman film franchise, a bold statement that never came to pass. So him saying that some studio hired him to act as a consultant on their comic book franchises, it would be easy to write off.
Only, this time it’s not Millar saying it, it’s the studio itself. 20th Century Foxannounced today that it has hired Millar to act as a “creative consultant” on movies from their studio based on Marvel Comics books. The studio is currently developing the writer’s Nemesis miniseries into a feature film.
Fox currently still owns the rights to the X-Men and Fantastic Four properties, two franchises Millar has written stories featuring for Marvel’s Ultimate Comics imprint. Millar’s friend, director Matthew Vaughn, is currently working on X-Men: Days of Future Past for the studio.
It is not known exactly what Millar will be consulting on. The obvious project would be the Fantastic Four reboot, but rumors are that FOX was so high on Josh Trank’s take on it that they were willing let Daredevil slip back to Marvel rather than let Marvel get their hands on any FF characters. The X-Men franchises seem to be fairly self-sufficient by this point, with the satellite Wolverine and First Class franchises chugging along and Bryan Singer supposedly willing to return to the main franchise. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of consulting work to be done, unless Millar is going to be charged with getting more mutant franchises such as Deadpool up and running. Or maybe he’s just going to be a highly paid information desk, a resource the directors to use. It remains to be seen.
My name is Bill. I’m a comic book fan and have been for thirty years. I have been a film buff for almost as long. And I’ve been writing about both worlds for about as long as the Internet has been around, give or take a year or two.
I say this just to provide a little background to you. Because I have been meaning to speak with you in regards to your philosophy towards comic book films. And an article I read today compelled me to not wait any longer.
Over at Bleeding Cool, Rich Johnston relayed an experience from an anonymous comic store employee whose shop was visited by a “fan” who had a pronounced lack of knowledge of comic books, but an overwhelmingly odd knowledge of DC Comics films. This fan, no, wait, let’s call him what he likely was–a badly disguised marketing researcher, asked questions such as “what superhero films have had good Facebook pages?”, “Do you think comic fans would accept a superhero film without Nolan’s involvement, would him serving as a producer suffice?” “What do fans think of Aquaman? He’s lame isn’t he?”, “What is regarded as the strongest lineup of the Justice League and would work as a film?” The marketer closed his survey with an intriguing question: “What would fan reaction be to a Justice League movie with Frank Miller’s name attached?”
I don’t pretend to speak all fans or comics, films, or comic book films. I speak for myself and hopefully other fans agree with my opinion. And my reaction to this news is that it could quite possibly be the worst in a long line of bad decisions your studio has made in regards to its comic book properties.
Now, I understand that you’re in a difficult position. You once had the superhero film market all to yourself with first the Superman films then the Batman films. Then Marvel went from being a laughing stock to becoming the dominant producers of comic book films and you ended up playing catch up. Marvel has just had their most successful film to date with The Avengers and the DC Comics film slate is in a state of chaos. You are rebooting the Superman franchise for the second time in ten years. The Batman franchise is coming off a successful reboot by Christopher Nolan and is in a state of flux. Sure fire franchise starters such as Jonah Hex and Green Lantern ended up D.O.A. at the box office. Suddenly, playing catch up became being so far behind that there is a danger that it isn’t even a race anymore.
And, to be brutally honest, it’s all your fault. The list of failed attempts at rebooting the Superman franchise before you settled on Superman Returns is legendary for how bad the attempts were. I read the original script for Jonah Hex and while it might not have been a hit, it would have been closer to source material. But reading that script, it was easy to see what the studio mandated reshoots got us–Hex’s superpowers and the campy “weapons of mass destruction” plot line. I also read the Green Lantern script and thought it had the potential to be a fun film. Unfortunately, what we got was a film lacking a sense of awe and wonder.
Listen, I can see why you think Frank Miller might be an exciting choice for the Justice League movie, a film that needs some excitement because it meant to act as The Avengers in reverse (Instead of individual superhero films leading up to one big team up movie, you’re having one big team up movie that will hopefully lead to individual superhero films). Miller is a legendary comic book creator and has become a filmmaker as well. He even works with green screen techniques in his directing, which is quick, cheap and one of the reasons why you hired Zack Snyder to do Man of Steel.
But there is one flaw in the idea. the present day Frank Miller is just terrible at what he does. He just is. Now, I have nothing personal against Miller, despite how Wikipediamight make it look. I came in a bit after his storied run on Daredevil, but I was right on time for his Batman:The Dark Knight Returns. I consider that series to be the second best comic book story of all time. But since 2000, Frank Miller has become a case of diminishing returns. I don’t know if it’s because of the auteur syndrome (where creative individuals have been told that they were genius enough times that they figure anything they create is automatically genius so they stop trying) or something else, but Miller’s output in the new millennium–Dark Knight Strikes Back, All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, Holy Terror–has been awful.
I mean, have you seen The Spirit? Obviously not, because if you did, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Watch it. Okay, that might be asking too much. How about you just go on Rotten Tomatoes and read some the reviews for the film? No, that probably won’t work either. How about you take a look at the earnings for the film? Money, you’ll pay attention to that. I’ll give you a hint: the reviews were as bad as the grosses–completely horrible.
The Spirit shows what happens when Miller is given free hand to write and direct a comic book film adaptation. He took one of the most quirky and iconic comic book characters in history, paid no respect to the original version, and married traces of the character to his fetishes (namely, film noir and hyper-sexualized femme fatales), a Calvin Klein ad, and force fed the concoction through a MacBook. The result is something the was as awful as you would expect it to be.
And this was a character created by his friend and mentor, Will Eisner! What would he do to the Justice League, a concept he has no emotional attachment to? Well, we do have some idea based on how Miller portrayed the team in All-Star Batman, The Dark Knight Returns and Dark Knight Strikes Again. Superman will be an ineffectual wimp incapable of independent thought, preferring to be led around by weaker men. Green Arrow will be a raving lunatic hippie. Wonder Woman will be a man-hating harridan. Batman will be a psychotic bastard. And the rest of the League will be made up of either sociopaths or feeble weaklings. In other words, nothing like the casual fan remembers them as being and not the type of characters that would be appealing to everyday moviegoers.
What’s that you say? You’ll never let that happen? Gosh, the only worse thing I can think of other than a Frank Miller Justice League film is a Frank Miller Justice League film after heavy studio meddling.
That fact that you might be considering Miller for this job tells me something I’ve always suspected–you think there’s some hidden secret to doing a successful superhero movie, and, by gum, you’ll try everything until you find it. Jonah Hex doesn’t have powers? All Marvel’s film characters have powers. Let’s give him some. Iron Man was a cocky and arrogant who is unfazed by whatever life throws and wields a powerful weapon. That characterization would work exactly as well for Green Lantern! The Nolan Batman films were dark and gritty. So, making the Superman film dark and gritty would mean that it will be just as successful! Joss Whedon, a Hollywood director who wrote comic books, leads The Avengers to over a billion dollars in box office receipts? Man, then fans would really flip if we got Frank Miller, a comic writer who is a Hollywood director, to do Justice League!
You are right though. There is a proven method of doing a comic book movie right, but it’s no secret. You get a talented and proven director. You get a great cast of actors. You get a great story that respects the source material while standing on its own as a film. You work with the comic book company to make sure the films stay on point. You don’t interfere unless it is to make any of the four prior things happen. It’s rather simple, but it’s not easy. You need to invest the time, do the due diligence, and trust the people you’ve hired when your only instinct is to overrule them and make unnecessary changes. But if you do that, your films might just be the quality of Marvel’s or Nolan’s.
Thanks for listening to me, Warners. I know I might have come on a bit too strong. After all, you were just pooling opinions. But I just think hiring Frank Miller for Justice League would annihilate any chance you have of ever competing with Marvel’s film output. I felt I had to say something, as a friend, before it was too late.
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’ll look at the comic book film that failed upward—The Rocketeer—and the comic artist that created the original source material—Dave Stevens.
Some comic book creators are incredibly prolific with the amount of characters they create, say, like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Others are primarily known more for their artistry than the characters they create, like George Pérez. But in Dave Stevens’ case, he was known for his artistry and the one character he created. That character is the Rocketeer.
Stevens got his start in the mid-1970s as an assistant to the legendary Russ Manning while Manning was doing the art for the Tarzan and Star Wars comics strips. He then went on to work for Hanna Barbera under the tutelage of Jonny Quest creator Doug Wildey and also worked some as a storyboard artist.
At the 1981 San Diego Comic Con, Pacific Comics owners, the Schanes brothers, came to Stevens for help because they knew he was an artist. They needed two, six-page stories to act as filler in issues #2 & #3 for Mike Grell’s creator-owned book, Starslayer. Stevens bounced around some ideas and came up with one that he could do on the fly.
Even though the Rocketeer was thrown together on the spot, it didn’t mean that it was amateurish or awful. On the contrary, it is one of the best works to come out of comic books in the 1980s.
The series was a bouillabaisse of Stevens’ likes and influence. He used himself as a model for the hero, Cliff Secord. His mentor Wildey became the model for Secord’s mentor, Peevy. Stevens’ muse Bettie Page became the model for Cliff’s girlfriend, Betty. Nods to everything from Doc Savage (Doc’s assistants Ham and Monk appear anonymously in the first Rocketeer installment), The Shadow (who helps Cliff in the second), Rondo Hatton (who is the basis for the villain of the second installment), the film Freaks, the aviation trend of the depression era, film serials, the kitchy architecture of pre-war Los Angeles and the glamour of 1930s Hollywood and New York City.
Stevens gets the reputation of being a “good girl” artist for his skill at drawing gorgeous women in seductive poses, but his artistry goes way beyond that. Certainly, his art was beautiful when he was illustrating buxom babes, but it was just as beautiful when he was drawing an airplane, a supper club, or the folds on a dinner jacket. His art was lush and detailed and seemed to have a glow all of its own.
And his writing was also ahead of its time. Cliff Secord could have been a precursor to the “anti-hero” trend that Alan Moore and Frank Miller would exploit several years later. Secord was stubborn and self-centered. He was jealous and had a quick temper. He wasn’t the prototypical superhero, all virtuous and noble. He was human, like us.
The Rocketeer saga was presented in two installments in eight separate issues of four different series (Starslayer, Pacific Presents, The Rocketeer Special Edition, and The Rocketeer Adventure Magazine) from four different publishers (Pacific, Eclipse, Comico, and Dark Horse) over the span of 13 years (1982-1995). The protracted publishing schedule was due mainly to the fact that two of the four comic companies went out of business while he was working with them, his own meticulous drawing speed, and various legal entanglements (for instance, the rights for The Rocketeer were mistakenly listed as an asset of Comico when they went bankrupt, so Stevens had to wait six years after issue #2 of The Rocketeer Adventure Magazine, which was published by Comico in 1989, before he could publish the final issue of the series at Dark Horse in 1995 after the new holder of Comico’s rights itself went out of business as to avoid a legal battle over the disputed rights.)
In 1991, before the final issue of the series was published, The Rocketeer was released in theaters.
The Rocketeer really has no business being on the list of the best comic book adaptations ever made. The film was first optioned in 1983 by Steve Miner in an aborted attempt to bring it to the screen, but differences in the direction the film property should go caused the film rights to revert back to Stevens. The artist found a more comparable match with Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, who were on the same page as Stevens as to subject matter and setting of the film.
The film originally landed at the Walt Disney shingle, Touchstone Pictures and had a tone similar to the original comic book story. However, Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, knowing that the kid-friendly Disney studios needed a live-action hit and seeing the potential in the film as a toy generating property, moved the film over to the main studio. As a result, nude model Bettie Page became aspiring starlet Jenny Blake, and Cliff Secord went from being an irascible rogue to an all-American kid with just a hint of the rebel in him.
Usually, when this big of a change is made in the translation to the screen, the film suffers. But while the concept was lightened to make it more family-friendly, it still kept the spirit of the original comic alive. It helped that Dave Stevens kept a hands-on role all through production. He provided his clip files to production designers to properly capture the look of the time. Stevens has a cameo as the German test pilot for their version of the rocket pack.
The film was a tribute to depression-era Los Angeles and a love-letter to the culture of the barnstorming pilot. It still paid homage to the age of the film serial, but added nods to the B-movie gangster, espionage and crime genres. And as much attention as Stevens’ paid to the look, the architecture and the illustration style of the era, director Joe Johnson paid as much attention to the visual style of the films of the 30s.
Some plot points still made the translation over from the book to the film. The origin is still pretty much the same as the book, as is Secord’s first appearance as the Rocketeer (although he is rescuing a pilot in the film who has lost control of his plane, not a pilot who has passed out behind the yoke because he was drunk, as in the book. Thank you Disney!). The Rondo Hatton look-a-like Lothar, the main villain from Stevens’ second arc, is in the film, but as a henchman for the main villain, Neville Sinclair, a new addition as “the number three box office star in America” who is a Nazi spy. Yes, the Nazis are still after the rocket in the film, but in a less straightforward way than in the book. They try to get the rocket through Sinclair who tries to get it through some local gangsters.
While the film does not follow the book exactly, if you buy into the goofy homage to the entertainment of the past, the film becomes an entertaining ride. I still cheer at the jingoistic way the mobsters, who were trying to kill Secord and the feds throughout the whole movie, switch allegiances to fight the Nazis at the end.
The film is as good as it is due to two actors in particular, and not the ones who would later go on to win Oscars either. Alan Arkin, who would win Best Supporting Actor in 2007 for Little Miss Sunshine, is miscast in the role of Peevy. Arkin is too laid back in the role of the grumpy genius from the comic. And, although this might not be his fault, he is cursed with one of the worse hairpieces ever to appear on recorded film. I kept expecting birds to use it as a nest.
Jennifer Connolly, who would win Best Supporting Actress for A Beautiful Mind in 2002, was still relatively early in her film career. She had not at that point gained the acting chops that would later win her the Oscar. You get the feeling that Jenny was written as a glamorous yet down to earth girl with a lot of moxie. Connolly played her as a glamorous yet down to earth girl with very little moxie to her.
However, Billy Campbell and Timothy Dalton are what make this movie great. Campbell looks almost exactly like the comic book Cliff Secord, and the relative newcomer brought a Jimmy Stewart-like charisma to the role. And Dalton, who was just coming off a stint of playing James Bond, excels as the Errol Flynn-inspired Neville Sinclair. He puts so much life into the villain that it becomes a truly complex character. Dalton’s Sinclair is charming one minute, dangerous the next, and funny the minute after that, with just the right amount of scenery chewing thrown in for good measure.
The film was originally planned to be the first in a trilogy, but when the $35-40 million dollar film only made $46+ million at the box office, that plan was scrapped. Although it wasn’t a financial success, it was a charming film. And while it wasn’t 100% faithful to the comic book, it showed a comic book movie is best when they capture the spirit of the original source material.
While many, including myself, think this version is pretty much close to perfect, there are people in Hollywood who still think “pretty close” isn’t close enough. As we reported here, rumor has it that Disney is are thinking of remaking the film. Personally, I hope the make a more adult version of the property, more in line with Stevens’ excellent original comic book.
Next, we cover another great comic book adaptation whose behind-the-scenes tragedy raises it above your standard comic book film.
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 bring our four week “vacation” overseas to an end with the most notable comic film franchises Japan has to offer.
Before we start this final installment, a caveat—we won’t be covering every film franchise based on manga here. Due to the overwhelming popularity of the genre, and the prevalence of adapting manga into anime, there are a lot of series to cover if I wanted to cover them all. And since I want to end this History of the Comic Book film series before I die, choices needed to be made. I have decided to focus on live-action franchises that have had some effect on the West. This means no One Piece, no Yu-Gi-Oh!, no Naruto, no BLEACH, not even Dragon Ball and that one had a live action version to go along with its animated ones.
Our first entry is the Lone Wolf and Cub series. Created by writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojimain 1970, the influential manga focuses on a disgraced 17th Century Japanese warrior by the name of Ogami Ittō who travels the land with his infant son, Ogami Daigorō, seeking to avenge his murdered wife and his lost honor. The 28-volume manga influenced American creators such as Frank Miller and Max Alan Collins, whose Road to Perdition was greatly influenced by the work (we’ll be talking about the Road to Perdition film in the future).
WARNING: The trailers will be in Japanese and not English. I thought seeing them will give you an idea of the look and the feel of the film but don’t expect to understand the dialogue (unless you speak Japanese). You are forewarned! No complaints!
The manga inspired seven live-action films: Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (1972), Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972), Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades (1972), Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril (1972), Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons (1973), Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell (1974), and Shogun Assassin (1980), although that last one was a recut version of the first two films. Tomisaburo Wakayama starred as Ogami Ittō in all the films.
If you have seen Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill series, you will get to understand his appreciation for Japanese films and culture. If you have read the Lady Snowblood manga or saw any of the films that it inspired, you will see how far Tarantino’s affection goes, as Kill Bill borrows numerous themes, characters, and even music from that particular work.
LadySnowblood first appeared in the pages of Weekly Playboy magazine in 1972, written by Kazuo Koike and illustrated by Kazuo Kamimura. The manga told the story of Lady Snowblood, a woman born for only one thing—vengeance. Oyuki was born in prison to a woman convicted of killing her rapist. The rapist was part of a larger gang of thieves that killed her father and brother. The rest of the gang escaped justice, so Oyuki’s mother seduced a male prison guard to impregnate her, hoping to give birth to a boy who would eventually avenge the death of her family. The mother died giving birth to a girl, Oyuki, and ensured that she would be trained to exact the vengeance she could never have. Once Oyuki came of age, she began working her way through the list of gang members her mother left for her, taking assassination jobs on the side until she was able to complete her mission.
The manga was adapted in 1973 as the film, Lady Snowblood. The film followed the plot of the manga with a few major changes. The vengeance exacted by Lady Snowblood was more vicious, the side assassination jobs lost, and her final fate far more grim that the comic. The film was followed by a sequel in which Lady Snowblood becomes an assassin hired by the government to steal a document from an “enemy of the state.” The film was also reimagined in 2001 as The Princess Blade, which relocated the story to a post-apocalyptic future.
Another manga featuring a young female assassin that was adapted for the big screen was Azumi. Like Lady Snowblood, Azumi was trained from a young age to be a warrior. Unlike, Lady Snowblood, vengeance wasn’t the motivation, but political assassination is. She is called upon to kill warlords and other warriors that threaten to upset the balance of power in Feudal Japan.
The manga was adapted to the screen in 2003 with Azumi, which received a limited U.S. release in 2006.The film was a loose adaptation, but still retained many of the darker elements of the manga (including the final part of her training where she had to kill her best friend in class in combat to “pass”). It was followed by Azumi 2 in 2005.
The final franchise we are going to talk about this week is Death Note. The manga, which was created by writer Tsugumi Ohba and artist Takeshi Obata, and ran in Shonen Jump from 2003 to 2006, focuses on a young man who comes across a supernatural notebook that can kill people if their names were written in it while the owner was thinking about what the victim looked like.
The manga inspired three films, Death Note (May 2006), its sequel Death Note: The Last Name (November 2006) and a spin-off L: Change the World (2008). Shane Black has been tapped as the director of an American version of the story.
Next time, we cover that American success story—the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.