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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: The Non-Comic Book Superhero, Part II

Posted on 08 March 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. 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.

DEATHLOK002_DC11-1In 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.

Robocop_poster_2But 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.

robocop_three_ver3_xlgWhile 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.

Robocop1_620_1606013aPeter 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.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: The Failed British Invasion

Posted on 02 November 2012 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’ll talk about a different kind of British invasion as some British comic book icons come over to the States in film form.

If there is a reoccurring theme of this history, it’s that Hollywood often screws up the American comics they adapt. Whether it be hubris, a lack of understanding, or plain old incompetence, more comic book movies are changed for the worse by Hollywood because the powers that be just “didn’t get it.”

If Hollywood has a hard time making movies out of comics published in its own country, how would it fare adapting Britain’s favorite comic book characters? Judging by two examples from the 1990s, it would not fare well at all.

Judge Dredd is perhaps the most famous British comic book character of all time. I believe that only Miracle/Marvelman would give him a run for his money. Created by Pat Mills, John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra and first appearing in the second issue of the seminal British comic book magazine 2000 A.D., Dredd was a combined cop, judge, and executioner in a post-apocalyptic United States. He is the best cop in Mega-City One, the future version of New York City, if New York City took up most of the Eastern Seaboard. His jurisdiction ran from busting petty vandals to stopping another nuclear Armageddon. He would face off against mutants, cyborgs and gangs in the process of doing his job.

The character appeared in every issue of 2000 A.D. since his first appearance in 1977 and was one of the few British comic book characters to get his own magazine. British creators that went on to have some success in the States worked on the character, including Brian Bolland, Ian Gibson, Brendan McCarthy, Alan Grant, Steve Dillon, Barry Kitson, John Higgins, Garry Leach, Kevin O’Neill, Liam Sharp, Glenn Fabry, Alan Davis, Garth Ennis, Mark Millar, Grant Morrison and many, many more.

Judge Dredd has quite a following in the United States, with many fans becoming exposed to the character through reprints, through DC licensing the characters, or imports of British mags. This stateside popularity caught the attention of Hollywood producers, who decided, in 1995, to give the character his own movie called Judge Dredd.

The fate of the film was sealed when Sylvester Stallone was cast in the lead (although, to be fair, it might not have been a better movie if the producers’ original choice, Arnold Schwarzenegger, agreed to take on the film). Cobra proved he wasn’t good at being a grim dispenser of justice. And Dredd wasn’t the type of role where he could use his charm and charisma to get by.

So it started off bad, but the filmmakers made it worse. Instead of the subversive satire and humor, we get a wacky comedy sidekick, and, adding insult to injury, they cast Rob Schneider in the role.  They add a possible romance with Diane Lane’s character, Judge Hershey, when the comic’s Dredd’s foregoing any romance in favor of pursuing justice is a pretty big character trait. And, in what might seem like a minor point to the uninitiated but is a big deal to the Dredd fans, Stallone goes through most of the movie sans Dredd’s trademark helmet. In the characters 35 year plus career in the comics, the adult Dredd only took off his helmet a handful of times, and never in any way that you can make out his features.

Judge Dredd got a remake this year with Dredd, and it was better even before the first frame was shot. John Wagner, co-creator, gave the script an a-ok while the film was in pre-production, saying it was closer in tone to the original comics than the Stallone vehicle. That’s a pretty good way to start a reboot to a franchise that wasn’t done right the first time around, isn’t it?

As for the movie itself?  Well, it was a vast improvement over the Stallone version (but it was hard for it not to be). As a comic book adaptation, Dredd remained true to feel of the source material, capturing the characterization of Judge Dredd to a T and employing the graphic violence and morbid humor quite well. As a film, Pete Travis’ stylized direction is visually interesting, and the film holds up well against other films set in a grim future such as RoboCop, Road Warrior, and Escape From New York.

Unfortunately, the ghost of the Stallone version kept people out of the theaters. As of October 25, 2012, after what was then five weeks of release, the film earned less than half of its $50 million budget back ($23,467,110 to be exact) worldwide, with little chance of it making up the difference. This is a shame because I truly believe the film deserved a bigger audience than it got. Hopefully, its audience will find it on home video.

The same year the first Judge Dredd film came out, Hollywood adapted another satirical British comic book character from a post-apocalyptic Earth. The film is Tank Girl, based on the character of the same name created by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett (who would later gain fame with his partnership with Damon Albarn in creating the multimedia rock group, The Gorillaz).

Whereas Judge Dredd was a violent and grim satire using a dystopian future as a commentary on the present-day world, Tank Girl takes a more absurdist take on the theme. Tank Girl, an Australian mercenary who owns and lives in a tank, made her first appearance in Deadline #1 in 1988. Her boyfriend is a mutated anthropomorphic kangaroo. Her missions include such tasks as procuring colostomy bags for the Australian president. She became an underground sensation and a counterculture icon, which means she was a perfect choice for Hollywood to try to make into a mainstream film. Of course, this being Hollywood, they had no idea how to get this done.

The film was directed by self-professed Tank Girl fan Rachel Talalay and was produced by Deadline’s publisher Tom Astor, so you’d think that the film would be a fairly faithful adaptation, right? Not when it’s being done by a major Hollywood studio it’s not. United Artists put the film through a gauntlet of test screenings and focus groups and more focus groups, and calling for script changes and editing cuts accordingly. Talalay had this to say about the experience as it pertains to one particular scene:

Then there was a tag where it rained and TG/Jet G/and Sub Girl plan to take over the world (the umbrella hat shot) (rather than the animation). Someone in the obnoxious focus group said they didn’t understand why it rained. So out it went. We put in the animation, which I liked anyway, but first time we screened it with the animation, someone in the focus group said I wish it had rained at the end. Then everyone agreed. I hate test screenings, especially when the studio takes one person’s opinion to be gospel.”

By trying to make it a film that would please everyone, it made the film a disappointment to Tank Girl’s fans, creators and the general public. It grossed under $6.6 million worldwide against a $25 million dollar budget.

Next time, Will Smith gets jiggy with it in a stealth comic book adaptation.

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Review: DREDD

Posted on 22 September 2012 by William Gatevackes

Judge Dredd is one of the most popular and most iconic characters in the history of comic books, but to American audiences, many only know the character from the abysmal 1995 film Judge Dredd starring Sylvester Stallone.

That film resembled then 18 year old property as much as Stallone resembles a plain spoken Shakespearean actor. If you are willing to give the character another chance, and no one can blame you if that first film scared you off Judge Dredd forever, you’ll find a much better interpretation of the source material in Dredd 3D.

The film takes place in a nuclear war ravaged future United States. The survivors huddle into massive “Mega Cities” patrolled by a new breed of cop called Judges. They act as judge, jury and, very often, executioners in the line of duty.

Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) patrols Mega City One, one continuous city that stretches from Boston, Massachusetts to Washington, D.C. and contains 200-story “tower blocks” that house tens of thousands of residents. The film follows Dredd on a day at work, doing an on-the-job assessment of a rookie Judge by the name of Cassandra Anderson (Oliva Thirlby) who has telepathic abilities (her family lived too close to the nuclear fallout–her parents got cancer, she got superpowers).

As luck would have it, her first day on the job goes horrifically wrong. Dredd and Anderson run afoul of drug lord by the name of Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) while investigating a grisly murder in a the tower block under her control. The main suspect in the slaying, Kay (Wood Harris, yet another alum of The Wire in a comic book film), is someone with vital information regarding Ma-Ma’s manufacture of a popular, perception-slowing drug called Slo-Mo. To prevent Dredd and Anderson from leaving the building with Kay and the information he holds, Ma-Ma seals the building and tries to kill Dredd and Anderson in the most violent ways possible.

The film scrapes of the glitz of the original film and constructs a gritty, gory and extremely violent film that is closer in tone to the original source material. Its tone is also is close into to other dystopian future epics such as Robocop and Escape From New York (at several times, Dredd’s score was very reminiscent of the latter’s). The film builds a similar plausible, yet satiric world to those two movies, one which adds character to the piece.

Urban does an excellent job as Dredd. The character is a cipher–we never know anything about his family life or his personal history, and Urban wears the Dredd helmet at all times (which automatically makes this film an improvement of the 1995 version). Yet, Urban, director Pete Travis, and screenwriter Alex Garland create an interesting character with many internal conflicts and distinct personality. Dredd is never one note, and the character keeps the audience interested from beginning to end. That’s a credit to Urban’s skill.

The rest of the cast is just as good, especially Thirlby as Anderson and Headey as the menacing Ma-Ma.

The film does have a satiric point of view, aimed at political themes (the relative benefits and draw backs of a police state) but also satirizes cop movie conventions. Yes, Anderson will get captured by the bad guys. Yes, there will be bad Judges for Dredd to fight. But this is all presented with humorous and unexpected twists.

For me, the best part of the film is respect the filmmakers have for the source material. While the story line was not adapted from any particular comic book arc, it was the perfect Judge Dredd story. Best of all, the first credit in the end credits, on screen larger than life and in as big a font as the director or any actor, was “Created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra.” In a day where crediting creators in film featuring their characters is a controversial undertaking, it was refreshing to see Dredd’s creators honored in such a fashion.

Fair warning–the film is graphically, brutally violent. It uses its R rating to the fullest advantage. So much so, that at times you will wonder how the film didn’t get an NC-17 rating. This is a comic book film for adults, not one to bring your 8-year-old nephew to see.

Also, I saw the film in 2D, not 3D, so I cannot speak to the quality of the effects in that aspect. However, I never felt I was missing something by not seeing it in 3D.

It wasn’t hard for Dredd to be better than Judge Dredd. But the film went above and beyond that easily reached goal. It is a faithful comic book adaptation that will please the fans of the character, and it’s a bleak, futuristic sci-fi action film that ranks right up there with the best of the genre. It definitely deserves a better audience than it likely will get.

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New Releases: September 21,2012

Posted on 20 September 2012 by William Gatevackes

1. Trouble With The Curve (Warner Brothers, 3,212 Theaters, 111 Minutes, Rated PG-13): For the longest time, the buzz around this film had been that it was Clint Eastwood’s first on screen acting role since 2008’s Gran Torino, his first role in a film he didn’t direct since 1993’s In The Line Of Fire, and quite possibly the last film he’ll ever make. A lot of hooks for a P.R. flack to use to sell the movie.

Then Clint Eastwood had to go and talk to a chair at the Republican National Convention. Now every interview he does for the film will be about that. Yikes.

The film deals with a Major League Baseball scout who’s vision is failing. He drafts his estranged daughter to act as his eyes as he tries to stay in the game.

2. House At The End Of The Street (Relativity, 3,083 Theaters, 101 Minutes, Rated PG-13): I don’t know if it’s because I am getting older, because I am not seeing as many movies as I used to, or because the studios are doing a horrible job promoting their films, but this is yet another movie I know very little about.

Let’s see what IMDB has to say:

A mother and daughter move to a new town and find themselves living next door to a house where a young girl murdered her parents. When the daughter befriends the surviving son, she learns the story is far from over.

Well, that description, the poster and the trailer leads me to believe that we have a horror film on our hands. Further research indicates that this was supposed to come out in March. I don’t know if the film was moved to capitalize on Jennifer Lawrence’s post-Hunger Games popularity or that was just a happy accident. Either way, Lawrence’s drawing power is just about all the buzz the film has going for it, yet it is opening in over 3,000 theaters.

3. End Of Watch (Open Road Films, 2,730 Theaters, 109 Minutes, Rated R): This film applies the found footage/mockumentary approach to the cop drama, which is a unique take on the genre.

Brian (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a beat cop who is taking a course on film making at a local college, and he thinks film his life on the force would be a great way to get an A in the class. However, when a routine traffic stop results in a confiscation of a large amount of drugs and money makes a powerful drug lord come after them, the documentary Gyllenhaal is shooting might record the last days of him and his partner (Michael Pena)

The film is written and directed by David Ayer, who did Training Day (but, to be fair, also Street Kings) and the cast, which includes Anna Kendrick, David Harbour and and America Ferrera, is top notch.

4. Dredd 3D (Lionsgate, 2,506 Theaters, 95 Minutes, Rated R): You have to feel sorry for the Judge Dredd character, at least as it comes to movies.

In it’s first foray into the Hollywood film world in 1995, the property suffered the triple indignity of having Sylvester Stallone play the lead role, having Rob Schneider playing a supporting role, and Dredd taking his helmet off throughout most of the movie, something the comics character never did in the 18 years prior .

Now, it seems like the comic book antihero finally has an adaptation that hews close enough to the original source material, and it comes out on one of the busiest weekends of the fall with the lowest screen count. If it wasn’t for bad luck, Judge Dredd would have no luck at all.

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Posted on 28 May 2012 by William Gatevackes

Every now and then there comes a year when it seems that there are an inordinate number of really good films out in theaters. Is it the result of some sort of cultural zeitgeist or is it just mere coincidence? Who can say? But what can be known for sure is that the summer of 1982 was one of those magical movies times. On the 30th anniversary of that summer we will take a look back at some of the many movies that made that summer so memorable.

After Rocky II, Sylvester Stallone was faced with a quandary. It was an enviable quandary, one he also faced after Rocky, but a quandary nonetheless–how to keep the franchise going.

With Rocky II, he simply hit the reset button, plot-wise. Rocky was back being a down and out underdog fighter who through extraordinary luck and twist of fate got a chance at a championship bout. This was explained by having Rocky burn through all the money he made after the first film and Apollo Creed’s ego not being satisfied with the victory he got in that film and his wanting a more decisive victory over The Italian Stallion.

There were some changes. Rocky was now married to Adrian, and they were expecting their first child. And, most importantly, Rocky ended the film by becoming World Heavyweight Champion.

Simply hitting the reset button would not work this time. It would be seen as going to the well one to many times, and would shatter the audiences suspension of disbelief(Rocky’s broke!?!! Again!?!). So, how do you make an underdog who’s become the overdog into an underdog again without taking a step backwards?

You can say every Rocky sequel has been a case of diminishing returns. Drama is replaced with melodrama, characterization is replaced with thinly-drawn caricatures, complex intelligence replaced by simple stupidity. You could accuse Stallone of taking the cheap and easy way out, or you could praise him for knowing exactly what the audience wanted and boiling down the story so that was all that remained. Both are probably accurate.

What began in the second Rocky with Adrian lapsing into a post-delivery coma (a sick loved one is an easy way to evoke an emotional response from a audience) continued in this one, where Stallone’s emotional manipulation of the audience reached a fever pitch.

The story this time around shows a more successful Rocky, 10 title defenses and one year into his reign as champion.  Rocky’s perfect world is disturbed by Clubber Lang, the #1 contender for Rocky’s title. He accuses the champ of ducking him. Truth is, he has. His manager, Mickey has been throwing “Tomato Cans” at Rocky–skilled yet easily beatable fighters–to keep Rocky safe and healthy.

After a confrontation at a statue dedication, Rocky agrees to fight Clubber. In an altercation backstage at the fight, Clubber shoves Mickey, bringing on what would become a fatal heart attack. The fight continues, but not for long as Clubber easily overpowers and defeats the distracted Rocky.

Rocky is later confronted by Apollo Creed, who decides to train Rocky for the rematch. But Rocky is hesitant. He’s lost his “eye of the tiger,” and needs to get it back. Rocky experiences a mental breakthrough after a heart to heart with Adrian. One training montage later and Rocky is ready for the rematch which he–SPOILER ALERT!!!!–wins.

The film replaces the gritty realism of the first to films with a glossy sheen. Instead of an organic and natural look at these character’s lives, it’s a pre-fabricated collection of scenes calculated to blatantly manipulate the emotions of the audience.

The most obvious example of this in action is the death of Mickey. It’s established the Mickey wants no part of Rocky fighting Clubber, that Clubber would “kill him to death,” but Rocky convinces his mentor to manage him, only for Mickey to be the one “killed to death.” For the audience, this scene immediately quantifies Rocky’s guilt and grief for us. But it also makes us want Rocky to knock Clubber’s block off. Clubber killed Mickey! Not in a legally culpable way, but he killed him nonetheless! His death needs to be avenged! If not Rocky, then who?

The scene is a shortcut to get a visceral emotional reaction from his audience. As is Apollo Creed becoming Rocky’s mentor (They were enemies, but now are friends! Cool!) and Adrian being the one to help Rocky regain his confidence (I knew Adrian would be able to set him straight!). It’s calculated audience manipulation, but it worked. Heck, I’m getting fired up just writing about it!

This establishes the audience’s rooting interest in the story. Now all Stallone had to do was set up Rocky as an underdog. He did this two ways: by giving Rocky crippling self-doubt and giving him a seemingly unbeatable opponent.

Mickey’s giving Rocky powder puff opponents shakes his confidence to such a point that it becomes a struggle for him to even want to fight. This not only is a bit of backsliding to the first film, where Rocky expressed doubts in his abilities, but also and amplification of that. I can’t say this plot element really rings true. After all, we have just seen two films where Rocky has fought as hard as he could against the odds without ever quitting. To have him almost give up here because Mick took it easy on him in the fights he booked  just doesn’t seem genuine. It helps build drama by giving him another obstacle that might be impossible to overcome, but by this point the character should have been past this by now.

On paper, Clubber Lang was simply an “angry black man” stereotype, angry at being kept down by the white man (justifiably in this case as Mickey was keeping him from a title shot). However, in the hands of Mr. T, Clubber became rage incarnate. No one will ever accuse Mr. T of being one of the finest thespians to come out of the 1980s, but he is pretty much perfect in this role.

Mr. T, real name Laurence Tureaud, was discovered by Stallone after appearing  a televised “America’s Toughest Bouncer” contest. Stallone was taken by Mr. T’s appearance, a look he modeled after Mandinka warriors. While he definitely looked intimidating, it was his acting–100% pure anger–that made his performance so great. It felt authentic and Mr. T kept his characterization consistent, which sold Clubber Lang as an almost insurmountable threat.

Mr. T became a cultural icon after his role in the film, earning a role on television’s The A-Team, which amped up his stardom even more to the point where he was everywhere–from Saturday morning cartoons, the cereal aisle at the supermarket to the comic book racks at the local newsstand. But Mr. T wasn’t the only person the film raised to cultural icon status.

The film’s script called for an early bit of comic relief where Rocky, the World’s Heavyweight Boxing Champion, would face off against the World’s Heavyweight Wrestling Champion in an exhibition for charity. The wrestler, named “Thunderlips” had to be physically imposing yet charming. He had to be able to toss Rocky around the ring as the match brokedown into chaos, but be genuine in showing no animosity as they are posing for pictures after the match.

Hulk Hogan, working for the AWA, a mid-level regional federation based out of Minnesota, fit the bill. Hulk, real name Terry Bollea, with is blonde hair and Fu Manchu mustache, looked like the Greek God of Surfing. He was big enough to be believable throwing Stallone out of the ring, fierce enough that you’d actually believe he was going to kill Rocky, yet had a twinkle in his eye that you’d accept him coming over after the match to shake Rocky’s hand.

After his appearance in the film, the AWA was either unwilling or unable to capitalize on Hogan’s popularity, so he signed with the Connecticut-based WWF. He arrived shortly after Vince McMahon took over the company and together both men to the company from a regional organization that played local CYC’s to a global leader in sports entertainment that sold out sporting arenas and stadiums. Hogan, like Mr. T, became a 80s cultural icon, his likeness appearing on toys, in cartoons and movies and in comic books as well.

The success of Rocky III and the popularity of Mr. T and Hulk Hogan in the years after the film marked the apex of Stallone’s ability to tap into the cultural zeitgeist at just the right time. The film also marked a turning point both in the franchise and in Stallone’s career.

The sequel, 1985’s jingoistic Rocky IV, took Rocky III‘s formula to absurd heights. Rocky has to avenge yet another friend (this time it’s Carl Weathers’ Apollo Creed) against another terrifying and unbeatable behemoth in the form of the Russian Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). This time, the franchise became a cartoon. If Rocky’s lack of faith in himself in Rocky III stretched the limits of believability for you, having the Moscow audience switch their allegiance from Drago to Rocky in the climax to that film would rip it to shreds.

Stallone felt that two films was enough time passed between reusing plot contrivances and returned Rocky to poverty in his old-neighborhood in Rocky V. It would take 16 years for another sequel, but that one would be the a return to form in 2006’s Rocky Balboa, where Rocky’s age made him a natural underdog in the film.

Stallone’s career also changed with this film. Prior to Rocky III, Stallone  would occasionally act in out and out dramas like F.I.S.T. and Victory or smart action films like Nighthawks.  But from Rocky III on, Stallone move towards more high-concept blockbuster bait for his starring roles. When First Blood became a hit later in 1982, eventually spawning another franchise for Stallone, it seemed like this new career approach would work out. However, while there were many successes (Cliffhanger, Cobra, The Specialist), there were more misses (Oscar, Lock Up, Stop or My Mom Will Shoot, Judge Dredd, Assassins), so much so that when Stallone returned to drama with 1997’s Cop Land, people doubted his ability to pull off the role.

Rocky III was an important film in the history of the franchise and in Sylvester Stallone’s career, as well as being one of the defining films of the 1980s. Hence it’s inclusion here.

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A New Look At Karl Urban As Judge Dredd

Posted on 18 July 2011 by Rich Drees

Last fall, when a new adaptation of the British comic book character Judge Dredd, titled simply Dredd, went into production, a picture was quickly released of Karl Urban in the title role of the futuristic law enforcement officer who also serves as judge, jury and very often executioner. But since then, word on the project has been fairly quiet until the release of this new picture of Urban this weekend. (Click on it for a bigger version.)

Granted both pictures are kind of dark, but if they reflect the film’s aesthetics, than I’m really looking forward to it.

When I showed the picture to my girlfriend, a Karl Urban fan, she asked why they were remaking a crappy Stallone movie anyway. I replied that I would rather see them take a second attempt to get a movie right rather than remake a story that was already done well once.

But that said, I don’t consider this new Judge Dredd movie a remake of Stallone’s ill-fated 1995 film. Sure they are both based on the same comic book character, they don’t share the same or even a similar story. (At least according to the read through I gave of the undated draft by scripter Alex Garland that has been floating around.) I would no more call this a remake anymore than I would call Billy Wilder’s The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes a remake of the Basil Rathbone series.

Dredd will also star Olivia Thirlby as Judge Anderson and Lena Headey. It hits theaters in England on December 1, but Lionsgate, its distributor in the US, has yet to set a date for it.

Via BleedingCool.

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First Look: Karl Urban in JUDGE DREDD

Posted on 19 November 2010 by Rich Drees

It’s only been in production for a couple of weeks, but today we’ve got out first picture of Karl Urban as Mega-City One’s main law enforcer Judge Dredd. (click on it for a bigger version.)

So what do you think? Does it look any better than the Sylvester Stallone version from the 1990’s? I think this has a grittier look than the uniform that Sly wore and I’m hoping that that will be reflected in the film’s tone and script as well.

Via Bleeding Cool.

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JUDGE DREDD Adds Olivia Thirlby

Posted on 06 September 2010 by Rich Drees

Juno and The Wackness co-star Olivia Thirlby has been cast in the recently retitled Dredd, the new adaptation of the British comic series Judge Dredd. Thirlby will be playing Judge Cassandra Anderson, a member of the Psi Division of the future law enforcement organization that Judge Dredd belongs to.

As a rookie Judge, Thirlby’s character will be shadowing Dredd around the crime-ridden streets of Mega City One. Karl Urban is already set to play the stone cold titular Judge of the movie.

Vantage Point helmer Pete Travis is scheduled to have cameras rolling on the $45 million budgeted film in South Africa by the end of the year. The film is slated to be produced in 3D. Currently, the production is in the process of locking down distribution deals at the Toronto Film Festival, so I suspect that we’ll hear more cast and release details shortly.

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JUDGE DREDD Readying For Comeback

Posted on 11 May 2010 by Rich Drees

Judge Dredd is getting ready to roam the streets of Mega City One again.

A new financing deal signed just in time to be announced at Cannes will see DNA Films financing India-based Reliance Big Entertainment and IM Global’s planned new version of the British comic book character created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra to the tune of $50 million dollars. Vantage Point helmer Pete Travis is set to direct from a script by Sunshine and 28 Days Later writer Alex Garland.  And it will be in 3D.

Let’s face it, the original Judge Dredd was a disappointment. The 1995 action film starring Sylvester Stallone wasn’t a great film on its own and fans of the comic book series it was based on were dismayed at how far it strayed from the source material. Reportedly, this new version will stick much closer to the original strip, which has been a steady feature of the anthology series 2000 AD since 1977, but I have to question that. The character rose to popularity in the 80s based on it’s satirical critique of England under Prime Minister Margret Thatcher. Obviously, that won’t really work some two decades later and today’s political and social climate is far different. It should be interesting to see what emerges this time. It couldn’t be any worse, could it?

Via Deadline.

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