While Tuesday’s announcement of Disney purchasing George Lucas’s Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion may have caught everyone by surprise, the news that Disney was fast-tracking a new Star Wars trilogy that would begin rolling out to theaters in 2015 was something that Mark Hamill, Luke Skywalker himself, knew was in the works.
Speaking with EW, Hamill revealed that he and his cinematic sister Carrie Fisher had lunch with Lucas over the summer, during which the writer/director/producer revealed that there was indeed plans for three new films that would follow after the original Star Wars trilogy storyline.
He did tell us last summer about wanting to go on and do [Episodes] VII, VIII, and IX, and that [newly appointed Lucasfilm president] Kathleen Kennedy would be doing them… [L]ast August, he asked Carrie and I to have lunch with him and we did. I thought he was going to talk about either his retirement or the Star Wars TV series that I’ve heard about — which I don’t think we were going to be involved in anyway, because that takes place between the prequels and the ones we were in and, if Luke were in them, he’d be anywhere from a toddler to a teenager so they’d get an age-appropriate actor — or the 3-D releases. So when he said, “We decided we’re going to do Episodes VII, VIII, and IX,” I was just gobsmacked. “What? Are you nuts?!” [Laughs]
Hamill went on to explain that during the production of the first film he felt that Lucas would get frustrated that he was not quite able to realize the vision he had for the films in his head.
I always felt badly for him because he agonizes over details, and I’m sure after imagining it in his head for so many years, to see it realized — he’d look up and just hang his head and groan. Harrison [Ford], Carrie [Fisher], and I were always trying to cheer him up and joke him out of his doom and gloom.
Hamill also stated that the lunch conversation was clearly about the new trilogy and no mention of the sale to Disney was made. “I had no idea that George was going to sell to Disney until I read it online like everybody else.”
As for whether he’ll be reprising his role of Luke Skywalker in the new films, Hamill stated in an interview on radio’s The Stephanie Miller Show yesterday that he had no idea yet.
I wish I could talk about it, it’s just that I don’t have enough information. I hate to say that, “No comment!” But I can’t really talk about it because I don’t know everything I need to know to be able to comment about it.
Admittedly a vague answer that can be read a in a number of ways from Lucas only confirming to Hamill and Fisher that the films were happening to Hamill’s agent is currently trying to work out a deal with Disney and his participation may be contingent on what they offer him to return to the franchise that launched his career.
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, the Bat-franchise goes back to the beginning with Batman Begins and to the Academy Awards with The Dark Knight.
After the debacle that was Batman & Robin, Warner Brothers was looking to start over at square one. Joel Schumacher thought that was an excellent idea, and said as much in a 1998 interview with Entertainment Weekly:
It’s unlikely the studio will stick with the shticky tone of Batman & Robin. But if it does, count Schumacher out. ”The only way I would do another Batfilm is if we went back to the basics,” says Schumacher. His ideal Batman movie would be based on Miller’s Batman: Year One, a prequel to The Dark Knight Returns, a no-frills account of Batman’s first year of crime fighting. ”It would be nice to take the bigger-is-better concept out of it,” he says, ”and just go pure.”
Schumacher had originally wanted to adapt Frank Miller’s legendary origin redo when he signed on for Batman Forever, but Warners’ executives, wanting a more kid accessible piece, ignored his wishes. They would ignore his wishes again. But this time, it would be with him doing a reboot based on Batman: Year One. The studio thought that was a good idea, but were looking to Miller and director Darren Aronofsky to handle it.
While this seemed like a comic fans’ dream—Miller co-writing a script with a hot, up-and-coming director in Aronofsky—it was not meant to be. The version of Miller’s script I read had more in common with his Sin City comics than his 1987 storyline that the film was named after. This version found Bruce Wayne living on the streets, working as a mechanic at a garage in the bad part of town, directly across the street from a whorehouse. It was heavy on violence and adult themes, something that would have been perfect for the Martin Scorcese/Robert DeNiro pairing in the 1970s but ill fitting for a 2000 Warner Brothers studio looking for a PG-13 film to bring in the teens.
The studio, after briefly considering a Batman vs. Superman film, would turn to Christopher Nolan next. Nolan gained much acclaim for co-writing and directing the inventive indie drama, Memento. He was still a relatively unproven director—this film would only be his third big studio film he directed—but Warners made an excellent choice. The film Nolan made, Batman Begins, ranks up there with the best comic book films ever made.
Nolan paired with David S. Goyer, a Hollywood screenwriter with comic book writing experience, to create a film that while wasn’t directly adapted from any one particular comic book, drew pieces from the overall Batman comic book history to create their narrative. The plot involves Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne’s training to become Gotham City’s protector, eventually saving it from destruction by his former mentor, Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson).
The entire cast of the film is the best cast any comic book film has had or likely will have. It was chock full of Oscar winners (Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and, eventually, Bale), Oscar nominees (Tom Wilkinson, Ken Watanabe, Neeson) and quality actors like Cillian Murphy and Gary Oldman. Oldman, who would eventually get an Oscar nod too, was especially good as the film’s moral center, James Gordon. Playing against type as a decent, honest man, Oldman gives one of his best, if somewhat underrated,performances of his illustrious career.
It seemed like it would be almost impossible for Nolan to top what he did with Batman Begins, but he did it on The Dark Knight with the help of a spectacular addition to the cast—Heath Ledger.
Heath Ledger’s untimely death of an accidental prescription drug overdose has added a mythic quality to his performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight, that his deep immersion in the character scarred his psyche in a manner that led to his overdose (the drugs found in Ledger’s system are commonly used to treat anxiety and insomnia). It feels unseemly even to bring it up, but I do so to make the point that the performance would have been mythic even if Ledger survived. His Joker is the defining Joker. And I am saying that while having the utmost respect for the work Jack Nicholson and Mark Hamill have done with the character.
The Joker is written in the movie as a force of nature, an agent of chaos. He exists to destroy the fabric of society. He is a cipher—his history is unknown and his motives are unclear. This is not an easy role to play. It could be the perfect opportunity make it hammy or give a portrayal that was out of place with the film as a whole. Ledger gave a scary, realistic performance that was totally believable. All the posthumous accolades that Ledger received, including becoming the first star from a comic book movie to win an Oscar, are all well deserved.
However, all the accolades that Ledger receives takes away from a great film and the solid performances of the other new additions to the cast—Aaron Eckhart as the tragic figure of Harvey Dent/Two-Face, and Maggie Gyllenhaal replacing Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes (a vast improvement, I must say).
The Dark Knight set yet another impossible task for the next sequel to try and top it. That task begins in a few weeks when The Dark Knight Rises is released.
This film promises to be the last in the series, introducing Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and Bane (Tom Hardy) into the mix. It looks like Ra’s Al Ghul will be returning as well, either in a flashback or, well, if you knew the comics, you’ll know of another way he could come back. The plot is timely too, supposedly tying into the disenfranchised poor versus the entitled rich that was the basis for the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Where the franchise goes from here is anyone’s guess. While Nolan is staying on to produce the next phase of the Batman film life cycle, it looks like whatever comes next will be a fresh start.
Next time, we look at a time when everything Marvel touched cinematically did not turn to gold. In fact, movies were made that we never seen at all.
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, he talks about one of the best things Tim Burton’s Batman influenced—Batman: The Animated Series—and its big screen tie-in, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.
The best adaptation of Batman into another medium wasn’t Tim Burton’s Batman films. It wasn’t Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and The Dark Knight either. It wasn’t the 1940s serials and it most certainly wasn’t the Joel Schumacher sequels.
No, the best adaptation of the Caped Crusader was the Batman: The Animated Series which first aired on Fox in September 1992. And the contest isn’t even close.
Produced by men whose names would become legendary in the field of animation—Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, and Eric Radomski—the series was inspired by the Burton films, yet were an entirely different animal. Both were incredibly stylized, but while Burton’s vision had a gothic post-punk feel to it, the cartoon mixed art deco and film noir, with a healthy dose of the Fleisher Superman theatrical cartoon shorts from the 40s thrown in for good measure.
While the cartoon had a distinctive style, it remained remarkably true to the spirit of the source comic books. Many of Batman’s little known rogues made it onto the small screen, and they were presented perfectly. Tweaks were made here and there, certain costumes were changed, characters presented in a slightly different way, but there were pretty much no weak links in any portrayal.
The voice casting was also excellent, including Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker. The show itself won two Emmy’s and was a critical favorite both with mainstream and comic book critics.
The show had a successful back and forth with the line of Batman comics. A number of changes that the animated series made in the Batman mythos, namely the changes in the Riddler’s costume and Mr. Freeze’s origin, made their way into the comics, as did popular characters created for the cartoon such as Harley Quinn and Detective Renee Montoya. Those two characters became vital parts of the DC print universe and are still appearing in comics today.
The comics also had a tangible effect on the carton as well. Several popular storylines from the comic books, including “Demon’s Quest” taken from Detective Comics #232 and “The Laughing Fish” from Detective Comics #475, were adapted into the show. Another storyline from the comic books inspired the plot of the feature film that spun off from the animated show.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was originally planned for a direct-to-video release, but Warner Brothers, citing the popularity of the Fox cartoon, decided to bump it up to a theatrical release. This caused the production to be rushed along twice as fast as a normal television episode, but the studio gave producer Alan Burnett and his team more money and creative control as a trade-off.
The film is loosely based on the “Batman: Year Two” storyline from Detective Comics #575-578, written by Mike W. Barr and drawn by Alan Davis and the then-up-and-coming young artist, Todd McFarlane. Flashbacks featured in the movie were inspired by Frank Miller’s “Batman: Year One” from Batman #404-407.
The plot involves an old paramour of Bruce Wayne’s by the name of Andrea Beaumont, returning to Gotham City just as a costumed vigilante with a ghost motif that goes by the name of “The Phantasm” starts killing high level Mafioso. Bruce must deal with the reappearance of a woman who broke his heart while as Batman trying to stop The Phantasm before he kills his next target—the Joker.
The film played like 76 minute episode of the TV series, which meant that it was very good and would receive much critical acclaim, but that might have also kept people away. Why go to a theater and pay money to see a story set in the Batman animated universe when they could see one every weekday on Fox for free? The film was released on Christmas Day of 1993 and came in 11th its opening weekend. The film’s total take of $5,617,391 came in just shy of its estimated $6 million budget.
The film would be followed by two, direct-to-video sequels Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero (1998) and Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003). The TV series would run for another two years, coming to an end on September 1995. However, the series would inspire the “DC Animated Universe,” which would consist of Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited and The New Batman Adventures. Even to this day, Batman: The Animated Series is recognized as one of the best animated programs of all time and one of the best comic book adaptations.
Next up, the Batman film franchise goes downhill fast with Batman Forever and Batman and Robin.