Tag Archive | "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles"

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New Releases: August 8, 2014

Posted on 08 August 2014 by William Gatevackes

turtles1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Paramount, 3,845 Theaters, 101 Minutes, Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence): I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the Turtles because it was the American Dream: Comic Book Division. The concept was created by two friends (Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird) who took a joke the came up with and fleshed out, invested their tax refunds, and put out a cheap black and white comic featuring it. The comic lit the fuse of a cultural zeitgeist and earned the pair scads and scads of money. It was amazing.

However, Laird and Eastman sold the rights to the Turtles to Nickelodeon, a spoke in the corporate wheel that is Viacom, years ago so the property has lost its “small town boys make good” charm with me. So I can’t say I was as upset as I would have been with all the proposed changed Michael Bay was making to the concept with this film.

And it seems that the changes Bay was going to make–not having them as teenagers, mutants or turtles but rather as adult alien beings–have been done away with. However, we still have horrendous character design and Megan Fox, so it’s not all good. I would have thought this film would have had a hard time winning the weekend even without Guardians of the Galaxy being the juggernaut it seems to be. Now I see no hope in this film doing that good.

 

MV5BMjMwODI2ODc3Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDQwNjkwMjE@._V1_SX214_AL_2. Into the Storm (Warner Brothers, 3,434 Theaters,89 Minutes, Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense destruction and peril, and language including some sexual references): You wouldn’t think that tornadoes would be that great a form of entertainment. I’m sure that any one who has ever been caught in one would say that it was the opposite of entertaining to lose everything they owned, perhaps even a loved one, to the funnels.

I mean, we did have Twister, but that film focused more on the people who chased the tornadoes that their victims. This one is purely on the victims. And it is a “found footage” film as well to make it all the more realistic.

I think is what really tips this over the line from some escapism into a form of fetishism, just a step above a snuff film. If you want to see people dying in a tornado, go to the Midwest. Hopefully, after you get your jollies, you’ll join the Red Cross and help real victims of this weather pattern.

step-up-5-all-in-poster-3. Step Up: All In (Lionsgate/Summitt, 2,072 Theaters, 112 Minutes, Rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive material): I am puzzled by few things in life, but the fact that they keep making Step Up film is one of the things that puzzle me. Okay, I know why they keep making them. Because they are mad cheap to produce and make a ton of money at the box office. What I don’t understand is what the appeal of these films are? Why do these films work where other formulaic yet better made film fail?

After starting with two films in Baltimore, the franchise has become a travelogue, starting with New York in #3, Miami in #4 and, now, Las Vegas.  Is it too early to put money down on Los Angeles for #6? And when to you think they’ll get to Step Up: Provo! ? Maybe it will be #27.

In this films, dancers from the other installments that are not Channing Tatum and have not been able to build a film career gather in Las Vegas to battle in the hopes of getting a job. Being that this is a fantasy, I’d imagine the dance jobs aren’t popping and locking behind Wayne Newton or dancing topless wearing a fathered headdress as a showgirl.

100 ft journey4. The Hundred-Foot Journey  (Touchstone/Dreamworks, 2,023 Theaters, 122 Minutes, Rated PG for thematic elements, some violence, language and brief sensuality): This is what The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel hath wrought. We have a new genre where Indians have culture clashes with Europeans played by Academy Award winners in stories adapted from books.

Not that its a bad thing. Quiet, funny movies such as these are the true example of counter programming during the summer blockbuster season, and there is a market for these films.

This film features a snooty gourmand who gets upset when an Indian Food restaurant opens up across the street  from her haute cuisine restaurant. However, over time, she discovers the Indian family has the same love of food that she does, and they begin to bond. Eventually, she takes the Indian chef on as a protege.

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First Trailer For Michael Bay-Produced TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES

Posted on 27 March 2014 by Rich Drees

TeenageMutantNinjaTurtles

Paramount has released the first trailer for their new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film and it has me scratching my head. ON one hand, it has all the dark, serious grittiness that producer Michael Bay wants to infuse his films with yet it does end with a comic beat that seems a bit incongruous with most of the preceding minute of footage. I am not exactly sure what audience Battle: LA director Jonathan Liebesman is striving to reach based on what we’re seeing here. Is it a more sophisticated take for older fans who grew up with the original Turtle movies/comics/cartoons from the 1980s and 1990s or is it for their children, a new generation of potential fans?

Hopefully we’ll find out more as it gets closer to the film’s August 8th premier.

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STATE OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: A Juggernaut In Motion

Posted on 30 December 2013 by William Gatevackes

year in comic films 2013This year, I noticed a marked reduction in the “The Comic Book Film Must Go” articles. Certainly there was still griping, but no longer were there broadsides in the form of feature articles, but rather spitballs flung from the body of a film review. I think this is because the comic book film has become a steady institution. No genre is guaranteed permanence–the western was once the biggest genre in the land and now it’s nowhere to be found in today’s cineplexes–but the comic book movies has settled into a steady groove where each year the blockbusters make a billion dollars, and the flops are few and far between. In other words, the comic book film isn’t going anywhere.

Iron-Man-3-IMAX-poster1-405x600This year’s billion dollar baby was Iron Man 3. The film received a bump in interest by being the first Marvel film to be released after The Avengers, which led it to gross $1. 2 billion dollars worldwide. That’s double the grosses of Iron Man 2 and only $300,000 shy of The Avengers $1.5 billion, a surprising take for a third installment of a franchise. It was a fortunate turn of events for Robert Downey Jr., as it was the last film of his contract. The actor was quickly signed for two more Avengers films. I bet a lot of professional athletes would like to have a contract year like the one Downey had.

thor the dark world posterIron Man’s Avengers teammate Thor also was a beneficiary of an Avengers bump. Thor: The Dark World is, as of this writing, at a little under $628 million dollars worldwide in just 48 days of release. That’s about $180 million more than Thor made IN ITS ENTIRE 112 DAY RUN! And it’s still in over 1,100 theaters, so that number will just grow.

While the Marvel films have shown a great improvement in grosses over the originals, the quality of the films has decreased dramatically. In my opinion, Iron Man 3 was less  an Iron Man film than “The Adventures of Tony Stark, Amateur Detective.” He spent precious little time in the armor, spending most of the movie tracking down leads to solve the film’s main conflict. The character showed no aptitude for detective work in any of his previous films, and the change in direction seem just an idea to have the film play more into writer/director Shane Black’s wheelhouse. And Thor: The Dark World suffered from having too little plot for too many characters. The villain Malekith was poorly developed with no notable personality, and most of the supporting cast were given maybe one moment to shine before being shuffled back into the deck as another supporting character got their time in the sun.

Don’t get me wrong, these were flaws in otherwise enjoyable films. However, the Phase I of the Marvel Film Universe did not have as glaring flaws. With the little known Guardians of the Galaxy as one of Marvel’s features next year (joining the sequel Captain America: The Winter Soldier), the studio needs to bring its A-game. Guardians might not survive such missteps as well as these two films did.

the-wolverine-posterAnother Marvel franchise went in the opposite direction on the grosses vs. quality scale. The Wolverine made about $30 million less domestically than its predecessor, X-Men Origins: Wolverine did, but the film was a vast improvement in quality. That’s even with the jarring break in tone of the film’s third act, where it broke down into a round of your typical superhero fisticuffs. But the first two-thirds told a great story and the narrative held through to the end of the film, some thing the last film didn’t have going for it.

The film also marked a new trend in comic book films. Every other studio is following in Marvel’s lead and creating a shared universe with their properties. The Wolverine had a mid-credits scene that set up next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, which will, in turn, lead directly into 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse. This is both a sign that studios are investing a lot in the future popularity of the comic book film, but it also is a dangerous plan, as not every license can lend itself to a shared universe as the Avengers and X-Men can. 

man-of-steel-poster2013 also marked the year that many DC Comics fans have been waiting for. It marked the return of Superman as a viable film franchise. Man of Steel was a hard reboot of the property and it scored big time for Warner Brothers, earning over $662 million worldwide. The darker take on the was not a hit with everyone–longtime fans were vocal about how the hero now had a callous disregard to property damage and loss of life–but the grosses were strong enough for Warners to jump start its own shared universe with 2015’s Batman vs. Superman.

However, any optimism DC fans might have has to be tempered with the fact that Warners is rushing in order to play catch-up with Marvel. Not only does Batman vs. Superman reintroduce Batman to the film universe (in the person of the greatly lambasted Ben Affleck), but will introduce Wonder Woman, as portrayed by Gal Gadot, to the film world for the first time. And rumor has it that even more DC heroes, everyone from Flash to Nightwing to Martian Manhunter, might also be appearing in the film. Add that to the rumor that there will be at least two villains and numerous members of the characters’ supporting cast in the film as well, you have a movie that is top loaded with  more roles that a plot could conceivably justify. If Thor: The Dark World had more characters than it knew what to do with, how can we expect Batman vs. Superman to be any different. And since the film is going to be a machine designed to launch a DC film universe, it can’t afford to have any characters lost in the shuffle.

Marvel has provided Disney with at least four great franchises to add money to the coffers. But DC has a greater wealth of recognizable characters. It’s no surprise that Warners wants to exploit that. But Marvel built these franchises up slowly over years and years. Warners’ impatience with their properties might just cost them.

2gunsIf you were to look at just the domestic grosses, Oblivion ($89,107,235 domestic gross/$120 million budget), Red 2 ($53,262,560  domestic gross/$84 million budget), 2 Guns ($75,612,460 domestic gross/$61 million budget), and Kick-Ass 2 ( $28,795,985 domestic gross/$28 million budget) would all be flops. Okay, 2 Guns would be a disappointment, the rest definitely be flops. But if the sign of a film’s success is doubling its budget, when you add international grosses into the tally, these films were modest to respectable hits.

Oblivion made $286,168,572 and  2 Guns made $131,940,411 worldwide, more than doubling their budget.  Kick-Ass 2 made $59,556,104 worldwide, which also doubles its budget.  Red 2 did miss doubling its budget with a disappointing $142,078,971 worldwide, but home video and on demand might be enough to put it over as a hit.

This goes to show why the comic book film has such longevity–they absolutely kill overseas. Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World and Man of Steel all made well more than half their worldwide grosses overseas. The Wolverine did too, and it’s worldwide grosses gave it the bump over X-Men Origins: Wolverine in total earnings. So, if you were wondering why Tony Stark had his heart operated on by a Chinese surgeon, or why most of the Thor cast is from the UK or why Logan would spend an entire film in Japan, well, now you know.

BulletToTheHeadposterOf course, catering to the foreign markets doesn’t always pay off. A prime example of this is Bullet to the Head. The Sylvester Stallone film was based on a French graphic novel, and replaced the American Thomas Jane with the Asian-American Sung Kang in an attempt to appeal to the Asian market. It didn’t. The $55 million film only earned  $22 million worldwide. And that’s with a domestic gross of just under $9.5 million domestically. Ouch.

RIPD-poster2And can we officially dub Ryan Reynolds “Mr. Kiss of Death” for the comic book film?  Or, if that is too harsh, “Mr. Bad Luck?” He certainly has appeared in a lot of comic book films and all that he’s starred in has experienced problems.

First off is Blade: Trinity, in which he played Hannibal King. That film didn’t just kill the successful franchise dead, it failed to spawn a spin-off starring Reynolds’ character and alienated Wesley Snipes so much he sued the producers in lieu of coming back. Next was the aforementioned X-Men Origins: Wolverine, where Reynolds played Wade Wilson/Deadpool. Granted, Reynolds only played a small part in the film, and it was a box office success but it was a fairly awful movie.

He then moved on to the lead with the joyless Green Lantern, a film whose $219 million worldwide gross would have made it a hit—if it didn’t cost $200 million to make.

Finally, he hit screens this year with the Dark Horse comics adaptation R.I.P.D.. The $130 million film only made $78 million worldwide and opened to absolutely dismal reviews.

Of course, Reynolds can not be held wholly responsible for the bad mojo surrounding these films, but there has to be something there. Fox seems to be fast-tracking a lot of X-Men spin-offs. If the long rumored Deadpool actually sees the light of day, perhaps Fox would be better suited if they simply lost Reynolds’ phone number.

As for where the comic book films go from here, well, a busy 2014 will lead into an even busier 2015. We already mentioned that Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, and X-Men: Days of Future Past will be headed our way. 300: Rise of an Empire and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, both of which that were originally scheduled for 2013, will finally be hitting theaters barring any more delays. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 will be continuing the reboot of that franchise and set the stage for more shared universe building, and the controversial reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film franchise is set to hit theaters in August. The year starts off in a couple of weeks with the adaptation of I, Frankenstein.

And 2015 is looking like it might be a genre movie heaven. In the comic book field alone you’ll have The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Batman vs. Superman, a reboot of the Fantastic Four franchise, the start of Marvel’s Phase III with Ant-Man and an adaptation of Mark Millar’s The Secret Service. If there’s going to be a decline in the comic book film, it will be at least two years away.

 

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The 32 Reasons Why Cracked’s “5 Reasons Superhero Movies Are a Bubble That Will Soon Burst” Is Full Of Crap

Posted on 08 May 2013 by William Gatevackes

cracked logo

In the effort of being honest, I have an admission to make. One that will make the words that follow seem like sour grapes.

I “applied” to work at Cracked.com.

Applied in the sense that I signed up for their developmental workshop message boards, where writers can pitch stories that might one day make the website and get them paid. I haven’t submitted anything yet (and probably won’t after this) because I was trying to come up with the perfect pitch. One that was factually correct, stood up on its own, and made its argument forcefully yet logically.

jf-sargent

JF Sargent. No, really.

As it turns out, that wasn’t really necessary. JF Sargent, who just happens to the be the moderator of that above workshop, posted an article on the site last week called, “5 Reasons Superhero Movies Are a Bubble That Will Soon Burst.” In it, he compares the popularity of comic book films to the “New Hollywood” era of film making, the period from 1967 to about 1982 where young filmmakers made a big splash and changed the face of cinema. The five “reasons” are five similarities Sargent thinks he sees between the two eras. His theory is because the “New Hollywood” era of film making flamed out, surely the superhero film era is also on its way there.

On the surface, it seems like it has the makings of a well researched piece of film criticism, one so logically sound that it can not be questioned. I mean, if Sargent proves that  one era hit the same number of landmarks in  the exact same way as another era did, why, certainly if first era dies, the other one will die in the same way, right?

Well, it might, if Sargent hadn’t made any glaring factual errors, fudged facts and history, and used subjective logic and “proof” all along the way. There are so many glitches  that his arguments go from sounding the definitive death knell for the comic book film to being what appears to be a sad bit of “wishful thinking” journalism.

How many? Well, let’s make a list of our own by going through his text. And we don’t have to wait long. It starts with the lead paragraph:

If you’re a lover of comic books, fantasy novels, or sci-fi, you should be in heaven right now. All of Hollywood caters to your tastes. Hell, if you’re under 20 years old, you don’t even remember what it’s like not to have Hollywood throw $2 billion worth of blockbuster movies at you every summer (while the rest of us remember that as recently as 1994 they made a Fantastic Four movie so bad, it couldn’t even be released).

Okay, let’s start the list:

1. The poor quality of the Fantastic Four film played little to no role in the project being shelved.

I explained as much here, but let me give you the pertinent graph:

There are two schools of thought over why the film was not released. One was that Constantin never intended to release the film at all, and essentially lied to all parties involved in the production just so the film could be made. Another says that Avi Arad, who would become head of Marvel Studios two years after the film was due to be released and helped usher in the success Marvel has had in recent years, paid Constantin and Concorde to shelve the movie because he didn’t want such a cheap production to taint the brand. Regardless, the film was never released either here or abroad, and only exists in a popular bootleg version you can find at most comic book conventions.

FantasticFour1994Granted, the film was shot for $1 million dollars, a sum way under what it would take to make a good FF film. It was cheap and it looked it. But the main factors at play seem to be the ones mentioned above. And Arad’s reason for putting the film on ice, as described on the very Wikipedia page Sargent linked to, seems less about how bad it was, but how little money was spent on it.

This might be splitting hairs, but it goes to establishing Sargent’s bona fides. The fact that he just casually mentions that the ’94 FF film was shelved was because it was awful, without even presenting an existing opposing point of view, shows a tendency to present only the “facts” that support his argument. Not a good start.

And while we’re here:

2. Sargent uses Wikipedia as a source. A lot.

Not long ago I was in college. I wrote a lot of papers. Wikipedia was strongly frowned upon as a source of information. Why? Because it is crowd-sourced. Anybody can edit an article there,and you can have it say whatever you want. Therefore, it’s not always very trustworthy to back up your arguments. Granted, some of Wikipedia”s articles are sourced, but in that case its better to use the original source.

Sargent’s list begins in earnest by stating both eras began with a surprise box office hit out of the blue. For “New Hollywood,” it was 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde. For the comic book era? It was a bunch of films that came out in the early 2000’s that overcame the superhero film-light 1990s. Let me let him tell you:

This changed in 2000 and 2001 when X-Men, Spider-Man, and the first The Lord of the Rings came out. Remember that back then those geek-centric movies were all pretty risky investments for the studios. Not only was this the first time that either of those Marvel superheroes would be seen on screen, but the last superhero movie to come out at that time had been Batman & Robin, which, you know, we’d rather not talk about. As for The Lord of the Rings, the last attempt at an adaptation was a godawful cartoon that was made in the 1980s.

Oh, I think I can get at least four additions to our list from this paragraph alone.

3. Spider-Man came out on May 3, 2002.

Before you call me a nitpicker, here me out. The reason I make an issue out of this is because it is key to Sargent’s comparison that each era begin with a “big bang” if you will–one or more films that were a surprise success. Now, since the “New Hollywood” era is traced back to just one film, it suits Sargent’s argument better if the three “superhero” films came out in quick succession. But they didn’t. It took three years for all the films mentioned to come out.  And really, there were only two that are legit, and they came out two years apart. More on that later. But Spider-Man definitely came out in 2002, even Wikipedia got that right.

4. What about Blade?

Blade movieIf Sargent was looking for a comic book film that fit his analogy to a T, Blade is it. It was the first film where Marvel took a more active role in the production of the film, marking a new attention towards fidelity to the source material that Sargent marks as a trademark of the superhero film era. It was also an unknown property without a huge built in audience, so it was not a lock that it would be a success. But it was, it debuted at #1 at the box office just like Sargent’s other examples and made a sizable profit. If there was a film that ushered in the era of the superhero movie, it was Blade.

Why didn’t Sargent use Blade as the start of the superhero movie era? Perhaps he just didn’t know that Blade was a superhero. Or, maybe, for his point to work, for the narrative he was trying to create to gel, he had to create some distance the “last” comic book film, Batman and Robin, and the comic book film’s resurgence. Blade wouldn’t work here because it was released in 1998 and Batman and Robin was released in 1997. That would have meant the superhero film bounced back just 14 months after it’s nadir. And that weakens Sargent’s point almost completely.

Some of you might argue that Blade is not a superhero. He’s a vampire who fights vampires with his vampire powers. That is totally different than a superhero who fights supervillains with superpowers! Okay, but what about…

5. Frodo Baggins, Superhero!?!!?

Listen, determining who is and who isn’t a superhero is a popular topic of debate in comic shops across the country. Is the Punisher a superhero? Someone will that because he wears a costume, yes. Others will say that he doesn’t have any powers, so no. Then someone will bring up Batman, who wears a costume but has no powers, is he a superhero? Someone will say yes because he fights super-powered villains. But, the Punisher fought super-powered villains…well, you get the idea. If your loved one goes to their local comic shop and doesn’t come back for hours, it’s probably because they got sucked into one of these kinds of conversations.

But if you were to go into that shop and say that your favorite superhero was good ol’ Frodo, all sides of the argument would stop fighting amongst themselves,unite, and start arguing against you.

I mean, granted, Frodo has a ring that makes him invisible, and he hangs out with wizards, but he resides in the fantasy/sword and sorcery genre, not the superhero genre. And while fans of one genre often are fans of the other, the genres are not interchangeable. It would be a huge stretch of logic to consider them so.

But Sargent needs big films and big franchises to provide the tools to work with. So, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, and Star Wars become superhero movies, even though they really aren’t. For the casual reader, this probably won’t matter much. But to fans of the superhero film, the inclusion of these films invalidates Sargent’s argument from the get go. Because he’s not railing against the superhero film, he’s really railing against a larger target–the geek culture film. But I guess that wouldn’t generate as many hits.

6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Crow, The Mask, and Men in Black all came out in the 1990s.

Sargent likes to paint the 1990s as such:

In the ’90s, all of the major money-maker movies were Die Hard knockoffs (Con Air, Broken Arrow, Face/Off), sober explorations of tragedies (Dances With Wolves, Schindler’s List, Titanic), Adam Sandler being a dumbass, and Tom Hanks doing things that usually didn’t involve having superpowers.

First off, not including Speed in the list of Die-Hard knockoffs is a crime. It was Die Hard on a frikkin bus for goodness sakes!

brandon_lee_the_crowSecond, Sargent intends to show that the 90s were a dry period for the superhero movie. But they really weren’t. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Crow, The Mask, and Men in Black all could be considered superhero films (if Frodo’s a superhero, then so is Agent J). They all came from comic books. All their lead characters fought crime in different ways. And all of them were box office hits in the comic book film unfriendly 1990s. Each one had at least one sequel, which is more than you can say for Sargent’s examples. And, lest we for get, Batman Returns, Batman Forever and, yes, Batman and Robin all were released in the 90s and all made a profit (yes, even Batman and Robin, when worldwide grosses are added in).

So from here, Sargent goes on the the next step:

So next comes the heyday: Geek directors who truly love the source material are suddenly getting the green light to make these movies the right way.

Note the wording: Geek directors who TRULY LOVE the source material. To show the difference in superhero film eras, he says this about the first go round for Batman:

Compare that to 1989’s Batman, directed by a guy who said he didn’t like comics and written by a guy who thought Batman’s origin story was too dumb to work in a movie. It was a new era. The geeks had ascended to the throne!

Okay, back to the list!

7. Tim Burton never said he didn’t like comics.

Sargent employs the kind of journalistic skills you’d find in the New York Post, the National Enquirer, and on Fox News here–twisting a person’s words around to fit your own desired meaning. Sargent uses the book Burton on Burton for the source on that information. Let’s see what the paragraph Sargent got that quote from really says:

Burton quoteWhat Burton really said was that he was never a comic book fan, not that he didn’t like comics. There IS a difference. This is dirty pool by Sargent. He is definitely trying to give his readers the impression that Burton hated comic books. It really doesn’t seem that way. And as explained above, it was because there was a learning curve he couldn’t get by. It wasn’t until Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke comic came along was he able to figure out how to read comics. And he loved that comic book.

8. And he misquotes Sam Hamm too.

“You totally destroy your credibility if you show the literal process by which Bruce Wayne becomes Batman,” said Sam Hamm, screenwriter of the 1989 Batman.

That is the quote that Sargent uses as a source. It was published in a Digital Spy recap of the Batman franchise, surely taken from a Cinemafantastique interview done with Hamm back when Batman first came out. As you can see, Hamm doesn’t call Batman’s origin dumb. He isn’t even talking about Batman’s whole origin. Bruce Wayne’s parents still get gunned down in front of him in the film, so that part of the origins still exists. Hamm was talking about the training part of the origin, the part that Batman Begins did so well. Nowhere in that quote does Hamm say the origin was dumb. It seems pretty obvious that he’s saying that it wouldn’t work in the version of Batman Burton was putting on the screen at the time.

But he doesn’t have to mislead his readers about the current generation of comic book film makers, does he? Every last one of them”TRULY LOVE” the source material, right?

Wrong.

9. By the way, Bryan Singer? The director of X-Men? The film that Sargent says started the Superhero film trend? Not a life-long comic book fan.

From the X-Men panel at the 2000 San Diego Comic Con, transcribed by JoBlo:

How long have you been reading the X-Men comics, or comics in general? Have you always been a fan? Seems to be that you would have to be to get it all so right.

Well, as a matter of fact…<audience laughs>, I never read comics growing up at all. I liked science-fiction, fantasy, and watched a lot of television, but I never read comics. About three and a half years ago, Tom suggested that I take a look at X-Men, I did, and I found it incredibly fascinating, so I began to read, began to read the character biographies, began to read the comics, I watched all 70 episodes of the animated series, and really familiarized myself. So basically I’ve been reading X-Men for about three and a half years, but I’m much more of a contemporary fan.

10. Christopher Nolan? He wasn’t a comic fan either.

From an Entertainment Weekly profile from 2005, right when Batman Begins was about to hit:

But Nolan had never been a big Bat geek; his first contact with the series had been the goofy Adam West TV show, and he’d never read the comics as a kid.

So, that means two of the biggest names in the superhero film renaissance, who according to Sargent’s theory truly loved the source material and made sure they brought it to the screen correctly, had at best a casual, if passing, knowledge of source material before they took over. Yet another hole shot in Sargent’s argument.

Wait! Sargent seems to realize this, because he gives Nolan an out in the third reason “The Studios Start Throwing ALL of the Money at Them,” which really an extension of the previous reason but since all Cracked articles have to have at least five bullet points, they had to make two reasons out of one idea. But I digress:

Nolan talks about being passionate about the character (one of the hallmarks of Nerdywood, as explained above), and he had a weird, borderline crazy idea for the new series: Batman would be gritty and realistic.

Being passionate about a character is greater than truly loving the source material. Unless, of course, you are Tim Burton, because, well, that wouldn’t fit with the argument you are making, right JF?

We’ll get back to reason three later. Let’s go back reason two, especially how “New Hollywood” relates the now disproved idea that hardcore comic geeks were behind all the new comic book movies.

The New Hollywood era was all about film geeks taking over — a bunch of weird, experimental directors known as the “movie brats,” with names like George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, and Stanley Kubrick.

11. Stanley Kubrick really wasn’t part of New Hollywood.

StanleyKubrickNow, this isn’t the fault of Sargent, but rather the Wikipedia article that acted as his inspiration. And they really aren’t at fault either. Everyone thinks that trying to pigeonhole a certain period time and applying a name to it is a good idea. But it is never a case of black and white, rather it’s a shade of gray. Sargent’s theorem works if New Hollywood era lasted 13 years from inception to demise because we are at year 13 in the superhero era (if you count X-Men as the start of it, which I don’t). However, it’s impossible to get anything so fluid and so debatable into those kind of constraints.

New Hollywood has an veneer of youth to it. The recent film school grads got their hands on the directors chairs and guided Hollywood to a new direction. However, Kubrick was already a 14 year veteran of the film industry when Bonnie and Clyde arrived in 1967, had made seven films by that point, and had already received Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Screenplay. Granted, 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was a transcendent piece of work in Kubrick’s career, but you can see hints of where Kubrick was going in 1962’s Lolita and 1964’s Dr. Strangelove. His creativity and willingness to push boundaries does seem to be a perfect match for some of the other auteurs on the New Hollywood list, but he was anything but new when New Hollywood hit.

Let’s go on to his third point (the “Throwing ALL the Money” one, although the throwing of money is barely mentioned). In it, he brings up the theme of risks. First about Nolan’s grim and gritty take on Batman:

That had never been done on film before, but Nolan was young, nerdy, and excited, so the studios gave him an insane-o-copter ride to the money castle, and holy shit did it ever pay off.

Then he tries to convince us that The Avengers was risky. Hee hee!

Fast forward 10 years, and you can see that The Avengers is pretty much the same thing, except even more so. No, it’s not gritty or realistic, but it sure is weird and risky: It expects audiences to follow one story across two sci-fi action movies, a fantasy movie, a fugitive movie, and a World War II era adventure film. Most movies treat you like you can’t even tie your own goddamn shoes, but The Avengers took that risk and ended up going home with 1.5 billion nerd-dollars lining its pockets.

Let’s go in order, shall we?

12. The gritty, realistic Batman wasn’t risky, it was wish fulfillment.

The comic book Batman has been grim and gritty since 1986, when the Batman: The Dark Knight Returns miniseries began publication. While it is true that every version of Batman in other media before Nolan took the edge off the character, the hardcore fans would have actually preferred an interpretation of the Caped Crusader that matched more with his comic book counterpart. When one of the most exciting directors in Hollywood teamed with a screenwriter with comic book experience to bring a Batman to the screen that had more in common with The French Connection than Schumacher’s nipple fest, well, fans were salivating. Add to that a cast that would be chock full of Oscar winners and nominees, and you had the makings of a sure fire hit before the first showtime was announced.

And…

13. What Sargent thinks made The Avengers risky, is what guaranteed its success.

Sargent apparently never heard of the concept of a sequel. Or of the Harry Potter franchise. Because The Avengers essentially was a sequel to all those films listed. You didn’t really have to see all those films to get enjoy The Avengers. But if you enjoyed Captain America: The First Avenger or Thor, you had a chance to continue watching his adventures. You had four pre-fab audiences built in.

But if you did see all the films, you had the culmination of a sweeping epic in The Avengers. Movie audiences are not so stubborn as to not follow a franchise through numerous installments, and the James Bond, Harry Potter, and Twilight franchises have showed us. But, hey, if Sargent actually paid attention to this reality, he wouldn’t have had a column.

Sargent felt he needed to manufacture risks for the superhero films to make the connection with the real risks the New Hollywood films endured:

Coppola’s Apocalypse Now was a weird, morally complicated exploration of war based on a nigh-impenetrable 19th century novel, but it dominated the box office. Jaws was the first ever summer blockbuster, and Star Wars only turned out the way it did because Lucas refused to compromise and made the movie himself.

The first two also had incredibly tumultuous shoots and faced having the studio pulling the plug a number of times. And the studio was so worried about Star Wars‘ success that Lucas went and practically begged Marvel to publish a comic book tie-in to the film as an extra form of promotion. So the risk in the New Hollywood era were indeed real. This won’t be the last time the eras don’t exactly match up.

Sargent moves onto the next step of the rise and fall of these genres–studios taking more control of their film projects. It’s here where the parallels between the New Hollywood era and the Superhero film era start to really waiver, because the evidence Sargent presents is definitely in favor of the Superhero era:

You could start to see the signs years ago. After the success of Raimi’s first two Spider-Man movies, the studio pressured him into including Venom because he was a popular comic book character — except Raimi had been concentrating on the Silver Age of comics, and the dark, gritty, ’90s era Venom didn’t fit into the world he’d created. When they greenlit a movie version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, they had such a limited idea of what a comic book movie could be that they turned Alan Moore’s love letter to 19th century prose into a movie with vampires where things explode and Sean Connery does hero things. When they made The Losers, they cut out all the political commentary and replaced it with light-hearted action bullshit. When they made Watchmen, they cut out the self-loathing, rape, and moral complexity and replaced them with slow-motion action scenes. As other people have pointed out, this totally missed the point that Watchmen is about failure.

On this point I do have to agree with Sargent. I do think that undue studio influence does ruin a lot of films. However…

14. Heavy handed studio/producer involvement is nothing new to comic book films…

Tim Burton has to wrangle with his studio bosses during his time on Batman. Richard Donner fought with the Salkinds over the tone of Superman. The reason why the Superman franchise took so long to be rebooted was because various producers wanted the film to include giant spiders or mimic The Matrix. So, this kind of heavy-handedness is nothing new.

15….nor is it exclusive to the comic book films.

Studios insisted that Blade Runner have a happier ending. Universal wanted a happy, 94-minute version of Brazil and got in a war of wills with Terry Gilliam over it. And studio influence handcuffed The Bonfire of the Vanities from the get go, coercing Brian DePalma to cast Bruce Willis and make Sherman McCoy a more sympathetic character. And these are just three examples. There are many, many more (although Sargent has problems finding any during the New Hollywood era).

16. However, if it wasn’t for Marvel playing a bigger role in the creation of their films, the Superhero era might not have even existed.

120925_PIVOT_AviArad.jpg.CROP.article250-medium It fits Sargent’s narrative if Marvel just recently started becoming more hands on (after all, it was Marvel’s Avi Arad who pushed for Venom, not Sony/Columbia), but the truth is the reason why the Superhero era in film began is because Marvel and, in particular, Avi Arad took a hands on role it how Marvel properties would be portrayed on the big screen. The studios would own the rights as long as the kept making movies, and the amount of the profits kicked back to Marvel were paltry, but Arad and other Marvel people would become producers on the films and ensure that the Marvel characters were getting a fair shake on the screen.

When the first wave of Marvel films became a success, due in a large part to Marvel’s hands on approach, Marvel decided they wanted even more control. Through a deal with Merril Lynch, Marvel received $525 million dollars to set up its own production studio to make comic book films their way. The first of these films was Iron Man and the rest, they say, is history. With their own studio, Marvel was able to guide their film franchises, unite them together through shared actors and plot points, and made sure they respected their source material.

And Marvel’s success inspired Warners to get more serious with their DC Comics properties, rebooting the Superman franchise (twice), the Batman franchise (most likely twice) and try to jump start new franchises with Green Lantern and Jonah Hex. Other studios scoured comic book store shelves for properties they could adapt. And hence the Superhero Film era we are living in today.

I could comment and some of Sargent’s other examples, but I don’t think they are worth a list entry. Yeah, there was studio fingerprints all over League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill pretty much washed their hands with the property when they got their checks. It’s not like they cared what the studios did with it. I’m not sold on The Losers suffering from studio interference, but any interference was mitigated by director Sylvan White keeping creators Andy Diggle and Jock in the loop. And I think a lot of the things Sargent found missing in the Watchmen are still there, but I agree the slo-mo additions were awful.

When Sargent’s analogy turns to New Hollywood, he comes up with a profound lack of examples, and the one he does use is incorrect. His idea of how studio interference worked in the New Hollywood era was that corporations started buy movie studios looking for the next Jaws or Star Wars, but decided to play it safe with sequels. The one example he gives of this new regime interfering with creative people is this:

But with these massive budgets, studios were determined to play it safe. That meant, of course, some of the riskier directors had to go — like when they were considering giving Straw Dogs director Sam Peckinpah the Superman movie, but fired him when he pulled a gun out during a meeting.

Hoo boy.

17. Sam Peckinpah was NEVER fired from Superman. Why? Because he was never HIRED to do Superman.

peckinpah2I imagine that by the time this point appears, half way down the second page of the article, Sargent figures that he has put enough links in his text that people do not bother to even click through anymore. I mean, why else would he write something that is obviously in contrast to what his source material says.

The source is the very good book by Larry Tye, Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero. If you click that link you’ll see that Peckinpah pulled the gun during the Salkinds’ SEARCH for a director. Unless Sargent has a vastly different work experience than the rest of the world, you typically aren’t put on the payroll during your interview period.

I know what some of you might be thinking. Big deal. So he got a word wrong. Who cares? Well, I do for two reasons. This is a writer of such a caliber that Cracked tapped him to their workshop moderator, the person who guides novice comedy writers to Cracked super stardom. His not being able to find a word that accurately portrays the point his source material makes is not a good thing. But this very likely could be just a subtle example of what Sargent has been practicing all along, trying to jury rig a weak argument so that it looks stronger. He’s already in trouble because the examples in both eras don’t even out.  Since studio interference weighted more heavily in the Superhero Film era, Sargent needs to show a little balance. Using “fired’ instead of “backed away” is a minor change that makes the studios in the New Hollywood era look more forceful, more controlling, more in charge.

Besides, Peckinpah pulled a gun on a job interview! Even if he was fired, would that really be the wrong choice?

We finally come to the end of the eras, when the bets no longer pay off. Once again, this parallel is a little uneven since the New Hollywood has officially ended and the Superhero Film era is still going on. So Sargent dedicates most of his time talking about the Superhero Film era to showcasing where the end may lie, starting with, well, not a superhero film:

We mentioned that New Line has given Peter Jackson a castle made of money for his Hobbit trilogy, but we didn’t mention that they’re $5 billion in debt and need him to make all that money back to keep themselves from filing for bankruptcy. Is it any wonder that what was originally supposed to be one movie got stretched into two movies? And then, very late in production, they decided out of the blue to stretch it into three?

They needed three shots to recoup their investment. That’s why the first film, An Unexpected Journey, was based less on the children’s book it gets its name from and more on The Return of the King‘s appendices and whatever bullshit Tolkien scrawled on the Oxford staff bathroom’s wall while he was fucked up on opium.

18. Bilbo Baggins is no more a superhero than Frodo Baggins.

Page up and read #5 on this list. But, for the sake of argument, let’s play along, shall we?

19. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey made $1 BILLION worldwide.

That means the trilogy is on pace to make $3 billion. Of course, the sequels could make less or more, we don’t know. Quite a bit less than $5 billion of New Line debt, and New Line has to share the pie with Warner Brothers and MGM, but if you add in all the T-shirts, statues, figures, games, posters and the exorbitant number of home video formats the film was released into,  I think it’s a safe bet that The Hobbit won’t capsize the Superhero Film era, even if it was a superhero film.

Next?

But they’re not the only ones putting all of their chips on their geek franchise. In addition to the lineup of 10 massive Marvel sequels we mentioned earlier, you have Christopher Nolan (probably) signing on to “Godfather” a Justice League movie — if you’re not familiar, that means that in addition to the Superman reboot we’re seeing this summer, they’d be launching another wave of superhero movies, including a Green Lantern sequel, a reboot of The Flash, a possible Wonder Woman movie, and God knows what else, in order to have them finally all team up in a Justice League tent-pole that would be the DC version of The Avengers.

How wrong is this paragraph? Let me count the ways:

20. Sargent is using Latino Review’s El Mayimbe as a source.

We here at FilmBuffOnline know in that way madness lies. And, well, wrong information lies there too.

21. The “Nolan Godfathering Justice League” rumor was shot down back on April 11, 2013.

We covered it here. Entertainment Weekly got the denials straight from Warners’ president Jeff Robinov and Nolan’s reps. Besides, Nolan is working on a non-Superhero movie of his own, Interstellar, which will probably dominate all of his “godfathering” time.

22. Warner Brothers has been ultra quiet on the Green Lantern sequel.

They announced that a sequel was definitely in the works right after the first Green Lantern came out. There has not been any movement on the sequel at all since that time. Except for rumors that Ryan Reynolds might not even becoming back.

23. A Flash movie would be rebooting what exactly?

This might just be a matter of semantics, but if Sargent means the Flash TV show, then he’s off base. When a TV show moves to the big screen, it’s not being rebooted. It’s being adapted into another medium. But Sargent likes his reboots, so, there you go.

24. It much more likely that Wonder Woman would be a TV show before it becomes a movie.

Warners is actively developing a Wonder Woman TV show, called Amazon, in the mold of its successful Smallville and Arrow series’. Not that this would preclude a film being made, but all energy seems to be heading towards that.

25. As it stands, Warners plans to have the Justice League film first, and use that to spin out solo superhero films, not the other way around.

This is pretty much common knowledge. Last we heardJustice League was set for a 2015 release. Common sense dictates that Warners would not be able to put up three other superhero films before that time, especially since zero work has been started on any of them. Now, it appears the greenlight for the JL film is on hold until the studio sees how Man of Steel does, and there is supposedly a big announcement forthcoming from Warners about their superhero slate, so this might all change. But, as it stands, it’s Justice League first, other films later, and Sargent is wrong (again).

26. Lord knows if DC will get their act together in time to avoid the comic film apocalypse.

Seriously, the only comic film they have confirmed to be in the pipeline is Man of Steel. And that took years to get up and running. It’s Warners’ M.O. to have let their comic book film linger in development hell. If this is the end of the Superhero Film era, Warners most likely won’t be the reason why it dies, but rather they will be the ones who missed the boat because it did.

Next?

Meanwhile, J.J. Abrams, who is already in charge of the new Star Trek franchise, has been tapped to direct the first of the new Star Wars sequels, of which there will be at least five -- three sequels, plus multiple stand-alone spinoffs (Disney wants a new Star Wars movie every single year, like clockwork). How much money in production and promotion do you suppose will be tied up in just the projects we mentioned up there? $10 billion? More?

27. Once again, Star Wars films are not Superhero films.

You do have to admire Sargent’s ability to set parameters then completely ignore them. But, once again, we’ll play along.

28. If you think a new round of Star Wars films helmed by J.J. Abrams has a snowball’s chance in Hell of failing, you need your head examined.

StarWarsSagaIt appears that JF Sargent doesn’t get out much. If he does, he probably doesn’t spend much time in malls or department stores. He obviously hasn’t seen rows and rows of Star Wars toys in the toy department. He probably hasn’t seen the wide assortment of Star Wars themed clothing on sale in not only the children’s department but also the men’s and women’s departments. He probably has never seen the numerous volumes of Star Wars novels in his local bookstore either. He lives in a blissfully ignorant reality where Star Wars is not the biggest cultural icon to ever come out of Hollywood, and a relentless cash cow for George Lucas for the last 36 years.

He was probably a wee baby back in 1999 and wasn’t able to fully comprehend the frenzy that existed when The Phantom Menace hit theaters. Even hardcore fans will admit that was the weakest installment of the franchise, yet it still made over a billion dollars worldwide, the fans still came back for two more installments, and those toy stores are still rolling out new action figures based on the film even 14 years later.

So, yeah, Abrams has to drop the ball on an almost apocalyptic level for him to ruin the Star Wars franchise forever and cause the end of any film era it actually fits into. Even if he screws up the next film in the line so badly that Star Wars fans melt the Internet by complaining so much, those same fans will be back for the next go round. And they’ll still buy the toys, the mugs, the sheet sets, the T-Shirts, the window decals and what have you.

Also note that the source he uses for Disney’s Star Wars plans was an article dated April 17, 2013. Which means he should have known the Latino Review rumor wasn’t legit because it was refuted almost a week prior. Unless he just ignored the EW article because it contradicted the narrative he was trying to tell.

Well, that was silly. Now, onto the fall of New Hollywood!

Star Wars and Jaws are called “the beginning of the end” of New Hollywood (by Wikipedia, anyway) because they created the blockbuster, but the real end didn’t come until around 1980, with the release of two legendary flops: Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, and Francis Ford Coppola’s One from the Heart.

29. Star Wars and Jaws went from being a high point of the New Hollywood era just a few paragraphs ago to being the cause of its demise?

That’s what you get when you use Wikipedia as a source unchallenged. Also, when you try to put arbitrary guideposts in effect just to make an “era” line up correctly.

30. One from the Heart actually came out on February 12, 1982.

By this point in Sargent’s argument, we shouldn’t be surprised that he kept this information a secret. After all, it comes after a long line of fact fudging to make his 13/13 argument work. And I guess he deserves partial credit for saying “around 1980″ (although the 15 month gap between films stretches the definition of being “around”). But if he doesn’t want us to consider Star Wars and Jaws as the beginning of the end, he shouldn’t be allowed to consider Heaven’s Gate as the beginning of the end just because it suits his purposes. I mean, there were films such as Raging Bull, Body Heat and Reds that came out between Heaven’s Gate and One from the Heart. These are vital films with a lot of success that totally fit in the New Hollywood era, so it wasn’t like there was a parade of dreck that came out between those films.

The weird part of all this is, if Sargent just allowed himself to recognize that the Superhero Film era began with 1998’s Blade, he wouldn’t have to be so dodgy with One from the Heart‘s release date. Because instead of a 13/13 parallel, he’d actually have a 15/15 parallel.

31. All you need is two flops to derail an era? May I present to you Punisher: War Zone and The Spirit.

the-spirit-20081031011215637_640wBoth films are excellent representations of the Superhero Film era. The first was a reboot of a superhero that had appeared on the silver screen twice before, the most recent only four years before. He was being rebooted to make him more closely resemble how he was portrayed in the comics. The other was a Golden Age character who was being brought to the screen by Frank Miller, who not only was a big name in Hollywood after the surprise film success of his works 300 and Sin City, but also a close friend with Will Eisner, the man who created the character. Miller seemed like the ideal person to bring this superhero to the big screen.

Unlike Sargent’s example, both these film actually did come out in the same year, 2008, and in the same month as a matter of fact. Both died a quick death at the box office, failing to make their budget’s back. And their failure so quickly after each other had even me asking if this was the end for the comic book film.

But the comic book movie didn’t end. The next year started bumpy with the Watchmen, but bounced back with X-Men Origins: Wolverine. 2010 had disappointments with Jonah Hex and Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, but 2011 and 2012 became some of the biggest years for any comic book film in their history. And despite what Sargent says, there doesn’t seem to be any signs of stopping.

32. You can argue that the “New Hollywood” era never ended.

Granted, it did seem to end for directors such as Michael Cimino, Peter Bogdanovich and even Francis Ford Coppola. But Robert Altman kept making inventive and risky films right up until he died in 2006. Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese went on to win Oscars and keep getting nominations, pushing boundaries and taking risks to this very day. And there are a whole new generation of filmmakers such as Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino who were inspired by the era and keep its spirit alive even now.

I’ll be the first to admit that the one surefire way to get me upset is to write an article predicting doom for the superhero film. But I probably wouldn’t have used as much bandwidth to this article if JF Sargent presented his argument  honestly and with valid evidence to back it up. Unfortunately, Sargent starts with a shaky premise for an argument, finds it doesn’t work the way he thought it would, so he cuts corners, fudges facts, and plays fast and loose with the premise until it comes out the way he wants it to be.

I guess we shouldn’t expect great journalism from Cracked. After all, it seems more concerned about generating hits than reporting any truths. But you’d expect better from the guy who is supposed to show the way to the novice writers Cracked attracts. If the Superhero Film era is due to end soon, it won’t be for the reasons JF Sargent says it will.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: Cowabunga, Dude!

Posted on 10 August 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 look at the comic that was created using tax refunds and became a multi-million dollar international phenomenon—Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The story of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the story of America. It is the story of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. It is the story of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. It is the story that reality shows like American Idol and The Voice try to manufacture each and every season. It is the story of an underdog meeting up with fate and opportunity and taking advantage of both to find unimaginable success. It is the story of the American Dream.

It all starts in Dover, New Hampshire, early 1980s. Kevin Eastman, a comic book fan, draws a picture of a turtle wearing a mask to make his friend and fellow comic book fan, Peter Laird, laugh. The gag photo started a conversation and then an exchange of ideas. Before long, they were pooling their income tax refunds, borrowing some money from Eastman’s uncle, and printing up 3,000 copies of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 as Mirage Studios (the mirage being that they were the only two at their “studios”).

The influences that Eastman and Laid drew on were there from the first issue. The cover design is reminiscent of the design of Frank Miller’s Ronin miniseries. The origin and history of the Turtles ties into the Daredevil mythos, primarily Frank Miller’s addition to it (the Turtles are mutated by the same canister of radioactive waste that blinds Matt Murdock and gives him radar sense, their trainer is Splinter instead of Daredevil’s trainer, Stick, and the faceoff against the Foot clan of ninjas, a reference to DD’s ninja enemies, the Hand). The age of the heroes is a play on the popular “teen heroes” trend of the era, as exemplified by The New Teen Titans and The New Mutants. And, surely, the idea of doing an anthropomorphic, creator-owned, parody of various comic book genres and tropes was inspired by Dave Sim’s Cerebus. Even the names of the Turtles—Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael—were a jab at the artistic movement in comics of the day.

Even with a miniscule 3,000 copy print run (even the lowest selling comics had print runs in the tens of thousands), Laird and Eastman believed that they’d have copies left over. Two things worked in their favor—one, Laird, from his experience working at a newspaper knew of a thing called a press kit. He created one for TMNT and sent it out to major media outlets and, two, the comic industry was on the verge of a black and white comic boom, so interest in black and white indies, which TMNT was, was at an all time high.

The first printing sold out (and it got to the point that counterfeit copies were made). Then the second printing sold out. Then a third printing sold out as well. Eastman and Laird decided to continue the series. The second issue more than tripled its print run. The pair had a success on their hands. They were able to not only pay back their debt but also actually make a living. Their parody began to be parodied—Eclipse Comics’ Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters, Blackthorne Publishing’s Pre- Teen Dirty-Gene Kung Fu Kangaroos and Cold-Blooded Chameleon Commandos, even Marvel got in the act with a proposal called Adult Thermonuclear Samurai Elephants, which was eventually reworked into a book called Power Pachyderms.

Licensors then started calling. First came a long-running animated TV show. Next came a very successful line of action figures. And then came the movies.

The first film, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arrived in 1990.

The Turtle masks were made by  Jim Henson’s Creature Shop (One of the last works Henson supervised before he passed away. The sequel to this film is dedicated to him.) and were a step above what was seen four years earlier with Howard the Duck. The tone of the film was somewhere between the darker tone of the first Eastman and Laird comic and the kid-friendly cartoons that were airing on TV concurrently. In the film, New York City is in the midst of a crime wave created by Shredder and his Foot clan of ninjas. The only group strong enough to fight him is a group of mutated terrapins—the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Robbie Rist (Cousin Oliver from The Brady Bunch) and Corey Feldman would voice  two of the Turtles (Michelangelo and Donatello respectively). Their rat mentor, Splinter, was voiced by Kevin Clash, the puppeteer that helped make Elmo the star of Sesame Street. Sam Rockwell had a small role as a thug in the film, one of his first film roles.

The film was a smash success, making over $200 million against a $13.5 million dollar budget. This pretty much guaranteed a sequel, which was 1991’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze.

The sequel came out at the height of the Turtles popularity, and suffered for it. The violence was toned down and the Turtles’ distinctive weapons were minimized. There was an eye towards merchandising as well, including an awkward cameo by the then-briefly popular Vanilla Ice, who sang “Ninja Rap” (“Go Ninja, Go Ninja, GO!”) during a fight scene at a club. The song was quickly released as a single to tie in to the popularity of both Vanilla Ice and the Turtles. This single became the first nail in the coffin of Ice’s career.

What about the plot? Well, Shredder figures out what caused the Turtles to mutate and uses it to mutate two bestial enemies for the Turtles before using it on himself to become “Super Shredder.”

The film cost more to produce than the first film ($25 million) and made less ($78 million), but was enough of a hit to garner another sequel—1993’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles in Time.

The film transported the Turtles back to feudal Japan, where they have to save a Japanese village from a British arms dealer.  The film doubled its production budget back, but would prove to be the last Turtles film for 14 years, until 2007’s TMNT.

This was an attempt to create a new sequel to the film franchise using the current trend for computer generated animation. CGI suited the Turtles, making them fit into their surroundings just a bit better. The film focuses on the Turtles, who have drifted apart over the years since the last film. They have to reunite to prevent the world from being conquered.

What about Eastman and Laird? Well, they drifted apart, too. Eastman moved to California, Laird to Massachusetts. Both became involved in creator rights in different ways. Eastman started up Tundra, a creator-friendly company that published Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell (which we’ll talk about later), James O’Barr’s The Crow (which we’ll talk about later), and Mike Allred’s Madman (which I wish we were talking about later) and would buy Heavy Metal magazine (which we talked about already). Laird created the Xeric Foundation in 1992, established to give money to organizations that promote literacy and grants to talented creators to help fund their comics.

In 2000, Laird bought out most of Eastman’s right to the Turtles, with the whole of Eastman’s rights being bought in 2008. Laird remained involved with the Turtles until he was involved in a deal with Nickelodeon for the characters, a deal worth $60 million dollars, finalized in 2009. Part of the deal was that Laird would still be able to create up to 18 TMNT comics a year, Eastman still owns Heavy Metal, and was married to former Penthouse Pet of the Year and B-Movie Queen Julie Strain. Last year, Eastman was involved in the Turtles reboot from IDW as well.

Eastman is also supposed to be involved with Michael Bay’s controversial TMNT revamp, Ninja Turtles. The project garnered a fair bit of controversy  last year when Bay admitted making some major changes to the concept, including making the turtles older and turning them into aliens. Eastman’s involvement has seemed to alieviate many longtime fans’ fears, but the new take might bring some new fans to the franchise.

So, there you go, the American success story. A joke amongst friends turns into an indelible piece of international pop culture. Cowabunga, dude.

Next, we begin a string of great, if somewhat underrated, comic book film adaptations.

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Hollywood’s New Kind Of Originality

Posted on 15 May 2012 by William Gatevackes

A film called Dark Shadows opened last week. It shares the same name and a number of characters with a cult soap opera from the late 60s, early 70s. Both feature time-tossed vampires who join their descendants 200 years in the future. However, the film plays the story as a wacky fish-out-of-water comedy while the soap opera, which was campy because, well, it was a soap opera with a production budget of $5, portrayed the story as a somber Gothic romance.

This week, Battleship opens. It shares its name with a Milton-Bradley board game that was first introduced in 1943. The game is advertised as a game of naval strategy where players try to sink each others armadas first by guessing location of ships on a grid. The film, which was based on the game, features the U.S. Navy combating a sea-based alien invasion force.

Now, this won’t be the kind of post that criticizes Hollywood for their lack of originality. Hollywood has always adapted  works from other media for the screen. That is not necessarily a bad thing. To prove my point, let’s take a look at the Top 10 films on the 2007 version of AFI’s “100 Years…100 Movies” list.

Now, you can argue semantics about this list all night–this film should be higher, that one lower, this film included, that one not–but we can pretty much all agree that these are great films. What do we see here? We have five films based on novels or plays (The Godfather, Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, Vertigo, and The Wizard of Oz), four films based on or inspired by the lives of real people (Raging Bull, Lawrence of Arabia, Schindler’s List and Citizen Kane, which was a fictionalized account of William Randolph Hearst’s life) and one inspired by Hollywood’s history (Singin’ in the Rain). Not one wholly original, but great films nonetheless.

But those were adaptations done right. Unfortunately, Hollywood has the nasty habit of wanting to put their own stamp on properties they adapt, usually with not-so-good results. And Dark Shadows and Battleship take this habit to a dangerous and puzzling new level.

Now, I’m not naive as to think that every original work should be adapted to the screen with no changes. I realize that it would be impossible for eight seasons of a TV series, 300 pages of a novel, or 200 issues of a comic book to be squeezed into one two-hour movie. But doing a good adaptation means keeping the stuff that works, keeping the same tone and characterization, and if you are going to change anything, change it to the better. The problem lies in the fact that the film studios definition of better doesn’t really end up as being better.

This problem, unfortunately, is nothing new. Studios have been making changes to classic works from other medium for decades. Whether it be modern literature, like The Bonfire of the Vanities (Does the journalist need to be British? Why can’t it be Bruce Willis? And does Sherman McCoy have to be such a erudite jerk? Why can’t he be nice, like Tom Hanks? And why have spot-on, social satire? Wouldn’t broad comedy be better?), classic literature like The Scarlet Letter (You know what would make kids pay more attention to the book in school? If Hester diddled herself in the tub.), comic books like Jonah Hex (What? The character is basically the cowboy antihero archetype that led Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson to stardom? That will never work in films. Give him superpowers, have him stop an anacronistic weapon of mass destruction, and, please, make it campy), or video games, like Super Mario Brothers (You know who the best actors to play a pair of Italian plumbers would be? An British Cockney and a Latino American! And Dennis Hopper playing their turtle nemesis! It’s like printing money!), more than one film adaptation was ruined by studio’s “improvement.” But Dark Shadows and Battleship take these kind of changes to an entirely new, and dangerous level.

Dark Shadows is the latest example of a film trying to present a property that is loved by a large, cult audience while having the studio, or, in this case, the director put their own stamp on the project. But what it really is just an unnecessary form of this type of marketing.

While I don’t deny that Dark Shadows does have a following, the fans of the show are not exactly in the 18-35 demographic that make films a hit. It was before my time and I’m way out of that demographic.

And, really? Do you need help marketing a movie where Tim Burton directs Johnny Depp again? You could have kept the fish out of water/man out of time plot, you could have even kept the main character a vampire,  you could have kept the premise the same and not have it tie into Dark Shadows at all and people would most likely still have come to see it.

The real reason that the film is called Dark Shadows is because Tim Burton was a fan of the series and wanted to do his own take on it, a take even he knew that fans of the TV show wouldn’t like. I’m sure Burton probably sold the idea to studios using the TV shows built in fan base. But this was Burton co-opting an existing property for his own use when he could have, and should have, created something original that would have still allowed him to say what he wanted to say. Dark Shadows fans have a right to be upset.

The case with Battleship is even more absurd. It’s not really a case of an adaptation being screwed up by Hollywood, because, really, if there was any way to adapt that particular board game, it would probably an even worse film than this one.

One of the producers of this film is Hasbro, the toy company that bought out Milton Bradley and owns the rights to G.I. Joe, Transformers and, you guessed it, Battleship (And Candy Land, which also has a film in the works). What happened was that Hasbro saw how much money they could make on films with the first two properties, so they decided to make a film out of every piece of intellectual property they own, whether making it into a film made sense or not. Personally, I cannot wait for Easy-Bake Oven: The Movie.

Battleship, like Dark Shadows, is a film that could have been released under another name and still do probably the same amount of business. Also, like Dark Shadows, the demographic of the source material will probably not follow it to the big screen even it was an exact representation of the game. What we have here is a generic alien invasion flick with the twist that the invasion takes place at sea.

Yes, rumor has it that there will be a scene in the film that mimics the gameplay of the original game, and I’m fairly certain that at some point in the film we will see a character, most likely Liam Neeson’s, pull a pair of binoculars away from their faces, squint off into a point just past where the camera was placed, and utter with grim, steely reserve, “They sank my battleship” (or some variation there of). But other than that, the film could have been called Aliens At Sea and it would not have made a bit of difference, except that it would have been mocked slightly less in the press.

So this is what the state of the film adaptation is today. The source material is reduced to a name only, a name Hollywood can use to practice a new kind of originality. The names become tools for directors to work out the issues they had with the original source or companies to earn a quick buck from their intellectual property in by any means necessary. Hollywood has always been accused of not caring about the books, TV shows and comics they adapt. At least now, they are being honest about it. And they get to have the best of both worlds–a film with a recognizable public image that is an “original” creation by the Hollywood establishment.

Unfortunately, this trend will not stop here. By now we should all be familiar Michael Bay’s Ninja Turtles, which every one from Bay to co-creator Kevin Eastman have promised fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would deliver “everything that made [them] become fans in the first place.” Everything except the characters being Teenagers (they will be a bit older) or Mutants (they’re aliens). They couch these changes as “building a richer world,” as if the world that made the Turtles a pop culture phenomenon for thirty years wasn’t rich enough.

And you thought Demi Moore writhing in a bathtub was bad.

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Rumor Mill: NINJA TURTLES No Longer Mutants Or Teenagers

Posted on 26 March 2012 by Rich Drees

Last week, producer Michael bay stirred up the internet equivalent of a hornets’ nest of trouble when he announced that the titular stars of a new film adaption of the classic 80s indie comic book Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would not be mutants so much as they would be aliens. It is now look as if Bay has chopped another adjective off of the title as Bleeding Cool is reporting a rumor that the film may now be titled simply Ninja Turtles.

We haven’t been able to get a definite statement as to why this title change is occurring, and our sources are not 100% clear on whether or not the Turtles will indeed be adolescents. One of our sources has said: “It seems to be driven by marketing. Think of John Carter and how Disney wouldn’t allow for a title with either “Princess” or “Mars.”

Now I understand that the kneejerk reaction is to criticize such a move. I’m not even a fan of the franchise and it sounds pretty stupid to me. But this simply might be a way of testing the waters on certain potential elements of the film’s story. It has happened before and will happen again.

Or it could just be a way of stirring up interest in the project before even a frame of film has been shot. And considering that the most recent screen appearance by the Turtles was the poorly received 2007 computer animated TMNT, Bay and company certainly have a tough road ahead of them on that front. But is even negative publicity good publicity? Or is Bay being even more Machiavellian by floating some rumors about big changes in the film and then placates fans by saying that said changes will not happen after all. Considering that his films aren’t that complicated, I would doubt it.

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Michael Bay on TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: “They’re Aliens!” To Fans: “Chill!”

Posted on 20 March 2012 by William Gatevackes

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Perhaps one of the most accurate names of any property to come out of comics. Let’s take a second and dissect that name, shall we? The first word refers to the characters ages.They’re teenagers. Got it. Let’s look at the third word, ninja. While the characters aren’t the stealthy, silent, kill-you-in-your-sleep type ninjas, the term does apply to their martial arts expertise. It’s close enough to let it slide.

Now, let’s look at the remaining two words: Mutant Turtles. This forms perhaps the most descriptive phrase of the characters’ name. Those words tell you who the characters are and how they came to be. They are turtles who have been exposed to toxic waste and have mutated into humanoid, intelligent creatures. Well, at least that was their origin.

Michael Bay, who is in someway attached to the forthcoming live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, was speaking at the Nickelodeon (current owners of the rights to the Turtles) up-fronts, where he had this to say about the new Turtles film.

“When you see this movie, kids are going to believe one day these turtles actually do exist when we are done with this movie. These turtles are from an alien race, and they are going to be tough, edgy, funny and completely loveable.”

Alien race? When I hear that I had to check the calendar to see if I slept for a week and a half last night it was April 1st. I didn’t and it’s not. Here is a video of Bay making that very same announcement.

Michael Bay talks Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by stuffwelike

Now, this all came down yesterday and I seem to have missed it. But a lot of other TMNT fans didn’t. The new practically ripped the Internet in half as angry fans expressed their rage. There were posts on message boards, a Facebook page set up to let Bay know the Turtles aren’t aliens and even the actor who voiced the Turtle named Michelangelo in the first series of films, Robbie Rist, wrote an open letter to Bay accusing him of “sodomizing” the original film trilogy and “raping” many a person’s childhood memories. Yikes!

Bay decided to answer the questions the way most conflict negotiators recommend calming an opposing side down: through arrogance and condescension:

Fans need to take a breath, and chill.  They have not read the script.  Our team is working closely with one of the original creators of Ninja Turtles to help expand and give a more complex back story.  Relax, we are including everything that made you become fans in the first place.  We are just building a richer world.
Michael

That statement is odd on a number of levels. First, everyone knows that the last thing you want to tell a group of people who are upset, be it a rational or irrational rage, is to calm down. That usually has the opposite effect.

The phrasing “one of the original creators” is odd too. There are two creators of the comic book the Turtles came from: Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman. So, the “original creator” is either one or the other, and therefore should have been named. Unless there is a reason why Bay didn’t name the creator in question. Hmmm.

And that final sentence? That would work to ease concerns if A) the fact the Turtles are now aliens which is not what made the fans fans in the first place, and B) savvy moviegoers had any faith that Bay had the skill to “build a richer world.”

To outsiders, the fact that the TMNT fandom would get so up in arms over such a minor change is perplexing. Well, look at it this way. The Turtles might be to you an aspect of pop culture while you were growing up, to others of the same age it was the defining cartoon or film of their childhood. It could very well be the first property they became a fan of. If they loved something with all their hearts as a kid, it’s hard to let that go of that love when they get to be an adult.

For me, I was never as big a fan of the Turtles as I was of, say, Star Wars. My main problem with Bay’s announcement is that the change is unnecessary and would not make the story any better. Forget the fact that “Mutant” and “Turtles” are in the character’s names, the Turtles’ origins had been essentially the same for almost 30 years. It was good enough to make billions of dollars in a wide variety of industries. While the fact they were mutated by toxic ooze is outlandish, it’s more grounded in reality than them being aliens. It is a change that serves no other purpose other than allowing Bay and his writers to put their personal stamp on the property.

It should be interesting to see how this all plays. Bay’s rebuttal to the controversy, issued on his official forums to his loyal fanbase, might do more harm than good. Sometimes bad publicity, even this early, can kill a film dead in the water.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: Let’s Get Metal.

Posted on 27 January 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 discuss the strange journey of Heavy Metal from Europe to America to the Silver Screen.

National Lampoon has given us a lot over the years. It has given us writers such as Doug Kenney, Michael O’Donaghue, P.J. O’Rourke and John Hughes. It gave exposure to comic actors like John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Christopher Guest, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray. It has even “Presented” films like Animal House, Vacation, and Van Wilder.

It has also, in a roundabout way, given us the film Heavy Metal, too. Well, at least the magazine the movie was based on.

Heavy Metal magazine began as the French magazine Métal Hurlant, an anthology graphic magazine started in 1974 by legendary French artists Jean Giraud A.K.A. Mœbius and Philippe Druillet. It presented comics drawn and written from a distinctly European point of view, along with text articles on all areas of popular culture.

National Lampoon publisher Leonard Mogel was in Paris to try and get Lampoon published in France when he stumbled across Métal Hurlant (which stands for “Howling Metal”) and saw it as something that might work in the United States. He licensed the magazine, renamed it Heavy Metal to have it resonate with American audiences more and started publishing it on high-stock glossy paper as a monthly magazine.

The mag gave European artists such as Giraud, Milo Manara and Esteban Maroto exposure in the U.S. as their work in Métal Hurlant was translated and reprinted in Heavy Metal. It featured work from such luminaries as H.R. Giger, Stephen King, Harlan Ellison and William S. Burroughs in its pages. And it published serials by artists like Arthur Suydam, Bernie Wrightson  and Howard Cruse, among others.

It’s these serials that got adapted into the 1981 film, Heavy Metal, which like the magazine was an anthology of stories inspired and written by creators that worked for the periodical.

The film featured six installments with a framing sequence tied together by one mystical object, a glowing green sphere of unearthly power called the Loc-Nar. The individual installments feature the distinctive variety of styles that were at home in the magazine, ranging from futuristic noir to historical horror, from imaginative fantasy to satiric humor. The film was produced by Ivan Reitman, featured the voices of SCTVers John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy and Harold Ramis. And it had an eclectic soundtrack that featured Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Stevie Nicks, Devo and Cheap Trick.  That line up of musicians was one of the reasons why the film took so long to be released on home video, as nailing down the rights to the music became an issue.

In 1992, longtime Heavy Metal fan and co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Kevin Eastman bought the magazine and set himself up as publisher and editor. Heavy Metal 2000 was released early on in Eastman’sreign as publisher, but had more to do with the man then the magazine.

Heavy Metal 2000 was not adapted from a story that appeared in the pages of the magazine, but rather from a 1995 miniseries Eastman did with artist Simon Bisley called The Melting Pot which was published by Kitchen Sink Press. The original comic was not an anthology, so the film contains only one story, not six like the first Heavy Metal. It does feature a diverse soundtrack with many songs from popular alternative and metal acts of the day, like Queens of the Stone Age and System of a Down. And a glowing green rock does play a role in the proceedings, to sort of tie it in with the first film.

The plot focuses on Julie (voiced by, and most certainly inspired by, Eastman’s then-wife, B-movie actress and former Penthouse Pet of the Year Julie Strain) fighting an evil tyrant with the power of self-regeneration. She fights to free her sister from the tyrant’s captivity, all the while trying to end his reign of terror.

There is another film in the works, at the very least loosely connected to the Heavy Metal brand called War of the Worlds: Goliath.

The film is a sequel to H.G. Wells’ novel, War of the Words, and appears to be some kind of steampunk manga film. It is voiced by Adrian Paul and Adam Baldwin, among others. It is set for a 2012 release, however, footage was shown during the 2009 San Diego Comic Con with a promised 2010 DVD release. Since it was already delayed two years, I’d say that 2012 date should be taken with a grain of salt.

There has been a planned remake of the original in the works, first helmed by David Fincher and then by Robert Rodriguez. Considering Rodriguez’s track record of getting films he is attached to made is about one in four, it might be a while if there will be another Heavy Metal film in the future.

Next time, Swamp Thing gets revitalized in the comics and a film in theaters within years of one another. Did one have any effect on the other?

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