A few LA stories caught my attention this week, none of them requiring the normal thesis I typically offer on these pages, so I though I’d just hit each of them quickly and give you my take. As always, Comment Away below!!!
1. Indiana Jones and the Lucas Redemption
Anyone following this flick’s development cycle knows that the property landed before a number of top Hollywood scribes before Spielberg’s go-to guy David Koepp (Spider-Man) took a hack.
Following the film’s release, the Internet community commenced their big fat geek meddling by laying the blame for all the goofy detours the film took at King George Lucas’ feet. Notably, they took issue with Mutt’s Tarzan act as well as Indy’s A-Bomb adventure in a Frigidaire (Forget the fact that he survived the blast – how the hell did he open the door from the inside?)
Well, lo and behold, like that relic at the beginning of Raiders, a long sought treasure was unearthed earlier this week when Frank Darabont’s original screenplay for Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods hit the net. The script was vetted as authentic by AICN’s Moriarty, who had read it a few years back and the clamor to rip through its contents hit such a fever pitch yesterday that it knocked the host server offline for several hours.
Anyway, I am a huge Darabont fan and from most reports, his script is rock solid. Reportedly Spielberg and Ford really dug his treatment but Lucas put the kibosh on it. From there, the legend grew that Lucas was the real phantom menace working against the project from ever going green.
Despite the quality of the script, some interesting facts come to light. As I mentioned above, every goofy element in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has been blamed on George Lucas and his Jar Jar loving ways. Yet, there in Darabont’s script is the infamous nuclear fridge sequence!!!
I mention this because I’ve found it curious that among those I’ve encountered who have enjoyed the flick, almost all of them have admitted that there are weak and silly moments throughout. The rallying cry seems to be that every segment that kicks ass is Spielberg’s contribution and every moment that makes you groan is the result of Lucas’ intervention. Surprisingly, the final script for KotCC bears a strong resemblance to Darabont’s tale – with the fridge, the ants, the crystal skulls, Ox and the aliens all represented. So Lucas couldn’t have hated it that much.
I think my point here is that we sometimes rush to judgment (of course, that’s a trite Sunday School lesson, I know) and that even our heroes are not without fault. I’m a huge Spielberg fan and love Darabont’s writing but it appears even this duo is not infallible. The fridge sequence is goofy and now we know that Darabont dreamed it and Lucas/Spielberg loved it.
Sometimes great minds think alike… and sometimes that’s not good for anybody.
2. What’s Happening?
I’ve been following the marketing campaign for the new M. Night Shyamalan flick, The Happening, for quite some time and I really can’t tell what’s happening. There seems to be this renewed rush within Hollywood marketing to over emphasize the ‘R’ rating. Anyone who has caught The Happening’s television spots may have noticed that the announcer curiously advertises it as “M. Night Shyamalan’s first R Rated Film” (what – the first one he’s seen or the first one he’s made???) And on the teaser bumper (as well as the marquee posters) the MPAA rating of ‘R’ is in Bold Red.
I can’t recall a film being sold purely on the basis of its rating. In fact, aside from those who can’t get into R rated movies, who even cares what the rating is? Think about it – when you were a kid, all you wanted to see was an R rated movie. PG was death. Of course, PG-13 came along and bridged the gap. Finally, we could see hearts ripped out of chests without a note from Mom.
At this point in life, I’ve seen more blood and nudity than a trauma center nurse. Who cares??? I just want to see a good movie, irregardless of the rating. In fact, one of the best films I’ve seen this year is Ratatouille and that thing’s G and I’m 36.
We go through these revolutions all the time. For a period of time, you’ll hear that the only thing that sells tickets is PG-13 so every movie will be rated PG-13. Then a movie like Wedding Crashers will come along, reignite the public’s passion for raunchy comedy, and suddenly everyone is working overtime to maximize the mammaries in their flicks. Then, a few R rated comedies will crash and burn and suddenly were right back to saucy, but safe, innuendo.
Well, here’s a little cautionary tale for Shyamalan and 20th Century Fox. Two summers ago, the Web was credited for enhancing the buzz surrounding the Sam Jackson vehicle, Snakes on a Plane. The film was originally scripted as a PG-13 B movie that would take flight in the dog days of August and soak what remained in cinema coffers as people beat the heat for free air conditioning and a popcorn flick. At some point, the producers started trolling message boards and found that film fans were clamoring for a Hard R-rated pic that would satisfy their gore hunger. Mistaking these cellar-dwelling chat room creatures for Mainstream America, the producers scribbled their notes and called for a hot beef injection of more violence, more nudity and more muthaf&$king snakes. When Snakes on a Plane finally launched in mid-August (after months of free Internet advertising) it crashed upon takeoff with a paltry 3rd place finish on its opening weekend. It caught a connecting flight to DVD soon after.
You’re in trouble if the best thing about your movie is the rating.
3. With a Special Appearance by…
It wouldn’t be the summer movie season without a Marvel superhero or two duking it out on the big screen. Ever since Spider-Man launched in 2002, we’ve had a visit by one of our friendly neighborhood do-gooders once a year. 2003 saw the return of the X-Men as well as the arrival of The Hulk. 2004 brought us the amazing Spider-Man’s second adventure. In 2005, the world tried to forget The Fantastic Four. The X-Men returned for a 3rd engagement in 2006. Last year, Sam Raimi tried to kill Spider-Man in his misguided trilogy capper. And now this summer, we’ve been charmed by Iron Man and are just a day away from The Incredible Hulk redux.
Bottom line – we love us some superheroes.
Until this year, Marvel Entertainment has simply sat in the Producer’s chair, licensing their heroes for other studios to make a mint off of. With the dual-fisted release of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, Marvel Studios makes its big debut in the film production arena, as the coveted comic company looks to guide the creation of their expended universe onto the silver screen.
When Iron Man hit in early May, it hit big. Certainly it was a gamble – Iron Man is probably better known as a Black Sabbath tune than a globetrotting superhero (he lacks the mainstream cache of a Spider-Man or Superman having never been a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade float). The expert, unconventional casting of Robert Downey Jr. in a role he was born to play (Tony Stark/Iron Man) coupled with John Favreau’s fleet direction produced a breezy, bustling action flick that wasn’t afraid to go for the funny or tweak a subversive nerve. It was a breath of fresh air and kicked the summer off to a great start.
Immediately after I saw the film (with the knowledge in my head that Tony Stark/Downey was making a cameo appearance in the forthcoming Incredible Hulk) I made one of those mental notes to myself where I simply said “If Marvel was smart, they’d showcase Downey’s 30-second cameo appearance in their 30-second television spot for the Hulk.”
The math is simple. Iron Man made the money it did because it attracted more than teenage boys (of all ages – Yes, even 36). Downey Jr (and Gwyneth Paltrow) brought in the chicks and they were charmed by Favreau’s light touch. Simply put, these guys know how to entertain.
The Incredible Hulk, on the other hand, has more work cut out for it. Ang Lee’s original 2003 flick was a bust at theaters. For starters, it only attracted those teenage boys and they walked away pissed at the art house aesthetic, the lack of real action and the fact they had to take a gander at Eric Bana’s butt, TWICE!!! With the dudes sent packing and the chicks no-shows, the property seemed dead.
Alongside Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk is one of Marvel’s most recognized properties. The company couldn’t afford to bury their surly green giant. So, they went to action director Louis Letterier (who apprenticed under French action maven Luc Besson) and asked him to reignite the franchise by injecting more testosterone. The casting of Edward Norton and Liv Tyler was cemented to add gravitas to the project and play up the romantic angle in a bid to land at least one female patron.
Still – it’s risky. The chicks didn’t show up the first time, what would bring them out now?
Robert Downey Jr. While it was supposed to be a secret, Downey shows up in character as Tony Stark at some point in the flick. (My guess – the end – miming Sam “The Man” Jackson’s appearance in Iron Man as set-up for an Avengers flick). Jackson was on screen for about 30 seconds and I bet that’s all we get from Downey. Irregardless, I thought Marvel and Universal would be dumb to pass up exploiting this footage. People had a great time at Iron Man, one of the few flicks in this Direct-to-DVD climate we live in where people would return to drop another $10 on a flick they’ll own on Blu-Ray in three months. But they did, and they brought their friends. Tony Stark has hit the mainstream.
And Marvel knows it. And they’re pimping him out to give some of their other ‘girls’ a look. Don’t believe me, just keep an eye on primetime this evening and you’ll see the ad for Iron Man 2. Wow, so soon!!!
The early word on The Incredible Hulk is that it’s pretty fun – not as solid as Iron Man – but a fun popcorn movie that restores luster to the lime green lummox. My guess, there will be those who attend the flick expecting to see Stark on screen for much more than his limited playtime and leave a little disappointed however they’ll likely groove to what they did see. And that’s all part of Marvel’s master plan. To expand their fictional universe in new directions (these cross-over appearances are pretty cool – comic fans have lived with them and loved them for ages on the page and have drooled for these dream team match-us) and bring it to the mainstream.
As a wise man once said, Excelsior!