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The History of Superhero Movies: ‘Judge Dredd’

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This is the thirty-second installment in a series of articles tracing the complete history of superheroes in film and television, from the first superhero serial all the way to the current Marvel and DC cinematic universes.  For the previous installment click here, for the first installment click here.

The 1995 adaptation of the Judge Dredd character, who first appeared in the pages of the British comic magazine “2000 A.D.,” was spear-headed by producer Edward R. Pressman.  Pressman had also been the mastermind behind the big screen adaptation of “The Crow” just two years earlier.

While hopes for the film were most likely really high, it didn’t really pan out the way producers probably hoped.  “Judge Dredd” was universally panned by fans and critics alike, currently holding an 18% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  A common fan complaint, apart from the movie just not being that good, was that Dredd takes off his helmet several times during the course of the film.  In the comics, artists take great lengths to intentionally never show Dredd without his helmet.

Director Danny Cannon maintains that the final version of the film is radically different from both the original script and his intentions for the film.  According to Cannon, Stallone made demands of the studio which resulted in multiple changes being made, making the film unrecognizable from its original concept.  Cannon and screenwriter William Wisher, Jr. the film was originally much darker and carried a more satirical tone.  Stallone, however, saw the film as a comedy and demanded rewrites to fit that view.  Stallone has gone on record as saying he still didn’t think the final film was comedic enough.

Stallone told Uncut Magazine, “It probably should have been much more comic, really humorous, and fun. What I learned out of that experience was that we shouldn’t have tried to make it Hamlet; it’s more Hamlet and Eggs.”

For the role of Fergie – who was significantly altered from the comics for the film version – Stallone originally wanted Joe Pesci.  When Pesci turned the part down, Stallone called Saturday Night Live alum and frequent Adam Sandler player Rob Schneider.  Schneider took the role.  In the comics, Fergie lives in the Undercity – the ruins of the old eastern seaboard on top of which Mega City One was built.  He is the leader of a band of societal outcasts, similar to the role played by Dennis Leary in “Demolition Man.”  For the film, the character was changed to a petty criminal with a cowardly streak.

“Judge Dredd” was originally intended to be rated PG-13, which is common for films of the genre.  However, in its first viewing by the MPAA it was assigned an NC-17 rating.  Several cuts and changes were made, but on appeal the film was assigned an R rating.  Due to lack of time to make additional changes, it was released as an R-rated film.

“Judge Dredd” was released on June 20, 1995 and made $113 million against a $70 million budget during its theatrical run.

While “Judge Dredd” was in-keeping with the style of superhero movies of the time, its great departure from the source material and Stallone’s insistence on making the film into a comedy and not a serious adaptation of the comics caused fans to dismiss the film.  With the direction taken by “Batman Forever” and “Judge Dredd” immediately afterward, while superhero movies remained popular, 1995 definitely marked a decline in quality which would last throughout the rest of the decade.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and check out my column at TheBlaze.

References:

Sylvester Stallone interviewed in Uncut #131 (April 2008), p.118

“Judge Dredd (1995).” IMDb.

Judge Dredd“. Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster

The History of Superhero Movies: Joel Schumacher’s Batman

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This is the thirty-first installment in a series of articles tracing the complete history of superheroes in film and television, from the first superhero serial all the way to the current Marvel and DC cinematic universes.  For the previous installment click here, for the first installment click here.

After the controversy surrounding Tim Burton’s “Batman Returns,” and numerous boycotts and protests from parents groups claiming the film was “unsuitable for children,” Warner Bros. decided to ask Burton not to direct the third, but to stay on as producer.  Burton – who had originally been hesitant to return for a second – was excited at prospect of doing a third, but he reluctantly agreed provided he could hire his own replacement.  The studio agreed.

Tim Burton had planned to hire a director who had a similar gothic style to his own and who was known for making dark pictures.  He chose “The Lost Boys” director Joel Schumacher for the job.  This would be a decision that would forever go down in infamy, but to be honest the next two Batman films would have been the same no matter who was directing, and to lay the blame solely at the feet of Joel Schumacher – which is often done – is unfair.

Whereas Burton had been given complete creative control over “Batman Returns,” the production of “Batman Forever” was mired in studio mandates to make up for what had been the perceived failures of the last film.  The first of these mandates was that “Batman Forever” feature the character Robin, who had been left out of the last two pictures.  The studio felt that Robin would add to the film’s appeal to children by offering them a character to identify with, which was the idea behind the original creation of the character in 1940.

When Tim Burton was asked not to return, Michael Keaton also decided that he would not be reprising his role as Batman.  This left the production in need of a new caped crusader, and Joel Schumacher set about the daunting task of finding someone who could follow Keaton as the Dark Knight.  A few days after Michael Keaton officially bowed out, Joel Schumacher cast Val Kilmer as the new Batman.

For Robin, Marlon Wayans had originally been cast and signed on to the film before Burton’s departure.  Schumacher, wanting to keep a fidelity to the source material, made the decision to replace Wayans with a white actor.  Leonardo DiCapprio was the first choice, but he turned the role down.  Every actor between the age of 17 and 25 auditioned for the part.  Among the future Hollywood stars to audition were Alan Cummings, Ewen McGregor, Jude Law and Mark Wahlberg.  The part eventually went to Chris O’Donnell.

Michael Jackson campaigned for the role of the Riddler, but he was dismissed out of hand.  Robin Williams was the first choice for the role, but he turned it down.  During production of the first “Batman,” Robin Williams was used as bait to get Jack Nicholson to sign on as the Joker.  Williams was never seriously considered for the part, but he was used as a bargaining chip to get Nicholson, and Williams didn’t appreciate that.  Because of the animosity he held for Tim Burton for using him, he declined to appear as the Riddler.  The role went to Jim Carrey, who played the part very much akin to Frank Gorshin’s portrayal in the 1966 television series.

In the original film, the character of Harvey Dent – in that movie Gotham City’s District Attorney, but destined to become the villain Two-Face – was played by Billy Dee Williams.  Williams has said that he originally took the role of Harvey Dent in the hopes that he would one day get to play Two-Face, as he was familiar with the comic books.  The same as with Robin, Schumacher was hesitant to stray from the source material.  His first and only choice to play the role was Tommy Lee Jones – whom Schumacher had worked with on the John Grisham adaptation “The Client” – and because of this, Williams was never offered the opportunity to return.  It is because of reasons like this that the Burton and Schumacher films are generally considered separate franchises, in spite of sharing very loose continuity.

While “Batman Forever” carried a decidedly lighter tone than the previous two, it was generally given favorable reviews by critics.  Many critics praised the film for lightening its tone after the gothic romp that was “Batman Returns.”  Among fans, the general consensus was that it wasn’t as good as the previous two, but it wasn’t terrible either.  “Batman Forever” would also go on to earn almost $100 million more than its predecessor at the box office.

The success of “Batman Forever” – and yes, it was considered a success at the time – led to another sequel with Schumacher at the helm.  Burton declined to returned as producer, because he disagreed with the direction Warner Bros. – not Joel Schumacher – took the last film in.  The success of “Batman Forever,” unfortunately, also reinforced with Warner Bros. that their mandates had been the right direction in which to take the film.  Because of this reinforcement, they decided to increase the mandates to absurd levels.

Joel Schumacher has been criticized for his use of the phrase, “Remember this is a cartoon,” when directing the actors.  Schumacher did direct with this phrase, but it wasn’t because he personally didn’t take the material seriously.  That was a mandate from the studio, that the films be made like a live action cartoon.  Warner Bros. was also concerned that the film be able to translate itself to as many toys as possible.  They even went so far as to allow the toy company to design and dictate how props and vehicles were to look.  This is also why Batman, Robin and Batgirl go through at least two costume each.  So they could make and sell toys.

Joel Schumacher’s insistence on fidelity to the source material did not, apparently, extend to the character of Batgirl.  In the comics, Batgirl is Barbara Gordon, daughter of the police commissioner.  In the film she became Barbara Wilson, great niece of Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s butler.  Her mask was also changed from a full cowl – like Batman’s – to a domino mask, similar to what Robin wears.  The full cowl can be seen briefly, but it’s quickly discarded for no apparent reason at all.

Val Kilmer did not return as Batman.  While Kilmer and Schumacher’s stories conflict, they two men infamously clashed on the set of “Batman Forever” and neither probably wanted Kilmer to return.  While Schumacher maintains that Kilmer was always welcome back, but was committed to “The Saint” and was unable to return, Kilmer claims he was never asked to return or even told there would be another movie.  Kilmer claims he didn’t know there was going to be another film until he read that George Clooney had been cast as Batman.

In keeping with every Batman film apart from the first one, this “Batman and Robin” also employed two villains.  Villains popular at the time, due to the popularity of “Batman: The Animated Series” were Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy.  Mr. Freeze was played by Arnold Schwarzenegger – presumably because Schwarzenegger is Austrian and Mr. Freeze is German – while Poison Ivy was played by Uma Thurman.  As with the previous movie, both villains were played over-the-top.

Mr. Freeze’s backstory was taken directly from the animated series.  Traditionally, Mr. Freeze was always just portrayed as a mutated thief.  A street thug mutated in an accident while trying to escape Batman, and he blamed Batman for the accident.  In the backstory created by Paul Dini for the animated series, however, Mr. Freeze was turned into a much more tragic character.  While this was retained for the film, it wasn’t really used properly and just felt kind of shoehorned in.

“Batman and Robin” was a financial disaster and received very negative reviews.  The general consensus had been that they went too far in the light-hearted and cartoony direction.  Many compared it to the 1966 television series, and the comparison was not at all favorable.  “Batman and Robin” killed the series, and cemented Schumacher’s reputation as the man who ruined Batman, a reputation he will probably never live down.  Schumacher did want the opportunity to redeem himself, to direct a dark Batman in keeping with other films he’s directed, but Warner Bros. wouldn’t have it.  Instead, it would take eight years for Batman to see new life.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and check out my column at TheBlaze.

References:

Batman 3“.  Entertainment Weekly. October 1, 1993.

Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight-Reinventing a Hero (DVD). Warner Bros. 2005.

Army Archerd (December 1, 1994). “Culkin kids ink with WMA”. Variety.

Jeff Gordinier (July 15, 1994). “Next at Batman“.  Entertainment Weekly.

Judy Brennan (1994-06-03). “Batman Battles New Bat Villains”.  Entertainment Weekly

Batman Heroes Profile: Harvey Dent (DVD). Batman Special Edition: Warner Bros. Home Video. 2005.

“Christopher Nolan: The Movies. The Memories.”  Empire.  July 2010.

“DiCaprio Interview”.  Shortlist.  2010-07-15.

The History of Superhero Movies: ‘The Mask’

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This is the thirtieth installment in a series of articles tracing the complete history of superheroes in film and television, from the first superhero serial all the way to the current Marvel and DC cinematic universes.  For the previous installment click here, for the first installment click here.

1994’s “The Mask” was based on the Dark Horse comic book series created by Dark Horse’s founder Mike Richardson.  The film starred Jim Carrey in his first film appearance after his break-out role in “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” as well as being a break-out role in its own right for Cameron Diaz, who was making her feature film debut.

The film takes a decidedly different turn with the material than the original comic book series had.  The comics were much darker in tone, although the violence was still as cartoonish and over-the-top as it was in the film.  Originally, New Line Cinema had intended to keep the tone of the comics intact, seeing “The Mask” as a horror film instead of a comedy.  The original intent was to have the next “Friday the 13th” or “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise, but this ultimately wasn’t to be the case.

The film went through several drafts as a horror film before the decision was made to make it a comedy instead.  Earlier that same year, Jim Carrey – who had risen to prominence as a member of the skit comedy television series “In Living Color” – had become a huge star with the hit comedy film “Ace Ventura.”  Due to his natural facial elasticity and over-the-top humor in both “In Living Color” and “Ace Ventura,” Carrey was cast as the film’s protagonist, Stanely Ipkiss.

When the decision was made to change the tone of the picture, special attention was taken to retain the look of the character.  The superhero character – called Big Head – is fairly close to the comic books.  He has a large bald and green head with no ears and big teeth.  Even the bright yellow zoot suit was taken directly from the comic books.

The film follows Stanley Ipkiss, a meek and timid bank teller who hates his job, his boss and his customers, as he finds a strange wooden mask in a river.  He initially jumped into the river because the mask, tangled up in some garbage, looked like a floating body and he attempted to save it.  When he discovered it was just garbage, for him that was the end to a perfectly b-e-a-utiful day.  He picks up the mask and takes it home with him.

He soon puts on the mask, and finds out that it grants him magical powers.  Powers which he states he can use to become a superhero.  Big Head is still violent in the film, as he is in the comics, but his violence is is tempered with comedy and a much more cartoonish style, in the vein of old Tex Avery cartoons.  He is seen chasing an alarm clock down the hall of his apartment building with a large mallet, and even makes a machine gun out of a balloon animal.

After the success of “Ace Ventura,” the success of “The Mask” pretty much cemented Jim Carrey’s reputation as a comedy powerhouse and one of the biggest stars of the 90s.  In fact, both of those movies introduced many catchphrases into the pop culture such as “S-s-s-s-smokin’!” and “Aaaaaalrighty, then!” which remained popular throughout the decade.

“The Mask” went on to become the second highest grossing superhero movie of the time, behind Tim Burton’s “Batman” which came out five years before.  The film holds a 77% on Rotten Tomatoes, with the critical consensus being that “it misses perhaps as often as it hits, but Jim Carrey’s manic bombast, Cameron Diaz’ blowsy appeal, and the film’s overall cartoony bombast keep ‘The Mask’ afloat.”

“The Mask” is the perfect example of why straying from the source material can sometimes be a good thing, and can even make the story or the characters better.  A film like “The Mask” could never be made today because the fanboys would eat it alive for being a little bit different.  No, “The Mask” wasn’t the same as the comic book, but that doesn’t invalidate its existence.  The only validation “The Mask” needs to exist is that it was a wonderful movie which was successful in everything it tried to be.

“The Mask” was followed by a sequel, “Son of the Mask,” in 2005.  “Son of the Mask” tried to go too far in the cartoonish direction, and comes off as much more of a children’s movie than the original.  “Son of the Mask” is generally considered to be a failure.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and check out my column at TheBlaze.

References:

Ebert, Roger (July 29, 1994). “The Mask”.  rogerebert.com.

“The Mask (1994)”. Rotten Tomatoes.

“The Mask (1994)”. Box Office Mojo.

“The Mask”. British Board of Film Classification.

The History of Superhero Movies: ‘Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman’

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This is the twenty-eighth installment in a series of articles tracing the complete history of superheroes in film and television, from the first superhero serial all the way to the current Marvel and DC cinematic universes.  For the previous installment click here, for the first installment click here.

In 1992, Warner Bros. and DC Comics were eager to retrieve the rights to the Superman character they had licensed out to Alexander Salkind and his son Ilya some twenty years prior.  The Salkinds were determined to milk the property for everything it was worth and hadn’t stopped exploiting the property since they licensed it.  The Salkinds had the first-run syndication television series “The Adventures of Superboy” finishing up its fourth – and what would ultimately be its last – season, and they were already planning a fifth.  Warner Bros. took the Salkinds to court and in an undisclosed settlement were able to retrieve all rights to Superman and related characters.  This, of course, cause the Superboy series to end after its current season.

Eager to begin exploiting Superman under their own banner, Warner Bros. quickly contacted Deborah Joy Levine and asked if she would be interested.  Levine said that she was not interested in creating a new Superman show for television, but that she could be interested in doing a romantic comedy called “Lois and Clark.”  Warner Bros. agreed to hear her ideas and ultimately gave her the go-ahead to produce a pilot.  On the strength of that pilot, which was written by Levine and directed by Robert Butler, CBS picked up the series.

In keeping with Levine’s promise, the series focused on the romantic tensions between Lois Lane and Clark Kent, with Superman almost an afterthought – sometimes only being seen for mere moments at the end of an episode .  The first season featured very grounded threats for the Man of Steel, mostly thugs and the illicit corporate dealings of Lex Luthor.  Luthor, played by John Shea, was a regular during the first season.

The series also tried to incorporate a sort of complex, five sided love “triangle” between Clark Kent, Superman, Lois Lane and Daily Planet gossip columnist Cat Grant.  Clark Kent was fast falling for Lois, Lois – as always – only had eyes for Superman, Cat Grant kept trying to get straight-edged farmboy Clark into bed and Superman, well, he was in love with Lois Lane but wanted her to be in love with Clark, not Superman.  Lex Luthor was also trying to court Lois Lane.

In a surprising – and heart-wrenching for the creators currently working on the Superman comics – turn of events, the series had a profound impact on the Superman comic books of the time.  In the comics, Clark Kent had finally revealed his identity to Lois Lane and asked her to marry him, which she accepted.  The plan for the 1992-93 year of comics was for a series of events to unfold leading up to the wedding of Superman and Lois Lane.  The series, intending from the outset to eventually marry off Lois and Clark themselves, didn’t want the pair to marry in the comics before the series.  Because of this, the comics for the next year had to be completely re-plotted on the fly which actually ended in one of the most popular and epic Superman storylines of all time, the death and return of Superman.

At the end of the first season, unhappy with the studio’s insistence that more emphasis be placed actually on Superman and for Dean Cain to have more screen time in the suit, Deborah Joy Levine left the series.

The second season, in addition to using more Superman, also began to introduce more comic book characters and elements.  In season two, the characters of Toy Man – in name only in a lot of ways – as well as the character of Metallo.  Winslow Schott – never actually called “Toy Man” in the episode, which was written by Dean Cain himself – was played by Sherman Hemsley.  Hemsley’s former “The Jeffersons” co-star Isabel Sanford also appeared in the episode.  Former “Family Ties” co-star Scott Valentine portrayed Metallo.

The second season also saw the departure of Tracy Scoggins’ Cat Grant, as well as the recasting of Jimmy Olsen.  Michael Landes, who played Jimmy Olsen in the first season, was deemed to be too similar to Dean Cain in appearance, and that Jimmy and Superman looked too much like they could have been brothers.  Because of this, the decision was made to recast the character.  Unlike Cat Grant, the character of Jimmy Olsen was too important to the Superman mythos to be simply written off the show.  Justin Whalin, who had just a few years earlier starred in “Child’s Play 3,” was brought in to replace Landes as Jimmy Olsen.

In addition to Toy Man and Metallo, other characters and elements from the comics introduced in the second season included Bronson Pinchot as The Prankster and the Intergang crime organization.  Intergang and the Prankster were changed significantly from the comics.  The Prankster was named Kyle Griffin instead of Oswald Loomis, although a character named Oswald Loomis was briefly shown in the character’s debut episode, titled “The Prankster,” as a red herring.  Intergang was led by an original character named Bill Church instead of Bruno Mannheim, like in the comics.  All connections between Intergang and Apokolips were also erased, as Apokolips and Darkseid were never featured in the series.

The third season opened with Clark Kent finally asking Lois Lane to marry him, and Lois revealing that she knows that Clark is Superman.  While she initially said no, the season’s arc seemed to be leading toward the wedding of Lois Lane and Superman, a wedding that audiences were denied three years before in the comic books.  They would be denied again, as one thing after another prevented the matrimonial union.  Season three ended with Superman seemingly leaving the Earth with a group of Kryptonian survivors to defeat a Kryptonian menace on New Krypton.

Season four resolved the cliffhanger from the previous season with the Kryptonian villain Lord Nor – who, despite a name change, was basically the same character as General Zod – coming to Earth once he learned he would have super powers here.  Superman defeats Nor and in an episode called “Swear to God, This Time We’re Not Kidding,” Lois and Clark finally married.  The episode aired on October 6, 1996.  Wednesday of that same week saw the release of “Superman: The Wedding Album,” which saw the characters married in the comic book continuity as well.

While the quality of the series improved greatly as the series progressed, ratings began to decline rapidly, mainly due to scheduling issues.  The network couldn’t seem to find a sweet spot for the series.  While there were plans to return for a fifth season, which the network had promised producers and which led to the fourth season ending on a cliffhanger, the series was not renewed and the final cliffhanger went unresolved.  The series ends with Lois and Clark finding a baby left on their doorstep, with a note that reads “Dear Lois and Clark, this belongs to you.”  Season five would have seen Lois and Clark deal with parenting problems, as well as solving the mystery of who left the baby on their doorstep.

The final episode of “Lois and Clark” aired on June 14, 1997.  Audiences, however, would not be deprived of a live action Superman on television for very long.  Four short years later, Superman – or a version of the Superman mythos – would return.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and check out my column at TheBlaze.

References:

Du Brow, Rick (May 11, 1993). “At ABC, Life Goes On With 11 New Series”. The Los Angeles Times.

Rosenberg, Howard (September 11, 1993). “Lois & Clark Soars, and So Does Townsend”. The Los Angeles Times.

O’Connor, John J. (April 9, 1995). “TELEVISION VIEW; That Man In a Cape Is Still Flying”. The New York Times

“History of Lois and Clark – Part 1”. Redboots.net

Allstetter, Rob (August 1997). “‘Lois & Clark’ Meets Kryptonite”. Wizard (72). p. 119.

Dimino, Russ. “The Many Faces Of… Super-Weddings!” KryptonSite.com.

The History of Superhero Movies: ‘The Rocketeer’

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This is the twenty-seventh installment in a series of articles tracing the complete history of superheroes in film and television, from the first superhero serial all the way to the current Marvel and DC cinematic universes.  For the previous installment click here, for the first installment click here.

In 1982 cartoonist Dave Stevens published the first of his stories starring a character based on the various rocket men of the early movie serials.  Audiences were first introduced to the Rocketeer in the second issue of the Pacific Comics series “Starslayer,” which itself was created by Mike Grell.  Nine years after his first appearance, the Rocketeer soared into the mainstream when he appeared on movie screens everywhere courtesy of Walt Disney.

The Rocketeer character was first optioned for a motion picture in 1983 by Steve Miner.  Miner had previously been the producer on the first “Friday the 13th” as well as the director on the second and third films in that franchise.  Ultimately, Miner drifted too far away from the original source material and the rights reverted back to Stevens.

In 1985, writers Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo – who would go on to develop “The Flash” as a television series on CBS – were able to win the option on “The Rocketeer” from Dave Stevens for free because he so loved their ideas.  Originally, Bilson and De Meo saw the film as a full homage to movie serials – specifically those featuring Commando Cody – and they even wanted to film the movie in black and white and on a budget comparable to the budgets of those serials, which wasn’t much.

Upon the hiring of William Dear as director, the idea of shooting a low-budget film in keeping with old time film serials went out the window.  The trio stayed pretty true to the plot of the comic books throughout the scripting process.  Where changes were made, they were to either flesh out the character more thoroughly or to make the film more family friendly.  For example, Cliff’s girlfriend – Bettie in the comics, but Jenny in the film – was changed from a nude pin-up model to an aspiring actress.

Bilson and De Meo, along with Dear and Stevens, began shopping the property around to various studios as early as 1986, but they were turned down.  Dave Stevens told “Comic Book Artist” magazine of their struggle, “This was 1986, long before “Batman” or “Dick Tracy” or anything similar.  In those days, no studio was interested at all in an expensive comic book movie. We got there about three years too early for our own good!”

Stevens and company eventually found a home for “The Rocketeer” with the Walt Disney company.  Initially, Disney planned to produce the film under their Touchstone Studios imprint and all four men involved in producing the film signed a three picture deal, guaranteeing a trilogy of Rocketeer films.  Disney had originally opted to accept the property because of its toy and merchandising potential, and Disney president Jeffrey Katzenberg decided it was a better fit as a Walt Disney picture.  Because of this, any adult elements the film might have retained under the Touchstone banner immediately went out the window.

Disney originally wanted to set the film in the modern day.  The reason for this was that executives at the House of Mouse didn’t think a modern audience would be open to a period film.  Bilson and De Meo pointed out that the Indiana Jones films were set in the same time period as the Rocketeer comics, and how successful those films had been.  Disney agreed to allow the producers to set the film in the original time period.

Amid numerous production delays and endless rewrites, Dear ended up leaving the project.  Producers then hired Joe Johnston to direct and in 1990 the film officially went into pre-production.

As with the casting of Superman and Batman before it, the casting of Cliff Secord proved to be difficult.  Many A-listers were put forward, including Kurt Russell, Bill Paxton and Emilio Estevez auditioned, with Johnny Depp being the Disney favorite.  Producers approached Kevin Costner, but he was already committed to “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.”  Ultimately, Johnston and Stevens chose to cast Bill Campbell to the chagrin of the suits at Disney.

Jennifer Connelly was cast as Jenny with Alan Arkin cast as Cliff Secord’s mechanic friend.  The cast was rounded out with a wide range of character actors including Jon Pulito, Eddie Jones, Ed Lauter, and “Tiny” Ron Taylor.  Former James Bond Timothy Dalton was cast as the antagonist Neville Sinclaire, a Nazi spy loosely based on Errol Flynn.

Dave Stevens stayed extremely active during the production of the entire film.  At first, Disney was reticent to have Stevens as involved as he was, thinking that he was there merely for the benefit of his own ego as the creator of the property.  Stevens had to prove that he was there for the benefit of the movie, and was on set anytime anything was happening.

Disney had originally set a budget of $25 million, however the budget was almost doubled to $40 million after Disney was impressed with the film’s dailies.  Suddenly, “The Rocketeer” had gone from being just a merchandising ploy for Disney to being recognized as a legitimate film.  The entire film was shot in and around Los Angeles, including location shoots at Griffith Observatory.

“The Rocketeer” was released on June 21, 1991 but only grossed $46 million domestically.  It was decided that releasing the film under the Walt Disney actually hurt the film, as many members of the teenage audience dismissed it as a kids’ movie.  In response to this, the film was released overseas under the Touchstone, as was originally intended for the US.  The film went on to earn another $23 million in home video sales.

The film received mixed reviews at the time, but has gone on to become something of a cult classic.  Joe Johnston’s work on “The Rocketeer” actually earned him the attention of Marvel Studios, who hired him to direct the period piece “Captain America: The First Avenger.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and check out my column at TheBlaze.

References:

Cooke, Jon B. (transcribed by Sam Gafford).”Rocketeer creator Dave Stevens on his life as an artist.” Comic Book Artist #15

Schweiger, Daniel. “Rocketeer: Comic Book Origins.”Cinefantastique, August 1991.

“Blast off!” Entertainment Weekly, Issue #74, July 12, 1991.

“The Rocketeer.” Box Office Mojo.

 

The History of Superhero Movies: Original TMNT Trilogy

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This is the twenty-sixth installment in a series of articles tracing the complete history of superheroes in film and television, from the first superhero serial all the way to the current Marvel and DC cinematic universes.  For the previous installment click here, for the first installment click here.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were originally created in 1984 by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird as a parody of modern superhero comics.  The turtles themselves, being mutants, were a play on the mutants of the X-Men books.  The idea of them being ninjas as well as the Foot Clan were a play on the Daredevil comics and the ninja group the Hand.  Another influence was in the turtles’ mentor, Splinter, who was a play on the name of Daredevil’s mentor, Stick.

In 1987 the concept was turned into a wildly popular Saturday morning cartoon series by Fred Wolf Films.  The cartoon brought with it a wave of “Turtlemania” that conquered the world during the late 80s and early 90s.  The phenomenon that was Turtlemania caused film production companies Golden Harvest and Limelight Productions to team up in acquiring the rights and producing a big budget live-action blockbuster based on the property.

The original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” film was given a $13.5 million budget, which was modest even for the time.  The budget was only slightly higher than budgets given to “Captain America” or “The Punisher,” but director Steve Barron – who was mostly known as a music video director at the time – was able to do so much more with the money he had than either of the other two productions.

The prosthetic turtle costumes – “Jurassic Park” and the advent of computer generated imagery was still several years away – were created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.  This would be the last project overseen by Henson himself, who died in May of 1990.  The turtles took three actors each to operate.  A body double actually wore the suit and performed in pantomime, the mouth and eyes were operated by an animatronic puppeteer and a separate voice actor provided the dialogue.  Only in the case of Josh Pais as Raphael did the same actor who wore the suit provide the voice.

Several of the voice actors included Robbie Rist – who had risen to fame as Cousin Oliver on “The Brady Bunch” – as Michelangelo, Brian Tochi – most well known as Toshiro Takashi from the “Revenge of the Nerds” movies – as Leonardo, Corey Feldman – a popular A-lister at the time – as Donatello and Kevin Clash – who provided the voice of Elmo on “Sesame Street” – as Splinter.  While Splinter was a puppet only and had no one in the suit, Kevin Clash did also perform the puppeteer duties for that character.

The film took a decidedly different direction from both the comics – which were very dark and serious – and the cartoon – which was very over the top and silly – combining the two approaches into something uniquely its own, yet recognizable to fans of both.  The film was very serious and dealt with a lot of dark themes, but retained the turtles’ humor and personalities – as well as their mutli-colored bandanas – from the animated series.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” debuted in theaters on March 30, 1990 and was a commercial success, going on to make $201.9 million from its $13.5 million budget.  It did take a beating from several critics at the time, with Kim Newman from the UK’s Monthly Film Bulletin even going so far as to call the film racist in its depiction of Japanese culture.  Roger Ebert disagreed, stating that there was no racism in the film.

Because of the film’s commercial success, a sequel was quickly fast-tracked.  “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze” was released on March 22, 1991, one year after the release of the first.  The sequel was given a much larger budget than the original, around $25 million, but the rushed production schedule didn’t do the film any favors even with the bigger budget.

Voice actors Kevin Clash, Brian Tochi and Robbie Rist all returned to reprise their roles.  Corey Feldman, however, did not return to voice Donatello and he was replaced with Adam Carl.  Likewise, Josh Pais was replaced as the voice of Raphael by Laurie Faso, who had also voiced Tunnel Rat in the G.I. Joe animated movie.  Judith Hoag was replaced with Paige Turco as April O’Neal and the character of Casey Jones was dropped form the sequel entirely, despite it taking place mere days after the end of the first.  Casey Jones isn’t even mentioned.

The studio wanted to introduce the mutant menaces Beebop and Rocksteady from the still-popular cartoon in the sequel, however due to the legal hurdles that would have been required to license those characters from Fred Wolf Films two new characters – Tokka and Rahzar – were created.

The tone of the film was lightened up considerably from the first, and much more resembled the silliness of the cartoon.  Due to censorship overseas – in many European countries ninjas and ninja weapons are banned, prompting the property to be branded “Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles” in those jurisdictions – and because of severe edits made to the fist film the turtles’ weapons were often replaced in the sequel with odd objects.  In one scene, Michelangelo uses linked sausage instead of his trademark nunchaku as a weapon.

Still, even with the lighter tone, Turtlemania was still in full force and the film almost recouped its entire budget during opening weekend alone.  It went on to make $78 million at the box office, considerably less than its predecessor but still enough to be considered financially successful.  Once again, a sequel was planned.

The third TMNT film wasn’t as rushed as the second, however this didn’t do much to improve the film’s quality.  Released on March 19, 1993, TMNT 3 was largely based on a popular video game at the time – “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time” – which had been released the previous year.

The third film retained the lighter and sillier tone of the second, and even got a little lighter and sillier.  The turtle suits, also, weren’t quite as realistic as they had been in the first two, having been created this time by the All Effects Company instead of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.  Once again Robbie Rist and Brian Tochi returned to voice their characters – becoming the only actors to be in all three films – and Corey Feldman returned to voice Donatello once again.  Turtles 3 also saw the return of Casey Jones, once again played by Elias Koteas, and Paige Turco reprise her role as April O’Neil.  Kevin Clash did not return to voice Splinter.

Despite having a comparable budget to the second – and much higher than the first – and having a production schedule that allowed for more time to be taken in making the film, Turtles 3 failed to live up to expectations.  The film grossed just $42 million, barely twice its $21 million budget.  The film was also mostly panned by critics, with the critical consensus being “It’s a case of one sequel too many for the heroes in a half shell, with a tired time-travel plot gimmick failing to save the franchise from rapidly diminishing returns.”

Turtlemania had reached its pinnacle, and the ride had started to slow.  While there was an attempt at television, it would be another four years before the turtles were once again on cinema screens, and another 21 years before they would see another live action blockbuster.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and check out my column at TheBlaze.

References:

Newman, Kim (December 1990). “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. Monthly Film Bulletin (London) LVII(683): 344–345.

Ebert, Roger (March 30, 1990). “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. rogerebert.com.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2005)”. Boxofficemojo.com.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II (1991)”. Boxofficemojo.com.

“If Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Gets A Sequel, Expect Bebop And Rocksteady”. Cinema Blend. August 11, 2014.

The History of Superhero Movies: ‘The Flash’ (1990-1991)

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This is the twenty-fifth installment in a series of articles tracing the complete history of superheroes in film and television, from the first superhero serial all the way to the current Marvel and DC cinematic universes.  For the previous installment click here, for the first installment click here.

With “Batman” breaking box office and merchandising records and with “Superboy” doing very well in first-run syndication, Warner Bros. thought it was time to bring another of their more popular characters to television.

The Flash” actually began production in 1988, while “Batman” was still in production.  Producers Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo originally had an idea for a Justice League television series, which would feature several superheroes including the Flash, but Warner Bros. passed on that idea.  At the beginning of 1990, new CBS Entertainment president Jeff Segansky expressed interest in producing a television series based on the Flash and the show was immediately put into production with Bilson and De Meo still on as showrunners.

Bilson and De Meo wrote the series pilot, a two-hour feature-length episode which detailed the complete origin of the Flash.  Although Wally West had been the Flash in comics for several years, the character chosen for the series was Barry Allen.  Barry Allen had been the Flash introduced in the silver age of comics and who had died during DC Comics’ “Crisis on Infinite Earths” in 1986.  The original golden age Flash, Jay Garrick, was given a sort of honorable mention as Barry’s older brother, Jay Allen.

Producers didn’t want the Flash to just be a guy in tights running around, feeling that after “Batman” and the more armored look Tim Burton gave to the character, a spandex-clad superhero might be too silly for a modern audience.  Instead, they commissioned Stan Winston Studios to develop a suit similar to the one used in “Batman,” but tailored toward the Flash.  The suit was designed by costumer Robert Short.  The molded rubber suit was covered in crushed red velvet to differentiate it from Batman.  Actor John Wesley Shipp, who played Barry Allen and his crimson-clad alter ego, wore a water-cooled undersuit that offset the heat held in by the costume.

The theme song for the series was composed by Danny Elfman, who had composed the score for “Batman” and would go on to score superhero themes for Spider-Man and the Hulk.  The series itself was composed by Shirley Walker, who would also score “Batman: The Animated Series,” which also used Danny Elfman’s Batman march from the Tim Burton films.

Based on the strength of the pilot, “The Flash” was picked up for a 22 episode first season.  At first, the Flash fought normal gangsters, although some more colorful characters would be introduced later in the season.  Supervillains taken from the comic books included Captain Cold, Mirror Master and the Trickster.  An original supervillain created for the series, the Ghost, was also featured in one episode.  Mirror Master was played by former Partridge Family frontman and 70s teen idol David Cassidy, while the Trickster was played by former Luke Skywalker and future Joker Mark Hammil.  Hammil’s performance as the Trickster was actually instrumental in helping him get cast as the Joker for “Batman: The Animated Series.”

One of the Flash’s greatest enemies from the comics, the Reverse Flash, was noticeably absent.  The name “Professor Zoom,” which the Reverse Flash was also called, was used by Barry as an alias in the episode “Done With Mirrors,” when Barry went undercover.  The episode “Twin Streaks” there is another speedster featured, but this character, Pollux, is a clone of Barry and he wears blue instead of yellow.  He could be viewed as the Reverse Flash from this series, but he bared no resemblance to the comics and was only featured in a single episode.

A second season was planned, but unfortunately wasn’t to be.  “The Flash” was originally scheduled on Thursday nights at 8pm, opposite both “The Cosby Show” and “The Simpsons,” two of the most popular television series of the season.  CBS attempted to move the show around the schedule, but was never able to find an audience and the show was canceled before the second season could go into production.  According to producers, the season two premiere would have involved Flash’s Rogues teaming up against him.

“The Flash” has developed a cult following and has found a new generation of fans on DVD.  In homage to the original series, the 2014 television series has brought back many actors from the original series such as John Wesley Shipp – this time playing Barry Allen’s father, Henry – as well as Amanda Pays, Mark Hammil and Vito D’Ambrosio all reprising their roles from the original series.

Six episodes from “The Flash” were edited into three feature-length movies and released to VHS during the early 90s.  The movies include “The Flash” – the feature-length pilot – “The Flash II: Revenge of the Trickster” – comprised of the two Trickster episodes – and “The Flash III: Deadly Nightshade” – comprised of two episodes featuring the original character Nightshade.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and check out my column at TheBlaze.

References:

King, Susan (September 19, 1990). “‘Flash’ Suits Up for a Sizzling TV Ratings Race”. Los Angeles Times.

Schweier, Philip (September 16, 2007). “The Flash: The Fastest Show On Television”. Comic Book Bin.

Miller, Ron (August 30, 1990). “Superchallenge: On CBS, The Flash Faces Toughest Foes Yet: ‘Cosby’ And ‘Simpsons'”. Chicago Tribune.

Ng, Philiana (May 27, 2014). “‘Flash’: John Wesley Shipp’s Secret Character Revealed”. The Hollywood Reporter.

Sepinwall, Alan (December 8, 2014). “Exclusive: Mark Hamill to play the Trickster again on ‘The Flash'”. Hitfix.

The History of Superhero Movies: ‘Captain America’ (1990)

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This is the twenty-fourth installment in a series of articles tracing the complete history of superheroes in film and television, from the first superhero serial all the way to the current Marvel and DC cinematic universes.  For the previous installment click here, for the first installment click here.

In 1984, the Cannon Group – who would go on to purchase an option on a fourth Superman film from Alexander and Ilya Salkind and produce “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” – acquired the feature film rights for Captain America.  Cannon, who was known for producing low budget B-movies mostly, was desperate to get into the blockbuster game and Captain America and Superman were their attempts at doing that.  The problem was, they weren’t in a position to put out the upfront cost needed to truly make a blockbuster film.  Captain America, while ultimately not produced by Cannon, would suffer from the same budgetary problems Superman had in 1987.

Cannon first put Captain America into production with Michael Winner, who had directed the “Death Wish” films with Charles Bronson, as director and James Wilke as screenwriter.  By 1986, Silke was out and Winner had taken over scripting duties alongside Lawrence Block and Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Stan Lee.  In 1987 Winner himself left the project and John Stockwell, who had played Dennis in John Carpenter’s “Christine” – based on the novel by Stephen King – had come on board with a new script penned by Stephen Tolkin.

In 1989 Manahem Golan left Cannon Group, and as part of a severance package was given control of his own imprint – 21st Century Film Corporation – and the license on Captain America.  Golan immediately put Captain America into production, shooting for a 1990 theatrical release.  This timeline of just barely a year would have been detrimental to the film alone, regardless of how much money the studio was willing to throw at it, but it suffered from no time and no money on top of that.

Golan brought with him director Albert Pyun, who had directed the Jean-Claude Van Damme film “Cyborg” at Cannon – to helm the project, retaining the Tolkin script.  Matt Salinger, son of acclaimed novelist J.D. Salinger, was cast as Captain America with Ronny Cox, Darren McGavin and Ned Beatty in supporting roles.  Scott Paulin, who had played astronaut Deke Slayton in “The Right Stuff,” was cast as Captain America’s nemesis the Red Skull.

Originally, Pyun had intended for some sequences to be much grander and full of more scope, wanting to film scenes in Alaska and the United States, but 21st Century Films ran out of money and corners were cut to finish the film.  The production never went to Alaska and only two days of pick-ups were filmed in the U.S.  The majority of filming took place in Yugoslavia.

Several release dates were set between 1990 and 1991, but the film never saw theatrical release in North America.  It saw theatrical release in December of 1990 in the UK and other countries, but wouldn’t see the light of day in the United States until it was released direct-to-video in 1992.  For many years, it was only available on DVD as a bootleg found at comic book conventions.  In 2011, to coincide with the release of “Captain America: The First Avenger,” MGM released the film on DVD courtesy of their manufacture-on-demand service, then in 2013 Shout! Factory released a mass marketed Blu-ray edition of the film.  A “Director’s Cut” of the film exists, but has never been released.

Critical reaction to the film was mostly negative.  Common complaints included the traditionally German character of the Red Skull being made Italian and the lack of realism in the costumes, including the rubber ears on the side of Captain America’s mask.  The film holds a 9% on Rotten Tomatoes.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and check out my column at TheBlaze.

References:

“The “Never Got Made” Files #66: Cannon’s CAPTAIN AMERICA (1984-87)”. Video Junkie. July 22, 2011.

Hartl, John. “‘Captain America’ Flies Straight To Video”, The Seattle Times via the South Florida Sun Sentinel, July 8, 1992.

Lee, Stan. “Bullpen Bulletins: Stan’s Soapbox,” Marvel comics cover-dated May 1990.

Ryan, Mike.  “Matt Salinger: The True Captain America,” GQ, July 20, 2011.

“Captain America (1990)”. Rotten Tomatoes.

The History of Superhero Movies: ‘The Punisher’ (1989)

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This is the twenty-third installment in a series of articles tracing the complete history of superheroes in film and television, from the first superhero serial all the way to the current Marvel and DC cinematic universes.  For the previous installment click here, for the first installment click here.

With the success of “Batman,” it didn’t take long for other studios to start churning out their own superhero adaptations.  New World Pictures – who still held a significant amount of rights to Marvel characters – wasted no time in putting one of those properties into production.  While New World Television was currently working on several “The Incredible Hulk” reunion movies, and the characters of Thor and Daredevil were being looked at for possible television production, the Punisher was chosen for theatrical distribution.

The Punisher” was the first Marvel Comics property adapted as a theatrical feature film.  Several episodes of “The Incredible Hulk” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” had been released theatrically overseas, but they were produced for television.  This was the fist one produced specifically for theatrical distribution.

For the role of Frank Castle, A.K.A. the Punisher, director Mark Goldblatt cast Swedish actor Dolph Lundgren.  Lundgren had previously had a huge breakthrough role as Soviet boxer Ivan Drago in “Rocky IV” in 1985, and had previously played a superhero-type character when he starred as He-Man in 1987’s “Masters of the Universe.”  Lundgren, who is naturally blonde, died his hair black to match the comic book appearance of the character.

Castle himself was the only character from the comic books used in the film.  Original characters created for the film include Jake Berkowitz played by Louis Gossett, Jr, and Samantha “Sam” Leary played by Nancy Everhard.  Everhard also played Matt Murdock’s legal partner – again an original character created for that film – in “The Trial of the Incredible Hulk.”  The Punisher’s sidekick, Microchip – who had only been introduced in the comics two years before – was replaced in the film with original character Shake, a homeless and alcoholic theater actor played by Barry Otto.

The film also doesn’t use the Punisher’s costume from the comics.  In the comic books at the time, the Punisher wore black tights with white boots and white gloves and a huge white skull on the chest.  Instead, the Punisher wears leather pants, a leather jacket and a simple black t-shirt.  The t-shirt could easily have sported the white skull and still kept the more grounded and realistic feel the filmmaker was going for, but it was notoriously absent.

Japanese martial arts champions Kenji Yamaki and Hirofumi Kanayama were recruited for some of the film’s more intricate fight sequences.  These fights were filmed full contact, partially for realism and partially at the request of Yamaki and Kanayama.  Yamaki and Kanayama felt that faking the fights for the movie would dishonor them.  Lundgren, who himself had been a champion martial artist, did his own fights and most of his own stunts.

Although there was a pre-title sequence in the original workprint of the film which set up the character of Frank Castle and showed the brutal murder of his wife and children – in the movie via car bomb – this scene was cut from the final version of the film.  Instead, the film opens five years into the Punisher’s vendetta on the criminal underworld.  The Punisher has been connected with 125 murders in that five year period.

“The Punisher” currently holds a 28% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the critical consensus being, “Despite the seemingly indestructible Dolph Lundgren with a crossbow, The Punisher is a boring one-man battle with never-ending action scenes.”  This criticism is unfair.  While “The Punisher” does suffer from an extremely low budget and a rushed production schedule – due to the studio wanting to get it out around the same time as “Batman” to capitalize on that film’s buzz – it really does stay true to the spirit of the character, even if it isn’t a literal translation of the character.

While “The Punisher” did receive a wide theatrical release overseas in late 1989, financial issues at New World prevented a U.S. theatrical release.  “The Punisher” would not be seen in the United States until it was released direct-to-video in 1991.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and check out my column at TheBlaze.

References:

“The Punisher (1989)”, Internet Movie Database

Cecchini, Mike, “The Punisher: The Bloody Legacy of Marvel’s First Superhero Movie”, Den of Geek

 

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