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Tag: DC movies

Good Nonfiction Books About Comics, Part 5 – Comic-Book Movies and Mutant Cinema

I don’t have a lot of books about comic book movies, in part because I don’t think there are many out there that are not direct tie-in books. I have a few of those, including Frank Miller’s Sin City: The Making of the Movie, The Art of X2, The Spirit: The Movie Visual Companion, and one or two more. Reference works are common, including Comic Book Movies by David Hughes and John Kenneth Muir’s comprehensive and readable (though pricey) Encyclopedia of Superheroes on Film and Television.

Of actual books on comics movies, I only have a few, including my own. So I’ll start there with a quick recap of how Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen came to be.


I was attending the first New York Comic-Con in February of 2006, enjoying the show despite having to endure a type of winter weather that had long been absent from my life. On the final day, I walked the floor of the Javits Center and came across the booth of Sequart, manned by Julian Darius and Mike Phillips. Julian had just released his book Batman Begins and the Comics, now re-released under the title Improving the Foundations: Batman Begins from Comics to Screen. He told me about the book and how it analyzed the movie scene by scene citing and analyzing how the comic book source material was used through the movie.

I immediately liked the idea and asked him if they were planning any more books like this. Julian said he was planning one on the then-upcoming Superman Returns. I asked if they had any plans for X-Men, which at that point was also coming soon with X-Men: The Last Stand. Mike said that was a good idea but they were mostly DC guys and didn’t know anyone who could write it. My brain went off and I said I could do it, and after a quick listing of my credentials we agreed to talk about it after the show.

A few weeks later we’d worked out a deal and I started writing. I found writing it to be alternately enjoyable and aggravating. A structure came easily, but finding time to devote to writing it in between other gigs that paid the kind of money I needed to keep the lights on was harder than I thought. Revising it also was tough — I felt like I could have revised it endlessly and made it a bit better with each draft, but then it was never going to get done.

Getting the book finished and revised took longer than expected and the book’s original target release date of autumn 2006 quickly revealed itself to be optimistic. Sequart did a great job in getting a small batch of an early version  printed up under the title X-Men: The Movie Trilogy and the Comics for the 2007 New York Comic-Con, complete with a cool cover illustration from Kevin Colden. Concerns about trademark lead to the revised title of Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen, as suggested by Julian, and another round of revisions was made before the book became final.

Reaction to the book at that NYCC was a surprise to me. Interest was limited among fans, most of whom already had strong opinions about the movie and familiarity with the source material.

The final version of the book was completed later that year and thus began a frustrating process in gaining distribution for the book. There was some technical issue with getting the book listed on Amazon — which took much longer to resolve than anyone expected. By the time all was repaired and the book was up on the site, a lot of key momentum had been lost as interest in the movies had dwindled after X-Men: The Last Stand.

Having watched each of the movies in the trilogy now dozens of times in writing the book, I think the X-Men trilogy will go down as a trendsetter that got the comic book movie off the ground. But they’ve been outpaced in terms of quality by subsequent, more interesting comic book movies.

The biggest puzzle for me is the strength of antipathy fans have toward The Last Stand. I agree with most that it falls short of X2 in most regards. But having watched it many times I also think it’s really not that much worse than X2 or X-Men. Most of the antipathy centers on Brett Ratner, whose public persona is about as far removed from that of Bryan Singer as you can get. But Ratner really was a hired gun on that movie, brought on just a couple weeks before shooting was to begin.  Ratner’s focus was on finishing the movie on time more than making a personal impression on the material.

The real fault for the movie’s problems lies with Fox, which set an impossible shooting schedule for the film and got cold feet when it came to following through with the Dark Phoenix storyline.

The movie works, I think, pretty well up to the point where Professor Xavier confronts Phoenix at her parents home and she disintegrates him. After that, the Phoenix storyline is dropped until the end of the film. And that ending changes the original story significantly from Jean as the hero, sacrificing herself because she knows she can’t control this level of power, to Wolverine becoming the hero and killing Jean even though he loves her. On the surface, it’s similar, but deep down, it’s quite different.

The other thing The Last Stand did well was to just unleash the characters into the action. On the first two films, Singer offered up inventive but short action sequences that always felt restrained. And it worked to keep the audience hungry for more because it gives the creators a place to go. But I don’t know that his instincts would have allowed him to deliver the kind of satisfying mayhem that Last Stand delivered.

In the end, I’m proud of the book, enjoyed the experience of writing it and learned a lot about my own personal strengths and shortcomings in the process.

If you’re interested in more, check out the book’s page on Sequart.com here, where you can read a sample chapter on previous movie and TV adaptations of X-Men and order the book. You also can get it from Amazon.com here.

Comic-book movies are definitely evolving. It’ll be interesting to see where Marvel goes once they’ve done two or three movies each with Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the Avengers. It’ll be just as interesting to see if DC can recover from the dismal reception of Green Lantern and figure out how to make the likes of Flash and Wonder Woman into good movies. And with Sony already re-inventing Spider-Man, the pressure will be on Fox to find some way to make good with new versions of Daredevil and Fantastic Four. Comic book movies are sure to stick around for a good ten years — it’s just what they will look like and whether audiences will tire of them that is up for debate.

First Look at Henry Cavill as Superman in ‘Man of Steel’

Warner Bros. released today the first image from Zack Snyder’s upcoming Man of Steel movie, featuring the first image of actor Henry Cavill as Superman.

Here’s the pic:

I admit to quite liking this. As great as Christopher Reeve was, I think it’s a good idea to steer clear of trying to imitate what he did and find a new version of Superman for the big screen.

This image shows a powerful, muscular Superman that’s a bit more in line with the original concept of the character, as created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. I like the long, heavy cape, but think we could try and do away with every superhero having some kind of 3D plastic emblem glued to their chest.

Snyder stumbled with fans on Sucker Punch. While not a great movie by any means, I didn’t think it was as horrible as everyone else did, at least in part because it delivered exactly what the trailers promised.

I do think Snyder is a good director. He may not have the kind of grand cinematic vision that changes the artform, but he does have a surprisingly good grip on the details and can pull off complicated movies pretty much on time and on budget.

The casting also is really good on this. Amy Adams, Laurence Fishburne, Kevin Coster, Diane Lane, Michael Shannon, Julia Ormond and Russell Crowe all should be much more interesting than the cast of Superman Returns.

I’m also glad they’re not making Lex Luthor the villain this time out, but we have already seen Zod so I don’t know why we need to revisit him when there are so many other Superman villains out there to choose from.

After the jump, you can read the press release that came along with the photo. What do you think, Superman fans? Does this look good to you, or is it cinematic Kryptonite?

“MAN OF STEEL” REVEALED
Much-anticipated First Look at Star Henry Cavill as Superman
BURBANK, CA, August 4, 2011 — Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures have provided the first look at the new “Man of Steel,” revealing star Henry Cavill as Superman in the film from director Zack Snyder.

The film also stars three-time Oscar® nominee Amy Adams (“The Fighter”) as Daily Planet journalist Lois Lane, and Oscar® nominee Laurence Fishburne (“What’s Love Got to Do with It”) as her editor-in-chief, Perry White. Starring as Clark Kent’s adoptive parents, Martha and Jonathan Kent, are Oscar® nominee Diane Lane (“Unfaithful”) and Academy Award® winner Kevin Costner (“Dances with Wolves”).

Squaring off against the superhero are two other surviving Kryptonians, the villainous General Zod, played by Oscar® nominee Michael Shannon (“Revolutionary Road”), and Faora, Zod’s evil partner, played by Antje Traue. Also from Superman’s native Krypton are Lara Lor-Van, Superman’s mother, played by Julia Ormond, and Superman’s father, Jor-El, portrayed by Academy Award® winner Russell Crowe (“Gladiator”).

Rounding out the cast are Harry Lennix as U.S. military man General Swanwick, as well as Christopher Meloni as Colonel Hardy.

“Man of Steel” is being produced by Charles Roven, Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan and Deborah Snyder. The screenplay was written by David S. Goyer, from a story by Goyer and Nolan, based upon Superman characters created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster and published by DC Comics. Thomas Tull and Lloyd Phillips are serving as executive producers.

Currently in production, “Man of Steel” is slated for release on June 14, 2013 and will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.

Countdown to Watchmen: Pre-screening thoughts

I am seeing Watchmen tonight and find myself quite looking forward to it.

I’ve largely avoided what seems like a thousand clips, interviews, reviews and rants on the film, mostly because it just seems like noise generated by the Warner Bros. marketing and hype machine. The proof always is in the final film, and I’d prefer not to have my expectations raised, lowered or otherwise messed with by that sort of thing.

What I have done is reread the graphic novel, just finishing the final chapter earlier today. This is the first time I’ve read the book all the way through in at least 10 years and possibly as long as 15. I first read the book in 1988, when I bought the trade at All About Books and Comics on a hot summer day. The clerk commented on my choice as he rung up my purchase, saying something along the lines of wishing he could read it again himself for the first time.

Rereading the graphic novel drives home the truth that no film will be able to replicate the experience of the book. I don’t care if it’s a 12-part HBO series, or if Orson Welles or Stanley Kubrick rose from the grave to direct it, or if Alan Moore himself pronounced it perfection. No film can truly capture this experience because it’s designed to be a comic book through and through.

So that leaves me hoping for the next best thing — a good adaptation that does as much justice as you can possibly do to a book like that. I’m hopeful that this will be the case, even as critics veer wildly between pans and praise. That they’re producing the separate animated DVD with the Tales of the Black Freighter segment is, to me, a good sign that Zack Snyder and co. took this film very seriously and have tried their best to be true to both its stories and its underlying themes.

But I don’t expect this to be hailed as a great film that will take a place in the movie canon similar to the one the graphic novel has in its medium. That it’s different doesn’t bother me. And having just reread the book, it bothers me even less because Watchmen is a book that has retained its power — perhaps even increased it — in the 20-plus years since it was first published and will remain a powerful and unique experience no matter what I think after the lights come up at the Grove sometime around 11 p.m. this evening.

More tomorrow.

Insiders spill ‘Watchmen’ history and how the ‘Shazam!’ movie died

Two interesting comic book movie tidbits. First, an open letter purportedly from Lloyd Levin, partner of the producer at the heart of the “Watchmen” legal dispute, Larry Gordon. Llevin writes about trying to get a “Watchmen” movie made for many years and criticizes Fox’s claims as opportunistic. To wit:

From my point of view, the flashpoint of this dispute, came in late spring of 2005. Both Fox and Warner Brothers were offered the chance to make Watchmen. They were submitted the same package, at the same time. It included a cover letter describing the project and its history, budget information, a screenplay, the graphic novel, and it made mention that a top director was involved.

And it’s at this point, where the response from both parties could not have been more radically different.

The response we got from Fox was a flat “pass.” That’s it. An internal Fox email documents that executives there felt the script was one of the most unintelligible pieces of shit they had read in years. Conversely, Warner Brothers called us after having read the script and said they were interested in the movie – yes, they were unsure of the screenplay, and had many questions, but wanted to set a meeting to discuss the project, which they promptly did. Did anyone at Fox ask to meet on the movie? No. Did anyone at Fox express any interest in the movie? No. Express even the slightest interest in the movie? Or the graphic novel? No.

Then, screenwriter John August explains on his blog that the “Shazam!” movie he had been writing is dead in the water and explains from his P.O.V. how it all went down.

In retrospect, I can point to two summer Warner Bros. movies that I believe defined the real issue at hand: Speed Racer and The Dark Knight. The first flopped; the second triumphed. Given only those two examples, one can understand why a studio might wish for their movies to be more like the latter. But to do so ignores the success of Iron Man, which spent most of its running time as a comedic origin story, and the even more pertinent example of WB’s own Harry Potter series. I tried to make this case, to no avail.

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