Harry talks with JJ Abrams for a Couple of Hours about SUPERMAN
Hey folks, Harry here. So there I was in my room talking with Johnny Wad about the Alamo Drafthouse screening a 3D print of DISCO DOLLS starring John Holmes, when the call-waiting note went off and I figured I'd grab it.
"Hey there, this is J.J. Abrams," in a perky happy cheerful voice.
I let him know that I had to get rid of the other line and I came back and started into a long conversation of on-the-record and off-the-record subjects. A very frank conversation about the document that Moriarty read, where he currently is in the writing process and why he's on this project.
How did this conversation come to happen? Well first off, to be frank I've known J.J. Abrams for a few years. We never talked a great deal with one another, but he expressed what a fan of the site he was and it was just those casual small talk conversations back and forth.
Now folks... Here's the first thing. The script that Moriarty has and that has escaped the clutches of Warner Brothers was written in 4 weeks. Why was it rushed? Why did J.J. sit at the table and pound it out so quickly? BATMAN VS SUPERMAN. You see, the whole reason that J.J. had come to my site in the first place all those years ago was because of his pure hatred for BATMAN & ROBIN. He had heard a basic story for the film that seemed to be marginalizing the Superman character in favor of the darker Batman character and he'd heard that Akiva Goldsman was brought on board to "fix" Andrew Kevin Walker's screenplay. Given his absolute kneejerk fear of that project he pounded out a screenplay and an idea for a trilogy that he felt would be a springboard to reintroduce all the characters. He didn't want the first appearance of SUPERMAN in 20 some odd years to be as some sidebar character to BATMAN. He strongly felt that especially in the times we live in today, that a character like Superman needs to be reintroduced in a grander fashion.
OK... That's all well and good. I've talked with Joel Schumacher about BATMAN & ROBIN and he didn't set out to make one of the worst films since the advent of eyeballs, but he did. Joel loved making a BATMAN movie. Ed Wood loved making a flying saucer aliens attack film, and it wound up being PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE - mislabelled as the worst film of all time, and the first film to play at any BUTT-NUMB-A-THON ever! The point is intentions... versus impact. J.J. had set out to stop a nightmare, but had he himself created a new nightmare?
He floated a few things about how it felt like Moriarty had an axe to grind, wanted to make a big splash, and I interupted telling J.J. that in fact, I was online with Moriarty the second he cracked the first page of the script, and he described the first page, and then told me how excited he was to read this script. Moriarty is a fan of ALIAS, all you have to do is read Mori's DAREDEVIL set report and what he says about Jennifer Garner and the absolute worship he gives her and that show. I told him how Mori felt that the experience of producing and writing ALIAS had ideally suited JJ to create a multiple film Superhero arc where he could set things up, spread things out, tease the audience and play with them a bit.
J.J. then protested that that is exactly what he's doing with SUPERMAN. How sure he isn't retelling the ACTION #1 origin story, but then neither did Richard Donner and Mario Puzo. I remember my father going apeshit angry over those white suits and nasty ass New Age Crystal Krypton. Hell, my dad was pissed that Marlon Brando had white hair and that the Christmas ornament flying snowflake went through a bad 1969 Light Show, that he did better when he did lightshows for the ATLANTA POP FESTIVAL back in his day! So fact of the matter is, what exactly is the origin of Superman?
Nearly everyone explodes Krypton. Sometimes there's survivors in bottles or upon a huge floating fragment. Sometimes Jor-El and Lara survive by throwing themselves into the Phantom Zone, sometimes they die by falling debris. Sometimes Kal-El lands on Earth and is found right out of the Rocket by the Kents... Sometimes he went to an orphanage and caused hell there, before being forced upon the Kents.
Technically, according to the history of SUPERMAN in the comics, the Puzo/Donner film really fucked up, because... Where's Superboy? Krypto? Big Yellow Key? Luthor and Superman knew each other as children and when Luthor tried to create a potion for Superman to take that would make him immune to Kryptonite and a lab fire broke out and Superboy blew out the fire... All of Luthor's hair was blown away and he swore from that day forward to be Superboy(man)'s arch-enemy for life because he no longer had hair.
Folks, that is THE HISTORY. Or is it? Because technically Luthor originally had Red Hair and a Beard and was a crazed angry scientist. But wait... Wasn't all that reinvented in the early eighties when John Byrne did that miniseries that basically rewrote SUPERMAN's entire origin - now he still had the planet explode, but god it was freaky. All sorts of weirdness. I have hated it everytime they turn Luthor into a business man. I like the Mad Scientist Luthor of the Curt Swan years. And if I were to write my Superman movie, I'd set it back in the timeframe of the 1930's and 40's. Have Superman crash into a field in and around 1915, be a reporter at the Daily Planet circa the time period of the 1939 World's Fair. Luthor was a scientist there... and just have killer robots terrorize the Fair as Luthor sets out to take over Metropolis via Super Science. I'd have him jailed at the end. Then when WWII broke out, the government recruits Luthor to create weapons to fight the Nazis and Japanese... giving him the power to create mass destruction, which Luthor then turns into a huge industry for himself, and that's how he builds his fortune, and secretly fights against Superman... Oh shit... that's revisionist as hell. Fuck, there I go, I have my dream story to tell with SUPERMAN... So does J.J. Abrams, just as Paul Dini has and Alex Ross and John Byrne and Julius Schwartz and Curt Swan and... so did Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster... as did Mario Puzo. So why not J.J. Abrams?
As we talked and geeked about SUPERMAN for a couple of hours, I learned something about J.J. I didn't hear him shuffling through materials, clicking a mouse or pulling up documents. He was focused on the conversation.
So... Where is the project? SUPERMAN is going to get made. It will happen. However, J.J. Abrams has been hard at work for quite some time now on the 2nd Draft, which will be the first real draft that the production will be using. Luthor will not be Kryptonian. Did Moriarty cause that? Apparently not, that was a note from Alan Horn when he read it, quite some time ago. So the big battle at the end of the script between Super-Luthor and Superman... Ixnay. The gigantic funeral sequence... Gone - pacing concerns. Will Krypton explode in this film? "We'll see." Is the response. Rather coy, don't you think?
There is something that J.J. is very set in doing, and that is not plagarizing Mario Puzo's script and putting his name on it. He likes the Richard Donner film quite a bit, and likes a lot of SUPERMAN 2 as well. He doesn't want to tell that story exactly the same way. He wants to tell it, where he keeps the spirit, but reorganizes how the information gets to you. So you can come to a SUPERMAN movie and be surprised that it isn't quite the way you remember it, but that you can look at it and see SUPERMAN... and he'd be in his Costume and it'd look like the Superman costume... and there'd be no polar bears or giant spiders. Where the film would be being written by someone that sits down with his kids and watches the Fleischer SUPERMAN cartoons on DVD non-stop. Where SUPERMAN can get the air knocked out of him. The introduction of these new characters isn't borne out of contempt for the existing characters, but because you'll have never read this particular SUPERMAN story before. And he feels that's exciting. He also feels that Moriarty got hung up on a few sticking points and kind of wrote the script off, not going into all that works, not being constructive with the criticism, but rather going for the jugular.
Well... Moriarty hated the script. And Moriarty speaks his mind.
I told J.J. that the problem that is going on here is a complete lack of trust between the fans and the corporation known as AOL/TIME/WARNER. Because we had to watch BATMAN FOREVER, BATMAN & ROBIN and ... STEEL with Shaq! Because we've followed the development of the SUPERMAN and BATMAN and WONDER WOMAN franchises and every single time they have a go at it, they either write a piece of shit script, or they get a good script and then give it to the wrong director and it implodes. J.J. then noted that everyone responsible for BATMAN & ROBIN isn't there anymore, and I agreed. We celebrated for a bit, then I said that there is still no evidence that Warners has grown a brain.
We're a bit sensitive as fans now. Everyone that loved D.C. as much or more than MARVEL has had a sudden and uncomfortable role-reversal. Back in 1989 through 1994 the D.C. fans where cheering as the Marvel fans stared at Dolph Lundgren and wept. Now, we look at SPIDER-MAN and see the right directors, actors, writers and film... and look at Warners... Loving the Animated shows and stating... "Warners can't do Live-Action Superheroes!" I told him that that is how it is going to be until the fans are proven otherwise.
BATMAN & ROBIN wasn't just a bad movie... It nearly killed the comic industry. I mean, it just wasn't bad, it made folks embarrassed to walk into comic shops and ask for comics. Adding to that the poor state of the comic industry creatively speaking in that time period, and stores were going out of business left and right. Comic geeks were against the ropes. Until BLADE, X-MEN, BLADE 2, SPIDER-MAN.... the trailers for DAREDEVIL, HULK and X-MEN 2 all kicking our ass... Suddenly you start talking to Comic Shop owners and there's life again. D.C. still has the best toys and take home items... though my Thor Hammer rocks pretty fucking hard... But we all remember what Warners did.
J.J. was concerned about the folks talking about killing his wife, beating him up at his signings and I tried to explain to him the Joe Hallenbeck method of acting out one's fantasies through written words hurled upon a computer screen... but agreed that the hate hate hate being directed was mainly coming out of ignorance and fear. Ignorance, because all that we have to react to right now is the word of Moriarty. And that word scares us.
I think J.J. was a bit shocked when i admitted that my reaction was based on fear and ignorance. I think folks don't usually expect to hear that. But if the DAWN OF THE DEAD script by James Gunn taught me anything it is that you must react to each thing personally. I reacted to the announcement, but I still read it for myself... and my reaction was not the reaction that was shared by a friend. Moriarty loves Superman, but we have very different histories with the character. I grew up in a comic shop, I know not just the OFFICIAL origin, but the ton of others that came out. How Donner's film was pieced together from a ton of sources, not all of them originating in Comics. While that film started with the cover of Action 1, did Superman ever hold a car over his head like he was going to swat someone with it? Nope. And was the film set in the 30's and 40's? No. Where'd the DAILY PLANET globe go from the opening shot? When was it replaced with a helipad?
Hey... did ya know that Clark Kent worked for quite some time as a Television Reporter in the comics? Yup, they even threw out the Daily Planet there for a while. And at somepoint in the future, someone may even make Clark be an Internet Reporter, because if Kent was Matt Drudge, he'd hear everything first. Don't laugh... that'll hit the comics some day.
Talking to J.J. alleviated a lot of the basic fears... He's a bit shocked at the reaction, but not severely when he reads Moriarty's depiction of his script. On the page, he felt the Jimmy Olsen gay comment was a joke, not necessarily being something that meant Jimmy Olsen was gay, but just that he was so pretty that he was probably gay... and J.J. was shocked at the homophobia on AICN about that... and I told him that there is something rather unique about SUPERMAN... With SPIDER-MAN we never had Aunt May comics... J. Jonah Jameson and Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy and Harry Osborne didn't have their own comics. But in SUPERMAN... Lois did, Jimmy did, Superboy did... And each of those different titles explored unique storylines. Like when Jimmy had those Bouncing Boy pills and did his own Superhero adventures... but we knew he dated Lois' sister... that gorgeous blonde stewardess. And for this red-haired boy growing up... That red haired boy in the comics that was SUPERMAN's best friend was a role-model in those early years. It isn't the issue of "gay" it is the fact that Jimmy wasn't that. And sure he's a fictional character, but he lives in the minds of the readers. I remember panels where he tied that green bowtie to get ready for a date with that pillbox hat wearing babe. J.J. said that he couldn't include all of that, and that it can't be everything to everyone. Agreed, but it is also not advised to shit in the cereal you're selling for breakfast.
The point is this though. J.J. is passionately telling his story of SUPERMAN. There will be some changes, but what Moriarty read will not be the script for the film that will hit the screen. There are changes being made, changes that we all would want done to the script Mori described, but J.J. passionately feels that the most important thing to preserve is the magic of who SUPERMAN is, what he stands for, his actions, beliefs and spirit. Krypton exploding or not is a detail for him, but the more important detail is that he was an orphan with strange powers beyond those of mortal man, and he didn't know why he had them, he was scared to use them, and then at some point in his life he became a hero. He wants to make Lois a strong female character that isn't just a bubbleheaded nosey reporter that absent-mindedly gets in trouble... but a character that through her sheer existence inspires others to be more than what they have been. That's nice. I like that.
Doesn't mean he's going to write a film that ends up being worth a shit, but it does mean that he knows how to sound sincere, that he knows what to say to a geek like me to want to give him the benefit of the doubt and to read the script with my own eyes.
By all means, sign your petitions and voice your opinions. It is all feedback that strengthens your case for what is important to you folks. SUPERMAN is obviously important and we all want to see a good movie. Can J.J. Abrams write that film? Is this first draft a rough sketch that he'll hone into a diamond based upon the notes he's getting from friends, the studio and geeks? Well... I don't know. I'm not too familiar with J.J. Abrams' work. I have never seen an episode of ALIAS, though I did get an impassioned letter from Hercules the Strong defending J.J. Abrams' writing abilities... and I know enough to know that his credits on Bruckheimer films don't mean squat because those films have so many writers on them that you never know who did what where.
I'll be reading the script for this SUPERMAN, which by the way... it will be called SUPERMAN, not SUPERMAN 5 as folks like to call it, but I'll be reading it looking for what works and doesn't. And I'll write my thoughts about that, but with the full knowledge that this is going to go forward, and that it is a work in progress, and that this script is a very rough part of that process that J.J. is halfway through revising.
So... if you go to J.J.'s book signing, speak your mind, but be prepared to listen too. That's a two way street. J.J. isn't out to destroy the hero we love, he's out to make a film that he hopes is entertaining as hell, but has all the right messages that a Superman film is supposed to have. I, for one, hopes he pulls it off.
Folks - I am by no means "On Board" this project. However, I am willing to take a look at the script and the future drafts with the hopes that Moriarty's opinion is not mine... and I guarantee you Moriarty will feel the same way. He hopes this movie gets on the right path. He wants J.J. Abrams to do a good job. The last thing we want to see happen is a bad film made out of SUPERMAN. As for the reversal on my feelings from two days ago... Two days ago, all I had to react to was Moriarty's review. Today, I talked to the man that wrote the material and heard some of the changes for the next draft and the spirit of where he was coming from. I love SUPERMAN in many different forms... There is a chance that Moriarty and I will not see eye to eye on this when I read the script, or I could very well come back here and say... Thank god he's making changes, but I don't think it'll be enough. However, I do know that once I read the script, I'll at least have a firm place to base my fears, as opposed to an interpretation by a very good and perceptive friend.
All I'm saying in this piece is that there will be changes from the draft Mori wrote about. That J.J. is a Superman geek - he knows his stuff. He wants to have a positive contribution to the history of SUPERMAN. And those are all good things. Doesn't mean the movie won't suck, but it does mean there's a chance it might not.