Moriarty Mongers Some SUPERMAN Rumors, Ganders At LXG Trailers, And Wonders About A WOMAN!!
Published at: Feb. 3, 2003, 3:56 a.m. CST by staff
Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
Y’know, it never fails. In the long history of AICN, I’ve posted dozens of links to stories that Michael Fleming has written for VARIETY. There’s a reason he writes the “Dish” column for the industry’s biggest trade paper... he’s a good writer, and he’s well-connected. Of course, the one time I have substantially different information than he does and mention it, he goes completely bitchcakes and turns into Joan Collins on a bad episode of DYNASTY, treating me like Linda Evans and threatening to claw out my eyes and pull off my wig. So... let’s walk through all the various SUPERMAN stories that have been flying in the last month or so, and let’s try to sort things out, okay? I’ll be careful about the language of this because I’d hate to call someone a bald-faced liar. I mean, especially in print. No one would ever do that, right? Ahem.
The waters got muddied on Friday, when Fleming published his latest column, where he attempted to sort out rumors that even Fleming admits he was being bombarded with, stories about Ratner’s exit from the project. The thing that Fleming has on his side here is the direct quotes from Ratner and Bay, and as of right now, their statements are accurate. Bay’s not making the film, but we already told you that. Ratner is still in place, and that’s the situation on this particular morning. Ratner makes a big deal in the article about how he’s at CAA, and they would never risk pissing him off by negotiating behind his back. Never mind Sarah Silverman’s blistering stand-up routine where she talks about being at CAA and having them routinely offer roles that were supposed to be hers to other “hotter” actresses. No one at a talent agency has ever worked to appease two clients at once. And if you were CAA and you knew your director was off a film, you wouldn’t take steps to make sure the replacement was ALSO one of your clients. No... you’d just watch the commission walk out the door and smile the whole time. Ratner must be right. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Anyone who has covered this business for any amount of time learns quickly that things change. Information is often mercurial. And, in the age of instant feedback and widespread dissemination of “secrets,” the news is frequently interactive. Something gets reported, there is a reaction, and what ends up happening is something totally different because of that reportage. Hell, when I ran my initial script review for this project, there were quotes from people like JJ Abrams’s manager and Warner Bros. executives saying that they had no idea what I was talking about. Absolute flaming bullshit, of course, since events since have proven that I did indeed have the script and that what I wrote was exactly accurate for that draft. Already, they’ve changed the character of Luthor dramatically (he’s not an alien, and he’s not in the CIA now) as a result of the outcry from fans. That’s the way it’s been on this project overall so far... deny the truth vehemently, then react internally. Why should we expect the studio to behave any differently this time?
Patrick Sauriol and the guys over at COMING ATTRACTIONS have also been working the SUPERMAN beat fairly hard, and they published a well-writtenresponse to recent developments over the weekend. They point out how much of the information that has been leaking of the studio is accurate, no matter how hard the studio tries to spin. We were the first site to print the news that Ashton Kutcher was under serious consideration by the studio, and now Ratner’s actually confirming that, even as he calls us “rumor-mongerers.” I suppose we just pulled that name out of thin air, right, Rat? The truth is, AOL/Time-Warner has a lot of money at stake with this particular project. No matter what happens, they have to make this movie now. Remember when Nicolas Cage and Tim Burton were supposed to make the film? Remember how sure they sounded in interviews? Ratner says, “The studio is spending multiple millions of dollars making test deals with the actors I want. They're paying me, my DP, my AD, my editor, my props guy." You know what? There was a point where Burton could say the exact same thing. And as far as I can tell, that film never got made. Warner ended up paying a fortune in pay-or-play deals, and all of those costs are still stacked against the film now. You’re talking about something in the neighborhood of $30 million without a frame of film being exposed so far.
At this point, maybe Warner Bros. has been backed into a corner. After all, it can’t help stock prices to see a revolving door on their largest potential franchise with directors hopping on and off seemingly at whim. No matter what problems were going on with Ratner internally, they may be in a position where they simply can’t replace him now without having to answer to stockholders.
But if things shake out in the next few weeks and Ratner finds himself off the film and Warner Bros. hands over the reigns to a filmmaker like, let’s say, Joseph Kahn (whose TORQUE is testing well, and who has big fans at the executive level like Jeff Robinov), then I wouldn’t exactly call my reaction “surprise.”
In the meantime, we’ll continue to sort through the letters we get in and we’ll continue to rely on sources we know have been accurate throughout this process so far. My advice to you as readers is this: filter all of the information you get, whether it’s from us or from VARIETY or from Superman himself through a healthy sense of skepticism. This is a story in flux, and anyone who says they know the whole story right now is lying. Take it all and treat it as what it is... pieces of a larger picture. I’m confident I don’t know everything about what’s going on right now on the Burbank lot, but I’m equally confident that Michael Fleming’s piece is only a glimpse at one part of the puzzle. Hell, he asks Ratner a pointed series of questions and somehow never notices that Ratner avoids them completely. Watch how completely Ratner deflects the parts of this question he doesn’t want to answer:
I toss him a few more rumors I've heard on my own. I hear Ratner's in a holding deal that expires next week, and could leave if WB doesn't pay or play him. The studio understandably wants to be sure "Superman" flies before paydays are promised, because pricey pay-or-play settlements were given to both Nicolas Cage and Tim Burton when the pic was scrapped in 1998 over script problems and a $140 million budget. And what about the rumors that the new pic's budget is over $200 million, with WB insisting that it not exceed $180 million. Or that Josh Hartnett was top choice, but wouldn't sign a deal with two pre-negotiated sequels, which led him to schedule tests with Jude Law, Ashton Kutcher, Brendan Fraser?
"North of $200 million is a lie, we won't have a budget for three weeks," said Ratner, who acknowledged his top choices for Man of Steel were reluctant to make long-term pacts. "No star wants to sign that, but as much as I've told Jude and Josh my vision for the movie, I've warned them of the consequences of being Superman. They'll live this character for 10 years because I'm telling one story over three movies and plan to direct all three if the first is as successful as everyone suspects."
Nice answer, Brett. No word about that holding deal expiring or your own ticking clock. Forget that you’ve confirmed Hartnett and Law, two names that we broke first. Forget all of that and focus on the issue of the new budget which isn’t finished... a budget based on a draft that was specifically requested because of an earlier budget prepared for an earlier draft that was swelling out of control. Smoke and mirrors, man. That’s good. Plus good. Doubleplusgood, indeed.
LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN
I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve been rough on this film so far. I may even be unqualified to comment on the picture since I’m such a fan of the work of Alan Moore. He writes dense, literary stories that really don’t lend themselves to easy cinematic translation. More than most comic writers, he pushes the boundaries of his particular medium and creates things that wouldn’t work the same if done another way. FROM HELL, WATCHMEN, and the original LEAGUE... these are difficult properties to approach.
As a result, there was some friction between myself and the LEAGUE camp last year, and I decided to stop writing about the film altogether and just wait for the first footage to emerge. I realized early on that if I’m going to enjoy LEAGUE on any level, it’s going to have to be as a film, and not as an adaptation. The property has been reinvented as a $100-million action film, and the original series was an esoteric, deeply literate piece where the biggest action set pieces involved dropping a few bombs on London. Not exactly summer movie fare.
On Friday, just before I left the house for DAREDEVIL, there was a knock on the door of the Labs, which is odd since we’re located 300 feet below Hollywood Blvd.
When I answered, there was a giant hulking figure crowded into the doorway with a vaguely familiar face. I started to ask, “Weren’t you in LOCK, STOCK, AND..?”
That’s as far as I got, though. In an image right out of an old Bugs Bunny cartoon, the beast picked me up by the throat and squeezed. When I gasped for air, he jammed a videotape into my mouth and tossed me back into the Labs. By the time I got my bearings, he was gone.
It took three henchmen to pry the tape out of my esophagus, and the note that was wrapped around it got a little ripped in the process, but as I understand it, there are two totally different trailers for LEAGUE that have been created. One is the theatrical trailer that will play in front of DAREDEVIL next month (along with a new X-MEN trailer and a new HULK trailer, both of which are still being tweaked at ILM as we speak), and the other is going to be released on a special promotional DVD that’s going to be given away with popcorn containers by theaters starting this weekend. Both trailers have unfinished effects work, but taken as a whole, they provide the first real glimpse at what Stephen Norrington’s been cooking up when he wasn’t busy slapfighting with Sean Connery.
The theatrical trailer begins with the familiar green MPAA screen, and there’s several cuts they ordered on the trailer before they approved it. It’s interesting to me how a studio might want to show you great stuff, but their hands are tied by the increased sensitivity about what can be shown in trailers. It’s far more restrictive now than it used to be. Anyway... the 20th Century Fox logo comes up, the sky behind it turns to a hazy green, and the 0 becomes the spinning tire of a white convertible, a surprisingly modern car designed by Captain Nemo, racing along the streets of Prague in the middle of the night. Mr. Voice reads each title card as they appear, just in case you can’t do it for yourself.
”THEIR POWERS ARE LEGENDARY...”
We see a few quick shots of Hyde, huge with exaggerated musculature. In one, he lashes out at someone, and in another he’s draped in chains and struggling. There’s a great shot of the Invisible Man walking away from the camera, shrugging on a long black trenchcoat. Then we cut back to the car, still racing through the streets.
”THEIR ORIGINS ARE UNKNOWN...”
A bunch of bats come swirling out of the sky and race down into an alley, where they pour into the shape of Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), and then we cut back to the car as it races through a puddle.
”THEIR METHODS ARE EXTREME...”
We see Mina attacking someone, the suggestion of her tearing a throat out, and then a few very quick shots of Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend) in a library with the Fantom’s henchmen firing guns into him. This is where you can really see the hand of the MPAA, especially compared with the second trailer. There are no bullet hits on Dorian, and it’s actually a little hard to tell what’s going on as he strides across the room without reacting to a single shot.
There’s a series of quick cuts of destruction, like the Bank of England blowing up and walls collapsing and a tank in the streets and the side of a boat opening up to reveal a row of guns, and then Mr. Voice says, “But when our future is at stake...” We get a quick glimpse of the Fantom’s eye, the suggestion of burnt skin, and then we’re back to the car again, driving through a hail of gunfire, and we see the driver now, Tom Sawyer (Shane West). Mr. Voice continues, “... they will be our last hope,” and Sawyer fires back as he drives, and he suddenly slams on the brakes, sending the car into a slide that ends as the entire League looks over at him.
That’s where we get the first hero shot of Alan Quartermain (Sean Connery) as he steps forward. “Then the game is on,” he says, and the trailer kicks into overdrive.
Quick cuts of armies massing. The camera races in on Sawyer as he tries to ready his gun.
Mina Harker attacks someone against an obviously unfinished effects sky.
”... WILL FIGHT...”
We see shots of Sawyer, Quartermain, and Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah) all fighting, and there’s a great sense of how kinetic and crazy these fights are going to be. The rest of the trailer is even quicker, one image after another, and the thing that stood out to me is that there’s very little Hyde and very little Invisible Man, two of the characters I’m most interested in. In both cases, though, the effects are still being worked on, and my guess is they didn’t want to put in a lot of stuff that wasn’t done. Mina comes across as the star of the film, a wicked vamp badass, and the trailer ends with the LXG logo, all of them posed around it, and then the title comes up, followed by the film’s logo:
”PREPARE FOR THE EXTRAORDINARY.”
My first reaction? There’s some groovy stuff in there. It looks like a Stephen Sommers film for grown-ups. I really do like the first BLADE, and it looks like Norrington knows how to shoot action. I’m starting to suspect that if I put the comic out of my head, the film might be enjoyable as a separate thing. I mentioned the other day that people who walk into DAREDEVIL with too much baggage might have trouble enjoying themselves, and I don’t want to be that guy. I want to be able to judge the film on its own merits, and if I didn’t know what this was adapted from, I would be intrigued by what I saw.
One problem, though... I mentioned the character names, but that’s because I’ve read a draft of the script. I know who the characters are supposed to be. The general public isn’t going to have any idea that they’re looking at Mr. Hyde or Mina Harker or Captain Nemo. It’s a strange choice to not cash in on the name recognition of the characters at least a little bit. I would say that there has to be a poster campaign that focuses on one character per poster and really sets up for people that these are familiar names portrayed in a new way. Now that they’ve set up the LXG thing in this trailer, use that to brand every other image that comes out and tie this all together for people. Part of the fun of this thing is seeing these totally different types of characters all drawn together in one story, and it would be fun to start to let the audience in on the gag.
The second trailer does far more of that, actually. There’s a whole different attitude to it, and I preferred it to the first one. Harry Lime says I’m crazy, though, and despite the fact that there’s more dialogue and more of a glimpse at how the film plays, he prefers the way the first one is cut. We start again with the Fox logo, but this time it gives way to an image of the moon, and the sky goes blood-red behind it. Someone speaks in clipped British tones over the next series of images. “Nations are striking at nations,” he says, and we see guards on duty somewhere, then the tank from the first trailer. “Each country denies its actions,” he continues, and we see someone with a flamethrower, then a building falling apart as the streets shake. “What we are talking about,” he concludes, “is a world war.”
We cut to two men sitting across from each other in a study. One of them is the man who was talking, and the other is Connery as Quartermain. He fixes the guy with that patented Connery glare and says, “And that makes you sweat.” ”Doesn’t it you?” the guy sputters in disbelief.
Connery puts on his glasses and smiles. ”Sweating is what we do.”
Mr. Voice takes over for the rest of the trailer, and the thing I like about this one is the way they try to at least introduce the abilities of the characters even if they still don’t use their names. “They were called...” he begins, and we see quick dissolves to Quartermain, The Invisible Man, Mina, Sawyer, Jekyll, Nemo, and finally Dorian, so fast they’re hard to register.
”The vampire...” We see quick shots of Mina sweeping into a room, and another shot of her with fangs out.
”The gunman...” Several shots of Sawyer with his guns, and one shot of he and Quartermain running side by side.
”The pirate...” Nemo standing on top of the NAUTILIS, which we don’t see, the night sky and the ocean behind him. We also see several quick images of Nemo fighting. It’s aggressive, acrobatic stuff, reminscent of the way Blade fought in the first film.
”The immortal...” Townsend seems to be playing up the foppish side of Gray as he blows someone a kiss. We also see a longer version of the scene in the library, and this time we see the bullets hitting him, shredding the books in the room and sending up a snowstorm of paper. He walks over to a guard, and here’s where an unfinished effect robs a shot of some of its potential. Gray’s shirt is open, and the guy looks up and says, “What are you?” Gray smiles and replies, “Complicated,” which would make more sense if we could see the bullet wounds in his torso as they heal up. In the final film, the shot will be totally different.
”The freak...” Same thing here. There’s a shot of Jason Flemyng as Jekyll, and it looks like he’s grabbed by a monster and lifted, and then we cut to a close-up of Mr. Hyde lurching forward out of the shadows. I’m sort of at a loss to describe the makeup on him. It’s his face, but he looks like he’s wearing a sort of muscule suit. As I understand it, there’s more work to be done on the character, with CGI augmentations.
”... but when civilization faces destruction...” Shot after shot of chaos, and Mina walking down some stairs in what can only be described as Victorian fetish wear. She smiles at Sawyer and says, “Don’t worry. I’ve had my fill of throats for the evening,” and then Mr. Voice comes back in for the punchline.
”... they will be called together.” We see that same shot of the League standing together, turning, and Connery says, “Then the game is on” again, and then the whole thing just turns into image after image after image, and once again, I’m left with more of an impression of Quartermain and Mina than anyone else. One thing’s for sure... they gave Sean a lot of action, and he’s not looking as frail as he did in, say, THE AVENGERS. My biggest complaint about this trailer is the garish and ugly BATMAN & ROBIN font they use for the main title. It seems so wildly out of step with the style of the rest of the film that it’s jarring. That’s a minor thing, though, and overall, these two trailers have made me think that this may well turn out to be one of this summer’s more exciting rides. At the very least, I’ve opened my mind to the film, and that’s more than I can say about my attitude towards it last week. That’s the mark of what good film advertising should do, so I guess these trailers did the trick.
Keep your eyes peeled two weekends from now, and you’ll get a glimpse for yourself.
Speaking of Michael Fleming, he was the one who floated the rumor last year that George Miller was going to sign on to direct the Warner Bros. adaptation of WONDER WOMAN. In this particular case, I’m thrilled that he turned out to be wrong (not that the infallible Michael Fleming ever mongers rumors or anything), because if one of my favorite filmmakers had ended up saddled with the nightmare that WONDER WOMAN is shaping up to be, I would have been miserable.
I’m not sure what Becky Johnston (PRINCE OF TIDES, SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET) did on the script as compared to Jon Cohen, Kimberlee Reed, or Todd Alcott. I do know that Johnston was the last writer on the film, and I was hoping she would radically rework the script I read last year. I hated it so much that I just couldn’t bring myself to review it. I couldn’t bring myself to believe it was really the direction Warner Bros. wanted to go with the film. I hoped that it was some one-draft mistake, and that they would revise it completely.
Right now, I guess they’re looking for new writers, and drafts have gone out to various agencies. A friend at one of those agencies called me to discuss the horror with me the other day, and I’ll let him describe it to you the same way he described it to me between gasps of laughter:
”Okay, I’m no purist, but I remember a few things about WONDER WOMAN. She was an Amazon, right? Like, from the actual island of the Amazons?”
”As far as I know, yes. A Navy plane crashed on her island in WWII, and she ends up heading back with the downed pilot to check out the world of man. More or less.”
”Dude, that’s so not this film. At the start, there’s this big action scene with Wonder Woman, and her name is Diana...”
”Diana Prince. Right.”
”Only she’s not the Wonder Woman this film is about because about ten pages in, she dies.”
I sighed, knowing what he was going to explain to me. All I could do was nod as he laid it out, since it was the same exact story I’d read.
”And her suit sort of crawls out of the wreck where she died and heads for the nearest city. It finds this girl who’s just some normal girl named Donna...”
”Yeah. That’s Donna Troy.”
”Right. Well, she starts to get these powers, right? She starts changing and doing stuff like smashing doors and flying and... dude, it’s SPIDER-MAN with boobs for 20 pages or so. It’s just silly. Turns out she’s an orphan, but she’s not really an orphan, and her mom is Wonder Woman, but she’s not really dead. She’s in a coma, and when she wakes up, it’s just long enough to tell Donna she’s an Amazon, too, and then she dies again, and Donna has to become Wonder Woman.”
”Stop. Please. Stop.” I couldn’t take anymore. He told me they’re looking to hire someone to get this thing ready to cast quickly, which means this is it. This is the story they’re using. This is the way Warner Bros. has “reimagined” the archetype for the year 2004.
I just don’t get it. I know I opened and closed today’s column with comments about Warner Bros., but what the hell am I supposed to think? These people are out of their minds, and if rumors are true and DC Comics is trying to get more involved in the process, that can only be a good thing. I ran into Avi Arad and Kevin Feige outside Friday night’s screening of DAREDEVIL and talked to them for a few minutes about how work is progressing on HULK and X-MEN 2, and I ran a few rumors past Kevin (who has an admirable poker face, I must say) to see if I could get a reaction. The one thing that was impossible to miss with them is how pleased they are with the films they’re making. Avi isn’t just a toy salesman anymore, crazed by merchandising potential.
You look in his eyes now, and he’s a full-fledged fanboy. No doubt about it.
I feel bad for DC in this regard. They don’t have a choice in how their films are translated to screen, and they don’t have the muscle within the corporate structure to force Warner Bros. to pull their heads out of their asses. Instead, they’re just like the rest of us... spectators watching this amazing slow-motion car crash, one body piling up after another. I have no idea what is going to happen to this film, and since they haven’t hired a director, there’s still a chance it won’t happen, but if I’ve learned anything from watching Robinov and his circus of goons at work recently, it’s that if there is a bad choice to be made, they are fully committed to making it. If you love WONDER WOMAN, my advice is to forget this one. Just let it go. And to Warner itself, I repeat...