Timur Bekmambetov Has Found His STAR WARS in THE RED STAR! And Mr. Beaks Has Found Another Source of Great Annoyance!
Published at: July 14, 2008, 1:55 a.m. CST by mrbeaks
"I have in development a... very interesting script called THE RED STAR based on the comic book. It's my dream project. It's something between STAR WARS and DR. ZHIVAGO." - Timur Bekmambetov, June 25, 2008, ComicsToFilm.com
He's not lying. In its current state (before the inevitable rewrites), Matthew Sand's screenplay adaptation of Christian Gossett's celebrated graphic novel manages to land somewhere in that vast expanse that separates George Lucas's popular space saga from David Lean's beautiful-'n-bloated recreation of the Bolshevik Revolution. A lot of things do, really. STARSHIP TROOPERS for example. 300 even. In fact, had Mr. Bekmambetov said this...
"I have in development... a very interesting script called THE RED STAR based on the comic book. It's my dream project. It's something shamelessly imitative of STARSHIP TROOPERS and 300, which boast a combined worldwide gross of over $500 million. Ha-ha! Big bucks for Timur!"
... he would've been right on the money.
But just as rampant derivativeness didn't keep young men from flocking to WANTED, the redeploying of set pieces and quotable dialogue from one genre classic after another probably won't deter an even wider audience from the ferociously well-paced, four-quadrant come-on that is THE RED STAR. This is a massive blockbuster in the developin', folks. It's got everything: good-hearted proles sacrificing life and limb for love of country; bloodthirsty villains bent on decimating said good-hearted proles; a brawny protagonist who learns his brawniness is much more effective if he shows up late to the battle when everyone's tired; three rough-and-tumble heroines who will no doubt look smokin' hot in their Soviet fetishwear (casting suggestion: Kristen Stewart as the gum-snapping Makita); fleets of skyscraper-sized aircraft called skyfurnaces that blow up real slow and awesome-like. Motherfucker's verily stuffed with spectacle and incident. And, judging from the gorgeous illustrations I've seen from Gossett's graphic novel (only flipped through the first four issues), it's all going to look astonishing once Bekmambetov and his cohorts do their $100 million-plus thing with the production design.
I'm just wondering if this surfeit of craft will be enough to drown out some of the most tin-eared fantasy nomenclature since M. Night Shyamalan introduced us to "narfs" and "scrunts" in LADY IN THE WATER. Is this nitpicking? Perhaps, but ask yourself: Is there an inherent menace to the name "Sirdar"? Could you see yourself living in fear under the imperious shadow of... Sirdar? Would you rather die a swift death than face the knight-outing wrath of... Sirdar?
"Sardar," maybe. Sirdar? Of course not.
Now imagine hordes of bad guys-- I'm sorry, "Nistaani" chanting this goofy moniker incessantly while the Ming the Merciless clone engages in one o' those scintillating power-orb battles with the Red Star's Palpatine-esque emperor, Imbohl (doesn't exactly roll off the tongue either). I don't know how it's going to look once it's up on its feet (probably speed-ramped to shit), but the sequence in question reads like a straight-faced recreation of the Lo Pan/Egg Shen showdown from BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. Unintentional hilarity aside, this is not the kind of kickass tableau you expect from a film that's supposed to crack $200 million domestic and launch a trilogy (though I'm sure it'd look bitchin' on the back of a 7th grader's spiral notebook).
I will admit that I'm not the ideal film geek to be appraising the merits of Sand's screenplay. Though I've no aversion to fantasy whatsoever, I can no longer stomach tales that drown you in an onrushing flood of clunky terminology (I'll grandfather in the works of Tolkien, Herbert. L'Engle and a handful of others, but the latter day reworkings generally wear me out). And while I'm aware that STAR WARS could be accused of the same flaws that dog THE RED STAR, Lucas at least knew to couch mouthfuls like "It's the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs" in braggadocio yanked right out of a B western.
In THE RED STAR, we're clobbered over the cranium with a somber schoolroom lecture on "navkasters", "warkasters", "kast power" (aka "soul power"), "Nistaani" and "skyfurnaces" (aka "airblades") before the story can even get into second gear. The speech comes courtesy of Maya, a Bene Gesserit Witch Sorceress-Colonel whose kast fuels one of the many skyfurnaces that will lumber into battle against the evil Nistaani (led by my boy Sirdar). She's the main squeeze of Marcus Antares, the supreme ass-kicker of The Red Star who wields the devastating Red Sword (a cross between the three-bladed implement from THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER and whatever the fuck it is Link uses in LEGEND OF ZELDA). Antares is so mighty that he can halt the progress of plough horses (which sort of negates the use of plough horses altogether, but you go with it 'cuz it's only page one). He is the "First Soldier of Our Army!"; his rippling muscles adorn propaganda posters all over the nation. And he shall lead his people to victory over the warlike Nistaani at Kar Dathra's (Hot) Gate!
As this battle - replete with "insertion rafts" plummeting from the hovering skyfurnaces into the battle zone while Antares screams "Who wants to live forever!" - occurs within the first thirty pages of the script, we're primed for a defeat. Sand is also heavily foreshadowing an early exit for Marcus, but, since the rules of this universe are hazily defined, we can't be sure that a battlefield death truly marks the end for this great warrior. If it does, we're led to believe that a romance between Maya and Marcus's brother Urik is in the offing; that said, there's something about Urik... perhaps it's the "dark and ugly" movement in his eyes whenever Marcus's name comes up. That's probably not good. So when Marcus buries the Red Sword deep into the Earth before getting swarmed by Nistaani combatants, we're very certain it's not the last we're going to see of him or the blade.
Basically, after the route at Kar Datrha's Gate, the narrative is driven by the retrieval of both Marcus (still alive according to the teenaged mercenary Makita) and the sword (only Marcus knows where it's hidden). Though it's been eight years, Sirdar and the Nistaani are still torturing Marcus for the whereabouts of the weapon; meanwhile, Maya and the surviving soldiers of the Red Star are licking their wounds as the nation's fleet of skyfurnaces is being rebuilt/upgraded (there's a new, state-of-the-art airblade under construction; it's been christened the "Konstantinov" in honor of the fallen Detroit Red Wings defenseman). But when the scrappy Makita turns up with news of Marcus's imprisonment, Maya and a small group of patriots (including a big bear of a warrior named Kyuzo) hijack the Konstantinov and chart a course for the mysterious Well of Lost Souls. You read that right, and... I know.
Though I hold this entire endeavor in contempt for brazenly stealing from every major fantasy/sci-fi work of the last century, it really is an adroitly structured piece of shit. Also, at 111 pages, it values brevity. There's talent at work here, but it's undercut by a desire to do what's been done before (and better) rather than take risks; the only gamble is Bekmambetov's hope that his audience doesn't feel too insulted by his escapist cinema of borrowed parts. Sadly, he's a skillful enough thief that he needn't worry. It's Timur Time, baby.
P.S. Tomorrow, we'll talk about Sergio Sollima's THE BIG GUNDOWN, which I saw for the first time over the weekend. To prepare, I recommend that you download the inspiring Ennio Morricone score from iTunes.