Hey gang, this week I give you the high-flying low-down on ten of the biggest stories in movie development, including all those remakes of cherished horror favorites, star-driven action movies, comic book adaptations and other projects that might not ever actually get made.
#1. SUPERMAN TO GET DARK KNIGHT-STYLE TREATMENT
When it was announced that Bryan Singer (X-Men) was going to bring back Superman, all us fanboys cheered. And then it turned out that instead of a fresh start like what Christopher Nolan did with Batman Begins, Singer’s movie was basically a nostalgic attempt to continue the movie series as it was back in the 1980s. I’m sure there are fans of Superman Returns out there, but I think that was a failed strategy, and a failure of a movie. In the years since, a second Singer project, Superman: Man of Steel, has been making its way through development, but now comes word from Warner Bros that they apparently plan on giving Kal-El a new start, which (shudder), given the success of The Dark Knight, they now think needs to be “dark to the extent that the characters allow it”, which is basically, taking the character into the opposite extreme that most likely won’t work, either. Superman is the Big Blue Boy Scout. He’s not “dark”, and Superman Returns didn’t fail because it wasn’t dark enough. Do these people even read Superman comics before they throw $200 million at a movie version? He’s been having adventures for nearly 70 years… there’s hundreds of possibilities, right there in the comics.
#2. POLTERGEIST REMAKE: LET’S HOPE THAT CURSE ISN’T PART OF THE DEAL
1982’s Poltergeist can sort of be seen as a groundbreaking prototype for the type of “psychological” horror that has become successful in the last ten years. There was no scary slasher-type villain or monster; Poltergeist was a haunted house story set not in an old house, but in a brand new one, demolishing cliches about the genre in general. The little girl talking to the staticky TV predated The Ring, and the crew of parapsychologists moving into the house predated… just about every ghost movie made after it. And now, like nearly every other successful horror movie made between 1975 and 1990, it’s now getting the remake treatment. MGM has hired the writing team of Stiles White and Juliet Snowden, who are also working on the remake of Hitchcock’s The Birds, to work on the project. Writer/producer Steven Spielberg and director Tobe Hooper don’t appear to be involved. My hunch on this one is that it is totally unnecessary, as the original Poltergeist still stands as a downright creepy movie, but I guess that same argument could have been used to prevent those crappy sequels.
#3. A BILL HICKS BIOPIC: I WONDER IF DENIS LEARY IS AVAILABLE?
Although he never obtained mainstream fame during his lifetime, comedian Bill Hicks (1961-1994) is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential comics of the post-HBO era, known for instilling intellect and philosophy into his routines in a style not seen so expertly done since Lenny Bruce (in my opinion). Short lives are the bread and butter of biopics, I guess, and so it is perhaps not that surprising that someone came up with the idea of developing a Bill Hicks project, but what is surprising, in a sort of awesome way, is that person is Russell Crowe (who I just realized today actually bears quite a resemblance to Hicks). The cunning aspect of Crowe as Hicks is that, as a comedian, Bill Hicks wasn’t a traditional “comedian”; he was more of an angry rant-meister, who in the process, made you laugh. So, while you may not think of Russell Crowe as being a “funny guy”, he is certainly passionate, and so, might be perfect to play Hicks.
#4. VERONICA MARS: SHE WANTS TO BELIEVE
Basically a modern take on Nancy Drew (in my opinion; flame me if you disagree, but I’m sticking to that analogy), Veronica Mars was a fan favorite, but an apparent victim of that whole UPN/CW shakeup thing, and was cancelled after three years. Without a doubt, a main factor to the show’s success was its star, Kristen Bell, who brought a lot of personality to the role, and was, oh yeah, extremely hot/cute. Post-Veronica Mars, there were rumors she might join Lost, and then she actually did join the cast of Heroes, and she also narrates Gossip Girl. The role that made her a star however still beckons, and the show’s creator revealed this week that plans are still being considered about reviving Veronica Mars… as a movie. What such a movie would be about isn’t known, but if the TV series had continued into a fourth season, it would have bumped ahead several years, with Veronica now being a young F.B.I. agent. Perhaps a clue.
#5. THIS WEEK IN REMAKE CASTING
Remakes of Child’s Play and Highlander were both announced in the last several months, and this week, both projects received some more news coverage in the form of casting news and/or rumors for their respective lead characters. First off, Brad Dourif (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Deadwood) has been confirmed as returning as the voice of Chucky the doll in Child’s Play, which I guess, is actually sort of cool news in that this “remake” is close enough to its roots that they are not going so far off course as to keep Chucky basically… Chucky. In slightly less confirmed news, JoBlo.com is reporting that Kevin McKidd (star of TV’s Rome and Journeyman) has been talking to the producers of the Highlander remake as taking the starring role as Connor MacLeod. If McKidd takes the role, I think this could actually be fairly inspired, as he’s got a great, badass personality, and would be completely credible as a thousand-year-old Celt. Marvel fans might remember that about a year ago, it was Kevin McKidd who was rumored to be in contention to play Thor in the Marvel movie about the Norse god (although they are probably now going to go with a much bigger name). Thor, Highlander, I can definitely see a connection there. People want to see this guy playing pissed off barbarian types!
#6. SLEEPER: AT LEAST IT’S NOT A REMAKE OF THE WOODY ALLEN MOVIE?
Another week, another movie for Tom Cruise to attach himself to. Already this year, we’ve seen him in talks for, and then out of, a couple of projects, like The 28th Amendment (where he wanted to play the president) and Edwin A. Salt (where he was eventually replaced by… Angelina Jolie). Now, Sleeper awakens, an adaptation of a Wildstorm comic series from a few years back about an undercover agent deeply embedded in a criminal organization whose contact dies, leaving him completely stuck. I didn’t read the comic, but Devin at CHUD apparently loved it. I’ll take his word. Anyway, Cruise is aligning himself with Sam Raimi (it’s unclear if he would direct, or just produce) and Warner Bros, who hopes this might start a Sleeper franchise of Tom Cruise-starring movies. Let’s see how long this project stays in development, hmm?
#7. THE COEN BROS’ NEXT CAST: A LOT LESS A-LISTERS
The Coen brothers certainly like to mix things up. After their creepy thriller (No Country for Old Men), they made a wacky comedy (Burn After Reading), and now, after a movie filled to the brim with A-list stars, they are making A Serious Man, a character-driven piece about a Midwestern Jewish community set in the 1960s, with their two lead roles going to a stage actor named Michael Stuhlbarg (nope, never heard of him either) and… Richard Kind, who was one of the best things going on Spin City (and he was also HILARIOUS as Larry’s cousin in Curb Your Enthusiasm). Richard Kind is one of those comic character actors who has been doing his thing for many years, but he really hasn’t had that chance to “shine” yet in a high-profile project. Being the lead in a Coen bros movie, though? That might just do it.
#8. NICOLAS CAGE TO PLAY THE DAD OF A SUPPORTING CHARACTER IN KICK-ASS
Oh, poor Nic Cage. You used to be the star of movies. Like in next month’s Bangkok Dangerous. Well, in Kick-Ass, the adaptation of Mark Millar’s violently graphic comic book series about a teenager who tries to become an actual crime-fighting superhero, Cage has signed on to play not the main character, but the ex-cop father of a supporting character (basically, a girl hero who actually has training and stuff). But he’ll probably still be on all the posters and dominate something like 60% of the trailer’s running time. Yay, stars. The actual *star* of the movie, as in the main character who actually drives the story, will be played by 18-year-old British actor Aaron Johnson, who played young Charlie Chaplin in Shanghai Knights. He’s done a lot of other stuff, but that’s all I recognize, really. Lyndsy Fonseca, who plays the doe-eyed Dylan Mayfair on Desperate Housewives, has also joined the cast as Johnson’s would be love interest. If she didn’t think he was… gay.
#9. THE UNPLEASANTLY AWKWARD TITLE OF ANOTHER PROJECT FOR ALEX PROYAS
It was just a few weeks ago that we found out that visionary director Alex Proyas (Dark City, The Crow) had been hired to develop Dracula: Year Zero, an origin project about Vlad the Impaler. Now, Phoenix Pictures has hired the I, Robot director for another adaptation of a novel by one of the greatest famous sci-fi authors: Robert A. Heinlein (Starship Troopers). Surprisingly, it’s not one of Heinlein’s many very famous books, like say Stranger in a Strange Land, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress or (my favorite), Job: A Comedy of Justice. Nope, it’s one that I’ve never even heard of, and I thought I knew Heinlein’s bibliography pretty well: The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoeg. And doing some research, I discover the reason perhaps is that it isn’t a novel at all, but a novella in an anthology from 1966 that used that story as the title. Anyway, the story, which I’m nearly certain will need to be retitled somehow for a feature film release, is about a man who discovers that he has no memory of what he does for a living. So, in other words, it sounds a lot like… Dark City.
#10. GREEN SCREEN CGI: THE SOLUTION FOR CHEAP, WOULD-BE BLOCKBUSTER PRODUCERS
New Regency and 20th Century Fox have put the movie version of Voltron into turnaround (which means, basically, they are dumping it), due to negotiation problems with the owners of the rights to the original toys and 1980s cartoon TV show. This is being spun into being a good thing, however, in that the project is being picked up by another company, who has plans to rewrite it for a smaller budget, and using 300-style CGI and live-action sets. The current logline describes the story as being about five survivors of an alien invasion, in post-apocalyptic New York City and Mexico City, banding together using robots that look like lions, to fight off the big bad aliens. So far, we’ve seen some pretty good stuff using this technique, but like anything that has at its root the intent to save a lot of money, eventually, we’re going to start seeing really awful movies being made this way too. So, Voltron fans are seeing what might have at one time been a Transformers-style action movie being made not so much on “real” sets, but instead on… “set” sets. This could go both ways. Did Transformers benefit from the robots being “real”, or might it have been even cooler if the movie embraced its CGI-ness even more? That latter path is where Voltron is going now.