This week’s Ketchup is all about franchises, with all ten entries taken up by movies that in some way represent an extension of an existing brand. That mix includes four TV show adaptations, two sequels to prequel reboots and two superhero properties. We’re talking about familiar properties like Kung Fu, Planet of the Apes, X-Men, and even Fraggle Rock, Popeye, The Fall Guy and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?… this Ketchup’s got them all.
This Week’s Top Story
THE PLANET OF THE APES WILL RISE AGAIN
One of the most surprising success stories of the summer of 2011 was 20th Century Fox’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The prequel/reboot arguably did not receive the amount of publicity and hype that many other summer films did, and was also created in the shadow of Tim Burton’s previous attempt at rebooting the franchise in 2001. Regardless, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was both a critical hit (82% Fresh on the RT Tomatometer) and a box office smash domestically ($175 million) and internationally ($453 million). Rise of the Planet of the Apes is currently one of the top 10 highest grossing films of 2011, and is the highest grossing live action non-sequel of the year (if one counts a reboot/prequel as a non-sequel). All of that is the set up for what may therefore be one of the most obvious news stories of the year in film development: 20th Century Fox is developing a sequel. The studio already had a sequel deal in place with director Rupert Wyatt, who made his Hollywood debut with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, following the 2008 British film The Escapist. The Rise of the Planet of the Apes screenwriting team of Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (who also cowrote The Relic and Eye for an Eye) are also on board, and have talked recently about their ideas for a new Planet of the Apes trilogy. The first actor to be signed for the sequel is not James Franco or Frieda Pinto, but the more obvious star of Rise of the Planet of the Apes for all who’ve seen the film: Andy Serkis. After similar work as Gollum, King Kong and Captain Haddock in the upcoming Adventures of Tintin, Andy Serkis was the actor underneath the motion capture equipment who actually performed the role of Caesar on practical sets (rather than in front of green screens). 20th Century Fox is supporting Andy Serkis’ career in another way, as well, with the news this week that the studio has plans for an Academy Award campaign to recognize his work as Caesar. As for whether James Franco will return for the sequel, that decision is still awaiting the script, but one can find out here about something sort-of/sort-of-not spoilery about Franco’s character.
Fresh Developments This Week
#1 BILL PAXTON AND THE KUNG FU MOVIE: THE GAME’S NOT OVER YET, GRASSHOPPER
A while back, this writer had the opportunity to spend a night hanging out with actor-turned-director Bill Paxton (Twister, Titanic, Aliens), and I saw first hand what he has to deal with on a daily basis: having strangers regularly shout “Game over, man, GAME OVER!” Well, he’s probably also filthy rich, so maybe that’s not such a horrible price to pay. Anyway, this week, Bill Paxton was revealed to be in negotiations with Warner Bros based Legendary Pictures to direct their planned film adaptation of the 1972-1975 TV series Kung Fu. So, depending upon how well publicized his role as the film’s director is, Bill Paxton might someday have people crackin’ the “Grasshopper” jokes at him too. David Carradine starred in Kung Fu as a Shaolin monk wandering across America during the Wild West period on a search for his long lost family. With a filming start date (at least partially in China) scheduled for the summer of 2012, Kung Fu is likely to be Bill Paxton’s third film as director, following Frailty (73% RT Fresh) and The Greatest Game Ever Played (62% RT Fresh). The Kung Fu script is currently being adapted by screenwriter John McLaughlin, who cowrote Black Swan and the Tommy Lee Jones comedy Man of the House. John McLaughlin also wrote the adaptation of Donald Westlake’s Parker character, starring Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez and Nick Nolte, which is in post production for a release in 2012.
#2 SUPERHEROES THAT HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH COMIC BOOKS ARE THE TRUE WILD CARDS
Within the admittedly small Venn diagram of superhero fans who are not also bigger fans of fantasy or HBO’s Game of Thrones, author George R. R. Martin may always be best remembered as one of the editors and cocreators of Wild Cards. Starting in 1987, Wild Cards is a still ongoing series of 20+ anthologies and novels set in a shared world where an alien virus unleashed on Earth in 1946 created human sub-races of Aces (superhumans) and Jokers (deformed monsters and abnormalities). SyFy Films is a relatively new collaboration between the SyFy Channel and Universal Pictures created for the purpose of theatrical releases (ie, not the “movies of the week” more often thought of as being SyFy’s wheelhouse). SyFy Films has acquired the feature film rights to Wild Cards with the goal of launching a new franchise of films set in the series’ expansive superhero reality. The script for the first Wild Cards movie is being adapted by Melinda Snodgrass, who is Martin’s co-editor of Wild Cards, as well as being one of the series’ cocreators and cowriters. Melinda Snodgrass has also had a lengthy career as a TV writer, including multiple episodes of The Outer Limits and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Wild Cards is the setting for dozens of creative characters which include Fortunato (a pimp who uses tantric sex to fuel his abilities), Golden Boy (sort of the Wild Cards Superman), The Sleeper (an Ace prone to comas that result in him waking up with new abilities each time) and George R. R. Martin’s own character, The Great and Powerful Turtle, a powerful telekinetic man who uses a flying armored VW Beetle to fight crime (sort of imagine Iron Man as a flying tank). Although not much is yet known about the story of the first Wild Cards film, George R. R. Martin has already revealed that The Sleeper will be one of the film’s characters, and that the setting will be contemporary, rather than set in the past of the 1940s as one might expect from an “origin” story.
#3 WHERE IN THE WORLD IS… JENNIFER LOPEZ?
When most people think of movies based upon video games, the source material is generally from the genres of survival horror (Resident Evil, Silent Hill), action/fighting (Mortal Kombat, Prince of Persia), or first person shooters (DOOM). One of the projects that has been bubbling along in various stages of development since the 1990s, however, is a popular franchise that many people may not even associate with video games at this point: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? The property started in the mid-1980s as a series of educational games that used mystery elements to teach students world geography and social studies, and then was adapted as a popular animated PBS TV series in the 1990s. It was during that time that Walt Disney Pictures first considered making a Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? movie, which, if it happened, would have starred Sandra Bullock as the elusive master criminal. Walden Media, the company behind The Chronicles of Narnia and other children’s literature adaptations like Charlotte’s Web and Ramona and Beezus, has now revitalized the idea of a movie version of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?. Walden Media has some A-List assistance in the form of dancer-turned-actress-turned-singer-turned-TV-host-turned-producer Jennifer Lopez (and I probably missed a career or two at that). Although Lopez is currently only on board in that capacity, there are rumors that if the project goes forward, she may also sign on to play Carmen Sandiego herself. There’s no writer attached to Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? just yet, but Walden Media is reportedly describing the project as being “National Treasure meets The Thomas Crown Affair” (except, presumably, with more of an edutainment and girl-power appeal). This is one of the week’s Fresh Developments mostly because there’s not enough known about it to burden the adaptation with a “Rotten Idea.” The notion of a live action adaptation of a beloved PBS series is also just fresh enough in today’s movie climate to be worth a little slack and time to prove itself.
Rotten Ideas of the Week
#6 READY TO ENROLL IN A SECOND CLASS OF X-MEN?
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was not the only prequel reboot that 20th Century Fox released in the summer of 2011. The studio also released X-Men: First Class, which enjoyed similar critical acclaim (87% Fresh on the RT Tomatometer). The X-Men prequel, however, faltered significantly in box office in comparison, earning almost exactly $100 million less than Rise of the Planet of the Apes worldwide. Regardless, 20th Century Fox has a great deal invested in continuing the X-Men film franchise (such as the fact that Marvel eventually gets the rights back if Fox ever stops making X-Men movies). So, it is not surprising that 20th Century Fox has hired a screenwriter to start work on a sequel to X-Men: First Class. Simon Kinberg was one of the cowriters of X-Men: The Last Stand, which at 57% has the lowest RT Tomatometer score of the four X-Men team films (ie, not counting the 37% score for X-Men Origins: Wolverine), and he was also one of the producers of X-Men: First Class. Simon Kinberg also wrote Mr. & Mrs. Smith and xXx: State of the Union, and cowrote Jumper and Sherlock Holmes (which was the only film of his five credits on RT to get a Fresh score, 70%). There’s no word yet as to whether director Matthew Vaughn will return for the sequel, how much of the cast will return, or what the second film might be about. This news about a sequel to X-Men: First Class should be considered borderline Rotten. Yes, Simon Kinberg’s track record as screenwriter is disappointing, but X-Men: First Class was still arguably the summer’s best superhero film, and so the promise of the new prequel storyline’s continuation hopefully outweighs Kinberg’s handicap.
#5 GREEN LANTERN FALL GUY MAY DIRECT… THE FALL GUY
We may not yet know the full story of what exactly went wrong with Green Lantern, but there are rumors out there that the blame is not necessarily 100% that of director Martin Campbell’s. Although Campbell’s filmography is far from spotless (Beyond Borders, Vertical Limit), he did direct two pretty good James Bond movies (GoldenEye and Casino Royale) and arguably the best Zorro movie ever, 1998’s The Mask of Zorro. And so, Campbell’s career as director should be able to recover, as long as he picks the right projects. That, however, might be a pretty big “If” as Martin Campbell is reportedly in early talks to sign on to direct the long-planned movie adaptation of the 1981-1986 ABC TV series The Fall Guy. That action-adventure show about a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a bounty hunter was Lee Majors’ most significant post-Six Million Dollar Man TV show (and it had a great theme song, to boot). Although it was a fun show, The Fall Guy however just isn’t a show that has lived on vigorously in the minds of TV fans some 30 years later (see also: Voyagers, Hunter, Matt Houston, etc.). On the bright side, the film adaptation of The Fall Guy is being tackled by the screenwriting team of Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz, who were among the writers of Thor and X-Men: First Class, and they also have written several episodes of Fringe and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles for FOX. Consider this another borderline Rotten Idea for now.
#4 FRAGGLE ROCK REVIVED.. BUT WOULD JIM HENSON BE PROUD?
The idea of a Fraggle Rock feature film that revives the characters Jim Henson and crew created for HBO from 1983 to 1987 has been kicking around for a few years now, but until this week, the project didn’t have a home outside The Jim Henson Company. The rights to Fraggle Rock have been picked up by New Regency, a production company with such varying recent credits as Love and Other Drugs, In Time, Knight and Day, What’s Your Number? and Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son. There is definitely a lot of promise to the idea of a new musical adventure featuring the colorful Fraggles, but the franchise that is being name dropped as the inspiration for New Regency picking up Fraggle Rock is where this story truly turns rotten. Under the name Regency Enterprises, the same producers have also had a lot of success with the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies, which on paper share some similar properties: musicals targetted at kids. What’s missing, however, in Alvin and the Chipmunks is the creativity and gentle touch of Jim Henson and his collaborators. Although The Jim Henson Company made the deal, it is not yet known how much involvement TJHC will have with the actual movie (including whether it will feature puppets or be a CGI/live action mix, etc). The potential is there for these initial concerns to be overturned by the revelation that the Fraggle Rock movie might be the long-awaited feature film arrival of the classic HBO characters. Or, the producers could just keep mentioning Alvin and the Chipmunks.
#3 POPEYE SAYS “I YAM WHAT I YAM CUZ I EATS MY SMURFAGE.”
Adults may moan and groan (and specific ones may repeatedly put nearly all of them in the Rotten Idea category), but Hollywood studios can see by the worldwide grosses that there is money to be made in turning old cartoons into CGI modernizations. Sony Pictures had success just this summer with The Smurfs, which, with $551 million, is currently the #8 film of 2011 in worldwide box office. So, the fact that Sony is proceeding with plans for an animated update of the classic old cartoon (and comic strip) sailor Popeye is not a surprise, nor is it a surprise who exactly they’ve hired to adapt his adventures. Before addressing the writers of Popeye, it’s worth mentioning that Popeye has been the inspiration for a movie before, back in 1980 when Robert Altman directed a bizarre live action musical version starring Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall. That job is going to the screenwriting team of Jay Scherick and David Ronn, who were half of the writers of The Smurfs and have also already been hired by Sony to work on the sequel to The Smurfs. Scherick and Ronn also recently worked for Sony as 40% of the writers of The Zookeeper, and their other credits include the Eddie Murphy “comedies” Norbit and I Spy and the still-in-development movie version of the TV series Baywatch. Let that factoid digest, perhaps: the same people who are writing Popeye have also worked on Baywatch. They’re both about people with cartoonish physical proportions frollicking around in the waves, right?
#2 THE LEFT BEHIND FRANCHISE REFUSES TO BE LEFT BEHIND IN HOME VIDEO
Left Behind was the title of a popular series of 16 novels written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins that were published from 1995 to 2007 (although that’s not counting the dozens of other books published as spinoff tie-ins). The Left Behind books are set in a near-future apocalyptic setting in which the world is reacting to the events of The Rapture, in which millions of people have recently mysteriously disappeared. The popularity of the series led to a movie adaptation in 2000 featuring former Growing Pains star Kirk Cameron, which then led to two direct-to-video sequels. Like many other Christian movies, the Left Behind franchise was produced by people from outside Hollywood, but one Hollywood trend that the Left Behind people are following along with is the current fascination with reboots and remakes. And so, Paul Lalonde, the writer and producer of the Left Behind movies, has started development on a new reboot of Left Behind, with the goal of it receiving a theatrical release comparable to the recent Christian film Courageous. The Left Behind reboot has a budget of just $15 million. Although that would seem super cheap for an ambitious Hollywood production, that number actually makes the Left Behind reboot unusually expensive by Christian filmmaking standards. This reboot is one of the week’s Rotten Ideas mostly because of the really low RT Tomatometer score for the original 2000 version (16%). There aren’t even enough reviews on Rotten Tomatoes for the two DTV sequels to give them scores, but of the reviews there are on RT for those two films, all of them are “Rotten.”
#1 THOSE CLASHING TITANS HAVEN’T EVEN DISPLAYED THEIR WRATH YET, AND ALREADY A THIRD MOVIE?
One of the stories covered in last week’s Ketchup concerned the news that Warner Bros is already moving forward with plans for Sherlock Holmes 3, even though Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is still over a month away from release. If that seemed like a possibly tad-too-early decision, at least the world has seen trailers for that movie for a while now. One sequel that most people don’t even yet know is coming out is Wrath of the Titans (March 30, 2012), Warner Bros’ sequel to the 2010 remake of
Clash of the Titans. Without even a trailer to go by, there’s no way of predicting right now what the future might hold in store for Wrath of the Titans, but that’s not stopping Warner Bros. The studio has already hired two of that sequel’s screenwriters to start working on a third Clash of the Titans movie. Dan Mazeau will be making his feature film debut with Wrath of the Titans and David Leslie Johnson has also previously written 2009’s Orphan and Warner Bros’s recent revisionist fairy tale adaptation Red Riding Hood. Although there are not yet any premise details for this third Titans movie, Sam Worthington is expected to continue on as Perseus. The “sidekick-like” character of Agenor, played by Toby Kebbell when he’s introduced in Wrath of the Titans, has also been mentioned as a strong possibility to return in the third film. Wrath of the Titans director Jonathan Liebesman, whose previous films also include Battle: Los Angeles, Darkness Falls and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, is also expected to return for this third film, although technically no deal is in place for Liebesman yet. Although there’s obviously no way of knowing what audiences and critics will think of Wrath of the Titans just yet, the Clash of the Titans remake received a “Rotten” score of 28% on the RT Tomatometer, and that is just enough to make the notion of a second sequel to an already Rotten remake… a triply Rotten Idea.
For more Weekly Ketchup columns by Greg Dean Schmitz, check out the WK archive, and you can contact GDS via Facebook or a RT forum message.