Weekly Ketchup

Weekly Ketchup: The Story of Kong Before He Was King

Plus, some juicy pairs: two video game adaptations, two children's book films, and two remakes.

by | July 31, 2009 | Comments

This Week’s Ketchup sees an unusual number of pairs: two remakes, two prequels to beloved sci-fi movies, two movies based on recent video games and two movies based on 1971 children’s books with environmental themes.


A production company called Spirit Pictures, which appears to have a connection to groundbreaking early special effects guru Ray Harryhausen, has picked up the rights to the novel Kong: King of Skull Island, by Joe DeVito and Brad Strickland. Published in 2004 (timed to match the release of Peter Jackson’s remake), Kong: King of Skull Island is a prequel that tells the backstory of Skull Island before Carl Denham and his movie crew arrived there, including how Kong became King. The story also features other giant gorillas and dinosaurs not seen in other tellings of Kong’s story. The rights were brokered through the estate of the family of Merian C. Cooper (the original 1933 film’s cowriter and codirector), which owns the rights to King Kong, and also authorized the book itself. Spirit is expecting to produce Kong: King of Skull Island using motion capture technology as seen in movies like Beowulf and The Polar Express. Spirit is also developing a movie called War Eagles, an adventure story about a pilot who crashes in Antarctica and discovers a lost civilization, which was a project Harryhausen had been working on in the 1930s until World War II intervened. No director for Kong: King of Skull Island has been announced yet, and the scripts for both Kong and War Eagles are being written by Andy Briggs, a screenwriter with several scripts under his belt but nothing yet produced.


20th Century Fox’s plans to produce a prequel to Alien has been teetering on the Rotten Idea of the Week edge, but the news that the studio has hired franchise cocreator Ridley Scott to return might just be enough to give the project the benefit of the doubt. Fox has hired a screenwriter named Jon Spaihts, whose filmography includes such yet-to-be-produced titles like The Darkest Hour, Children of Mars, Shadow 19, St. George and the Dragon and Passengers, which was #3 on 2007’s Black List of highly reviewed unproduced screenplays. Spaihts has gotten a lot of other work based on the strength of Passengers, as evidenced by his involvement in this Alien prequel. No details are known as yet about what Spaihts might do with the concept, but one could guess based on where that movie started. Might this prequel explain what happened to the dead alien whose spaceship the crew of the Nostromo explore, leading them to be infested by the Alien facehugger?


Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment are teaming up to bring yet another classic Dr. Seuss to the big screen, and this time, it’s 1971’s The Lorax. The Lorax is the second of a three picture deal Illumination has with Universal, with the first being the Easter Bunny-themed I Hop, starring Russell Brand. The Lorax will be a 3D CGI feature, and is already scheduled for a March 2, 2012 release, which marks Dr. Seuss’ 108th birthday. The Lorax is arguably Dr. Seuss’ attempt to address environmentalism (a very hot issue in 1971, as it is again today), as The Lorax is a furry little creature attempting to stop the Once-ler from chopping down all of the Truffula trees to knit himself a Thneed, a ridiculous looking garment which he insists everyone needs. The writing team of Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (Horton Hears a Who!, Bubble Boy) are adapting the screenplay (they’re also writing I Hop), and will make their directorial debuts with The Lorax.


This week, two recent hit video games joined the dozens of other titles that are being developed as movies: Dead Space and Infamous. First, there is the Doom-like outer space-set survival horror game, Dead Space, which Electronic Arts has hired D.J. Caruso (Disturbia, Eagle Eye) to direct, with the game publisher still talking to prospective screenwriters. Once a writer is found, EA then expects to auction off the property to studios, possibly in September. In Dead Space, a 26th century engineer responds to a distress call from a mining vessel infested with necromorphs, which are human corpses reanimated by an alien virus. Next up is Infamous (or inFAMOUS, if you want to use the game’s exact title), for which Sony has paid screenwriter Sheldon Turner (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, The Longest Yard) a massive seven figure deal to adapt. Avi Arad, formerly of Marvel, is also producing, along with his son Ari Arad. Infamous is the story of a bike messenger who gets caught in a New York City explosion that gives him electricity-based super powers.


Paramount Pictures is in talks with director Neil Burger (The Illusionist, The Lucky Ones) to develop an adaptation of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, which most of us know better as the source material for the 1982 animated movie, The Secret of NIMH. Written by Robert C. O’Brien, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is the story of a widowed field mouse who recruits the help of a group of escaped lab rats to save her home from imminent destruction by way of a local farmer’s plow. Like The Lorax, O’Brien’s book was published in 1971, and can also be seen as a enviornmental treatise disguised as a children’s book; a year later, another such book, Watership Down, was published with a similar concept, only this time with bunnies. It’s not yet known if this latest version of NIMH will be animated, live action, or a combination of both. Neil Burger’s previous films don’t suggest an expertise with children’s stories, so it appears quite possible that Burger’s take on NIMH will be more serious, as Watership Down was.


Universal Pictures is in talks with director Marc Webb ( (500) Days of Summer) about taking on a remake of the 1973 rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar, which was of course based upon Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1971 Broadway hit. Last year, Universal scored a $600 million global hit with the similarly-1970s themed ABBA musical Mamma Mia!, so it is not surprising that they are looking for another movie musical with catchy tunes and plenty of ensemble numbers. (500) Days of Summer does also sport a musical sequence (Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams”), and in general has a quirky, visual style that would seem to suggest Webb, who has reportedly “long had an affinity for,” could indeed turn out a pretty cool musical. Jesus Christ Superstar is the story of the final weeks of Jesus’ life, as his conflicts with Judas Iscariot come to a head, and it was also a social parable, using the hippies of the early 1970s as a visual setting for Jesus and his followers. Today, however, there isn’t really anything quite like that, so the question is whether Webb would make another “hippie movie” or set his Jesus Christ Superstar in the early 2010s, complete with IPods, Twitter and trendy 20-somethings singing along to the Smiths. Hey, maybe Jesus IS the “light that never goes out.”


Warner Bros has hired the Spierig Brothers directing team, Michael and Peter (2003’s Undead, next year’s Daybreakers) to take on an unusual remake of the classic 1935 Errol Flynn pirate movie, Captain Blood, which was inspired by the novel by Rafael Sabatini. To be written by John Brownlow (Sylvia), this new Captain Blood will change the setting from the 17th century to… outer space. You know, just like Ice Pirates. The original script by Brownlow was in fact set in the original setting, but when the Spierig’s read the draft, they came up with the idea of going in and pitching it instead as a space adventure, and this innovation is what got them the job. Despite “the radical period and venue switch,” the story of Captain Blood will reportedly still stay quite loyal to the source material, telling the story of a doctor, Peter Blood, who joins up with a French pirate, only to clash with the buccaneer when he captures the woman that the doctor loves. Right now, I’m just curious about whether the space pirate will still be French. This is not the first time in recent memory that Warner Bros announced a project that takes a classic story and sets it in space: the studio is developing a similar project based on Homer’s The Odyssey.


With nearly every week seeing a new project that name checks the Bourne franchise, it’s no surprise that many other books written by Robert Ludlum are also being developed (despite the fact that the Bourne movies were actually not that particularly faithful to Ludlum’s books). The latest example is The Parsifal Mosaic, which Universal Pictures has attached Ron Howard (The Da Vinci Code, How the Grinch Stole Christmas) to direct, from a script by David Self (Thirteen Days, Road to Perdition; he’s also working on the Robocop remake). The Parsifal Mosaic, published in 1982, was a spy novel about a CIA agent who believes he has witnessed the execution of his lover following her recent uncovering as a double agent for both the CIA and KGB. Considering it’s now nearly 30 years later, it’s anyone’s guess what the story might be about now. Perhaps it’ll be a tale of corporate intrigue about a woman revealed to contract as a data engineer for both Yahoo! and Google, or a barrista who works for both Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts. Universal is also developing a fourth Bourne film and an adaptation of Ludlum’s The Sigma Protocol, and MGM is in pre-production on Ludlum’s The Matarese Circle, to be directed by David Cronenberg.


Lionsgate has cast Russell Crowe to star in The Next Three Days, the movie that reunites the studio with the director, Paul Haggis, that gave them their first Best Picture Oscar winner with 2004’s Crash. The Next Three Days, an English language remake of the 2008 French film Pour Elle, is the story of a high school teacher (Crowe) whose wife is arrested for a murder she claims she did not commit, and so he comes up with a desperate plan to rescue her. Of the story, Haggis said, “the deeper theme here is, would you save the woman you loved if you knew that by doing so, you would turn into a man that woman could no longer love?” The Next Three Days will be Haggis’ third film as director, working from his own script, with filming scheduled to start in Philadelphia in late September, 2009. Next up, no doubt, is the casting of the actress who will play Crowe’s wife.


High School Musical star Zac Efron reportedly bailed out of the Footloose remake because he wanted to find a new movie identity. Efron’s latest project suggests an interest in following the career track of Johnny Depp (who also got his start as a TV teen-friendly heartthrob), as Charlie St. Cloud has a plot that sounds like an old school Tim Burton project. Formerly titled The Life and Death of Charlie St. Cloud, the movie tells the story of a cemetery caretaker (Efron) who regularly talks to his dead brother whose death he blames on himself, and who meets a young woman (Amanda Crew from The Haunting in Connecticut) who he soon realizes may be a ghost on her way to the afterlife. Universal Pictures is producing the supernatural romance, which will be directed by Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down), who also worked with Efron on this spring’s 17 Again. Filming starts in Vancouver next week.


Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer used to be nearly synonymous, working together on a string of five huge movies that included The Rock, Armageddon and Pearl Harbor. And then, they went their own ways, apparently, and Michael Bay’s last two movies have seen him working with giant imaginary robots in the Transformers series. So, what does Jerry Bruckheimer do, hoping to get some of that hot Michael Bay mojo back in his filmography? He, of course, has obtained the rights to World War Robot, a 2008 IDW comic book with just 48 pages. World War Robot should also not be confused with World War Z, the zombie apocalypse adaptation that Brad Pitt is producing for Paramount. World War Robot tells the stories of bands of humans and robots as they wage battle with each other on the Earth, the Moon and Mars. The comic is very obscure, but IDW excels at selling their comic properties to Hollywood producers, regardless of whether many actual fans have ever read them. And so, World War Robot gets tagged as the Rotten Idea of the Week, because it represents the trend in Hollywood of movies riding the coattails of perceived hipness that goes with being a “comic book property,” regardless of whether there are any actual people out there that will support the movie. There are thousands of comic books out there, but that doesn’t mean they should all become movies. And in fact, in recent years, many of these comic books are being produced almost solely for the purpose of being sold to Hollywood, sort of like storyboards that you buy from your local comic shop. If they bothered to order the comic.

For more Weekly Ketchup columns by Greg Dean Schmitz, check out the WK archive, and you can contact GDS through his MySpace page or via a RT forum message.

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