This is the week of San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC), so you’re getting two helpings of the Weekly Ketchup. This first segment was written on Thursday morning (just as the Comic Con is starting its first full day), and the second helping will be posted after the weekend is over, to cover all of the additional news that comes out. Included in this batch is a new movie for director Sam Raimi, new roles for Brad Pitt and Mark Wahlberg, news about the 300 sequel and an adaptation of one of the 1990s’ most award-winning comic books. Note: not all news covered in either segment of this Week’s Ketchup is necessarily related to San Diego Comic-Con.
Following the box office success of 300, another movie seemed like a sure thing, but one minor detail was that Frank Miller, the creator of the graphic novel source material, hadn’t written and drawn one yet. Earlier this year, Dark Horse Comics confirmed plans to publish a prequel written and drawn by Frank Miller called Xerxes, named after the Persian king leading the invading forces in 300. This week, Zack Snyder announced that he and his 300 writing partner Kurt Johnstad started work last week on adapting Xerxes. However, Snyder does not officially have a deal to direct Xerxes… yet. Snyder also provides us with the three part premise of Xerxes, which seems to make it both a prequel and a movie that takes place during the same days as the Battle of Thermopylae. Included in Xerxes will be the Battle of Marathon (the bulk of the prequel part), the back story of Xerxes and the story of Athenian politican/general Themistocles and the Battle of Artemsium (the concurrent part). So, while 300 was mostly about the Spartans, Xerxes appears to be more about the Athenians and the Persian invading forces. Xerxes is also certainly good news for Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro (presuming he will be returning) who around the release of 300 in 2007 had recently found himself unemployed when his Paulo character was killed off on LOST. In the meantime, Zack Snyder is also continuing work on his next two movies: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (9/24/10) and Sucker Punch (3/25/11).
One of the definitive trends of late 1990s comic books was a wave of new creator-owned superhero worlds which included Warren Ellis’ Planetary, Alan Moore’s Top 10 and J. Michael Strazcynski’s Rising Stars. The comic that arguably started the trend was 1995’s Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, which paid homage (also launching the Homage Comics label, so you would get the point) to the Silver Age comics that Busiek has made a career out of remembering. Kurt Busiek’s Astro City also has the distinction of having won several Eisner Awards, Harvey Awards and Comic Buyer’s Guide Fan Awards. Astro City was set in a city full of superheroes, and its stories were often told from the viewpoint of the city’s residents (similar to Busiek’s Marvels). Although all of the Astro City heroes are original creations, many of them are obviously based on the now classic archetypes represented by characters like Batman (The Confessor), Superman (Samaritan), Spider-Man (Jack-in-the-Box) and Wonder Woman (Winged Victory) (as well as many more obscure favorites of Busiek’s). There has been talk of an Astro City movie for several years now, but this week at SDCC, the project got new life. The British production company Working Title Films (Shaun of the Dead, The Big Lebowski) has acquired the rights to Kurt Busiek’s Astro City. Kurt Busiek will himself be writing the initial treatment of the film, as well as serving as executive producer along with Ben Barenholtz (Requiem for a Dream). Kurt Busiek’s Astro City is one of this writer’s favorite comics of all time, and as such, I would especially mark this as a superhero project to watch out for and wait for with nearly as much excitement as we once did for Alan Moore’s Watchmen.
Now that he’s free from Spider-Man, Sam Raimi is steadily accruing a future slate that includes the Warcraft movie and the prequel Oz, The Great and Powerful (starring Robert Downey Jr.), which will be his next project. Joining those ambitious projects this week is Earp: Saints for Sinners, which sees Raimi returning (sort of) to the genre he previously worked in with 1995’s The Quick and the Dead. The “sort of” part needs to be added because Earp: Saints for Sinners is a graphic novel adaptation that sets the classic Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (a true story) in a post-apocalyptic future vision of Las Vegas. The adaptation of the Radical Comics title is being produced by Mandeville Films (Traitor, Walking Tall, The Proposal) for DreamWorks. Earp: Saints for Sinners is being adapted by screenwriter Matt Cirulnick (cowriter of 2002’s Paid in Full).
It has been known for a few years that Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment was the production company behind plans to adapt Max Brooks’ post-zombie-apocalypse novel World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. This week, on opening night of the SDCC, the author (who’s also Mel Brooks’ son) revealed that Brad Pitt will also be starring in World War Z. The first draft of the World War Z adaptation was written by J. Michael Straczynski (Changeling; cowriter of Ninja Assassin), and the latest draft was rewritten by Matthew Michael Carnahan (The Kingdom, Lions for Lambs). Although he moved on to currently filming Machine Gun Preacher while waiting for World War Z to come together, Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, Monster’s Ball) is still attached to direct. Paramount has also now additionally optioned the rights to The Zombie Survival Guide (which World War Z was basically a sequel to) and the graphic novel The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks. Paramount Pictures has also now scheduled World War Z for a summer, 2012 release, which suggests a start date sometime in the next 15 months or so.
Daniel Radcliffe has signed on with Hammer Films (Let Me In) to star in The Woman in Black, based upon the 1983 ghost story novel by Susan Hill. Radcliffe will play a young attorney assigned to retrieve a client’s papers near a remote English town where he discovers that the townspeople are held hostage by the ghost of a scorned woman seeking vengeance. The Woman in Black will be directed by James Watkins (2008’s Eden Lake) from a script by Jane Goldman (cowriter of Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class). Hammer Films had originally been considering filming The Woman in Black in 3D, but those plans have been scrapped. Filming is scheduled to start in the United Kingdom in the fall of 2010.
Mark Wahlberg is out doing publicity in advance of his new movie with Will Ferrell, The Other Guys, and he took that opportunity to discuss his various movie projects in development. First up, there is The Raven, which is not to be confused with the adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem that director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta, Ninja Assassin) is preparing. Wahlberg’s The Raven is instead based upon a very impressive 6 minute short film (which you can watch at that link). In the short, a man is pursued through a futuristic Los Angeles by mechs and reveals that he has major telekinetic powers. Visual references to Robocop, District 9 and Akira can all be spotted. Mark Wahlberg has set up the feature version at Universal Pictures, and plans to star in it, with the short’s director, Ricardo de Montreuil (La Mujer de mi Hermano) making his English language debut. Justin Marks (Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li) is adapting the script. Other movies that Wahlberg is providing updates about include the long-in-development (and recently reported dead by some sources) The Brazilian Job (a sequel to The Italian Job), Five Brothers (a sequel to Four Brothers) and Cocain Cowboys, a dramatic adaptation of the documentary about the 1980s Miami drug scene.
Jim Carrey is set to star in Pierre Pierre, a comedy to be directed by Larry Charles (Borat, Brüno, Religulous). Carrey will play a French courier escorting a stolen painting from Paris to London, “behaving more obnoxiously than any waiter you’ve ever encountered at Cannes.” That description would probably make me normally think Pierre Pierre is a natural candidate for “Rotten Idea” status. However, the script by newcomers Frederick Seton and Edwin Cannistraci got its start a few years ago on the Black List, the annual list of unproduced scripts most highly rated by a group of studio executives and producers. And a lot of the movies based on well ranked Black List scripts (like In Bruges, Superbad and The Road) have indeed actually been pretty well received critically and by fans.
Earlier this year, a young named Colton Harris-Moore became famous for a series of vehicle thefts which led to a manhunt and his arrest last week in the Bahamas. And now, 20th Century Fox is lining up a writer and a director to adapt his story as a movie (possibly) named after his trademark: The Barefoot Bandit. David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express; the upcoming Your Highness) is in final talks to direct from a script by Oscar winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk; the upcoming Hoover biopic). Black will be adapting the script from a book proposal by Bob Friel called Taking Flight: The Hunt for a Young Outlaw.
Screenwriter Mark Protosevich (The Cell, Poseidon) cowrote next year’s Thor, and he is now eyeing another comic book adaptation as his possible directorial debut. Freakshow is an upcoming Ape Entertainment comic book about five young people who are “turned into mutants by a cataclysmic chemical explosion and must decide whether to use their newfound powers to save the city or exact revenge on those responsible after the world’s only superhero is killed.” This is one of this week’s Rotten Ideas because it is yet another example of an unproven comic book being picked up for adaptation before it even gets tested and given a seal of approval by the the audience (the fans). The truth is that there are actually way more of these projects out there than a reader of the Weekly Ketchup might realize. This column generally doesn’t cover movies that get started this way because they almost never, ever get made (next year’s Cowboys & Aliens is a rare exception). However, the difference here is the connection to Thor, and this is after all Comic-Con week. So Freakshow gets the distinction of being a timely example of a regrettable trend.
In addition to Platinum Dunes (which specializes in horror remakes like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street), Michael Bay also owns a production company called The Institute which mostly does commercials. That company, however, is now moving into feature work as well. One of their first feature film projects will be Hansel and Gretel in 3D, an “action-packed visual FX-filled version of the classic Grimm Brothers fairytale” about two kids abandoned in the woods who discover a wicked old witch’s house made of candy and gingerbread. This live-action movie will also feature “legendary creatures of German mythology” designed by Joseph C. Pepe, the lead character designer on Avatar. There’s no word yet about who wrote or will be directing Hansel and Gretel in 3D, but production is scheduled to start in spring, 2011 on location in Germany. Hansel and Gretel in 3D is this column’s most Rotten Idea because it feels like Michael Bay is jumping on the bandwagon following the huge success of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Nearly every fairytale or classic children’s fantasy story is now being ramped up. Some of them will surely be awesome, but most of them probably will not be, as is usually the case whenever a hot new trend comes along. Michael Bay producing this particular adaptation of a classic story just pings this writer that way. Also, does a gingerbread house really need to be in eye-popping 3D?