Hey folks, Harry here with the old man's latest (and I do mean LATE-st)Rumblings from the Lab. However, he's been hard at work at all sort of evil mechinations, but I'll let him go into it... Take it away old fart...
RUMBLINGS FROM THE LAB #25
Hey, Head Geek...
You’ll have to forgive me. I’m late, I know. I completely cop to it. Still, you have to admit that when I do something, I do it well. I’m not just late; I’m spectacularly late. Even better, I’m chronically late. I haven’t hit my Tuesday target for the RUMBLINGS since the beginning of December.
There’s a damn good reason, though. 2000 is the year when we finally put into effect the first few steps of our Evil Master Plan To Rule The World. These are big projects, and we’ve had to learn how to juggle the ongoing and the immediate. Now that we have, expect things to return to normal. I don’t care how many henchmen I have to kill; the column will be on schedule this coming Tuesday, featuring Part II of my big ‘90s wrap-up. We’ve also got a special in-depth report in the works about one of the most important video releases of the coming year. Toss in some set visits -- both features and some series -- and a couple of exclusive interviews, and you’ve got a good idea what’s in store for you as the year gets underway.
WHICH “BAT” IS GOING TO FLY?
Warner Bros. just finished the first decade of their new BATMAN franchise, and to say it’s been a wild ride would be a staggering understatement. We’ve had four feature films, two directors, three different men behind the mask, two animated shows, three animated features, and a literal mountain of merchandising. After all that sound and fury, there are definite signs of stress showing. Development on BATMAN 5 -- whether it be YEAR ONE or another Schumacher sequel or even a BATMAN BEYOND film -- has been laborious, distinguished by indecision. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES and the animated BEYOND are both wrapping production permanently. The talent behind both brilliant shows is scattering, all pursuing individual projects. On top of all of that, the sting of BATMAN IN RUBBER still hasn’t faded for fans, mainly because there’s been nothing new offered since.
All that is on the verge of changing, though. There’s one shining hope for the franchise, and it is quickly picking up momentum. I’m writing, of course, about BRUCE WAYNE, the proposed Tollin/Robbins series that was created by IRON GIANT screenwriter Tim McCanlies. I’m sure many of you read Knowles’ comments after he read the pilot script. When I asked for a copy of the script, Knowles just laughed and replied, “Get your own, old man.” He loves to lord it over me when he’s got something cool that I don’t.
Irritated, I decided to do just that, and to get the series proposal just to one-up Knowles. I had Henchman Mongo organize a digging crew to expand our network of tunnels so it now runs under the Warner Bros. Burbank lot. I wasn’t prepared for what we found there, though. Those crazy Warner bastards have actually built a full-size Batcave that runs under most of the lot. It’s breathtaking, complete with a seemingly bottomless chasm that the whole thing is built around. It’s here in this dank chamber that Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, Jeff Robinov, and reps from the toy companies and DC Comics all get together to discuss the future. It’s here that the debate is raging over whether or not BRUCE WAYNE is going to make it to the small screen. It was here that I gathered the information that I’ve used to come to my own conclusions about the franchise and the direction they’re heading.
First, let me make my position clear. Warner Bros. owes it to the fans, to Warner stockholders, and to their licensing partners to immediately greenlight BRUCE WAYNE for production. Anything less that total support for the show should be seen as a derilection of duty by those making the decisions. Sources inside DC Comics are already calling the proposed series the “finest live-action treatment of the characters ever,” based only on a brief treatment and the actual pilot script. I’d like to second that opinion.
But, wait! I’ve read all the TALK BACKS since word of this show was leaked, I’ve visited fansites around the Internet, I’ve taken the temperature of the newsgroups, and this idea has been greeted with everything from intrigued excitement to reserved suspicion to openly hostile disdain. I’m surprised how knee-jerk some fans have been towards the show, dismissing it as another executive-brain-tumor-inspired attempt to squeeze a bit more filthy lucre from the property. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is the vision of one man, as pure a reinterpretation as the work Frank Miller, Alan Moore, or Jeph Loeb have done with the character.
It was Tim McCanlies, writer/director of DANCER, TX POP. 81 and co-writer of THE IRON GIANT, who started the ball rolling when he asked himself one simple question: how did Bruce Wayne spend the years before he became Batman? It’s a good question, an obvious one, and it allows us to do something that no other exploration of the shattered psyche of Gotham’s damaged son has ever done: it puts the entire focus on Wayne himself.
There’s always the pressure in a Batman story to put him in the suit, to bring out some spectacular villain... in short, to be Batman. That’s only fair. After all, if you spent a major part of your life wrestling with two identities, never able to let your guard down, the personality that is more exciting will gradually become dominant. If you were Bruce Wayne, with the scars he carries around, the allure of being pure vengeance, the power of being The Bat, would easily and eventually win out. Frank Miller captured that brilliantly in his seminal work THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, the decaying effect of all those years in the dark.
YEAR ONE is a great attempt to look at Batman at the other end of his career, but it’s still a Batman story. He’s already starting out. He’s made plans. He has a purpose. That purpose may have been defined in an alley when he was six as he watched his parents die, but it didn’t have a shape or a name until much later. What happened between those two narrative points is something we’ve never seen, and it’s that fertile storytelling opportunity which McCanlies presented to Tollin/Robbins.
The pilot script for the show is fast, smart, lean. It introduces us to a lot of familiar faces -- Jim Gordon, Barbara Gordon, Vicky Vale, Selina Kyle, Harvey Dent -- but it dares to introduce different versions of them, younger people we’ve never met before. These characters are full of life, full of potential. I never realized what a tragedy the entire Batman franchise was, but reading this, you realize that these people are cursed, doomed, trapped in the haunted decaying corpse of Gotham City.
One of the things I really like about the show’s potential is that it’s got an end date. There’s a moment after which the show simply is no more, that iconic moment when Bruce Wayne first puts on that Batsuit. There are a finite number of years for the show, five or six tops. And if you don’t believe that there are at least 132 great stories to tell between Bruce’s 18th birthday and that fateful night, then I pity your paucity of imagination.
Yes, I’ve heard the arguments about the glut of teen shows on Fox and the WB. Put those fears away. This is not just another teen show. The producers of this show are talking about it in strong dramatic terms, taking their cues from the best impulses of shows like BUFFY and THE X-FILES. I have seen the plans for later seasons, and there are things I am now dying to see, places I can’t wait to go with Bruce. It’s an epic journey for young Mr. Wayne. It’s the role of a lifetime for a young actor, and I guarantee it’s going to make a major star out of someone.
And that leads us around to the reason you may never see this show. Logic would suggest that since the film franchise derailed so spectacularly -- and I don’t care what money B&R earned worldwide; it’s a disaster -- it’s time for someone else to tend things for while. Yes, we all keep hearing about various possibilities for what next film we might see. We heard about Protosevich and his Scarecrow-centric BATMAN 5. We heard about a proposed YEAR ONE film. We heard about a live-action BATMAN BEYOND. All of these indicate forward motion of some sort.
Then again, we also keep hearing about Joel Schumacher’s desire to stay involved with the series. That alone would mandate taking the property away from the feature division. I would imagine that Lorenzo Di Bonaventura must feel like my writing about him and his decisions is personal by now, but it’s not. He just happens to be in the position of making decisions about a high percentage of very cool projects. In this case, I’m confused by him stepping in to deal with anything BATMAN related. I was under the impression Jeff Robinov was the executive in charge of the next film. It would make sense. If you look at the projects each of them is in charge of, you’ll see that Robinov has an affinity for comic book material. I mean, this is the guy who’s pushing LOBO and JONAH HEX through the system. Lorenzo’s only other superhero project is PLASTIC MAN, something he inherited in turnaround. The only reason it’s hot again is because the Wachowskis wrote it.
I’m not naive; I understand how these turf wars evolve between executives. Lorenzo sees it as a threat to hand over this enormously profitible property to the TV division. I’m sure he feels on some level that it would be an admission of failure to let someone else take charge for a while. One of the ideas I’ve heard bandied about is using BRUCE WAYNE to cultivate a new movie star, someone who could be plugged into a YEAR ONE feature when the show ends its run. If that happened, it would make sense that McCanlies and Tollin/Robbins would be the producers in charge of that film. There’s even more control handed over. Terrifying. All of the sudden, Lorenzo sees himself sidelined for the next decade... and that’s if things go well. I think it’s an eventuality he should be prepared for.
Besides, there are ways for a film franchise and a TV franchise to co-exist. Even as Warner Bros. worked to bring SUPERMAN back to the bigscreen, LOIS & CLARK had a fairly successful run. If that show, slight as it was, proved to be a hit for Warner, then greenlighting BRUCE WAYNE should be a no-brainer.
Right now, the fate of this show is in the hands of the licensing partners, the studio, DC Comics... all these disparate interests must be satisfied if any progress is going to be made. I know McCanlies and Tollin/Robbins are working hard to convert everyone to their vision, and I hope there was progress made over the last week or so. If the right people unite, if they get behind this extraordinary opportunity, they can get the show on the air, and they should. The interests of a few key executives cannot be allowed to block something that manages to make so much commercial and creative sense. If it does derail the show, it’s more than disappointing. It’s downright irresponsible.
EYES STILL SHUT
According to British website Popcorn, Warner Bros. has also made the disappointing decision to release EYES WIDE SHUT only in its edited form in North America when the video and the DVD hit stores this spring. They’re still standing behind their asinine “Kubrick wanted it this way” statements from last year. I think it’s a damn shame that they’re not going to allow at least one uncensored version of the film to exist for fans in the US. It’s a disgraceful handling of the Master’s last film. It’s especially disappointing since Kubrick films always find their audience over time. Now, no matter when someone comes to the movie, they’re always going to be seeing something that’s compromised, incomplete. Shame on everyone involved in this choice.
MATRIX ON THE MOVE?
The Peeping Tom, purveyor of all things related to cinematography, dropped by the Labs this week, and as we were talking, he mentioned that Bill Pope was unhappy with being away from his family for the 9 months it took to shoot the original MATRIX. With the film’s sequels shooting back-to-back, there is some pressure from Pope for the productions to be moved Stateside. Now there’s speculation the sequels will shoot in Los Angeles after all. Either way, Pope’s going to finish work on BEDAZZLED before anything happens with the MATRIX follow-ups.
“LADIES MAN” PASSES AWAY
And unfortunately I don’t mean Tim Meadows. No, it’s Marc Davis, one of the Nine Old Men, one of the greatest film artists of all time. He was 86, and his contribution to the medium is without equal.
Father Geek wrote his tribute to Davis on Friday, but I have to pay my own homage to him. His work at Disney is one of the primary influences on my development as an animation fan. He was all over my favorite classic Disney film SLEEPING BEAUTY. That film is a perfect example of why he was called “Disney’s ladies man” by many. Both Briar Rose and Maleficent are astonishing, accomplished characters. So is Tinker Bell, a character with more depth and passion than anything in recent efforts like MULAN or POCAHONTAS. I mean, Tink’s as much the Disney logo now as Mickey Mouse himself. Remember the last shot of ROGER RABBIT? You had Warner’s signature ending -- Porky and his “That’s all folks” stutter -- and you had Tink with her wand. Everyone who was at this year’s Butt-Numb-A-Thon can testify to the enduring charm of the characters he created for SONG OF THE SOUTH, Bre’r Fox and Bre’r Bear.
Then, of course, there’s Cruella De Vil. If she doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will. I adore every vampy moment of Miss De Vil in 101 DALMATIONS. I find it amazing that Glen Close, overacting with every fiber of her being, isn’t even a patch on the effortless grace and malice of Davis’ creation. When we measure any accomplishment in character animation today -- Hogarth, Kiki, Tarzan -- Davis is the standard to which they must be held.
Another animator who keeps alive the tradition of great character work is John Kricfalusi, creator of the classic REN & STIMPY. It pleases me to no end that the Fox Kid’s Network fall schedule includes a new Spumco show, the long-delayed THE RIPPING FRIENDS. It’s a superhero show with no actual superheroes. Instead, it’s about a bunch of manly men who solve their problems the manly way. They look down on superheroes as girly little cheaters who have to rely on superpowers to get them out of trouble. Superheroes, after all, don’t feel pain, and that’s half the point.
Chris Gore includes a chapter on THE RIPPING FRIENDS in his book THE 50 GREATEST MOVIES NEVER MADE, and it’s one of the few entries in the book where I’m sort of happy it didn’t happen. I’d much rather have a new Spumco series on the air than just one feature film. You should definitely find and read Gore’s description of the idea, or even better, see if you can find copies of Film Threat’s big REN & STIMPY issue from around ‘93 or ‘94. They had some great artwork from the proposed film and further details. The main characters are all modeled after John K.’s heroes like Kirk Douglas, Peter Graves, and Marlon Brando. Every morning, they get up and work out on their pain machines, tormenting screams out of themselves.
One of Spumco’s mainstay characters, Jimmy the Idiot Boy, serves as an assistant to the Ripping Friends, whose name comes about when they get infuriated by their inability to beat the laws of nature. They get so made that they begin to punch the air around themselves. In the process, they find a way to rip the very fabric of time and space, leading to an entire universe of story potential. With John K.’s knack for inspired madness, I can’t imagine this being anything less than a treat.
STILL NAKED, STILL TRUCKING
I’ve mentioned Naked Trucker in this column before, and it’s because the show renders me helpless from laughter each time I see it. There’s another chance for you to see what I’m talking about this coming Thursday, the 20th, when Naked Trucker plays a free show at LunaPark. This is going to be a glimpse of what you can expect if Imagine greenlights a series based on Naked Trucker (Dave “Gruber” Allen) and Gerald “T-Bone” Timmons (Dave Koechner). If you do show up, keep your eyes open for the older man in the immaculately tailored suit with the mutant henchmen in tow.
You might also keep your eyes open for Allen in his regular recurring role on the just-returned FREAKS & GEEKS. Last week’s episode also saw Koechner appear, as well as Joel Hodgson (MST3K) and Jason Schwartzman (RUSHMORE). The show continues to get more confident, more polished. With guest talent like that and the show’s gifted young regulars, it deserves your attention, especially as it struggles for ratings. Its new Monday slot does seem to be an improvement, so check it out and see what all the fuss has been about.
HOW FAR CAN YOU BEND REALITY BEFORE IT BREAKS?
By now, the news about Joe Berlinger’s hiring as the director of THE BLAIR WITCH SEQUEL has been reported pretty much everywhere. I think it’s a fascinating choice. I’m a giant fan of his work on PARADISE LOST: THE CHILD MURDERS AT ROBIN HOOD HILLS, and think he just might have the chops to make this second film feel even more real than the first one. The thing that makes me really curious is reading the casting breakdowns that have popped up on the Net courtesy of Dark Horizons and other sites. They seem to imply that the characters in this new film are not just aware of the Blair Witch mythos, but also the first movie itself. The characters seem to represent the basic breakdown of fans over the film -- someone who believes it, someone who thinks it was all hype, someone who thinks it was a great clever fake. It’s always risky to go this postmodern with a sequel, but if Berlinger pulls it off, he could create something that genuinely rewards a second trip to the well. Here’s hoping.
SODERBERGH? CLOONEY? COOL, BABY
Just so Lorenzo doesn’t think I can only say bad things about Warner Bros., let me officially proclaim that I am giddy at the thought of Soderbergh and Clooney remaking OCEAN’S 11. I have no idea who booted Brett Ratner from the film or why, and I don’t care. With Soderbergh in the driver’s seat, this is going to be one film that oozes cool, that just can’t help how cool it is. I’m sure he’ll put together a killer supporting cast. Personally, I think the real winner in this story is Ted Griffin, the writer of the film, whose only credit so far is BEST LAID PLANS. If he pulls this off, he’s going to be on the A-list overnight. Now I just have to figure out how to justify spending three months in Vegas while they shoot...
HEY, BRUCE, WANT A TIC-TAC?
Bruce Willis seems to have really embraced the fantastic recently. ARMAGEDDON, THE SIXTH SENSE, next summer’s THE KID, UNBREAKABLE... these are fantasy films, high-concept, not really the kind of thing Willis has been traditionally known for. Now he’s attached to BEAUTY for Fox, in which he’s going to play an archaeologist in New York who awakens Sleeping Beauty with a kiss. Sounds like a riff on SPLASH, but Bruce might be able to bring some life to it. It really depends on who his co-star is. The film is set to be directed by Michael Pressman. I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but I couldn’t place the name when I read it. I knew it was someone whose work I’d seen, but I couldn’t come up with anything until I hit the IMDb. Once I saw a filmography that includes TO GILLIAN ON HER 37TH BIRTHDAY, DOCTOR DETROIT, SOME KIND OF HERO, THE BAD NEWS BEARS IN BREAKING TRAINING and -- I’m not kidding about this -- my personal fave of his films, THE GREAT TEXAS DYNAMITE CHASE, I realized I have no idea what to expect. I mean, this guy’s done it all, and he doesn’t really seem to leave any big fingerprints on his films. He’s also one of the producers and directors of CHICAGO HOPE, which would explain how he ended up as a producer on David E. Kelley’s LAKE PLACID this year.
NEW RELEASES, QUICK IMPRESSIONS
There’s two Oscar contenders that rolled out wide this weekend, both of which I had a chance to screen last week. First was Scott Elliott’s A MAP OF THE WORLD. I thought the acting was uniformly strong, with Sigourney Weaver and Julianne Moore making particularly vivid impressions. David Strathairn has played the long-suffering husband enough times now to patent the act, but he’s always grounded and real, so I can’t fault him. Elliott does a great job of painting the details of daily life in this film which centers on those moments when life takes you in unexpected directions. There are moments when the film veers too far into the melodramatic, but not many. Overall, this is a decent smaller picture that you’ll enjoy at home just as much as in the theater, so don’t fret if you don’t catch it immediately.
On the other hand, turn the computer off immediately and run to the nearest theater playing TOPSY TURVY if you haven’t seen it yet. I never thought I’d hear myself proclaim a Mike Leigh film as “wildly entertaining,” but it is. I also never expected that I’d be singing the praises of a period biopic about Gilbert & Sullivan, but I am. The film features an amazing cast that is fronted by the always-great Jim Broadbent, given his finest role to date here as W.M. Gilbert, the author of the librettos for the light operas for which G&S were famous. The film is an unabashed love letter to the process of creating art through performance, and as someone with a fair amount of stage background, I found the rehearsal and staging sequences to be dizzying, immediate, and real. I am astonished at Leigh’s work here, and believe it to be a career high for the filmmaker. You owe it to yourself to see this film on the largest screen possible. Take as many friends as you can. This is a film to be savored, shared, and seen over and over. I’ll be going back myself as soon as I can spare a moment.
PEE WEE WON’T “JACK” AFTER ALL
I have to admit, I’m relieved the Hollywood Reporter wrote that Paul Reubens has dropped out of the syndicated TV gameshow version of YOU DON’T KNOW JACK. The trade reports that Reubens had scheduling problems since he’s about to start a major supporing role in Ted Demme’s cops-and-cocaine epic BLOW. Reubens will be co-starring with Johnny Depp in the film, even as he finishes up the screenplay for the third Pee Wee Herman movie. Both of these projects sound infinitely more interesting than just another gameshow, a trend that’s already grown irritating. How about mixing genres? Can’t we throw some animal attacks into these game shows? At least then they’d be genuinely suspenseful.
TRAVOLTA: STEINBECK, TRAVEL, AND THAT DAMN TRAILER
In the past week, John Travolta has been announced in association with two upcoming films of interest. One is STEINBECK’S POINT OF VIEW. I can’t stress enough how powerful this script is. If this film is even half as good, it will destroy audiences. It’s like FIELD OF DREAMS or THE SIXTH SENSE, a smart emotional drama with some metaphysical implications. Travolta’s perfect for the lead, and it might be the best role he’s had since Chili Palmer. He’s also attached to Sony’s THE TRAVEL AGENT, which Andrew Davis is set to direct from a script by Michael Goldenberg and Nicolas Kazan. The film’s a time travel drama about a team of people who are sent into the future to try and give America an advantage, even though they’re only capable of short six month jumps.
For me, though, the real Travolta news as of late is that amazing, laugh-out-loud, can-you-believe-you-just-saw-that?! trailer for BATTLEFIELD EARTH. Dear sweet God, someone save me a seat for opening day. I saw this thing three times over one weekend, and I hyperventilated all three times. Travolta makes his FACE/OFF work seem subtle in his few seconds onscreen here, and that amazing conehead/dreadlock look just rules. If this isn’t the funniest film released in the year 2000, I will be stunned. As it is, I have to see it, so I guess the trailer did its job, even if it wasn’t quite the way Warner Bros. planned.
DE PALMA AND KUBRICK, SITTIN’ IN A TREE...
Well, it looks like Brian De Palma has finally gotten over his infatuation with Alfred Hitchcock. He’s set his sights even higher. Now he wants to be Stanley Kubrick. You know what I say? Let him.
I love De Palma. I can’t help myself. In fact, I don’t want to help myself. The guy has been post-modern longer than there’s been a name for it. He’s so reflexively referential that I don’t consider it a fault in him anymore than I do in Tarantino. I love the ride that De Palma takes us on as viewers. His best films -- BLOW OUT, SISTERS, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, THE UNTOUCHABLES, CARLITO’S WAY -- don’t just entertain us, they try to engulf us, overwhelm us with major set pieces and iconic imagery.
I haven’t heard much about MISSION TO MARS while it’s been in production, but I got a letter from a new spy the other day, and I thought I’d close the RUMBLINGS out with it this week. We may see more photos from “Buzz” later in the week. For now, enjoy these three images which you’re not going to find at the official site or anywhere else on the Web.
“Moriarty........if you want to use this letter, you should call me BUZZ LIGHTFINGERS. I’m working on M2M, somewhere in the process between ILM and Disney. If I tell you where, it would narrow things down and get my ass FIRED! Let me just tell you, I see everything for some of these films, like for this one. There’s some great stuff that we’re getting in now from ILM that would just make your eyes pop out of your head. They’re putting a few things on their Disney ‘site, but it’s not the really good stuff. I’m sending you a couple of really cool pictures here. One is a major space station from the film, another is a Martian landscape, and the last one is an image that they might be using for the poster. What’s behind those big doors that are opening? I’ll try and send you some pictures later this week to answer that.”
And I think that about wraps things up, Knowles. It feels good to almost have this column back on track. Thanks to all the patient readers and even the impatient ones who have e-mailed me repeatedly. We’ve got a lot of good stuff ahead this year, and even this week. Until then...