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Comic Book Movies Oopsies
by Mike Thomas

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Literature has been the stuff of movies ever since screenwriters discovered they didn't have to "re-invent the wheel" to write a movie. Plagiarism is an accepted practice in Hollywood. Shakespeare, Poe, Shelley, even contemporary writers like Rowling and Tolkien have been gleaned for "original" movie material. Even the lowly graphic novel, or as we used to call them, comic books, have supplied screenwriters with a wealth of material. The unique aspect of comic books, though, is the endless supply of backstory and familiarization with the characters, so that - theoretically - you don't need to explain every little detail to bring your audience up to speed.

Usually they didn't even get it quite right.

Stan Lee, Editor Emeritus of Marvel Comics once said - paraphrasing him - that technology has to catch up with comic books. The imagery on celluloid has to be equal to the printed page with already-established imagery, e.g., everyone knows what Superman looks like. Also, the dreaded Hollywood Committee Mill, always meddling with a movie to improve it's "Q," has had far too much influence on comic book movies, interfering in an area where they have zero knowledge and experience. That's how we ended up with RED SONJA with Brigitte Nielsen and Rob Schneider as the comic relief in JUDGE DREDD.

With this year being a banner year for comic book movies, and 2012 heralding in the much-anticipated AVENGERS movie, I'd like to look back at the missteps along the way to comic-book FX awesomeness. The list could get quite long, if you consider some of the awful clunkers we still have had to contend with recently (The GREEN HORNET), so we'll limit the list to ten, and keep it limited to the last century:

When we think of God-Awful, the first name that comes to mind is our favorite flat-top, Dolph Lundgren. Aside from Rocky IV (I must break you), and MASTERS of the UNIVERSE, he got to be the first live action hero (though the "live" part is debatable) to don the black-draped skulled t-shirt as The PUNISHER (1989). Up until this year, Lundgren's Punisher was considered one of the worst comic book movies - ever. He should be relieved to know that his title has been usurped.

One of Hollywood's first forays into presenting the Marvel Universe as entertainment to the masses was the live-action TV series of everybody's favorite friendly, neighborhood web-slinger, "The Amazing Spider-Man" (1977-78).
When Captain America throws his plastic shield...

When Captain America throws his plastic shield...
Everybody from that era can vividly remember every episode using the same wall-crawling effect (no, not the same effect - the same footage), and Spidey shooting that cargo-net-sized webbing from his web shooter. But, we, as comic book fans endured the Wal-Mart effects budget and toughed it out for three years. It died an ignoble death, and to my knowledge, the episodes can only be found at comic book conventions, and was aired occasionally on the old Sci-Fi Network. SyFy has yet to air these episodes. Fortunately, Spider-Man, like Superman, is invulnerable, and keeps coming back. The latest incarnation is scheduled for 2012 with a new director and a new cast, which after much speculation and debate will be called (drum roll, please) The AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.

The first appearance of the red-white-and-blue avenger came in 1979 with CAPTAIN AMERICA, starring a cast of Z-listers (to give an example, the only name I recognized was Michael McManus, whose only claim to fame was the short-lived Canadian sci-fi TV sex comedy, "Lexx." They gave Captain America a motorcycle, and a transparent plexiglass shield. Ooooookay......

Hollywood B-listers took another stab at ol' wing head with a live-action version of CAPTAIN AMERICA (1990). I don't remember much about this movie, which gives you an idea how much of an impact this movie had.

Sam Jones, who did such a banged-up job with the Queen-scored FLASH GORDON, was given the title role of Denny Colt in The SPIRIT (1987). In the movie's defense, Frank Miller and Gabriel Macht didn't fare much better in their attempt in 2008

An aircraft carrier floating in the sky by four massive jet engines and REALLY over-the-top acting marks NICK FURY: AGENT of S.H.I.E.L.D. (1998) with David Hasselhoff. This little espionage tale took over-acting a new plateau.

By the time SUPERMAN III (1983) & IV (1987) hit the screens, the producers were just phoning in the production. One buffoon super-villain (Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor) was more than enough, but replacing him with comic stand-up icon Richard Pryor horribly miscast as a bumbling, but accidentally brilliant computer genius super-villain? And there isn't enough room in this article to
Shaq should really fire his movie agent

Shaq should really fire his movie agent
explain Christopher Reeve's last effort. The man tried, but you can only do so much with super-excrement.

STEEL(1997) was born out of the disastrous Superman Quartet series DC comics ran after the spectacular Death of Superman issue. Shaquille O'Neal (by the way, that Superman tattoo he sported in the movie was real) took one of the incarnations, and made him into a poor man's Tony Stark. "Iron Man for the 'Hood," so to speak. You KNOW the movie's in trouble when the ultimate climax of the movie is solely dependent on Shaq's free throw skills.

Dr. STRANGE. (1978) I don't remember too much about this endeavor, except it was badly lit, used a lot of psychedelic lighting in place as magiks. Moreover, Dr. Strange came off like a Studio 54 Lounge Lizard. His "look" looked sleazy. The character had a superhero redemption when Marvel did an animated version much later on.

But the prize of all the superhero clunkers was a movie - that never was! In 1994, B-movie master Roger Corman did a live-action version of The FANTASTIC FOUR. True to his style, the FX budget was as little as he could get away with (the Human Torch
"Flamed On" only once in the movie, and The Thing was in a full body suit a la Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), but he pretty much stuck to the canon. His Dr. Doom was a little more imposing, though (he was going for the character, not the actor). The movie was never released supposedly due to budget restrictions, but the popular rumor surrounding the movie was that Corman was paid by Twentieth Century Fox NOT to distribute the movie! Needless to say, the movie "leaked" out, and bootleg copies can be bought at most comic book conventions. It's even available as a DVD!

DC, not to be outdone, made a pilot for the Justice League of America in 1997. This travesty was never aired, and even at comic book conventions, a tape of this sole pilot is hard to find. But as a Public Service to our comic-obsessed Matchflickers, you can see for yourself why this never made the pre-pilot stage: Here's the trailer. If you're a real masochist, the entire pilot can be seen - in parts - on youTUBE.

Then there were the Serials: Superman, Batman, Captain America (with a gun, no shield), Captain Marvel, and The Phantom. You can't really say anything negative about the serials. These shorts were synonymous with cheesy. They were made fast and cheap, because they had to crank out one every week. In today's movie biz, a single scene could take that long and cost ten times as much! But it filled the need for superhero adventure, as
The Fantatis four Class Photo

The Fantatis four Class Photo
well as movie seats.

Where the white women? (sorry, I couldn't resist). Female superheroes were deliberately left out of this list because it's my opinion their movies were doomed from the first movie pitch. Although Hollywood can produce a decent comic book, and in some cases, good movies about strong female characters, movie adaptations of female comic book superheroes just plainly SUCKED and the "heroine" usually ended up needing to be rescued by a man. They tried with RED SONJA. . They tried with SHEENA. They tried with SUPERGIRL. BARB WIRE. TANK GIRL. CATWOMAN (Michelle Pfeiffer doesn't count. It wasn't her movie.)

Many of these movies tried again in this Century, but unfortunately they were still mainly hit-or-miss. The "suits" still have too much control over content, and we're still being subjected to WTF superhero movies. There has been some progress, though. Both Marvel and DC have put up their own studios and are getting more control over their characters. The key word here is "getting." Perhaps in our lifetime, we may see superhero movies that feature characters as we remembered them. Also, both Marvel and DC have had better success with their animated projects, though their products are still a little more like animated comic books and not the live-action features that spend the money on good stories, good actors and good FX.

In conclusion, that thanks to all the comic book reading nerds that took their dateless nights and marathons study sessions, and brought their obsession with comic books to Hollywood, trying desperately to finally get it right, I say, keep on plugging, Eventually you'll get it.


We hope.

......It's still a work in progress....


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Science Fiction, Double Feature
Every other Sunday

This column will explore my taste in film. I watch all kinds of movies - all kinds - but likes science fiction/fantasy - action, animated, funny, even stupid. He will speak of his experience and his encounters with science fiction and the way it colors his - and our - everyday life.

Other Columns
Other columns by Mike Thomas:

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu

Joker Smackdown

Kids in Peril

Twenty Questions with Michael Bonomo

Twenty Questions with Scott Wheeler

All Columns

Mike Thomas
Mike Thomas was introduced to science fiction when he first watched 2001 - A SPACE ODYSSEY, and was hooked ever since. But he doesn't just watch the gee-whiz, gollee-gee special effects. He watches the costumes quirks, evaluates the musical scores, even identifies favorite actors of directors. He collected comic book, but has moved on to weapons: he currently owns the Mj?llnir - the Hammer of Thor, Electra's Ninja Sai's, Mace Windu's Light Saber, and a couple of Batarangs.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Mike Thomas by clicking here.

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