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Movie Doppelgangers: The Most Implausibly Identical Movies of All Time – Part I

10 Sep

It only takes one glance at your local cinema’s timetable to realise that Hollywood isn’t the most original place in the world.  Do I want to see the superhero movie, the alien/vampire/zombie/robot/alien vampire zombie robot film, the Jennifer Aniston rom-com, or the one where Tom Cruise plays a hero and we have to try to pretend he’s not a crazy Scientologist?

Sometimes, however, even Hollywood goes too far.  Sometimes two movies come out at the same time and with the same premise, so that you can’t help wondering whether executives are looking over each other’s shoulders and copying their exam answers.

For example, this year it was possible to have this exchange:

Boy: “Do you want to see that new movie about the White House getting attacked?”

Girl: “Sure!  I love Channing Tatum!”

Boy: “You mean Gerard Butler?”

Girl: “No, Tatum.”

Boy: “You’re thinking of the wrong movie.  I’m talking about the one where the White House gets attacked.”

Girl: “Yeah, and the President gets held hostage.”

Boy: “Right, but it doesn’t have Channing Tatum in it.”

Girl: “Sure it does, and Jamie Foxx is president.”

Boy: “What? Aaron Eckhart is president.”

Girl: “No he’s not.  It’s Jamie Foxx.”

Boy: “Are you thinking about Morgan Freeman, cos that’s racist.  He’s in the movie, but he’s not the president.”

Girl: “I’m positive it’s Jamie Foxx.  You know, ‘The White House Has Fallen’.  A failed presidential guard is stuck on the inside, has to save the day.”

Boy: “Right, an ex-presidential guard is stuck on the inside and has to save the day.  Is it called ‘White House Has Fallen’ though?  Isn’t it ‘Olympus’ something?”

Girl: “Yes!  ‘Olympus is Down’!  That’s it.”

Boy: “No, it’s ‘Olympus Has Fallen!”

Girl: “That’s it, that’s the one.  It’s called ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ and it stars Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx.”

Boy: “No it DOESN’T!!!  It has Eckhart and Butler!  Eckhart and BUTLER! AND BUTLER SAVES ECKHART FROM THE KOREANS!!!”

Girl: “The Koreans?  What?”

Boy: “Let’s just go watch Wolverine.”

Yes, within three months Hollywood released Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down, two movies about the White House being attacked, the President of the USA being held hostage, and a failed presidential guard on the inside the only possibility of saving the day.  And both plots, according to most reviews, are equally ludicrous.  No surprises there.

It’s not the first time Hollywood has managed to release essentially the same movie twice at the same time.  Here is part I of Hesaidwhatnow?’s list of the Most Implausibly Identical Movies of All Time.

The Illusionist v The Prestige

"My crystal ball tells me there will be another movie just like this!"

“My crystal ball tells me there will be another movie just like this!”

"Wolverine's a pussy!" "Shut up Batman!"

“Batman’s a pussy!” “Shut up Wolverine!”

The Illusionist   The Prestige
1 September 2006 Release Date 20 October 2006
7.6/10 IMDb Score 8.4/10
68/100 Meta Critic Score 66/100
74/100 Rotten Tomatoes Score 76/100
$16 million Budget $40 million
$39.8 million Box Office Gross (US) $53 million
$87.9 million Box Office Gross (World) $109.7 million

No, it’s not an illusion.  In 2006, Hollywood pulled the magic trick of releasing two period dramas about magicians within a fortnight of each other.  The similarities are numerous: both films are based on books (the Illusionist on Steven Millhauser’s short story ‘Eisenheim the Illusionist’; the Prestige on the award winning novel of the same name by Christopher Priest); both films are set in Europe in the late 1800s; and both juxtapose the wonder of magic with a darker underside of dangerous rivalries, on stage and for love.  The main differences?  Whilst the Prestige focusses on the rivalry between two competing magicians, the Illusionist focusses on a magician’s quest to take his true love and escape from the evil clutches of her betrothed, Crown Prince Leopold.  Also, the Prestige delves somewhat in the mystical, whereas the Illusionist stays strictly on the seemingly mystical.

Unlike many movies on this list, this pair of films are both very good, with critics and audiences alike reacting positively to both movies.  The cast of the Illusionist is excellent: Edward Norton as the protagonist, Jessica Biel as his love interest, Rufus Sewell as the evil Crown Prince, and Paul Giamitti as the chief of the Vienna police.  However the cast of The Prestige is even better.  Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale play the rivals, with Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine,  Piper Parabo, and David Bowie playing significant roles.  Plus The Prestige is slightly more entertaining throughout, and importantly for a movie about magicians, has the better ‘reveal’.

Winner: The Prestige

Dante’s Peak v Volcano

"I can't believe a volcano is about to erupt in a small town in Washington state."

“I can’t believe a volcano is about to erupt in a small town in Washington state.”

"At least it's slightly more plausible than a volcano erupting in Los Angeles."

“At least it’s slightly more plausible than a volcano erupting in Los Angeles.”

Dante’s Peak   Volcano
7 February 1997 Release Date 27 April 1997
5.7/10 IMDb Score 5.3/10
43/100 Meta Critic Score 55/100
27/100 Rotten Tomatoes Score 44/100
$116 million Budget $90 million
$67.2 million Box Office Gross (US) $47.5 million
$178.2 million Box Office Gross (World) $122.8 million

What we have here are two disaster movies released within a few months of each other about a volcano erupting, threatening the lives of local citizens. Can the experienced but troubled protagonist (Pierce Brosnan, whose girlfriend and fellow volcano expert who four years earlier was killed by, yep, a volcano; and Tommy Lee Jones) convince the local authorities that tragedy is looming?  Can they protect their love interests (Linda Hamilton and Anne Heche) and at least one child from the volcano threatening to erupt?  And can they do so to positive reviews by critics and viewers?  Sadly, they could not, with both movies’ reviews and box office grossings ranging somewhere between ‘ordinary’ and ‘destroyed by liquid hot magma’.

Winner: The volcanoes.

Deep Impact v Armageddon

I'd be hugging someone with gratitude too if I found out that they gave the Aerosmith song to the other meteor movie.

I’d be hugging someone with gratitude too if I found out that they gave the Aerosmith song to the other meteor movie.

"Armageddon that asteroid, that's a promise.  And a pun!"

“Armageddon that asteroid, that’s a promise. And a pun!”

Deep Impact   Armageddon
8 May 1998 Release Date 1 July 1998
6.0/10 IMDb Score 6.5/10
40/100 Meta Critic Score 42/100
47/100 Rotten Tomatoes Score 40/100
$75 million Budget $140 million
$140.5 million Box Office Gross (US) $201.6 million
$321.0 million Box Office Gross (World) $553.7 million

Speaking of disaster movies, once Hollywood were done watching volcanoes ravage the planet, they decided to think bigger.  So it is that two movies about giant space rocks on a path of destruction hurtled through the atmosphere and into our cinemas – within two months of each other.

In Deep Impact, a comet on course to flatten Earth is discovered and the US and Russia secretly plan to send a spacecraft to intercept it and detonate it with nuclear weapons.  However, there are problems, and the world remains in danger, forcing the US and Russia to inform the world of its impending doom.  In Armageddon, an asteroid on course to flatten Earth is discovered and the US secretly plans to send a spacecraft to intercept it and detonate it with nuclear weapons.  However, there are problems, and the world remains in danger, forcing the US to inform the world of its impending doom.

The main differences?  Um… one’s a comet and one’s an asteroid?  One could cause an “Extinction Level Event” and one could cause an “Extinction Event”?  One has Steven Tyler screeching “I don’t wanna miss a thing” whilst Ben Affleck walks animal crackers over his real life daughter’s half naked body, whilst the other doesn’t (thank god)?

Actually, the main difference is that Armageddon is typical Michael Bay over-the-top-ness, whereas Deep Impact is (apparently) slightly more grounded in scientific theory.  That and, despite poor critical acclaim, Armageddon made an asteroid sized amount of money in the box office whereas Deep Impact only earned a comet sized fortune.

Winner: Armageddon I guess.  And animal crackers.

Drop Zone v Terminal Velocity

A movie about skydiving villains happened...

Yep.  A movie about skydiving villains actually happened…

...twice.

…twice.

Drop Zone   Terminal Velocity
9 September 1994 Release Date 23 September 1994
5.4/10 IMDb Score 5.3/10
N/A Meta Critic Score N/A
35/100 Rotten Tomatoes Score 14/100
$45 million Budget $50 million
$28.7 million Box Office Gross (US) $16.5 million
N/A Box Office Gross (World) N/A

1994 was the first time I remember being gobsmacked that two movies with virtually identical premises could come out at the same time.  If, as a thirteen year old, I can think, “Wait – there’s two movies about skydiving coming out?  Is that a typo?” then surely Hollywood should have been able to stop and realise that perhaps doubling up on such a ridiculous concept wasn’t such a good idea.  If only.

The plots?  In Drop Zone, US Marshal Wesley Snipes loses a brother to a terrorist attack on a plane, although he suspects it was an elaborate plot.  It turns out he is correct – the ‘terrorists’, led by the always well presented Gary Busey, were after the computer hacking genius Snipes was escorting, and parachuted to safety, planning to use the computer wiz to help them with their plausible criminal plan: parachuting onto the DEA building in Washington DC, hacking into their mainframe, stealing information on undercover agents and auctioning them off to bad guys.  Snipes must then learn skydiving from a sexy love interest to stop Busey.

Terminal Velocity has Charlie Sheen as a maverick skydiving instructor.  When a sexy love interest goes up with him for her first dive, she falls out of the plane and seemingly dies, although Sheen suspects it was an elaborate plot.  It turns out he is correct – the woman was a Russian spy who wanted to fake her own death so as to recover a shipment of gold.  In what is one of the greatest single lines of a plot summary of all time, Sheen then has to use “all of his skydiving skills to outwit the villains and stay alive”.  And his mother thought he was wasting his time being a skydiving instructor.

These two films are awful.  Both were duds at the box office and were laughed at by critics, although the reviews for Terminal Velocity were particularly scathing.

Winner: Drop Zone.  Whilst both films failed to open their parachutes, Drop Zone hit the earth with slightly less of a thud.  Although in Terminal Velocity’s defence, it did have Charlie Sheen deliver an immortal line: “I’m not just a walking penis – I’m a flying penis!”   Yowsers.

No Strings Attached v Friends With Benefits

"Hey Natalie, you know how I said that love scene was for a movie?  Well you've been Punk'd!!!"

“Hey Natalie, you know how I said that love scene was for a movie? Well…Punk’d!!!”

I'm trying really hard not to make a dirty joke about their hand gestures.

I’m trying really hard not to make a dirty joke about their hand gestures.

No Strings Attached   Friends with Benefits
21 January 2011 Release Date 22 July 2011
6.1/10 IMDb Score 6.6/10
50/100 Meta Critic Score 63/100
49/100 Rotten Tomatoes Score 70/100
$25 million Budget $35 million
$70.7 million Box Office Gross (US) $55.8 million
$147.8 million Box Office Gross (World) $149.5 million

No Strings Attached is a comedy about two attractive friends (Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman) deciding to have a physical relationship without any emotional commitment.  Trouble is, they start developing feelings for each other.  Friends With Benefits is a comedy about two attractive friends (Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis) deciding to have a physical relationship without any emotional commitment.  Trouble is, they start developing feelings for each other.

Both of these films have the same plot, both star male leads who probably shouldn’t be in movies, and both earned roughly $150 million worldwide.  However Friends With Benefits had more support from critics and is generally considered the superior film.  Still, the only thing worse than trying to have a physical relationship with a platonic friend is to make two movies about it and release them at the same time.

Winner: Friends With Benefits.  Loser: anyone trying to convince someone that they should try being friends with benefits.

That’s five pairs of movies with the same premise released at the same time.  But there are plenty more.  Check back into Hesaidwhatnow? for Part II of Movie Doppelgangers: The Most Implausibly Identical Movies of All Time.

A Joining of Titans

8 Aug

Something unusual happened in New York yesterday that has baffled many people.  However, upon examining the evidence to hand, I have determined that this seemingly random event has a perfectly understandable, and awesome, explanation.  Sit down and put on a helmet – I’m about to blow your mind.

Yesterday a commuter on New York’s subway, identified only as ‘Mary M’, stepped into a carriage in Manhattan and immediately noticed something was wrong: there was an unusual odour on the train.  Now of course something would be wrong if there wasn’t an unusual odour on the train – we’re talking the New York Metro here – but as Mary M described the stench, “It’s not the typical urine/trash smell, it’s…fishy.”

Let’s overlook the fact that the New York subway normally smells of human waste, bodily or other, and focus on what Mary M saw.  “I look down to the end of the car,” she said, “to see a dead shark on the floor.  I think I stood there for a good minute just staring, thinking ‘Is this for real?  Oh come ON, NYC!’”  (I love Mary M!)  Sure enough though, there was a dead shark sitting on the floor of the carriage.  That’s weird, even by New York standards.

"So buddy, did you catch the Knicks game last night?"

“So buddy, did you catch the Knicks game last night?”

When asked how it would dispose of the dead shark, a Metropolitan Transportation Administration official stated, “Live sharks are wrangled by Shark Maintainer IIs, who have passed the qualification test and have minimum three years in the Shark Maintainer I title.  Dead ones are handled by Shark Maintainer Is, or if none are available on that shift, then by Aquatic Mammal Handler IIs.” Typical New York smart ass.

The shark was in fact disposed of, but no one knows how it came to be on the New York Metro in the first place (especially without a ticket).  As Mary M might say, something smells fishy.

The answer, however, is obvious.

Less than a month ago, US’s SyFy channel aired what is widely considered one of the decade’s top ten movies about sea-dwelling creatures in airborne weather patterns, Sharknado.  Due to the social media attention it garnered, it wasn’t long before a sequel was announced.  Not much has been revealed about the sequel to date, but we do know one thing: it will be set in New York City.

Mystery solved.

Yes, this dead shark on the Metro MUST be a publicity stunt for Sharknado 2: Sharks and the City (my early vote for the movie’s title).  Not only that, it could be a clue for what might happen in the film.

The only other fact about Sharknado 2: Biting the Big Apple that we know, besides its intended 2014 release date, is that Tara Reid will not be back to reprise her role of April Wexler, estranged wife of chainsaw-wielding, jumping-into-sharks’-mouths hero, Fin (played by Ian Ziering).  This means that there will need to be a new cast of actors, a new band of heroes.

"What? I'm not good enough to be in Sharknado 2?  This is a new low for me."

“What? I’m not good enough to be in Sharknado 2? This is a new low for me.”

Now, should it be the case that part of Sharknado 2: Some Fin in the Air is that the sharks will find themselves on the New York subway, as this incident seems to indicate, who would be a suitable actor to fill the void left by the departure of Reid’s vacant stare?  It would have to be someone unafraid of dealing with terrifying beasts, and preferably someone who has experience dealing with them on transport.

Of course!  There’s only one man for the job: Neville Flynn, aka Samuel L. Jackson’s character from Snakes on a Plane!

What better choice to be Ziering’s wingman than the furious Jackson?  Even their characters’ names are similar: Fin and Flynn!

And who wouldn’t want to hear Jackson, chainsaw in hand, scream out, “Enough is enough!  I have had it with these muthaf*ckin sharks on this muthf*ckin train!”  The answer: no one.  Except maybe Tara Reid.

He's not saying 'fudge'.

He’s not saying ‘fudge’.

I, for one, cannot wait for Sharknado 2: Sharks on a Train.  As the original Sharknado poster brashly stated: enough said.

Arnie’s Best One Liners

30 Jul

When it comes to one liners in action movies, no one can compete with the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger.  In honour of his awesomeness, and to celebrate his 66th birthday today, I’ve compiled the very best of his puns, wordplays, and wisecracks.  I couldn’t narrow them down to ten, so here are his fourteen greatest efforts.  Get in the chopper, strap yourself in, and enjoy.

"Hi, I'm Arnold.  Check out these great one liners from some of my moofies."

“Hi, I’m Arnold. Check out these great one liners from some of my moofies.”

14. Eraser

Eraser is a film that doesn’t immediately jump to mind when thinking of Arnie greats, but it certainly follows the usual format: action, some mandatory muscle shots, and of course, classic one liners such as this one.

Having trapped the bad guys’ limo on the railroad track, the vehicle gets demolished by the train with the requisite explosion.  Love interest Lee Cullen (Vanessa Williams) then asks Arnie for an update on their disappearing pursuers:

Cullen: “What happened to them?”

Arnie: “They caught a train.”

13. Commando

Commando is without peer for classic Arnie one liners, and features heavily in this list.  As a retired Black Ops Commando, Arnie is faced by a green beret called Cooke who is keen for a fight and a little trash talk.  A mistake on both counts.

Cooke: “You Scared motherf*cker?  Well, you should be, because this green beret is gonna kick your big ass!”

Arnie: “I eat green berets for breakfast.  And right now, I’m very hungry!”

12. Total Recall

Before Colin Farrell was running around as  Doug Quaid in last year’s reboot, Arnie was the man running around in the sci-fi mind trip Total Recall, and I for one can’t imagine anyone other than Arnie delivering lines like this quite so well:

Arnie: (Whilst killing the traitorous mutant Benny with a giant drill) “Screw you!”

11.  Eraser

To prove that his one liners aren’t reserved for human enemies, Arnie delivers this gem:

Arnie: (Shoots dead an alligator) “You’re luggage!”

10. Commando

Early in the movie, Arnie promises a low level thug called Sully that out of all the bad guys, he would kill him last.  Later, he interrogates Sully for information in the typically Arnie manner of dangling him over a cliff by his ankle.  Only when he has the information he needs does he give a one liner:

Arnie: “Remember, Sully, when I promised I’d kill you last?”

Sully: “That’s right Matrix!  You did!”

Arnie: “I lied.”

(Arnie releases Sully, who falls to his demise.)

9. Commando

Not stopping with giving Sully a quip before releasing him off the cliff, Arnie immediately backs it up with a rare one liner double play to love interest Cindy:

Cindy: “What happened to Sully?”

Arnie: “I let him go.”

8. The 6th Day

Set in a future where cloning humans is possible, Arnie confronts bad guy Michael Drucker, and sets him up for a one liner:

Arnie: “If you believe that, then you should clone yourself while you’re still alive.”

Drucker:  “Why is that?  So I can understand you’re unique perspective?”

Arnie: “No.  So you can go f*ck yourself.”

7. The Running Man

In this classic film in which people are forced into a life or death live TV game show, Arnie is challenged by a character named Buzzsaw who, surprisingly, has a chainsaw as his weapon of choice.  There’s only one way this can end for Buzzsaw – badly.  Namely being cut in half by his own weapon.  At least it resulted in a one liner:

Amber: “What happened to Buzzsaw?”

Arnie: “He had to split.”

6. Last Action Hero

A film within a film, Arnie plays a caricature of himself as the titular hero, Jack Slater.  Which means, of course, a few Arnie-esque one liners:

Arnie: (To a policeman barring his way) “You wanna be a farmer?  Here’s a couple of acres!”  (Kicks policeman in the groin)

5. Commando

Again, Commando comes through with the goods!  After killing a thug sitting on the seat next to him on a plane, Arnie gets the attention of the flight attendant so he can tell her this:

Arnie: “Don’t disturb my friend.  He’s dead tired.”

4. Predator

You can’t make a list involving Arnie action movies without including Predator (another Arnie film so good it was remade).  And you can’t make an Arnie action movie without a signature one liner:

Arnie: (Throws knife at bad guy, pinning him to the wall) “Here, stick around!”

3. Total Recall

Being married to Sharon Stone is not a bad thing, right?  Well, unless she’s trying to kill you.  The best way to defend yourself?  Be Arnie and hit her with a patented deathblow/one liner combo:

Lori: “Doug, honey… you wouldn’t hurt me, would you, sweetheart?  Sweetheart, be reasonable.  After all, we’re married!”

(Lori goes for her gun, Arnie shoots her through the head)

Arnie: “Consider that a divorce!”

2. True Lies

The climax of this action comedy finds Arnie in the cockpit of a fighter jet, a terrorist hanging precariously from one of the jet’s missiles.  There’s only one thing that could possibly happen in this situation: a one liner!

Arnie: (Launches the missile, shooting it into the terrorist’s helicopter) “You’re fired!”

1. Commando

What else could be number one on this list other than Commando?  After 90 minutes of classic Arnie where he delivers dozens of one liners and kills hundreds of bad guys, Arnie saves his best for last during the climactic fight seen with friend turned enemy Bennett:

Arnie: (Throws a pipe through Bennett)  “Let off some steam, Bennett!”

If you enjoyed that post, check out some more Movie posts here.

How Your Favourite Film Could Have Looked – Near Casting Choices in ’80s Movies – Part II

21 Jul

It’s fascinating to see what movies almost looked like had certain casting decisions actually happened.  As we saw in Part I of this post, plenty of our favourite ’80s films were very nearly completely different (Charlie Sheen as the Karate Kid anyone?) and in Part II we have a further look at the actors who were almost cast in some of the best ’80s films of all time.  Spoiler alert: Steven Segal does not make an appearance.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

One of the great high school adventures of all time, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off follows the title character as he skips school with his girlfriend and best friend to enjoy everything spring time Chicago can offer a group of teens – all without getting caught by his parents or his suspicious principal, Ed Rooney.

To pull that off, Ferris had to be smart, creative, and extremely likeable, and Matthew Broderick pulled that off perfectly, even adlibbing some of Ferris’s funniest moments.  However, he wasn’t the first person to be offered the role; that was Johnny Depp.  Due to scheduling conflicts, though, Depp had to turn down the offer.  Jim Carrey and Michael J. Fox, among others, were considered, but Broderick ultimately got to play the wannabe sausage king of Chicago.  Danke schoen Johhny!

Johnny Depp wishes he could rock a shower mohawk like this

Johnny Depp wishes he could rock a shower mohawk like this

Big

Along with skipping school, another schoolboy fantasy is to be all grown up and able to do what adults can.  That’s exactly what Josh Baskin got to do as the protagonist in Big.  The instant adult version was played by Tom Hanks, who was director Penny Marshall’s first choice for the part, but it almost never happened.

Initially Hanks had to decline the offer due to commitments to filming Dragnet.  After looking at other options, Marshall offered the part to Robert De Niro.  It might have been a different film; instead of dancing on giant floor pianos and grossing out his best friend with silly string, Josh would have become an organised crime lord.

De Niro actually accepted the offer, so the above could have happened, but his asking price of $6 million was too much and the offer was withdrawn.  In the end Marshall waited until Hanks – and his more palatable $2 million fee – was available, and the film went on to become the first film directed by a female to gross over $100 million.  Now that’s big.

Beetlejuice

Just one look at his films tells you that Tim Burton is a quirky guy.  A guy with scissors for hands?  That’s not weird!  His quirkiness isn’t just limited to his directorial style though, as evidenced by this near casting choice.

Back before the days when every single Burton film starred Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, Burton had one person and one person only in mind to play Betelgeuse, and it wasn’t Michael Keaton.  When he pictured the eccentric ‘bio-exorcist’ in his mind’s eye, Burton apparently envisioned a swinging, happening, Las Vegas crooner.  He envisioned Sammy Davis Jr.  The fact that the Rat Pack member was most popular in the ’50s and ’60s, and was 63 years old at the time didn’t seem to bother him.  It did bother the studio, however, who stepped in and exorcised that thought from Burton’s mind, leaving the role wide open for Keaton.  That’s showbiz, baby!

Beverly Hills Cop

Beverly Hills Cop was the movie that took the rapidly on the rise Eddie Murphy and rocketed him into superstardom.  Not only did that almost not happen, the movie itself was almost very different entirely.

Initially Beverly Hills Cop was an action film, with Sylvestor Stallone set to star.  The story was to follow Axel Foley – who was from east Los Angeles, not Detroit – as he got transferred to Beverly Hills.  Stallone, among others, tinkered with the script but ultimately passed on it (although it’s said he used some of the plot to develop Cobra).  The studio then looked to Mickey Rourke to take it over but that never eventuated.

In the end, to our eternal gratitude, the script was reworked and Murphy brought on board.  The best part about it is that when there were gaps or problems in the reworked script, it allowed Murphy to adlib some of the funniest moments of that movie, such as the ‘super-cops’ monologue.  Don’t believe me?  Watch John Ashton (Sgt. Taggart) closely at about the 55 second mark and you’ll see what I mean.

Ghostbusters

One of my favourite ’80s films, Ghostbusters is unique, hilarious, and boasts a great cast.  But the question, ‘Who ya gonna call?’ almost resulted in a completely different answer, as the cast originally intended was vastly different to the end product.  In fact, the movie itself almost looked quite different.

Originally Dan Akroyd’s vision was of a film set in the future where the ‘Ghost Smashers’ (seriously!) were an on-call emergency response team like fire fighters or paramedics.  Their proton packs had wands on the end of them, and by the conclusion of the film there were ‘Ghost Smasher’ franchises all across the United States – and not a marshmallow man in sight.

Who ya gonna call?  Ghost Smashers!  Wait...what?

Who ya gonna call? Ghost Smashers! Wait…what?

The problem with that script is that to actually turn it into a film would have cost way too much money, so Dan Ackroyd enlisted Harold Rambis to come in and help rewrite it.  He suggested making it a tale of how the team got started, and set it in the present.

The other problem was this: it was always Ackroyd’s intention that Ghostbusters be another buddy flick with him and his good mate John Belushi as Peter Venkman, with the third and final member of the team Winston, to be played by Eddie Murphy.  Needless to say that’s quite a different line up than what actually eventuated.

Belushi, of course, sadly died in 1982, meaning the role of Venkman was up for grabs.  Then Eddie Murphy pulled out to do Beverly Hills Cop, a decision he probably didn’t regret given Beverly Hills Cop was the only film to out-gross Ghostbusters in 1984.  So when Ramis helped Ackroyd rewrite the script, it started taking on a whole new flavour.  The character of Dr Egon Spengler was drafted, and Winston Zeddmore’s role was reduced.

When it came to casting, Ackroyd was the only person left standing from the initial plan.  Michael Keaton was offered the chance to play either Venkman or Egon, but turned the opportunity down.  In relation to Egon, the pair decided that Ramis was the man for the job and, thankfully, after Chevy Chase passed, Bill Murray was signed on to play Venkman and completely own it.

They weren’t the only near casting choices.  John Candy was to play Louis Tully, but he consistently wanted to make changes to the character – making him German with a pair of schnauzer dogs.  When his changes weren’t considered he quit, leaving Rick Moranis to fill the void.  Finally, Gozer was to be played by Paul Reubens, aka Pee-Wee Herman, before he too pulled out.

Talk about a completely different cast.  Just goes to show that casting a film is as dangerous and chancy as crossing the streams.

If you enjoyed this Hesaidwhatnow? post check out these posts: 

How Your Favourite Film Could Have Looked – Near Casting Choices in ’80s Movies – Part I

How Your Favourite Film Could Have Looked – Near Casting Choices in Blockbuster Movies

Sharknado!!!

12 Jul

The Godfather, Gone with the Wind, The Shawkshank Redemption, Alvin and the Chipmunks: the Squeakquel – what do these films have in common?  They are all nowhere near as freakin’ awesome as a new made for TV movie being released on US’ the SyFy channel today.

Sharknado!!!

Sharknado

As you can probably deduce from the promo poster, this movie is basically a disaster flick whereby an ocean borne hurricane hits land and converts into a series of tornados, each packed with hundreds of sharks, turning them into airborne killing machines.  Finally!

I’m not sure whether this film is based on a true story, or is an adaptation of a D.H. Lawrence novel, but either way I’m sure it will be a classic.  How do I know?  Look at the cast: Tara Reid, aka the blonde from American Pie whose most famous moment since that 1999 film was accidentally showing her boobs on a red carpet shoot and not noticing until someone came and pulled up her dress; John Heard aka the dad from Home Alone; and in possibly the greatest coup in recent film history, Ian Ziering, aka Steve Sanders from the original Beverly Hills 90210 (whose character in this film, appropriately, is named ‘Fin’).  Clearly this ensemble cast puts Ocean’s 11 to shame.

Sure, the movie will probably require more suspension of disbelief than most films, as there are a few slightly hard to believe concepts.  For example, how do the sharks breathe as they are flying in the air?  How can there be so many sharks swept up by the ‘nado?  Why are only sharks swept up by the ‘nado?  And who would ever cast Ian Ziering in a movie? 

But I’m sure you can overlook those small details for the big picture awesomeness because, as you can see from the trailer and elsewhere, this movie has it all:

–        the ominous warning (Ziering to Reid on the phone): “It’s flooding here.  Not the plumbing – the ocean.”

–        subtle irony: the flying sharks claiming their first victims at a criminal business meeting of – wait for it – shark fin soup dealers!

–        sage advice to rally the troops (again, Ziering): “We can’t just stand here and wait for sharks to rain down on us.”

–        creativity: the gang arming themselves against the oncoming sharknado torrent with random items, including a pool cue – an object universally regarded as an effective weapon against a ten ton beast falling at you from a great height.

–        challenges: “We’re going to need a bigger chopper.”

–        solutions: people shooting flying sharks with handguns.

–        and, without doubt, what is already considered (by me) to be the greatest scene in the history of cinema: Ian Ziering, armed with a chainsaw, leaping heroically into the mouth of a flying shark.

No words can capture how amazing this scene is.

No words can capture how amazing this scene is.

Life just doesn’t get better than this.  Enjoy the trailer, and pray that there will be many sequels (Molecano?  Wolfquake?  Lizard Blizzard?)

What ridiculous disaster movie involving animals and natural phenomena would you like to see?  Share them in the comments section below

The History of Superman on Film – Part III: The First Reboot and the Last Chance

28 Jun

For The History of Superman on Film – Part I: The Early Years, click here.

For The History of Superman on Film – Part II: The Flops and the Wilderness Years, click here.

After the dismal failures of Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, the franchise had been snuffed out quicker than a Lex Luthor heist.  Multiple attempts at resurrecting the character had failed, for a variety of reasons, until the Warner Bros.’ project Superman Returns was green-lit.  X-Men and X2 director Bryan Singer had been signed to helm the new movie.  The hopes of Superman fans across the globe rested on his shoulders.  Would he be able to bear the Superman-esque burden, or fail like his predecessors? 

The First Reboot: Superman Returns

With Warner Bros.’ blessing to not only direct Superman Returns, but develop it, Bryan Singer called on some old friends to help him out.  Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris wrote X2, and Singer brought them on board to help write the screenplay for this project.  Six drafts later (and with references to Superman lamenting his absence from Earth on September 11 removed) Singer had a screenplay he was confident in.

During the whole process, there was only one person he had in mind for Lex Luthor – old friend Kevin Spacey, who he directed in The Usual Suspects.  Despite Claire Danes and Keri Russell being considered for the role of Lois Lane, Spacey recommended Kate Bosworth, with whom he had worked on Beyond the Sea.  Singer took up the recommendation.

No matter how the other casting shaped up, the only casting decision anyone cared about was of course that for the titular role.  Singer was a fan of Richard Donner’s original Superman, and decided to follow his approach of casting a relative unknown as the Man of Steel.  A huge worldwide casting call went out, with auditions taking place in the US, the UK, Canada and Australia.  The winning candidate was someone who had not only been on McG’s original radar, but had auditioned for – and missed out on – the role of Clark Kent in the TV series Smallville: Christopher Reeve lookalike Brandon Routh.

"Oh my god, this is embarrassing... We're wearing the same outfit."

“Oh my god, this is embarrassing… We’re wearing the same outfit.”

Things were looking positive for the franchise, possibly for the first time ever.  A proven director was taking the helm without any fear for his job or undue studio interference; the studio, in conjunction with Legendary Pictures, had opened the coffers to finance the film; and there weren’t any distractions from the cast, who all wanted to be there and see the film’s success.

When the film screened in 2006, it topped the US box office, and broke Warner Bros.’ record for five-day earnings.  It appeared that the studio’s optimism was well founded.  However despite the early successes, and the generally positive critical reviews, box office receipts declined almost immediately.  This was no doubt partly due to other blockbusters that were released, such as Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, but also due to a lukewarm reception by fans.

The film was far from a commercial failure; it grossed over $200 million domestically, and almost as much again worldwide, ranking it the 6th and 9th highest earning films of the year in the US and global markets respectively.  But for a film with a $209 million budget and high hopes, this was a disappointment to Warner Bros.

Warner Bros. had always planned a sequel to Superman Returns (Superman Returns AgainSuperman Stays?) using the same team, and even announced a release date of mid-2009.  However, after seeing the returns on the film, the studio had doubts.

The expectations of Singer, Routh and the other main players were that the sequel would go ahead.  Dougherty and Harris had begun developing the screenplay, and Singer dropped out of directing a remake of Logan’s Run, a project he had wanted to undertake for some time.  Ultimately, however, Warner Bros. pulled the plug.

Man of Steel: The last chance?

The superhero movie has never been more lucrative.  The Dark Knight trilogy of Batman films shattered all kinds of box office records, with last year’s Avengers shattering them again.  If ever there was a time for Superman to make a successful return to the silver screen, it is now.

And Warner Bros. know it.

The influence of the past mistakes of the franchise, as well as present successes in the market, can be seen all over the development of the project.  Whether this is a sensible case of learning from past mistakes or an overly cautious approach that will hamstring the film remains to be seen.

This is approximately the amount of money The Dark Knight earned in its first weekend.

This is approximately the amount of money The Dark Knight earned in its first weekend.

Seeking a full reboot of the franchise with no connections to any films of the past (as was the case in Superman Returns), Warner Bros. invited some of America’s best creative in 2008, including writers from the comic book industry, to pitch ideas about how to revive Superman’s film legacy.  The response was enthusiastic, with universal agreement that it could be done, and that audiences would be willing to forgive any past sins.  It gave the studio hope, although they couldn’t find a story that they could settle on.

Unrelated to Warner Bros.’ search, David S. Goyer (writer of both the Dark Knight and Blade trilogies) had been toying with an idea for a Superman story out of his own interest.  He brought up his idea with director Christopher Nolan when they were developing the story for The Dark Knight Rises in 2010.  Nolan liked the idea and pitched it to Warner Bros.  Warner Bros. liked the idea too, and no doubt liked even more the idea of working with the team who had produced The Dark Knight.  The studio promptly hired Nolan and Goyer to develop the story.

Goyer and Nolan wanted to do the same thing with Superman as they did with Batman – sever all ties to the previous incarnations and start fresh.  This meant that Bryan Singer, who was already unimpressed that the studio didn’t consider his film a success, was not considered to stay on.  Neither was Brandon Routh.

Goyer first asked Guillermo del Toro, with whom he worked on Blade II, to direct, but del Toro was unavailable.  Ben Affleck, Robert Zemeckis, Darren Aronofsky and others were approached, but eventually Zack Snyder (Watchmen, 300) was signed, at which point Nolan removed himself from the project to focus on The Dark Knight Rises and allow Snyder full control of the film.

To find his Man of Steel, Snyder avoided the large scale screen call that went out for Superman and Superman Returns, instead approaching actors he was interested in.  As a result, he found his Superman relatively quickly.  Interestingly, the actor he chose had unsuccessfully auditioned for the role in Superman Returns.  Not only that, he narrowly missed out on being cast as the Caped Crusader in Batman Begins and was on the short list to play 007 in Casino Royale.  This time, however, Henry Cavill would not miss out, becoming the first non-American to ever play Superman on screen.

Also of interest, the actress who won the role of Lois Lane had previously auditioned for the part for Superman Returns and the failed Superman: Fly-By when it was under the helm of Brett Ratner.  For Amy Adams, third time was a charm, as she beat out the likes of Mila Kunis, Olivia Wilde, Natalie Portman, Rachel McAdams and Jessica Biel for the opportunity to play Superman’s love interest.

Other stars signed on to the project – Kevin Costner, Dianne Lane, Laurence Fishburne, and Russell Crowe as Jor-El – giving the film an ensemble cast to compete with the Dark Knight trilogy.

The casting isn’t the only parallel between Man of Steel and its successful DC film counterpart.  Of course there is Nolan and Goyer’s involvement, as well as that of composer Hans Zimmer, but also subtler equivalencies such as a British actor in the protagonist role and even the fact that Man of Steel and The Dark Knight are the first films about Batman and Superman respectively to not mention the superheroes’ names in the title.  It is, however, the promise of another similarity between the franchises that fans are reserving their judgment on, and upon which the success of Man of Steel will ultimately rest.

Will this be it for Superman on film, or the long awaited beginning of a franchise the fans have always wanted?

Will this be it for Superman on film, or the long awaited beginning of a franchise the fans have always wanted?

The marketing campaign has consistently given the same message about this second Superman reboot in under a decade: this time it will be grittier, more realistic, more down to Earth.  This is a new approach for this son of Krypton, as the focus has always been on his otherworldly abilities, not his acceptance in a frequently intolerable world.  Warner Bros. hopes that this is the formula to finally give Superman the platform from which he can soar to new heights.

From the trailers and interviews given prior to its release, there is one other aspect to Man of Steel that has been hinted at and, if true, will indicate a new direction for Superman on film.  Such a factor is one that has not been borrowed from the Dark Knight trilogy, but the other comic book adaptation that has raised the bar for action blockbusters – The Avengers.

Snyder has hinted that Man of Steel will make reference to other superheroes and a broader DC universe.  Could this be the first step in setting up an Avengers like collaboration between DC heroes?  The idea of a Justice League of America movie has been floated about Hollywood before, but with The Avengers grossing over $1.5 billion worldwide, the idea must seem more enticing than ever.  With the Dark Knight series having concluded the DC slate is clean, allowing the stage to be set for a DC super team to hit the big screen.

"Yo Avengers - what are you looking at?"

“Yo Avengers – what are you looking at?”

Of course before any of that the first – and most crucial – milestone must be met: Man of Steel must deliver on the promise that America’s favourite hero has always held, and captivate audiences like never before.  Anything less will be a failure.

The Future?

The story of Superman on film has in many ways been a reflection of the stories they have depicted on screen.  Superman depicted a new hero, the likes of which had never been seen before.  The film – and its protagonist – had challenges along the way, but ultimately captivated the world and was all but universally loved.

By the time Superman III hit cinemas, the on screen action was a farce, which reflected the off screen production and the box office results.  It was only to be outdone by Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, a weak and distilled facsimile of its predecessors depicting a poorer clone of Kal-El.  And Superman Returns showed our hero returning after a prolonged absence, but couldn’t soar.

Fittingly, Man of Steel wrests with Superman’s battle to fit in, to be accepted.  Like Jor-El sending his only child across space to survive, all that Warner Bros. asks is for their creation to be accepted and thrive.  Whilst the fate of the world doesn’t rest upon it, the fate of Superman on film surely does.

The History of Superman on Film: Part II – The Flops and the Wilderness Years

25 Jun

This is Part II of Hesaidwhatnow?’s look at the History of Superman on Film.  For Part I click here.

Despite the difficulties of casting dramas, an overly long screenplay, and a clash between director Richard Donner and producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind, Superman: The Movie and Superman II were huge hits.  The Salkinds had fired Donner and promoted Richard Lester to director, giving them total control of the franchise – but would Superman III be better for it?

The Flops: Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

With all ties to Richard Donner cut, the Salkinds were free to produce the type of Superman film they had always wanted to do when they set out to add Superman III to the franchise.

Ilya wrote a treatment for the film and hired David and Leslie Newman to draft the screenplay.  Richard Lester was again engaged to direct, although this time without having Donner’s shadow cast over him, or his footage to work around.  Finally, Ilya saw Richard Prior on an episode of The Tonight Show and immediately wanted to involve him in the project, eventually signing him on to play August “Gus” Gorman, the no-good computer programmer blackmailed into helping plot against Superman.

Every one of those decisions, in some way, contributed to the least successful film in the franchise to that point.

With Donner dumped from the franchise, Gene Hackman again refused to participate in the film, taking with him some of the gravitas that his presence lent the first two movies.  Margot Kidder had also voiced her disapproval of Donner’s firing, and as a result found her role in the third instalment reduced to little more than a cameo, much to the displeasure of many Lois Lane fans.

After reading the Newmans’ screenplay for the first two films, Donner brought in Tom Mankiewicz to rewrite it, as he was concerned that the tone of the films was too campy.  Without Donner and Mankiewicz there to amend the screenplay for Superman III, it remained firmly rooted in slapstick and campness, a contrast to the more serious tone of its predecessors that critics and audiences loved so much.

This wasn’t helped by Lester’s approach to direction.  As Christopher Reeve once said, “Lester was always looking for a gag – sometimes to the point where the gags involving Richard Pryor went over the top.”  This, of course, wasn’t helped by the fact that Pryor had been cast in the movie in the first place.  Whilst an extremely funny man who has made some great movies, his involvement in the Superman franchise was almost universally lambasted, and he became somewhat of a touchstone for all that was wrong with the film.

Superman III was far less successful than its predecessors, grossing less than $60 million domestically and barely passing $70 million worldwide.  As a result, the Salkinds decided that the franchise had run its course, and so their involvement ended.  It looked as though Superman would hang up his red boots and cape and enjoy retirement in his Fortress of Solitude.

Superman carrying Richard Prior over the Grand Canyon?  We probably could have guessed how this movie would do...

Superman carrying Richard Prior over the Grand Canyon? We probably could have guessed how this movie would do…

 

The studios, however, had a different opinion.  Still seeing Superman as a lucrative character, Canon Films and Warner Bros. took over production.  Their first step in bringing a fourth film to life was ensuring that they had Reeve on board to reprise his role.  Reeve was reluctant.  He was still displeased with Superman III, and saw the farcical treatment of one of America’s great characters in that film as disrespectful to fans.  The studios assured him that any new instalments would return to the tone of the original films, but Reeve was still doubtful.

Then taking a leaf out of Brando’s book, the studios made Reeve an offer he couldn’t refuse.  They said that if he reprieved his role as Superman, they would finance any other project of his choosing, as well as allow him the chance to direct a fifth film in the franchise if one was made.  Reeve signed on.

With Reeve on board and the Salkinds out, other cast members signed on quickly, with Gene Hackman even reprising his role as Lex Luthor.  Fresh blood was introduced with Sidney J Furie directing and the screenplay being written by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal.  Things were looking positive.

Sadly though, the studios did not inject the movie with the same resources as were given to the initial trilogy.  Canon Films had a long list of movies in development, and did not have the money to finance them all.  As a result, the budget for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was slashed to $17 million, a third of the budget given the first two films, and less than half that of Superman III.

With the reduced budget, everyone involved in the project had to cut corners.  The plot of the film centred around Nuclear Man, an evil Superman clone created by Lex Luthor.  Konner and Rosenthal wanted Reeve to play Nuclear Man, envisioning the stunning effect of Superman battling his clone.  This would, however, involve costly special effects and was ruled out by the studios, the antagonist’s role instead being cast to Mark Pillow.  (With a name like that how could he possibly have beaten the Man of Steel?)

Furie also had to cut corners as director.  Location shoots were all but out of the question and even sets and costumes were toned back.  The result was unsurprisingly another flop – even worse than Superman IV – with the box office receipts not even breaking even with the paltry budget.

Fear me!  For I am the ultimate villain!  I am...Mark Pillow!!!

Fear me! For I am the ultimate villain! I am…Mark Pillow!!!

This time there would be no others lining up to resuscitate the franchise.  Like the character in first film, the Superman franchise was banished to the wilderness, seemingly with no chance of return.

But as with any iconic character, there were those who couldn’t bear to see their idol disappear so meekly.  Superman wouldn’t abandon those that needed him forever; he would just take a long time to return.

1988 – 2006: The Wildnerness Years

After the disasters that were Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, the idea of successful comic book adaptations had all but died.  That is until DC’s other tent pole character showed up on screen and proved that it could be done.  And then some.

Batman was a huge hit in 1989.  It turned a $35 million budget into a domestic box office grossing of a $250 million, with millions more earned through world-wide box office receipts and astronomical merchandising sales.  (The merchandise sales were so high that Jack Nicholson’s fee for playing the Joker, which included a percentage of such sales as well as box office receipts, was a staggering $60 million which, until very recently, was the highest ever salary received for a single movie.  No wonder the Joker was always smiling.)

Its sequel, Batman Returns, was also a success, pocketing another $160 million domestically.  With those sorts of numbers floating around, Warner Bros. were keen for another gravy train, and in 1993 obtained sole rights to the Superman franchise.

Inspired by Burton’s gritty take on the Caped Crusader, Warner Bros. wanted a reimagining of Superman as well.  Producer Jon Peters hired comic book nut Kevin Smith (writer of Mallrats, Clerks and Dogma) to draft the screenplay.  What Smith came up with was Superman Lives, a dark tale that put Superman in a black suit called the ‘Eradicator’ and pitted him against notable villains Brainiac and Doomsday.

When it came to finding a director, Warner Bros. couldn’t look past the man that inspired them to pursue the project in the first place.  Tim Burton was keen and signed on board, leaving the Batman franchise to be taken over by others (unfortunately we all know how well that turned out).

Smith had envisioned his friend and many time work colleague Ben Affleck to star as Superman, but Burton had other ideas, much to Smith’s displeasure.  He decided on Nicolas Cage, who was more than happy to take on the role being the huge fan that he was.  (How much of a fan of Superman is Cage?  He named his son Kal-El – Superman’s Kryptonian birth name.  Yowsers.)

The industry is undecided as to whether this photo is genuine or not, but the prospect of Nicolas Cage as Superman was real enough.  I'm scared too...

The industry is undecided as to whether this photo is genuine or not, but the prospect of Nicolas Cage as Superman was real enough. I’m scared too…

Burton wasn’t a fan of Smith’s screenplay, however, and brought in Wesley Strick (Cape Fear, Arachnophobia) to rewrite it.  Smith was obviously furious.  The result of Strick’s effort was an odd story in which Superman now squared off against a bizarre hybrid of Braniac and Lex Luthor called Lexiac.  Warner Bros. didn’t like it at all, scrapped it, hired Dan Gilroy to have a go, didn’t like his version either, and scrapped it too.

At that point Warner Bros. decided to drop the project all together and instead focus on, of all things, Wild Wild West.  Now it was Burton who was furious, having a year of his career wasted.  To think – in that time he could have easily squeezed in a movie starring Johnny Depp.

Jon Peters didn’t give up quite as easily, and tried to see if he could pick up momentum again to get the film going. Interestingly – and potentially somewhat controversially – he turned to the star of Wild Wild West, Will Smith.  Smith saw the potential controversy of having an African American play a traditionally white character and declined, adding in a quote attributed to him that, “You can’t be messing with white people’s heroes in Hollywood.”  Will Smith instead got to taste the superhero life in Hancock, just as Nicolas Cage starred in Ghostrider and its sequel.

As the new century turned over, both of DC’s tent pole characters were struggling on film.  Superman had not been seen for over a decade, and the Batman films seemed destined for the same banishment after the disastrous Batman and Robin (Bat-nipples?  Seriously?)

Not to be deterred, Warner Bros. saw an opportunity to correct both problems at once, by squaring the heroes off against each other in a Batman vs. Superman double whammy.  Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en) produced a screenplay in which the characters were pals – with Bruce Wayne even being best man at Superman’s wedding – before a growing difference in their values saw them clash.  Initially McG (Charlie’s Angels, Terminator Salvation) was set to direct, and later Wolfgang Peterson (Troy, A Perfect Storm).  Eventually, however, that concept got scrapped.

When Batman Begins showed that rebooting a franchise could be done, momentum for another Superman film started anew.  J.J. Abrams (Armageddon, Lost) had created a screenplay called Superman: Flyby.  It was a true reboot – an origin story showing not only Superman’s birth, but his death and ultimate resurrection after a stop in a Kryptonian heaven.

The project gained real impetus, with Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, X-Men: Last Stand) on board to direct, but as always, the search for the actor to step into the red boots of the Man of Steel was the number one goal.  The studio was high on Josh Hartnett after his successful turns in Black Hawk Down and Pearl Harbour, seeing him as the next big thing.  They offered him a huge salary to sign up for a trilogy of Superman films, with some reports suggesting the figure was as much as $100 million.  Despite the jaw-dropping money, Hartnett turned down the offer, worried that he would be forever typecast, and would be unable to pursue other interests until the trilogy was completed.

Other actors were considered, including David Boreanaz (TV’s Bones and Angel), Brendan Fraser, Ashton Kutcher, and Anakin Skywalker himself, Hayden Christensen.  When Ratner left the project, McG came back on board, and he wanted to take a leaf out of the original film’s book at hire a relative unknown.  Included on the list of actors he considered were TV actors Jason Behr (Roswell), Jared Padalecki (Supernatural), and Henry Cavill (The Tudors) – the latter a name that would come up again.

Before an actor was found to play Superman, McG pulled out of the project again, this time because Warner Bros. wanted to film in Australia, and McG didn’t want to leave the US.  Bryan Singer was approached as his replacement – a sound choice given the success of the comic book adaptations he had recently directed: X-Men and X2.

It was during the filming of X2 in 2003 that Singer had actually come up with an idea for a Superman film story.  It involved Superman returning to Earth after a five year absence, and he pitched this idea to the studio in 2004 as an alternative to Abrams’ Superman: Fly-By screenplay, which he saw as too great a departure from the Superman tale the world knew and loved.  It was well received, and Warner Bros. signed him on to direct and develop Superman Returns, leaving Ratner to take over the helm of X-Men: Last Stand.

Singer was locked in, and the project was given a 2006 release date and a hefty budget to work with.  Warner Bros. waited with hope to see whether Superman Returns would see Superman reclaim not only his mantle as Earth’s hero, but as a box office hero as well.

Log back in to Hesaidwhatnow? to read the third and final part of The History of Superman on Film, which looks at Superman Returns and Man of Steel.

The History of Superman on Film – Part I: The Early Years

20 Jun

This month, the latest cinematic reincarnation of Superman hits our screens with the release of Man of Steel.  With an estimated budget of $225 million, some of the biggest names in Hollywood behind it, and a current climate of staggering success for superhero movies, all involved in this latest adaptation are hoping for big things.

What many people don’t realise, however, is that the world’s most famous superhero has had a tumultuous history on film, with far more failures than successes.  Firings, feuds, projects that failed to launch – to date most plans for Superman on screen have been as successful as a Lex Luthor heist.  Can Man of Steel buck the trend?

Hesaidwhatnow? presents an examination of Superman on film that is as epic as it’s subject matter.  So epic in fact that this is just Part I – a look at the early years.  Log back in for further instalments that look at the flops, the lost years, Superman Returns, and of course, Man of Steel.

The early years: Superman and Superman II

Despite being a wildly successful comic, a popular TV series, and a household name in many parts of the world, a movie adaptation of Superman didn’t hit the big screen until 1978.  The film was immensely successful, earning over $134 million domestically at the box office – the second highest grossing film of the year behind Grease – as well as almost universal critical acclaim, but it wasn’t without a host of difficulties leading up to its release, and certainly not afterwards.

The film had its origins in 1973, when producer Ilya Salkind first developed the idea of bringing the superhero to life on the silver screen.  It was a difficult process.  DC Comics, who owned Superman, wanted input on the casting of their star character before allowing him to be sold.  When Salkind produced a list of Al Pacino, James Caan, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Dustin Hoffman and Mohammed Ali (seriously), DC was satisfied and sold the film rights to the franchise to him, his father Alexander, and their partner Pierre Spangler.

Float like a butterfly vs faster than a speeding bullet: Ali was actually on the first list of names to play Superman.

Float like a butterfly vs faster than a speeding bullet: Ali was actually on the first list of names to play Superman, which is almost as crazy as this comic cover.

Before any casting was finalised, however, Salkind and his partners set about signing a director and a screenwriter, with a view to having two movies filmed at the same time so as to keep production costs down.  Indicative of what was to come, this wasn’t easy.  Ilya Salkind hired Alfred Bester to write a treatment, but Alexander didn’t think he was famous enough, and so brought in Mario Puzo of The Godfather fame to write the screenplay on a Superman sized $600,000 salary.

The search for a director bordered on disaster, with negotiations breaking down with seemingly everyone in Hollywood.  Francis Ford Coppola turned down the opportunity, as did George Lucas who was committed to Star Wars, and most famously Sam Peckinpah was removed from consideration when he produced a gun at a meeting.  He was politely rejected faster than a speeding bullet.

Ilya was keen to hire a young director by the name of Steven Spielberg, but Alexander first wanted to see how his “big fish” movie panned out.  Of course Jaws panned out very well indeed, but by the time Alexander was convinced, Spielberg was unavailable, as he had Close Encounters of the Third Kind to work on.  By this point, it looked as though the project had died before it had begun.

In 1975 things began to pick up – or so it seemed.  Salkind had hired Guy Hamilton to direct, Puzo had finalised the screenplay for both films, and in a big coup, Marlon Brando had signed on to play Superman’s father, Jor-El.  Brando’s engagement, however, was a mixed blessing.

Brando’s salary paid him $3.7 million plus 11.75% of box office receipts, a hefty chunk of money for what amounted to essentially an extended cameo.  It didn’t end there.  Brando’s contract stipulated that all his scenes had to be shot within twelve days, and he refused to learn any of his lines.  (Cue cards had to be made on set for each of Brando’s scenes, and in one instance, his dialogue was written on baby Superman’s nappy!)  Most bizarrely of all, Salkind once revealed that during an early meeting on the role, Brando suggested Jor-El could be a talking suitcase or a floating bagel.  Even for a movie about a super-powered alien wearing underpants on the outside of his trousers, that suggestion raised a few eyebrows.

"Kal-El, I am your father. Um... Line!!!"

“Kal-El, I am your father.
Um…
Line!!!”

There were also problems with Puzo’s screenplay.  It came in at 500 pages for both films – far too long given that the average screenplay is around 100 to 120 pages.  Subsequently the Salkinds hired Robert Benton and David Newman to rewrite the screenplay, however Benton became too busy to afford any time to the project, and had his wife, Leslie, do the rewrites instead.  Just in case five writers weren’t enough, George MacDonald Fraser was also hired to work on the project.

The end result was unsurprisingly a mess.  The screenplay had been trimmed by 100 pages, but was still far too long.  Not only that, it had now taken on a decidedly camp tone, and was a jumble of confused ideas.

Nonetheless pre-production began.  Reflective of the project to date, even this was a disaster.  Set construction started in Italy, but Brando couldn’t film there as a warrant for his arrest on sexual obscenity charges had been issued against him for his involvement in Last Tango in Paris.  So at great cost, production was moved to England, only for the producers to learn that their director, Hamilton, was a tax exile and couldn’t enter the country.  Faced with the prospect of losing more money relocating a second time, the Salkinds released Hamilton and hired Richard Donner to direct the movies instead.

Donner’s hiring was a blessing.  He recognised the screenplay for what it was – a huge problem – and decided to scrap it entirely.  He hired yet another writer, Tom Mankiewicz, to redraft the screenplay, his two goals to reduce it to a manageable length and to eliminate the campness of the previous iteration.

With a new script, a new director, Gene Hackman on board as Lex Luthor, and Brando convinced that being a suitcase or a bagel was not the best option for Jor-El, there was only major task outstanding: the casting of Superman himself.

Like dating, all of the actors that the producers wanted for the role weren’t interested, and those that did want the part didn’t interest the producers.  The list of actors that Salkind approached was long, and included Burt Reynolds, Robert Redford, James Caan, Nick Nolte, James Brolin, Christopher Walken, Warren Beatty, and John Voight.  They all turned the role down (“There’s no way I’m getting into that silly suit,” Caan supposedly told Salkind).  Paul Newman’s rejection cut even deeper – he not only rejected the offer to play Superman, but earlier had turned down Lex Luthor and Jor-El as well (even though he was offered $4 million for each role).

Meanwhile other actors that hadn’t been approached were lobbying hard to be considered.  Arnold Schwarzenegger certainly had an otherworldly physique, but didn’t have the acting chops.  Neil Diamond didn’t have the acting chops or an otherworldly physique (nor, it would seem, a realistic understanding of his place in the entertainment industry).  One actor who had a claim to both and was desperate for the part was Sylvester Stallone.

Superman was Stallone’s childhood hero, and he did everything he could to land the gig.  Just as his case was gaining momentum, however, Stallone faced a roadblock he did not see coming.  As part of his seemingly endless contractual rights, Brando had casting approval.  When he heard that Stallone was in the running, he vetoed the actor from being considered, just as he allegedly vetoed Burt Reynolds from playing Sonny in The Godfather.  Stallone was furious, particularly after hearing Brando commenting that he saw the role of Jor-El as nothing more than a paycheck, whereas he would treat the role of Superman as sacred.

Eventually Donner and Salkind decided on getting a complete unknown for the role of Superman.  The casting director, Lynn Stalmaster, suggested a young actor named Christopher Reeve.  Donner didn’t like the suggestion, as Reeve was too young and thin for the role.  The search continued ever more desperately, with over 200 hopefuls auditioning.  Things got so desperate, in fact, that Salkind’s wife’s dentist screen tested.  It was as painful as you might imagine.

Having exhausted all other options, Donner succumbed and allowed Reeve to screen test.  Reeve blew him away.  Still, the actor was too thin to play a superhero, and Donner asked him to wear a muscle suit.  Reeve refused, and instead began an intense training regime under the supervision of David Prowse, the actor who played Darth Vader in Star Wars.  As a result, Reeve’s weight increased from 77kgs to 96kgs.  Finally, Superman: The Movie was ready to take flight.

Filming began in March 1977.  As two movies were being filmed at the same time, it was expected to take seven to eight months.  Instead the filming dragged on for 19 long months, during which tensions between Donner and the Salkinds grew exponentially.  The Salkinds were concerned that the filming was taking too long, and that the budget was forever expanding.  Donner retorted that he was never given a budget or a schedule, and wanted to be left alone to do his job.

Tensions grew to the point that the parties refused to talk to each other.  The Salkinds then hired Richard Lester as co-producer so that he could mediate between the Salkinds and their director.  (Interestingly Lester had worked as director of the Salkinds produced The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers and had sued them for unpaid fees.  He allegedly took on the role of mediator so that he could finally get the money he was owed.)

Ilya Salkind admitted that Lester was there not only as mediator, but as a safety net to take over directing duties should the need arise to replace Donner.  This was a foreshadowing of what was to come.

As the schedule stretched out, the Salkinds ordered Donner to focus on finalising the first film and forget about the sequel, even though Donner had filmed roughly three quarters of the footage he needed for Superman II.

Eventually the film was completed and it was released in December 1978.  It was a huge success, grossing over $300 million worldwide, being nominated for three Academy Awards, and receiving positive reviews, particularly for Reeve’s performance and the ground breaking special effects.  It was therefore a no brainer to decide to finish the sequel.

The original Man of Steel

The original Man of Steel

Like everything that came before it, Superman II was mired in problems.  As a surprise to no one, the Salkinds did not bring Donner back to finish filming the second instalment, instead promoting Lester to the directing role.  The first problem with that decision was that in order to be credited as the director of a film, a director must shoot at least 51% of the footage featured in the cinematic release of the movie.  Donner had already shot three quarters of the footage needed, meaning that in order to obtain the directing credit, Lester had to reshoot many sequences already captured by Donner.

Also, Gene Hackman was disappointed in Donner’s firing, and in protest refused to be involved in any reshooting.  Therefore all footage of Hackman in Superman II was footage filmed by Donner during the original production.  Other scenes involving Lex Luthor had to be filmed using a body double.

After paying Brando a staggering $19 million (including his percentage of the gross box office receipts) for his appearance in the first film, the producers decided not to use any footage of Brando in the sequel, even though the scenes Donner had filmed of Jor-El contained important plot points.  This was because Brando was suing the Salkinds for $50 million, what he saw as his share of unpaid box office profits.  (Mario Puzo also reportedly sued the Salkinds for unpaid fees.  There seems to be a trend here.)

In 2006 Richard Donner released a version of Superman II using footage

In 2006 Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was released on DVD and Blu-Ray containing all the footage Donner had shot, including the scenes involving Brando.

Other problems with the use of two directors can be seen in the final cut of the film.  Both Reeve and Margot Kidder look noticeably different, depending on whether Donner or Lester directed the footage.  Reeve continued to gain muscle for his role and so looks bulkier in the scenes filmed by Lester.  Kidder, on the other hand, grew gaunter between 1977 and 1979, and this is reflected on screen as well.  Also Lester’s scenes tended towards slapstick, a markedly different tone from Donner’s.

Despite all the problems, Superman II was as big a success as the original, and few people noticed the differences.

With several hundred million dollars in their coffers as a result of the films, it came as no surprise that the Salkinds continued the franchise.  Sadly, the product deteriorated quickly from there.

Click here for The History of Superman on Film – Part II

How Your Favourite Film Could Have Looked – Near Casting Choices in ’80s Movies – Part I

17 Jun

 

As you know, I love looking into which actors were almost – and in some cases, actually were – cast in movies (see: How Your Favourite Film Could Have Looked – Near Casting Choices in Blockbuster Movies).  Whether actors passed on roles, didn’t quite make the cut, had scheduling conflicts, or missed out when production got delayed, so many films could have turned out completely differently.

Today, I’m looking at the glory of the ’80s film.  I’ll start with a classic.

The Karate Kid

When you think Ralph Macchio, you think Karate Kid.  That’s mostly because he’s never done anything else (well, there was Karate Kid II and Karate Kid III), but also because he pulled off being such a lovable wiener turned karate champion like no one else could.  He also pulled off being 15 when he was in fact 22 at the time of filming, which is equally as impressive.  But the role of Daniel Larusso was offered to, and turned down by, Charlie Sheen.  I can’t picture that at all.  For one thing, he wouldn’t have been so doubtful about ‘winning’.

Also, Pat Morita almost didn’t play Larusso’s mentor/love interest Mr Miyagi.  He was initially turned down as the producers had issued a directive that no comedians be given a role, but after blowing the casting directors away with his audition, he earned the part as well as an Oscar nomination.  Okinawa was proud.

Feel good, Danielsan?

Feel good, Danielsan?

Wall Street

Someone who actually did win an Oscar, alongside Charlie Sheen no less, was Michael Douglas.  He played Gordon Gecko en route to the award in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street.  He wasn’t the first choice however.  That was Richard Gere.  Gere turned it down, and Douglas greedily took the part because, well, greed is good.

Interestingly, Tom Cruise petitioned hard for the part of Bud Fox, but Charlie Sheen was always the first choice for the role.  Not that the ’80s was a tough time for Cruise; not only did he get to later work with Oliver Stone in Born on the Fourth of July, but he also starred in one of the most iconic films of the decade…

Top Gun

This movie is so ’80s that I can’t every type ‘Top Gun’ without hearing the musky tones of the immortal Kenny Loggins throatily singing Highway to the Dangerzone.  (Sidenote: this song was intended for Toto to perform, making Top Gun an amazing near casting choice for both the film and its song!  Awesome!)

I also can’t help but see Tom Cruise swaggering in a white shirt, leather jacket, and aviation sunnies.  But he almost didn’t land the role of cocky pilot Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell.

That role was offered to Matthew Modine who, thinking his star was on the rise and the movie would be a flop, turned it down.  Top Gun went on to be the highest grossing film in 1986 and launched Cruise into superstardom, leaving Modine saying, “I feel the need – the need to get a new agent!”

Also, it is rumoured that Val Kilmer didn’t want to be in the film, but was contractually obliged to.  No wonder ‘Iceman’ was such a cold bastard.

Kenneth Clark Loggins.  A god of the '80s.

Kenneth Clark Loggins. A god of the ’80s.

Footloose

Speaking of Tom Cruise (and Kenny Loggins – that guy is an ’80s movie hit making machine!), he almost landed the role of dancing rebel Ren McCormack in Footloose on the strength of his famous underwear scene in Risky Business.  However, he had a scheduling conflict, so the casting directors looked to Rob Lowe.  After three auditions, they finally decided he was their man.  That is until he was prevented from playing the role after injuring his knee (probably from having to do so many auditions).

In the end, of course, it was Kevin Bacon who ended up sticking it to the man through song.  Still, the thought of missing on the opportunity to see Cruise dancing up a storm fills me with lament.

Blade Runner

One of the great sci-fi films of all time, Blade Runner starred Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, but it was Dustin Hoffman who was slated to play the jaded Replicant hunter.  Although a talented actor, the 5’5½” Hoffman is not the person who springs to mind for such an action packed role.  As it turns out, he felt the same, and asked for several changes to the script to make it less physically demanding and the character less of a “macho man”.  Eventually the studio gave up on Hoffman, and after looking at a whole host of other options, settled on Ford.  Not a bad option.  After all, the guy is Han Solo and Indiana Jones – that’s hard to top.

Back to the Future

Probably one of the most famous near casting choices ever was for Marty McFly in the great Back to the Future trilogy.  There was a wide casting call, and one of the young men that auditioned was Johnny Depp.  He missed out, and went on to play Officer Tom Hanson on 21 Jump Street.

 

(Sidenote II: Depp initially turned down playing Hanson, and the role was instead given to Jeff Yagher. But the network wasn’t happy with him, and after three weeks of production booted him out.  Executive Producer Patrick Hasburgh tried his luck and offered it to Depp again, who accepted the second time around.  Imagine being cast in a role, shooting it for weeks, and then getting the can.  That would never happen, surely?  Well…)

The number one pick to play McFly was Michael J. Fox.  Unfortunately for both Fox and the studio, Fox’s commitments to Family Ties were so onerous at the time that he couldn’t take time out to shoot the movie and he had to decline the role.  Eric Stoltz was then cast and production began.  But it didn’t go smoothly.  Great Scott!

Stoltz allegedly didn’t get along with anyone, disagreed with the tone of the film, and was far too intense for director Robert Zemeckis’ liking.  So, after four weeks of filming, Stoltz get politely shown the door.

See - I'm not making it up.  This is heavy!

See – I’m not making it up. This is heavy!

Zemeckis tried Fox again, and this time around was successful.  Not without a few difficulties though.  In order to accommodate Family Ties, the film was shot from 6pm to 6am, with outdoor scenes completed on the weekends.  Also, re-shooting Stoltz’s scenes cost an extra $3 million, a lot when you consider that the total budget for the film ended up being $19 million.  I’m sure the studio didn’t complain; Back to the Future was the biggest grossing film of 1985, raking in over $350 million.  Would it have been as successful without Michael J. Fox at the helm?  Hell no, and I don’t need to take a trip in a DeLorean to know that.

What other big roles in ’80s movies were almost given to different actors?   Log back on to Hesaidwhatnow? later for Part II and find out.  Here’s a clue: it may involve cops, ghosts, and taking a day off school…

Terminator 2: Lock Up Your Vehicle

12 Jun

I was watching one of my favourite movies the other day, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and noticed something: a lot of vehicles get stolen. 

And usually, destroyed soon after.

I also noticed that most of the stolen vehicles fall into two categories.  The first is the very large and very strong variety.  A good choice in the event that you intend to smash through walls, drive over pesky cars obstructing your way, or deflect other vehicles crashing into you as though they were flies at a summer barbecue – all things that tend to happen when involved in a cross-timelines cyborg related adventure.

The second type of vehicle generally hijacked is that belonging to the police force.  This is a discerning option for those who like the ability to access police information or enter secure areas without suspicion.

Luckily for the characters, when a vehicle is required, the closest one available tends to fall into the above categories.  What are the chances!

And so now Hesaidwhatnow? presents a run down of the vehicles stolen in T2.

Warning: this post contains multiple spoiler alerts.  If you haven’t seen the movie, slap yourself, and then hop in a Skynet time displacement machine and go back to any occasion in the last 21 years in which you watched a bad action sci-fi movie and watch T2 instead.

Vehicle 1: Harley Davidson motorcycle.  Stolen by the T-800.

A great reintroduction to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s terminator, the T-800 lands in 1991 right next to a bikie bar.  After beating up a few tough guys to prove he’s still the baddest of them all, the T-800 steals a bikie’s clothes and Harley.

Arnie in a leather jacket sitting on a Harley?  Good look.  Luckily he landed near the bikie bar.  Had he have landed near a coffee shop he might have ended up having to steal bike pants and an unnecessarily high-end bicycle.  Or even worse…

I need your clothes, your boots, and your girly bicycle with the pink ribbons and the basket on the front.

Vehicle 2: Police car.  Stolen by the T-1000

With similar luck to his terminator cousin, the T-1000 happens to land in a quiet area by which a police patrol car happens to be cruising.  A quick slash of his weaponised hand later and he’s looking like a cop and accessing the police database to find information on John Connor.  In pre-smartphone times, that’s a handy bit of luck.

Vehicle 3: Semi-trailer.  Stolen by the T-1000

After John Connor threatens to get away from him on a mini-bike, the T-1000 needs to commandeer a vehicle to pursue him immediately.  What happens to drive by?  A giant semi-trailer.  Again, T-1000’s luck holds as he uses the truck to smash through concrete barriers and fly into a storm drain from an overhead road.  His luck momentarily runs out when it blows up, but I’ve got a feeling he’ll land on his feet…

Vehicle 4: Police car.  Stolen by the T-1000.

Again?!  The LAPD might have a few extra insurance claims this week.

Vehicle 5: Police car.  Stolen by the T-800, Sarah Connor, and John Connor.

Presumably sick of the T-1000 having all the fun, the good guys take a turn at swiping a cop car when they help Sarah Connor escape from the mental hospital and, more importantly, the T-1000.  The poor policeman who loses the vehicle also cops a face full of concrete pole, but he can still count himself lucky: it would have been a lot worse had the T-1000 taken his car.

Vehicle 6: Police bike.  Stolen by the T-1000.

Mixing it up a little, the T-1000 takes a particular fancy to one policeman’s motorbike and decides to take it for a spin.  Another lucky choice as we’ll find out shortly.

Vehicle 7: Station wagon.  Stolen by the T-800, Sarah Connor, and John Connor.

With no T-1000 on their tail, the good guys steal a beaten up station wagon to drive south of the border.  The second lamest vehicle on this list, although had they stolen another police car the audience might have started thinking that California is populated entirely by policeman.

Vehicle 8: S.W.A.T truck.  Stolen by the T-800.

That’s more like it!  With all the cache of a police car, but with the wall smashing power of a semi-trailer, the T-800 sagely swipes a SWAT truck to crash through the lobby of Cyberdyne Systems and rescue his human companions.  Added bonus: the truck contains useful goodies like machine guns, bullet-proof vests and, presumably, donuts.

Now, which police car can I steal next...?

Now, which police car can I steal next…?

Vehicle 9: Police helicopter.  Stolen by the T-1000.

Watching his enemies driving off in their SWAT truck, the T-1000 gets angry.  Not because his enemies are getting away, but because he has vehicle envy.  His solution?  To drive his police bike through the third floor window of the Cyberdyne building directly into the police helicopter hovering outside.  That’s called upping the ante.

Vehicle 10: Tanker.  Stolen by the T-1000.

The T-1000’s enjoyment of the helicopter is short lived, as the T-800 pulls off the classic ‘slam your brakes so the pursuing bad guy crashes into the back of your car’ move, destroying the chopper.  Another excellent benefit of a SWAT truck!  Forced to take the next vehicle to come by, the T-1000’s eyes light up (metaphorically – he is an emotionless cyborg after all) when he sees that it’s a tanker, a vehicle with high smashing capability.  If only he realised it was full of liquid nitrogen…

Vehicle 11: A beat up ute.  Stolen by the T-800, Sarah Connor, and John Connor.

Unfortunately for the good guys, when they take out the T-1000’s chopper, the SWAT truck’s wheel gets popped and they need to commandeer another vehicle themselves.  Having seen a tanker roll into the T-1000’s path, what are they presented with?  The lamest vehicle in the movie, a beat up ute with a maximum speed that is far short of what any of the passengers would hope for.  In other words, a vehicle good for nothing other than to increase the dramatic tension of the film’s climactic chase.  In other words, perfect.

So at the end of the film there have been eleven vehicles stolen, six of which were police vehicles: four cars, four trucks, two bikes, and a helicopter.  The lesson?  If you work as a police officer in the California area, make sure you have maximum insurance coverage.