September 2004

Liz Miller

hollywood madam

The 2004 Pessimism Spectacular!

As a dedicated film nerd, normally I'm all about optimism, always wide-eyed and eager for the latest upcoming flicks. I can outdo Pollyanna when it comes to the new releases -- something in me refusing to believe that Hugh Jackman wouldn't be able to carry a silly popcorn movie, or that a movie written by Paul Rudnick would be anything less than hilarious.

But it's been a long hot summer, my fond memories of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban are faint, and everything disappoints. So this month, instead of focusing on the fait accomplis, the films already completed, the mistakes already made, let us look to the future. Let us think about the projects in development, the books optioned in the rush to copycat any big success. And let us cry out with one voice: "HELL NO!"

The movies discussed here are in various stages of evolution, from development to pre-production to coming soon. I fully acknowledge that my voice will not be able to prevent these films from being made. But it's better to put Pollyanna to bed and be pleasantly surprised when she wakes in the cold dark night. Better to speak out now and be wrong.

Or be right. Whatever.

So allow me to rip the words from the development executive's mouth:

The kids love the superheroes these days, right?
Following the travails of the Watchmen adaptation over the past few years has been an emotional roller coaster. First, there was joy in hearing that Terry Gilliam had signed on to direct it. Then there was sorrow in learning that Terry Gilliam's miniseries proposal had been abandoned. Then there was distrust at the notion of first-time director David Hayter taking the writing and directing reins. Then, Darren Aronofsky was attached to direct and I started to think happy thoughts...

Except, of course, that not only has Aronofsky been doing a crap job of getting movies made since his success with Requiem for a Dream (five years ago, folks), but there's absolutely no proof that this could possibly ever work.

It seems key to remember that Watchmen is not a superhero story. Really. It's not. In the end, Alan Moore's masterpiece is a murder mystery soaked in fifty years of history, and without that history it's just another movie that in no way can capture the depth and power of the source material. How do you cram fifty years of history into two hours of movie? No clue. And I'm not just saying that because the ending is nearly impossible to imagine being produced in a post-9/11 climate. Though the ending is nearly impossible to imagine being produced in a post-9/11 climate.

There's always a chance Aronofsky could prove me wrong. But I'll still be dreaming of a twelve hour miniseries made for television, directed by Terry Gilliam, and produced in an era when it seemed possible to watch buildings tumble and call it entertainment.

Though if they do cast Jude Law as Ozymandius, all bets are off.

PROJECT STATUS: Aronofsky's next project is The Fountain, after which he'll do Watchmen -- but Aronofsky's next project has been The Fountain for four years now. We may be spared another Alan Moore butchering for a while yet.

"Did you SEE how much Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter made this weekend?"
My profound love for Tom Stoppard managed to get slightly tarnished by his screenplay for the dead-on-its-feet Enigma (not that that was necessarily Stoppard's fault -- that movie made me stop liking Kate Winslet, for chrissake), so the news that he's writing the adaptation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy does not fill me with the joy it once could have.

Not that I know the series at all -- The Golden Compass, borrowed from my roommate, has been on my to-be-read pile for months. But if the Amazon summaries reveal anything, it's that the books are complex and heady with themes and resonance -- while lacking the central concept ("Find ring of power. Destroy ring of power. Dance happy little hobbit dance") that often goes a long way towards holding such complex stories together. What it comes down to is that I have no idea what this story is about, and while I look forward to discovering the book so many I know love, that doesn't make it any easier to understand how this series will work as a movie.

PROJECT STATUS: Chris Weitz is currently attached to direct, and while I'm a huge fan of About a Boy, I don't know if I'm prepared to go around giving out the benefit of the doubt. Momentum on this seems to be low, and no one who hasn't read the books seems to have a clue what they're about. This does not help the momentum thing any.

The kids love the superheroes, these days -- and did you SEE how much Spider-man 2 made this weekend?
Hollywood, I know the superheroes make you lots of money and sell lots of popcorn and make all the kids happy. And I'm not immune, believe me -- I'm still a midnight screening junkie and I'll be first in line for Batman Begins.

But remember The Punisher? Remember Daredevil? Remember what happens when you try to capitalize on the current success of the superhero genre by rushing out movies based on not particularly interesting characters and directed by unproved and not necessarily talented directors?

Clearly, you don't. Because if you did, I wouldn't have to keep hearing about those archaic atomic age wonders, The Fantastic Four.

PROJECT STATUS: Stupid Jessica Alba. Stupid July 1st, 2005.

Good grief -- that Keira Knightley is so hot it burns! What are good movies for British actresses? Aren't there a bunch of old-timey books written by dead English chicks with fountain pens?
Let's be really clear about this, all right? Pride and Prejudice has been adapted to film. It has, in fact, been adapted no less than seven times. And at least one of those adaptations? Possibly one of the best adaptations of anything ever. Loyal to the source material, stunningly acted, and smokin' hot.

So I don't care how flat Keira Knightley's stomach is, or how fun Judi Dench will be, or how nice it is to see the MI-5 guy doing something that doesn't involve him sustaining head trauma. Make up some cute new original story for them to be in. Because Pride and Prejudice HAS BEEN DONE. And the likelihood of them topping the BBC version? Low.

PROJECT STATUS: I suppose, yes, it's a bit too late for them to turn back. What with being due for release in 2005 and all. But could we have let a freakin' decade go by before desecrating the memory of Mr. Darcy diving into the lake?

Man, my five-year-old won't stop watching that Spy Kids crap. Any other kid action properties out there?
Honestly, I've had years to process it, but I really can't comprehend how bad an idea adapting Ender's Game is. Sure, there's cool battle-room action. Sure, the main characters are cute little kids. But it's a movie about cute little kids who BEAT EACH OTHER TO DEATH. Remember? Remember the first chapter, in which cute little Ender kicks in a classmate's face? Remember later, where a squirrel is skinned alive, arms are broken, and a boy's nose is pushed into his brain (Ender again)? The book, while aimed at a young adult audience, is chock full o' adult violence, and taking the violence out of a story that directly examines the inherent cruelty in all of us, the clashes between brutality and kindness that occur daily in the name of survival, makes a compelling and interesting story into wacky battle-room antics.

Not that there's anything wrong with wacky battle-room antics. But that's not the movie that Ender's Game deserves to be, and the movie that Ender's Game ought to be -- an expensive, violent, adult-oriented sci-fi drama with a cast of pre-pubers -- would never be greenlit.

More's the pity.

Though if it were animated, though... Animated would be a different story -- the Jude Law Exception. Though that's as likely as a Catwoman 2, at this point.

PROJECT STATUS: While not yet greenlit, Wolfgang Peterson who's shown such a deft touch with adaptations in the past is attached to direct, and the writers of X2 are adapting. Whether or not it ever proceeds past the script stage depends on the quality of that script -- and whether or not they can find a cast of Jodie Foster-quality child actors.

And on all points, I am full of doubt.