About Me

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Montreal, Quebec, Canada
I am a Montreal-based actor, writer and comedian. When U.S. President John F. Kennedy was shot, I was three days old. I cried all day. My favourite books of all time are Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakis and The Ewoks Fun Time Activity Book by Chirpa and Pamploo. I am a member of The Vestibules, On The Spot Improv and The Best Buy Battery Club. Except for the Battery Club, I've been at all this stuff for over 20 years. Enjoy my blog.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Killer Whale-o-Saurus vs. Mega Super Sub

Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is a literary classic. It also has all the makings of a great action adventure movie. Melville’s immortal tale of a whaling Captain obsessed with tracking down and killing the great white whale that that maimed him has seen many screen adaptations. Some go as far back as 1926 and some are as recent as the last couple of years.

2010: Moby Dick, is a direct-to-DVD movie produced by The Asylum, the studio responsible sensationalistic fare like Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus. This time around, Captain Ahab trades in his whaling ship for a 21st century nuclear submarine. Moby Dick has been upgraded from sperm whale to super gigantic prehistoric white whale.

Captain Ahab is played by Barry Bostwick. The guy from Spin City and The Rocky Horror Picture Show is, of course, a natural casting choice for one of the most iconic literary figures of all time.

The Asylum’s choice of source material for another of their trademark CGI monster movie, though, is perplexing at best. Melville purists would no doubt be outraged that such cheesy schlock is even coming within harpooning range of  Moby Dick. The  Asylum could have made any low rent creature movie without dragging Melville into it. Surely Killer Whale-o-Saurus vs. Giant Super Sub would grab much more attention in the Netflix catalogue.

Screenwriter Paul Bale’s -shall we say? -unique adaptation displays an unexpected reverence towards Melville. There are curious uses of lines or variations on lines from the novel. When the Ishmael character, Dr. Michelle Herman (played by Renee O’Connor, Xena: Warrior Princess), is introduced, the famous first line of the book, “Call me Ishmael” becomes, “Call me Michelle”.

Bostwick’s performance is also unexpectedly compelling. Entire scenes are transformed whenever Bostwick’s Ahab enters the frame. The presence of a theatrical Shakespearean character with an over-the-top sense of gravitas suddenly juxtaposed with B-movie acting is like watching a Youtube mashup of Plan 9 From Outer Space and King Lear.

The death of Ahab during the movie’s horribly contrived climax is, oddly, very close to the character’s death in the novel. However, if there are attempts to nuke the great white whale in Melville, those pages must be missing from all but a few editions.

Once you get past Bostwik’s Ahab and the somewhat clever Melville references, you are pretty much just left with yet another mediocre B-grade giant sea creature attacks movie. Still 2010: Moby Dick does manage to create a bad-accident-on-the-highway-like fascination towards the whole endeavour.

The movie also opens up the possibilities of more Asylum adaptations of other Herman Melville classics. How about Bartelby: The Curse of the Zombie Scrivener? Or perhaps Billy Budd vs. Predator?

We can only hope.

Monday, March 19, 2012

10 Sean Connery Roles That Never Were

Sir Thomas Sean Connery looks back at that which might have been.

Anybody who has ever parused into the depths of IMDB.com or the plethora of internet trivia pages, knows there are a lot of famous roles that were not originally going to be played by the actors that made them famous. There are a lot of stars in cinema history that at one time or another have been offered famous, popular or iconic roles and, for one reason or another, turned them down.

It's fun (or in some cases horrifying) to think about these movie-might-have-been's: Ronald Reagan as Rick Blaine in Casablanca, WC Fields as The Wizard in the The Wizard of Oz, Nicolas Cage as Superman, Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones, Dustin Hoffman as Rick Deckard in Blade Runner, Dom de la Luise and Harvey Korman in Airplane!, Christopher Walken as Han Solo, Marlon Brando in The Exorcist...the list goes on and on. It's not uncommon for a role and the film it belongs to to transmography radically several times over during the process known in the industry as "development hell".

In many cases, the original casting choices are ones that could have significantly changed the role, the movie or both. Poke around in the depths of alternating casting lore long enough and there is one name that reappears more than  any other: Sean Connery.

Once you take a good look at the amount of times it has happened, it is not uncommon for big movie stars to pass on roles that become legendary in the hands of other actors. However, in Connery's case, it sometimes feels like the original James Bond Academy Award Winning Sexiest Man Alive has turned down just about every role he was ever offered.. Few movie stars can match Connery's seemingly pathological commitment to passing over famous, iconic, financially successful, career defining and just plain juicy roles. The guy a legend in that department.

Here are 10 examples for Sir Thomas Sean Connery's incredible knack for the phrase: "Hmmm....no, guys, I think I'll pass this time, thanks."

Tarzan, The Magnificent

Tarzan and the Plastic Jungle of the Bandanna People

In 1959, the Tarzan movie franchise, which had been dumbing down Edgar Rice Burroughs' jungle pulp adventure hero since the early 30's, got something of a reboot. The same series of ape man movies had been a viable Hollywood franchise since 1932. 27 years on, a new producer, Sy Wientraub, had taken control of the series. He felt it was time to shake the Lord of the Jungle up a  bit. The resulting movie, Tarzan's Greatest Adventure is one the best Tarzan movie ever made (with kudos also going to the 1999 Disney version and the 1984 film, Greystoke).  For the first time in cinema history, the character's childlike "me Tarzan, you Jane" broken pidgin English was dropped in favour of making Tarzan as articulate and intelligent as he was in the pages of Burroughs' original novels.

Muscle man turned B-movie actor Gordon Scott was cast as Tarzan. The evil treasure hunting bad guy was effectively played by Anthony Quayle. In the part of one of Quayle's henchman was a young up and coming Scottish actor by the name of Sean Connery. Producer Weintraub was so impressed with the young Connery that he reportedly offered him the role of Tarzan in the next movie in the the series, Tarzan The Magnificent. Connery is quoted as responding to Weintraub's offer with, "two fellows took an option on me for some spy picture and are exercising it. But I'll be in yours next.".  On account of that "spy picture" thing, Connery's Tarzan was never to be. By the time Tarzan Goes to India (next film in the series after Tarzan The Magnificent) got off the ground, so had a series of movies featuring a spy named Bond, James Bond. James Bond was a massive hit and it arguably remains Connery's most famous role to this day.

Not all trivia sites are in agreement on the Tarzan role, however. Some say Connery was was offered a role in Tarzan Goes to India but not the title role.  Given Connery's Mr.Universe physique, undeniable charm and sex appeal at that time, Tarzan seems a much more likely role for a hot young actor than that of just another baddie. Either way, it is a moot point. Connery was out of Weintraub's price range by that time anyway. There probably wasn't enough money in all of Hollywood to convince Connery to don that loin cloth by that stage in his career.

At the height of Bondmania in the mid-60's, Tarzan's Greatest Adventure was re-released into theatres. The film's second run was an obvious attempt to cash in on Connery's presence in the movie . The movie poster for the re-release featured a new (SPOILER ALERT) slug line: "Tarzan Kills James Bond!".

Connery in the Tarzan role he did actually play, along with fellow bad guy Anthony Quayle

King of the Moon 
The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen

After co-directing one of the greatest comedies ever made, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974), ex-Pythoner and budding auteur, Terry Gilliam, went on to create a series of increasingly audacious cult movies. Time Bandits (1981) was followed by the highly praised Brazil (1985). Gilliam then followed that up with his biggest and most sprawling production to date, The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen (1988).

Sean Connery had previously worked with Terry Gilliam in the aforementioned Time Bandits. In that film, a sheltered British kid and a bunch of dwarfs quirkily

The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen is an epic fantasy adventure set in the 18th century...on acid...or to be more historically accurate but still as cliched...on opium. Among about a million and one other visually stunning stream of consciousness adventures, the eponymous Baron sails to the moon. Once there he encounters, naturally, the King of the Moon.

Apparently stipulating that he only play Kings in any future Gilliam movie, Connery was cast as the lunar monarch. Gilliam has a reputation for retooling and rewriting his scripts that puts the like George Lucas and Orson Welles to shame. The Munchhausen script at the time that Connery signed on and the one that ended up being the shooting script were two very different animals. Somewhere in there, the King of the Moon, a substantial role in the first draft, ended up being reduced to little more than cameo role in the final draft. Connery reportedly felt that the part had become too small and so he dropped out of the project.

Gilliam's path at that point was clear: recast the part with the only actor who is as close to Sean Connery as you can get:  Robin Williams.

Robin Williams or Sean Connery? Who can tell?

The Player 
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Speaking of Terry Gilliam, the screenplay for Gilliam's most famous film, Brazil ,was co-written by British playwright Tom Stoppard. Stoppard wrote (or co-wrote) a number of screenplays including Shakespeare in Love and an uncredited rewrite of all of the dialogue in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

As a playwright, however, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead remains Stoppard's best known work. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is actually a play within a play. It follows the "off stage" story of two minor characters from William Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Rosencrantz and Guidenstern Are Dead premiered on stage at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1966. However, it was not until 1990 that Stoppard finally got to make the film version of one of the most wonderfully absurdist meta pieces of theatre ever. Stoppard both adapted his play to the screen and directed the film. Rosencrantz was played by Gary Oldman and Tim Roth was cast as Guildenstern. The role of the Player King is smaller than that of the two leads, yet thematically intrinsic to the play. For that part Stoppard cast, you guessed it, Sean Connery.

I have played the part of the Player King on stage in both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Hamlet. For the life of me, I can not fathom why any actor would want to turn down so juicy a part. Nonetheless, Connery did just that.

There are conflicting explanations as to why  Mr.Connery did so. I remember reading the press on the movie when it came out. The story that I read then was that Connery was forced to drop out for health reasons. The actor had throat surgery in 1989, reportedly to remove benign nodules from his vocal chords. His voice, the story said, had not yet sufficiently recovered from the surgery to take on such a role.

Current Internet commentators, on the other hand, seem convinced that Connery dumped the part in favour of the much better paying and higher profile gig as the Scottish-brogued Russian submarine Captain in The Hunt For Red October. Throat surgery seems a more likely explanation to me. Watch Connery's films and you'll notice that his now trademark and often imitated vocal raspyness only starts turning up in his performances from 1990 or so onward.

The role of the Player King
finally went to the second greatest
Connery doppelganger after Robin Williams,
Richard Dreyfus. 

Thomas Crown 
The Thomas Crown Affair

In 1968, box office superstar Steve McQueen, was cast against type in director Norman Jewison's The Thomas Crown Affair.  McQueen's character, the titular role, is a millionaire businessman (yep, just a mere millionaire, it was the 44 years ago, after all).

This particular member of the 1968 1%  also robbed banks, just for the fun of it. The role of the suave, sophisticated debonair playboy millionaire was a bit of  departure for McQueen. His most famous roles up to that point tended to be cops, cowboys, foot soldiers, street hustlers and other more down to earth every man type characters. Nobody saw McQueen as a "suit". The star had a great deal of trouble convincing the studio to let him play one too.

Some of the resistance to McQueen playing the role of Thomas Crown came from screenwriter Alan Trustman.

Why? Well, in a 2011 interview with the New York Daily News, Trustman explains, " I wrote it for Sean Connery.....when they cast Steve McQueen, I objected violently and claimed that he could not deliver the dialogue."

Connery had already turned them down by that point so Trustman and the studio execs finally relented. The screenwriter did an extensive rewrite of the role, tailoring it to McQueen's personality.

Connery has since said that he regretted not taking the part.  Personally, I'm not convinced that it would have worked. Thomas Crown dresses well, has expensive tastes and seduces the woman who is investigating him. A variation on James Bond, in other words.

Perhaps the best known scene in The Thomas Crown Affair is the one in which McQueen and co-star Faye Dunaway, not so subtly flirt with each other while playing chess. Let's just say that there' plenty of Bishop stroking and leave it at that.  I shudder to think what kind of a grinning smirkfest a 1968 Sean Connery would have turned that scene into. Trustman also seemed to have a strong sense of what Connery's Thomas Crown might have been like. " It would have been very different and I'm not sure it would have been better.", he said.

Interestingly, when Die Hard and Predator director John McTiernan remade the movie in 1999, he too cast the James Bond of the day, Pierce Brosnan, in the title role. The Thomas Crown Affair had come full circle. Said Trustman of the remake, "Brosnan played it as if he were Sean Connery.".

James Bond 
On Her Majesty's Secret Service, 
Live and Let Die 

Early marketing campaigns attempted to capitalize on the idea of a Connery-less Bond movie

Sean Connery had a complex, love-hate relationship with James Bond. Sure, it brought him  international super-stardom, yet in the success of the popular role lurked that which can be both an actor's blessing and curse: typecasting. Connery would not successfully break the Bond mold until years after he left the series. Even so, it took till to the late 80's and early 90's before Mr. Connery really ditched the 007 association once and for all.

It's hard to believe that, as early as 1977, Connery was considering playing Bond again. The projects in question were non-official rogue 007 films spawned by a complicated legal loophole that opened the door to the question of who really owned the rights to the story of the fifth Bond movie, Thunderball .  Such legal machinations would finally result in Connery reprising the role of Bond in Never Say Never Again in 1983 (it and the 1967 spoof, Casino Royale, remain the only two "unofficial"James Bond movies).

Even before that, though, Connery had his fair share of flirtations with 007 movies that would not come to pass.  After Thunderball, the producers of the Bond franchise wanted to follow up that massive hit with On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Based, of course, on the Ian Fleming Bond novel of the same name, that's the movie where James Bond famously (SPOILER ALERT) gets married and his wife famously (SPOILER ALERT) gets killed. There was just one problem with the plan. The film features a hidden bad guy fortress in the Swiss alps which, of course, endows the story with both a ski and bob sled chase. In order to meet the studio's desired release date for the next Bond movie, On Her Majesty's Secret Service would have had to shoot in summer. That made shooting ski chases in the Swiss alps a little problematic. So instead the producers moved ahead with You Only Live Twice, the Fleming book in which Bond (SPOILER ALERT) supposedly famously dies. Midway through shooting You Only Twice in Japan, Connery decided that he was leaving the franchise. So On Her Majesty Secret Service, a fan favourite of the series, which contained one of the most powerful scenes in all of Bond-dom, the death of 007's wife, would, alas, be done without Connery.

Even after all that, Connery was not still quite done with the role yet. After the box office disappointment of the Connery-less On Her Majesty's Secret Service and the thorough critical trouncing of new 007 George Lazenby, the producers and the studio were quite eager to see Connery back in Bond action. They finally struck a deal with Connery to return to the role just one more time.  He was paid the then astronomical fee of one million dollars. Connery donated all of it to charity.

In the late 60's with the Apollo 11 moon landing and the public's general fascination with space, Ian Fleming's Moonraker (the closest the literary Bond ever got to outer space) was considered as the next film. Gerry Anderson, famous for his super successful puppet action adventure shows Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet, was hired to get to work on a space oriented Bond story. For reasons that remain uncertain, Moonraker was ditched in favour of Diamonds Are Forever in which, of course, Connery would star. A satellite in the service of the evil Blofeld and stunningly silly desert moon buggy chase  are all that remained of the space angle (and of Anderson's contributions? Who knows?). The franchise would return to Moonraker in 1979, in the wake of the success of Star Wars and the new Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster craze of the time.

Diamonds are Forever went on to become the number one grossing movie of 1971. That  is particularly impressive box office success when you take into account that the movie was released in December.  Now the studio was more eager then ever for another Connery Bond. Overtures were made. Overtures to the reported tune of 5.4 million bucks. It was an unheard of offer back in the day but the studio really really really wanted Connery in that next James Bond movie. The next film slated for the series was Live and Let Die. As pop culture history tells us , despite the incredible offer, Sean Connery did not appear in Live and Let Die. The producers and the studio, no doubt reluctantly, settled for Roger Moore, the former star of the British TV series, The Saint, as James Bond.

Probably for the best. As Roger Moore took on the Bond mantle, the series would go on to defy itself  in its  rise to all the new levels of super silly-billy-ness.

Imagine what the German release poster for
Moonraker with Connery as Bond would have looked like...

Nigel Powers 
Austin Powers in Goldmember

In early 2001, it was being widely reported in the entertainment news media that Sean Connery and his Goldfinger co-star Honor Blackman (you know, the P-word named woman) had just signed on the play the parents of Mike Myer's mega popular super spy parody character, Austin Powers. The news didn't come as that much of a surprise. Ever since the first film in the Austin Powers series, everybody was kinda expecting something like this, sooner or later.

In said first film, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, it was clear that Meyers was doing a James Bond parody. In fact, it was a little too clear, if you ask me.  Myers' 60's Bond parody concept was very predominant in the media and popular consciousness. It's all anybody was focusing on. There was little or no mention of all the other lesser known 60's spy films and pop culture that Myers was satirizing even more than he was poking fun at Bond. Myers was, in fact, also going after many of Bond's imitators and the super spy pop culture fad of the 1960s in general. That first Powers movie had everything from character names lifted directly from Dean Martin's Matt Helm spy comedy movies to references to the Flinstones' "J.Bondrock" parody. Alas, almost all such references flew right by most critics and commentators.

For better or worse, the Bond references were the most obvious ones to spot. The climatic Austin Powers scenes in the first film feature some shot for shot recreations of similar scenes the climatic battle in the James Bond movie, You Only Live Twice.  Dr.Evil looks almost exactly the same as Donald Pleasance in the role Ernst Starvro Blofeld, the Bond arch villain character (though Dr.Evil was named after the arch nemesis of Captain Action, a popular action figure line at the time).  Then, of courses, there's Powers' comically hairy chest that is most certainly a nod to every time Mr.Connery took off his shirt in a Bond movie.

Never Say Never Again: about as close as we'll ever see of an aging Connery in a spy role.

When Myers decided to introduce the silly super spy Powers' dad, Connery was a natural choice. Sir Sean had even already blazed the trail for the role when he played the dad of a character he partly influenced, in Stephen Spielberg's Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.

The early 2001 news reports of Connery in the role never came to fruition. There is scarce information on why exactly Connery never joined the cast. My best guess is that by 2002, Connery was starting to take the prospect of life after retirement a lot more seriously and was getting a lot more picky (even by his standards!) about the roles he wanted to play.

The role of Nigel Powers, Austin's dad, instead went to Michael Caine. At first glance, Caine may seem like a lesser second choice for the part in that there is no real thematic connection to Powers or to the spy movie genre. However, Austin Powers' iconic glasses are exactly the same type of glasses that Caine wore when he played British spy Harry Palmer in another series of 60's spy movies (produced by the same guys that produced Bond). In fact, the Palmer character was part of the inspiration for Austin Powers.

See what I mean? Another reference everybody missed.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

It's gotta be every fanboy's dream crossover: Captain Kirk vs Zed, The Exterminator (you'll get that one later, trust me)...okay...well maybe just this fanboy's.

In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, William Shatner signed on not just to once again play the Captain of the USS Enterprise but to also direct the fifth film in the then seemingly unstoppable Star Trek movie franchise. In a move that was highly contentious amongst Trek fans, Star Trek V introduced the character of a renegade Vulcan named Sybok. As the story unfolds, Sybok also turns out to be Spock's long lost, never even spoken of  before brother (but let's not dwell on that which cannot be undone).

Shatner's first choice for the role of Sybok was Sean Connery. Shatner (who is -believe it or not- the same age as Connery) believed that Connery could bring just the right amount of gravitas, humour and power to the role, not to mention a lot of international name brand recognition. So much so that the movie probably would have been released in some countries under the banner "Sean Connery in Star Trek V".

The choice was not just Shatner's pipe dream, either. Negotiations with Connery had begun, but before the deal could be finalized, this guy named George Lucas came along and offered Connery the role of the father of some archaeologist from the 1930's. I dunno. Sounds kinda dull, Sean. You sure want to give up Star Trek for that?

Connery and Shatner in the same movie. My mind boggles at the possibilities. All the film would have needed then was Charlton Heston as the powerful alien entity who pretends to be God (you know, it really is kind of a bizarre plot for a Trek movie). Then Star Trek V would have realized the dream team movie cast of my childhood.

No matter, though. Sadly, even with Connery's presence, charisma and popularity, nothing could of have saved that major misfire of a Star Trek movie, either creatively or at the box office.

Okay, this one, more people will get.

John Hammond
Jurassic Park

Michael Crichton , the renowned novelist, screenwriter, director and M.D., was good friends with Sean Connery.  The two first met when Crichton directed Connery in his 1979 film, The Great Train Robbery. They hit it off and remained friends for years. Connery once said of Chrichton, "He’s got a very big influence on my life.".

Though, apparently almost no influence at all when it comes to roles Sean accepted. Aside from The Great Train Robbery, Connery only ever appeared in one Crichton related project, the 1993 film adaptation of Crichton's novel, Rising Sun (which was neither directed nor adapted for the screen by Crichton).

There could have been one other notable exception: Jurassic Park. For the role of John Hammond, the Scottish billionaire who masterminded the idea of an amusement park populated by cloned dinosaurs, Crichton suggested that director Steven Spielberg cast his old pal, Sean Connery.

Like everything else listed in this post, it was not be. According to an interview with Chricton I remember seeing on Charlie Rose back in the day, their friendship did not run quite that deep. Connery wanted more money than the studio was willing to cough up, according to Crichton.
The studio execs probably felt that the success or failure of  Jurassic Park did not rely on Mr. Connery's presence in the film. They were already shelling out the big bucks for the real stars of the movie, the dinosaurs (and the ground breaking visual effects that would bring them to life on the screen).

Sir Richard Attenborough got the part of Hammond. Attenborough played the part as a naive benevolent happy-go-lucky grandfatherly figure who, although well intentioned, was horribly misguided. The characterization is almost a total opposite of Chrichton's Hammond in the original novel. There, Hammond knows exactly what he's doing and is well aware of the potential dangers (and massive profits) of his undertaking. He darkly uses the term "collateral damage" when people start getting eaten by the giant reptilian Frankenstein monsters Hammond helped create.

Connery tends to play most of his characters as people who, while often facing great conflicts, are essentially happy. It is doubtful that any sense of darkness to the character would have played into Connery's acting choices nor would they have been tolerated by the studio execs who seriously gunning for a big summer blockbuster.

Almost cast as Dr. Grant, the role that ultimately went to Sam Neil, was Harrison Ford. Yeesh, with Connery and Ford under Spielberg's direction, the whole affair might have felt a little too Indiana Jones and the Last Jurassic Crusade.

The Matrix

Um...no...I'm not doing the doppelganger bit again.

As I start looking down this list of roles that Mr. Connery turned down, one overwhelming thought comes to mind: "What the hell was this guy thinking?".  The list that contains some of the most interesting, iconic, juicy and lucrative roles of the last 50 or so years.

Well, here's one more for you, Sir Sean; you could have easily doubled his 1990's asking price price of 10 million dollars a picture by starring in The Matrix.

Connery has stated in a couple of different interviews that we was approached to star in The Matrix. Many believe that he was offered the role of Morpheus,  the cooler-than-thou leather clad mentor in The Matrix. In addition to making an absolute ton of money, The Matrix redefined the SF action movie genre for the next 10 years and beyond. Better yet, Connery, as far as critical reaction goes, would have the added advantage of being the guy in the movie that wasn't Keanu Reeves.

Yes, according to most sources, Connery was initially offered the part that went Laurence Fishbourne (and single handedly rejuvenated his career). However, here is some speculation out there in Internet land that Connery was, in fact, offered the role of the Key Keeper in the sequel, Matrix Reloaded.

If that's true, it makes even less sense than turning down Morpheus. That decision is at least conceivably understandable. The first Matrix film is so intensely a visual and visceral experience that God knows how the thing ever would have come across in mere written word script form. Turning down the sequel to one of the biggest hits of the decade is much more perplexing. The movie was out there. It was successful. More than likely, they could have afforded Sir Sean. The part of the Key Keeper is relatively small in terms of a time commitment yet at the same time potentially very profitable. Given all that, I'm more inclined to believe that Connery turned down the seemingly risky Morpheus role in the original rather than the sure thing role of the Key Keeper in the sequel.

Morpheus would have worked for Connery too. The action tough guy mentor role is one that he had mastered at that stage in his career, having already played the part in such films as The Untouchables and Highlander.

However, turning down The Matrix is a mere drop in the bucket next to...

The Lord of the Rings

Connery is on record as saying, "I didn't understand it" in refrence to the roles he passed on in both The Matrix and in The Lord of the Rings (just check out the extras on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen DVD ). In another interview Connery sold the Lord of the Rings non-comprehension explanation even harder. "I had never read Tolkien, and I didn't understand the script when they sent it to me. Bobbits? Hobbits?", he said.

You might have wanted to take a second look at Tolkien and those Bobbits Mr. Connery. Based on the cut of the gross deal that Sir Ian Mckellan got for playing the role of Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Connery would have stood to make an estimated $253 million from the role. Good thing the guy was already a multi-millionaire when he passed on that one.

Not understanding the script is one reason for passing on the one of the biggest film trilogies of all time  Another, and slightly more understandable, reason why Sir Sean turned down director Peter Jackson's offer was the prospect of the grueling 18 month shooting schedule that would take place on the other side of the world. Connery was in his late 60's at the time and all that wouldn't have exactly been easy for him..

Now, legendary horror movie actor Christopher Lee was ten years older than Connery and yet that didn't stop him from taking the part of the evil Saruman in the same project. Let's face it, though, Saruman isn't as big a role and, with all due respect, Mr. Lee was probably a lot more in need of 253 million bucks than Connery was.

J.R.R. Tolkien's creation of the wizard Gandalf is one of the most recognizable characters in all of fantasy fiction (that was true even before the movies). The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King is the only film ever in the SF/Fantasy/Horror genre to win an Oscar for Best Picture. Yep, Sean, you seriously missed the boat on this baby.

Mr. Connery, however, may have been leery of  "weird" SF and Fantasly scripts sent his way since, say, the mid 70's. Also on the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen DVD extras, Connery says that he did The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen because, "I'm the guy who did Zardoz, after all." That may be a very telling comment in light of his rejections of both The Matrix and Lord of the Rings.

For the uninitiated, Zardoz is a 1975 science fiction film directed by John Boorman (Excalibur, Deliverance) starring Sean Connery. It is a very trippy 70's sci-fi parable that pretends to more dense and cryptic than in fact it actually is.  In other words, it's pretentious.

As if that weren't enough, Connery plays a guy named Zed, The Exterminator (see, I told you that reference would make sense later) who spends almost the entire film in a bright red diaper that looks like it may very well have been the inspiration for Borat's infamous one piece male swimsuit. Or, as Mike Myers referred to Sean's  unique Zardoz wardrobe at Connery's induction into the American Film Institutes's Hall of Fame, a "nutsack". It's kinda like he got to play Tarzan 16 years after he was first offered the part.

When you take Zardoz into account, it's no wonder that, whenever Connery saw an offbeat "cerebral" SF or Fantasy script like The Matrix and Lord of the Rings, he ran as fast as he could in the opposite direction.

Don't get me wrong, Zardoz is a fascinating curiosity in both the genre and in Connery's career. Nonetheless, go watch it and see if you can't blame the guy.

The role that many feel Sean Connery should have turned down.

These are but a few examples of  the Connery Roles That Never Were. The list goes on: Daddy Warbucks in Annie, Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music and, most recently, reprising the role of  Dr. Henry Jones, Sr. in Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, to name a few.

Sir Thomas Sean Connery is now quite adamantly retired from movies. The likes of George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg have famously attempted to lure him out of his luxury New York City apartment and back on to the big screen, but to no avail. Except for a couple of voice gigs, no one has succeeded in that endeavor.

I guess Sean Connery has decided to take his notorious reputation for turning down roles to its ultimate logical conclusion.

No, this one's just for fun.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Greatest Green Supeheroes

Green Lantern

Created by: 
Bill Finger and Martin Nodell, later re-imagined by Gil Kane and John Broome
First Appeared:
All American Comics #16 July 1940, re-introduced in 1959
Secret Identity:
Identities, in this case: Alan Scott, Hal Jordan, Kyle Rayner, John Stewart (not the Daily Show guy), to name a few...a lot of different people have gotten their hands on that power ring.
A dying alien, just after crash landing on Earth gave test pilot Hal Jordan a ring (and an accompanying lantern in which to recharge it)  that not only gave Jordan special powers but also made him part of an interplanetary police force known as The Green Lantern Corps (that's the better known version, anyway).
Um, what can't he do?
The power ring has, over the years has given Green Lantern such powers as flight, teleportation, matter manipulation, time travel, telepathy, hypnosis, invisibility, force field generation and, my personal fave, the ability to create a giant green boxing glove capable of of squashing his enemies from a distance.
What's Cool About Him: 
See Powers and Secret Identities
What's Not Cool:
See Powers and Secret Identities
Has Been Played by: 
Sadly, only one live action version, played by Ryan Reynolds.
In animated form, The Green Lantern has appeared in many incarnations in everything from the Super Friends to the animated Justice League/Justice League Unlimited series to the recent Batman: the Brave and The Bold. Green Lantern has been voiced by a wide variety of actors including Phil Lamarr, David Boreanaz, Nathan Fillion, Michael Rye, Gerald Mohr and even director/fanboy/egotist Kevin Smith.

The Green Hornet

Created by:
George W. Trendle and Fran Striker
First Appeared:
January 31, 1936 on WXYZ radio, Detroit, later on NBC Radio
Secret Identity:
Newspaper publisher and renowned bachelor playboy about town (sound familiar?) Britt Reid  by day, Green Hornet by night (literally, he's the first guy to do the "by day, by night" shtick).
The common thread among the many different takes on the character over the years all involve the following: Reid saves the life of his future sidekick,Kato, while visiting any number of different places in Asia (Kato's nationality has been Japanese, Korean, Thai and Chinese over the years, due to the ever shifting political and military conflicts between the US and various different Asian countries), Reid returns to to the US, becomes publisher of The Daily Sentinel newspaper after the death of his father, Kato invents a bunch of cool gadgets and then the duo proceed to get inadvertently drawn into a life of masked crime fighting.
Has a sidekick who knows Martial Arts and who can build technology advanced crime fighting tools like high speed, rocket launching, bullet proof cars and special gas guns that can  knock out  the bad buys out for anywhere from one hour to eleven days.
Other than that, depending on the version, The Green Hornet is either an extremely skilled fighter and detective in his own right or a total doofus who just rides on Kato's coattails or somewhere between the two. 
What's Cool About Him:
You gotta love a guy that puts on a tie before he goes out to kick some ass. The man basically dresses like just about any male cast member of Mad Men, except with a mask and an obsession with the colour green.
While really a crime fighter, The Green Hornet pretends to be a criminal as a means of obtaining the bad guy's trust and learning about all of their nefarious plans.
Britt Reid is the grandson or grandnephew (depending on the version) of the The Lone Ranger. The Green Horent was created by the same guys who made The Lone Ranger and broadcast on the same radio network. The original radio series was aimed a slightly older audience than that of the mysterious masked man of the old west series and touched on many social and political issues. The original radio scripts were often based on actual police file cases.
The Green Hornet has appeared in an impressive number of different mediums: radio, TV, serial, comics, video games and movies.
The 1960's TV series introduced Bruce Lee to the world.
What's Not Cool:
An entire generation only knows The Green Hornet  as a Seth Rogan character.
Has Been Played By:
Al Hodge in the 1936-52 radio series.
Gordon Jones in the 1940 movie serial, The Green Hornet (but voiced by Hodge every time Jones puts on the mask)
Warren Hull in the 1941 sequel serial The Green Hornet Strikes Again (this time, no Hodge)
Van Williams in the 1966-67 TV series
Manu Lanzi in the 2006 French-made short film.
Seth Rogan in the 2011 movie

The Hulk

Created by:
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
First Appeared:
The Incredible Hulk #1, May 1962
Secret Identity:
Dr.Bruce Banner, though it's not exactly a secret.
Doc Bruce Banner, belted by gamma rays, turned into the Hulk.
Hulk smash.
What's Cool About Him:
Giant. Green. Can throw tanks to the other side of the desert with a single toss. Get him on your side in am bar fight and you're laughing (just don't do that in front of him).
What's Not Cool:
You wouldn't like him when he's angry.
Has Been Played By:
Billy Bixby as Banner, Lou Ferrigno as The Hulk in the 1977-82 TV series and 1988-90 TV movies
Eric Bana as Banner along with director Ang Lee as a motion capture CGI Hulk in the 2003 movie
Edward Norton as Banner along with a CGI/motion capture Hulk in the 2008 movie
Mark Ruffalo as Banner along with another CGI/motion capture Hulk in the 2012 hit, Marvel's The Avengers and also in the upcoming Avengers:Age of Ultron.
Lou Ferrigno voiced The Hulk in the 1996 animated series as well as (according to IMDB) in the 2003 and 2008 movies, plus the 2012 Avengers movie (he is uncredited in all three films).

Green Arrow

Created by:
Mort Weisinger and George Papp
First Appeared:
More Fun Comics #73, November 1941
Secret Identity:
Leftist billionaire Oliver Queen.
When Oliver Queen is abandoned by one of his business rivals on a remote uncharted island, he quickly learns survival skills, mainly through the use of his main hobby, archery. Upon his rescue and return to civilization, he decides to the robin hood thing, only cooler.
As the name might suggest, he's really good with a bow and arrow. Plus Queen used his unlimited wealth to create a wide array of unique arrows that can explode, put out fires, disperse tear gas, act as a grappling hook or even become a delivery system for thermonuclear bombs.
What's Cool About Him:
The costume and the blond Van Dyke, for one thing.
The 1970's comic book series in which Green Arrow teamed up with The Green Lantern. Those comics addressed major social and political issues of the day. In one issue, Green Arrow and Green Lantern  had to deal with the fact that Green Arrow's sidekick, Speedy, had become a junkie. From there on in the guy became one of the most outspoken voices of leftist and progressive politics in mainstream comics.
What's Not Cool:
In his first ever on-screen appearance in a 1973 episode of the now classic Saturday morning cartoon, Super Friends, Green Arrow exclaims lines like, "By Nottingham's ghost!", "Great flaming arrows!" and "By Robin Hood's bow!".
Has Been Played By:
Justin Hartley played The Green Arrow on the long running Superman prequel series, Smallville.
Stephen Arnell plays The Green Arrow (or a version thereof) in the current CW network series, Arrow.
The Green Arrow was voiced by actor Norman Alden in the aforementioned Super Friends episode as well as by many other voice actors in such animated series as Justice League Unlimited, The Batman, Batman: The Brave and The Bold, Young Justice and a number of direct to DVD animated superhero movies.

St. Patrick

Created by:
Small shreds of historical evidence embellished by about 1600 years worth of folklore and mythology.
First Appeared:
387 A.D. (estimated)
Secret Identity:
Known as "Patrick" to his friends and family.
At age 16, he was brought to Ireland after being captured in Wales by Irish slave traders. He escaped then later returned to Ireland as Catholic Bishop. I know, I know...this one needs some serious retroconning.
Superior snake banishing skills, ability to use the shamrock as a metaphor for the Holy Trinity, has a walking stick with debatable divine powers, is a Saint.
What's Cool About Him:
St.Patrick was so good at getting the snakes out of Ireland that many researchers today believe that Emerald Isle at that time never even had snakes to begin with.
What's Not Cool About Him:
Inspires an annual display of the most incredibly rowdy drunken cosplay ever.
Has Been Played By:
The appropriately named Patrick Bergin in the 2000 TV movie St.Patrick: The Irish Legend. Fans everywhere are still waiting for that big, definitive St.Patrick blockbuster, though....maybe Hollywood will get to it after The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers?

Not an actual ad on my blog, BTW.
I knew I couldn't be the first person to ever make these connections.

Happy St. Patrick's Day Everyone!

Monday, March 5, 2012

John Carter and The Edgar Rice Burroughs Movie Curse

This Friday, one of science fiction and fantasy writer Edgar Rice Burroughs' most popular characters is finally making his big screen debut. And, no, of course, I'm not talking about that yelling guy in the loin cloth who hangs out with apes. I'm talking about Burroughs' other most popular character, John Carter of Mars

62 years after his death, Burroughs continues to be one of the genre's most venerated old school pulp adventure writers.  Primarily known as the creator of Tarzan of the Apes, Burroughs wrote an estimated 70 novels featuring a wide array of different characters and their stories. The author has created, among other things, literary fantasy adventure series that take place in the jungle, on Mars, the Moon, Venus, on lost islands populated by dinosaurs and even in the center of the Earth. Most of his books are still in print today (there are 539 Burroughs titles available from the Amazon.com Kindle Store alone).

Burroughs, however, has not had a great history when it comes to motion pictures. While often financially successful, big screen adaptations of his work have largely been B-movie fare, often aimed at younger and less discriminating audiences. Some of the Burroughs' movies have risen above their lower echelon cinematic status but not many. You could call it the Edgar Rice Burroughs movie curse.

The upcoming movie, John Carter, is an adaptation of A Princess of Mars, the first in a series of books featuring Burroughs' second most famous character after Tarzan, the aforementioned John Carter of Mars. The new film is directed by avowed John Carter fan Andrew Stanton (Wall-E, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc.) under the auspices of the Walt Disney Studios. The new movie may change the tides of Burroughs-based films. However, the historical odds are not in the blockbuster's favour.

Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) did not begin his writing career until the age of 35. Though he did enter said career with a bang. A Princess of Mars (the premiere John Carter adventure, originally appearing in a serialized pulp magazine format with the title Under The Moons of Mars) was his first
published work.

Just months after that, Burroughs second published piece also began appearing in serialized pulp magazine form. It was entitled Tarzan of the Apes. Later published as a complete novel, the book would not only go on to become one of Burroughs best selling works but it would also introduce what is arguably the most popular fictional character of the 20th century. 2012 marks the centenary of the debut of both Tarzan and Carter.

A Princess of Mars is the first of eleven Carter novels written by Burroughs between 1912 and 1948 (though the eleventh book was published posthumously in 1964).  John Carter is an American Civil War veteran who, while searching for gold in a mysterious cave in Arizona, finds himself ethereally transported to the planet Mars. It's similar to the out-of-body adventure premises used in The Matrix and Avatar (only Burroughs did it 90 or so years before both of them). Due to the super human powers Mars' gravity affords him, Carter is able to leap great distances and has great physical strength. He quickly becomes a key player in an epic fantasy adventure as different Martian races battle over the fate of the future of  Mars (or Barsoom, as it is known to its inhabitants).

A classic tenant of Burroughs' work is the rugged Anglo Saxon adventurer stranded in some form or other of a lost or alien world. These heroes are well educated, cultured men with the hearts of warriors. Invariably, these men somehow rescue and ultimately transform the primitive cultures of their strange, adopted lands (and slay a few monsters along the way for good measure). In this case, the hero is John Carter and the lost world is Mars.

According to Burroughs' IMDB page, there are 68 movies based on his work. Only 6 of those movies are non-Tarzan adaptations. There's about 10 on that list that are actually good movies and only one or two that do not fall into the category of B-movies.Burroughs himself, though, was no stranger to the movies, most especially when it came to the eponymous hero of his most famous book. Well, at least initially, anyway.

As the heroic man raised by apes known as Tarzan became increasingly popular, Burroughs had a radical new idea. His plan was to have Tarzan  appear in every place possible on the newly emerging pop culture landscape: books, movies, a comic strip, radio series, merchandise, you name it. Experienced business people at the time advised him that this was a bad idea. The conventional wisdom of the day was that all these products would compete against each other and thus none of them would be profitable. Burroughs went ahead with plan anyway. It worked. All things Tarzan were extremely successful.

The next time you're in the drugstore looking at Dora The Explorer dental floss, you now know that you have Edgar Rice Burroughs to thank for it.

Burroughs and movies were closely linked in the early days. In 1918, Tarzan of the Apes, a silent film starring longshoreman turned actor Elmo Lincoln, opened on Broadway. It became the first movie ever to gross one million dollars. Burroughs was very much involved in bringing the 1918 Tarzan to the screen.

The movie business, though, would, like it has done to so many others, betray Burroughs. In 1932, Tarzan the Ape Man, the first "talkie" take on Burroughs' creation, debuted. The film's producers cast former Olympic Swimming Gold Medalist Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan.

In the pages of Burroughs' books (as opposed to many of the well known film and TV versions) Tarzan is a British nobleman lost in the jungle as baby and raised by apes; once discovered by Europeans, Tarzan returns to civilization. He becomes well educated, articulate, intelligent, and can speak several languages. Tarzan was the noble savage who became the ultimate protector of the primordial jungles of Africa.  

As he was established by Weissmuller in the long running series of movies, Tarzan spoke only in broken pidgin English. While certainly not stupid, he is depicted as a very simplistic and childlike being. Tarzan is not a British nobleman (his origins mostly remain unknown) and he never returns to civilization to be educated. A significant departure from the literary Tarzan, in other words.

Burroughs became increasingly frustrated by the latest Hollywood take on the character and its growing popularity. He was bothered by the dwindling amount of creative control and input he had toward his best known brand. The author finally attempted to take Tarzan back, albeit in movie serial form.

The 1933 serial, Tarzan The Fearless, featured another Olympic Swimmer, Buster Crabbe (who would go on to play Flash Gordon), as Tarzan. In this serial, the pidgin English issue was sidestepped by having Tarzan never speak more than one syllable at a time. The serial did little to sway the public away from, or change their attitudes towards, the Weissmuller Tarzan.

In 1935, Burroughs tried again. He used his own production company to make another more authentic serial, The New Adventures of Tarzan. The serial featured an articulate intelligent Tarzan played by the incredibly athletic Herman Brix (he later worked under the stage name Bruce Bennett). However, MGM, the studio that was producing the Weissmuller Tarzan features, fearing too much potential confusion, campaigned against the serial. They threatened theatres that showed the serial would be denied the opportunity to play the much more lucrative MGM Tarzan films. From there on in, Burroughs' only involvement with the big screen Tarzan would be cashing royalty cheques.

In the mainstream, "Me Tarzan, you Jane" would pretty much define the character. That did not change until the 1959 "reboot", Tarzan's Greatest Adventure. By that time, unfortunately, Burroughs had already been in his grave for 9 years. The Tarzan movies from then on and the 1960's TV series would continue to feature well spoken and intelligent takes on Tarzan. It did little good towards changing Tarzan's image. You need only to read Mad magazine or watch the Carol Burnett Show to realize that the Weissmuller Tarzan mold remained dominant in the pop culture consciousness well into the 70's and 80's.

There are handful of good Tarzan movies. Disney's animated feature of the late 90's is probably the most faithful adaptation of Burroughs' original novel out there. It is to a point, anyway. The Tarzan books are not exactly known for their musical numbers. Even at their best, the movie Tarzans rarely bear more than a passing resemblance to the character of Burroughs' 26 Tarzan novels.

The movie adaptations of Burroughs' non-Tarzan novels have fared even worse.

The 1941 serial Jungle Girl, based on a Burroughs novel of the same name, stuck to the familiar Burroughsian territory of jungle adventure. The novel was set in a lost world in the jungles of Cambodia. The serial kept only the title of Burroughs' book and focused on tried and true African based jungle adventures. It was followed by two sequels, Perils of Nyoka and Nyoka The Jungle Girl, both of which came no closer to their source material.

It was not until 1975 that another non-Tarzan Burroughs' novel would make it to movie screens. The Land That Time Forgot was based on the first novel of the author's Caspek trilogy, first published in 1918. Following in the footsteps of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's successful novel The Lost World, The Land That Time Forgot was about a lost remote island somewhere near Antarctica. The island, a closed tropical ecosystem, is inhabited by dinosaurs, other prehistoric creatures and a wide array animals, both real and fictional. Those animals include Neanderthals, hominids and homo sapiens.The island, known as Caspek to its primitive inhabitants, contains its own unique system of evolution through metamorphosis.

It is discovered by a submarine with a mixed American, British and German crew . The novel takes place in 1916, the height of the First World War, so the presence of sworn enemies on the same sub is, well, kind of a long story. Better to read the book...or you can just watch the movie.

The mid 70's film adaptation was produced the British company Amicus Productions. It was distributed in North America by American International, a studio known for B-movies, AI (as it was known) largely supplied the drive-in movie circuit in the 60's and 70's.  The screenplay, as adapted by Burroughs aficionado and noted British SF and Fantasy author, Michael Moorcock, incorporates elements from all three of the Caspek novels. No stop motion animation (the preferred means of bringing dinosaurs and other big monsters to the screen back in the day) was used. All of the dinosaurs seen on screen are either models or puppets. The overall effect is, well, pretty dated. The acting is the stuff of classic B-grade action adventure fare all the way, most especially in the case TV Western veteran Doug McClure in in the lead role. The movie has all the earmarks of an old-fashioned Saturday matinee adventure. On that level, The Land That Time Forgot is a very entertaining movie.

The film is well (if somewhat cheesily) handled by director Kevin Connor. Moorcock does a nice job of making Burroughs' fantastical and arcane concepts succinct, eloquent and easy to grasp, even for a younger audience. The movie is unmistakably aimed primarily at kids. And kids are probably the audience that made it one of the biggest sleeper hits of '75. The Land That Time Forgot still stands today as one of the better Edgar Rice Burroughs film adaptations (Tarzan movies included).

The same cannot be said of it sequel, The People That Time Forgot, which came out in 1977. Loosely based on the second Caspek novel of the same name, the film only incorporates a few key elements of the book. It is an aimless sequel; convoluted and a lot less watchable than its predecessor.  Watching the special effects of the movie's opening biplane meets Pterodactyl scene (inspired by a similar but more interesting scene in the book), it is almost impossible to believe that The People That Time Forgot was released in the same year as the original Star Wars.

In between those two movies, the same studio released another Burroughs adaptation, At The Earth's Core, in 1976. At The Earth's Core was the first book in Burroughs' Pellucidar series, chronicling the adventures of the previously referred to lost world at the center of the Earth. After Tarzan and John Carter, Pellucidar  is probably Burroughs' next best known series. The movie once again features McClure in the lead. This time he is joined by co-star Peter Cushing, of Star Wars and Hammer horror movies fame. Cushing plays Professor Abner Perry, the aging inventor who builds what is essentially a giant drill-like vehicle that tunnels underground, all the way to the earth's core. The giant drill ship is now somewhat of a classic image in pop culture lore (as well as a primer in cinematic Freudian imagery). Once again, the dinosaurs and other monsters that dwell in the Earth's core are brought to life with models, puppets and even the old Godzilla standby of a guy in a rubber suit.  These effects do not serve the fantastical nature of Burroughs creature creations well. Their ineffectiveness is particularly true when it comes to the Mahars, the winged reptile race that rule Pellucidar and are the major villains of the story. The impact of any threatening creature that has the look of a plastic puppet or a guy in a rubber suit is unintentionally comical.

At The Earth's Core even takes a turn toward intentional (though not much funnier) comedy almost every time co-star Cushing is on screen. Playing against his usual heavy Hammer horror or Grand Moff Tarkin type, Cushing plays Professor Perry as an essentially silly and fidgety old man.  Slapstick comedy even turns up in At The Earth's Core. In the final scene, the giant drill tunnels back to the Earth's surface. It ends up surfacing right in the middle of the White House front lawn. The wacky scene is of the drill suddenly popping up out of nowhere is complete with Keystone style cops running away in frantically comedic terror.

Some of the other non-Tarzan Burroughs movies belong to a movie studio known as The Asylum. The Asylum is responsible for direct-to-DVD monster fare like Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus and  Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus. They are essentially the Netflix era's version of  B-movie makers for the drive-in circuit of days gone by. The Asylum has plenty of experience in the limited budget CGI monster department.

In 2009, The Asylum made the second screen adaptation of Burroughs' The Land That Time Forgot. This time around the script is a very loose adaptation of Burroughs' book. The story is updated to the 21st century. The island is now situated in the Bermuda Triangle, on which a group of American tourists and their guide are shipwrecked.

The island somehow exists in its own version of a time vortex. Along with dinosaurs, there are stranded air and sea travelers from different time periods . Most prominent among them, the crew of a German submarine from World War II. There's a little tiny bit of something sort of loosely based on Burroughs poking through there. In the true tradition of The Asylum's notoriously limited production values, our heroes are stranded on an island of what amounts to two Tyrannosaurs and a few pterodactyls, only one which is seen up close. Well, at least that's a dinosaur population that's realistic in terms of what the ecosystem of one small island could most likely support. Even by the cheesy standards set by other Asylum movies, the 2009 Land That Time Forgot is not great. It probably goes without saying that even the '75 version is a much better movie.

The Asylum got in the Burroughs adaptation game twice in 2009. Their version of A Princess of Mars marks the only previous movie adaptation of a John Carter book. Like The Asylum's Land That Time Forgot, the story is also updated to the 21st century. Carter is re-imagined from a Civil War hero to a hero of the War in Afghanistan. However, the Burroughs novel, as it turns out, is merely used as a deception for a low budget rip-off of the James Cameron blockbuster Avatar. This is kind of ironic in light of the fact that Cameron is on record as saying that John Carter was an inspiration for Avatar.

A big budget John Carter movie had been bouncing around in Hollywood development hell since the days of the early Weissmuller Tarzan films. Names attached to the project over the years have included Looney Tunes animator Bob Clampett, stop motion animation master Ray Harryhausen, Die Hard and Predator director John McTiernan, comic book legend and director Frank Miller and most recently Iron Man director Jon Favreau. Tom Cruise was even slated to play Carter at one point. In the end, the project finally moved ahead with Disney and director Stanton.

An imagined 1930's John Carter movie serial poster.
Thanks to the guys at the Serial Squadron for this one.

Now, for the first time since the 1930's, Burroughs' material is the basis of an A List big budget live action movie in the hands an A List Hollywood director and studio. However, none of that guarantees that this new John Carter can successfully break the Edgar Rice Burroughs' movie curse.

Director Stanton is a top notch Disney animator behind the commercial and critically successful family hits Wall-E, Monsters Inc and, my personal fave, Finding Nemo. John Carter will mark Stanton's live action directorial debut. Undoubtedly, his animation background can come in handy for much of the CGI in the film, particularly when it comes to the 12 feet tall four armed green Martian race known as the Tharks. More importantly, though, Stanton is big, life-long fan of the original Burroughs books. He read all 11 of them as a child, referring to them as "my Harry Potters".

Stanton also made the canny move of hiring novelist Michael Chabon to help adapt the screenplay for John Carter. Chabon is the author of, among other things, The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay, a critically acclaimed and best selling novel set in the early days of comic book history. Chabon is also a Carter fan, having read the entire series when he was nine. Chabon once said of Burroughs' prose that the author was "a narrative machine" who "really knew how to keep a story going". Not since Michael Moorcock penning The Land That Time Forgot screenplay as so accomplished a Burroughs fanboy had a significant hand the writing of a Burroughs movie.

Still the issue of the Edgar Rice Burroughs movie curse endures. Did bringing talented Carter fans on board the movie adaptation actually pay off?  The simple answer is yes.

John Carter is the Citizen Kane of non-Tarzan Edgar Rice Burroughs movie adaptations.

Stanton and Chabon's fandom of the books is evident throughout the film. For instance, like in the original novel, Edgar Rice Burroughs himself appears as a character in the sequences that bookend the movie. Though, in the time period that the film sets those scenes in,  the real Burroughs would have been six years old and the not the the twentysomething he appears to be on screen (and, that, of course, is the only non-believable aspect of inserting Burroughs' into the John Carter storyline).

The depiction of Mars in the movie reflects the vision of alien world as seen through the imagination of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Much of the martian technology, ships, architecture and weapons have a definite steampunk vibe to them.

Chabon (one of three screenwriters credited along with Stanton and Mark Andrews)  and Stanton have a strong sense of what made the John Carter books work: chases, aliens, monsters, battles, intrigue and cliffhangers galore.

To be fair, sometimes those elements work for the film and other times they work against it.  The steampunk meets Gladiator design of the movie is a bit too over-designed and laboured at times. Some of the dialogue scenes between Carter (Friday Night Lights' Taylor Kitsch) and the Martian Princess, Deja Thoris (X Men Wolverine's Lyn Collins) are kind of clunky. There's also a few action sequences that are shown in hard to follow close constantly shaking angles cut together with some very quick editing.

John Carter stays more or less faithful to Burroughs' original novel, though there are a few significant departures. For the most part, those departures are for the better. In the original Carter books, a great deal of the dialogue is communicated telepathically, with the exception of the protagonist, who is unable to do so.   From a cinematic point of view (I can tell you as an experienced screenwriter) that that is an almost unworkable concept. The telepathy angle is dropped from the movie entirely. There's also some mixing and matching of characters, events and even creatures from some of the later Carter books. On the whole, such alterations serve the movie well.

Those unfamiliar with the books may find the alien politics and races a bit byzantine to follow. Jeddak, Tharks, Barsoom, Zodanga, Therns, Woolas: the film throws a great deal of arcane Burroughsian jargon at the audience in a very short period of time. If you don't get any of that stuff, all you are left with is a lot of running around and fighting. But it is some mighty good running around and fighting.

The stunts and visual effects (it's often hard to tell where one ends and the other begins) certainly live up to the Carter legend. Particularly masterfully handled is the sequence in which Carter is forced to battle two giant "White Ape" creatures in gladiatorial style arena combat (you know, it's on all the posters). Stanton visualizes and paces the sequence so as to squeeze every bit entertainment value the David and Goliath-like spectacle has to offer. It's a man vs monster battle that represents everything that old school fantasy pulp adventure should be.

It’s safe to say that John Carter breaks the Edgar Rice Burroughs movie curse.

For fans of the books and potential fans of new movie, perhaps the more important question is will John Carter also be able to achieve major box office success? Is it possible that, like the books, we will see many more John Carter movies? A wave of more authentic adaptations of Burroughs' other work? An actual faithful version of Tarzan?

The answer is...well....Barsoom only knows.