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, May 28, 2012

Student Protests: Haven't I Seen This Movie Before?

Living in Montreal as I do, it's become pretty difficult to ignore a few little things that keep happening in and around my city: the escalating student protests, the mob mentality violence, the police brutality, the divisive reactions to the provincial government's legislative response to the crisis, the nightly pot banging marches outside my window in my supposedly sleepy west end neighbourhood, the list goes on...

It's also hard for me not to think that maybe I've seen this movie before. These kinds of protests and the subsequent public reactions to them are nothing new. It has happened in many different places and during many different times, including in our own backyard. For those of us with even dim memories of decades past, it does all seem kinda familiar. For someone my age, much of that familiarity does not come from the events first hand but, rather, from the pop culture of the day.

Also familiar from both life and pop culture is the slowly increasing number number of comments turning up in the social media spheres regarding "entitled" and "spoiled" "kids" who should "get a job", "learn about responsibility", "sacrifice" and generally "wake up" and get used to life in the "real world".

We have certainly heard that kind of thing before, like in, say, way back in 1968....

Jack Webb in the TV series Dragnet (who became something of a poster child for parodies of  "the establishment" in the 60's, 70's) concisely encapsulates the often dismissive, judgmental and condescending attitude on the part of the established order faced by many different successful and not so successful popular movements towards social change.

On the other hand, the protesters and the activists, even in their pop culture form, are also not above employing their own similarly incendiary language and rhetoric....

Sure, these kinds of clips aren't exactly Montreal 2012. The issues are different. The time is different. The place is different. The culture is different. The underlying emotion, basic ideological conflicts and general atmosphere, though, are really not so different. Social change has and will continue to happen all the time. Otherwise, we'd all still be living in caves and eating Brontosaurus Burgers (again, there might be some pop culture in there).

When seen through the eyes of the events of the last one hundred days here in Montreal, looking back at the pop culture zeitgeist of the so called "youth revolution" of the 60's can be quite thought provoking. If nothing else, it can give us a much broader social and historical perspective. If nothing else it makes it clear that one thing remains unchanged: the issue of student protest and social and political reactions to it is just as devise today as it was then.

While these movies, TV clips and pop culture in general are not necessarily historically accurate records of the events of the day per se, they are incredible time capsules to the way these movements were seen at the time.

For example...

Wild in the Streets (1968) is, at first glance, a silly film. It only takes a few minutes of viewing to see, though, that,  in spite of its superficial silliness, the movie is fascinatingly telling of its time and the attitudes towards the issues that it attempts to address.

Wild in the Streets tells the story about how the youth population of the late 60's (52% of the US population was under the age of 25 at that time, according to the film) manages to change the voting age in the USA to 15. As a result, they elect the first 24 year old President of the United States of America.

Let's make no mistake, this movie was made, first and foremost, like almost any film anywhere, to make money. American International Studios, the people responsible for the picture, were the major producers of Drive-In type B-movies at the time. And it is easy to see the film as cynical  exploitation of then very lucrative youth market. Yet Wild in the Streets does manage to address the issues of the day in a surprisingly well rounded, albeit over the top, manner. The movie both plays to and satirizes the youth movement at the same time.

The youth movement, led by the young millionaire pop star, Max Frost,  wants to see Frost elected as the youngest President of the United States in history. In order to do so, they concoct a plan to get the Legislative Branch of the US government to lower the voting age by putting LSD in their water supply. The scene of all these middle aged politicians tripping out on acid is shot with that classic swirling focus and tilting camera angles that was practically de riguer for movie acid trips of the day.  The scene is played as a youth empowerment fantasy for laughs while simultaneously the film also manages to create an underlying sense of something sinister. It's kinda funny but, still, watching all these hippies manipulatestoned out of their mind elected officials into enacting legislation that will allow their guy to be elected President (in what amounts to a bloodless coup d'etat) is quite unsettling.

The satire arches up even higher as the newly elected President Frost orders that everyone over thirty years of age be rounded up and sent to "re-education" camps where they are forced to drop acid every day. It's part youth culture empowerment fantasy, part satirical political cautionary tale.

View the complete film of Wild in the Streets by clicking here.

A clip from Punishment Park was featured earlier in this post.

On the the almost opposite side of the spectrum is Peter Watkins' still controversial 1971 film, Punishment Park  . Peter Watkins is a British filmmaker known for his mockumentaries. Unlike much of the genre, his mockumentaries are not comedies. If fact, they are generally deadly serious affairs.

Two of Watkins' better known earlier mockumentary works are Culloden and The War Game. Culloden (1964) documents the history of the Battle of Culloden, in which the English (some say brutally) put down a Scottish rebellion in 1746. The film utilizes historical reenactments shot it a TV news documentary style.  The War Game is a 1967 mockumentary film that takes places in England after a hypohthetical nuclear war. It unflicnlingly depicts the potential devastation of such a conflict. It is, to the best of my knowledge, the only mockumentary to ever win an Academy Award for Best Documentary.

Punishment Park, follows in the tradition of those two films by telling the story of how convicted young radical revolutionaries in the US  are sent (under the pretext of an actual existing piece of US legislation enacted in the 1950's) to a desert in Southern California. Once there they are given the chance to escape their sentence if they can survive what is essentially a three day desert death hunt at the hands of the police and National Guard trainees. The central conceit of Punishment Park is that it is a documentary ostensibly shot by a European film crew.

As is the case with many of Watkins' films, he uses only non professional actors. Also like much of his work, the cast improvises a great deal of the film. In this case, the convicted protesters were played by actual activists, students or other similarly inclined young people. The cops and National Guard trainees were played actual cops, ex-cops, National Guardsmen, veterans or others who also may have been similarly ideologically inclined. The result of this non professional improvisational approach creates an unexpectedly engaging discourse between the two sides. Watkins does not take the easy route of merely making the activists righteous heroes and the authorities two dimensional closed minded villains. While the film undoubtedly leans more to the left than than the right, neither side is portrayed as completely right or completely wrong.

In fact, almost everybody  in the movie comes off as pretty much equally unlikable. And that's kinda the point of the whole endeavor. Unmistakably, Punishment Park is agit prop, yet it is not the simple agit prop that often defines the genre. Watkins seems to be ramping up the rhetoric and the hyperbole for the exact purpose of instigating inflammatory debates (and perhaps even second thoughts) on the issues of power vs revolution, peace vs violence, social order vs individual rights, equality vs oligarchy and so on.

It's almost as if Punishment Park is there to kick you in the ass and get you upset about the questions it raises, whether you like it or not.

When you go back into the history of 1960's student protest films, there are many forgotten films that are actually still quite relevant, most especially in light of the recent Occupy movement and the even more recent Quebec student protests. Among others there's Medium Cool (1969), The Revolutionary (1970, starring the now much more right leaning Jon Voight) and this one, The Strawberry Statement (1968):

I'm not sure why the local Montreal TV stations have not been running these movies every night for the last 100 days...

Friday, May 11, 2012

Five Movies With Big Time Mommy Issues

Psycho: the classic "go to" movie for mommy issues...and, no, it's not on this list.

I had a film teacher once who used to say that all great directors, as some time or another, return to their childhood via their films. It is a theme that can be seen in all the great directors of cinema history: Ingmar Bergman, Francois Truffaut, Orson Welles, Pedro Almodóvar, Akira Kurosawa and, of course, the man who practically turned revisiting his childhood into a genre unto itself, Steven Spielberg.

These filmmakers, and many others like them, return to their juvenile past in any number of ways:  through narrative, symbolism, flashbacks, or, most importantly, through some form of cinematic recreation of their memories of their own mothers.

Once you start looking at the maternal images and themes in many of these films, it's not hard to come to the conclusion that these guys must have had some pretty rough childhoods. All great directors had traumatic childhoods, it seems, for which they apparently believe their mothers were responsible.

Examples are all over cinema history. As a pointed out with my post on movie crucifixion scenes, I could run a post a week on the subject and still not cover all the examples out there in cinema history. In this case, I could go on for years.

Keeping that in mind, here are five films that I find to be fascinating instances of movies with Big Time Mommy Issues...

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Legendary British born Hollywood thriller director, Alfred Hitchcock, practically owns the concept of movies with Big Time Mommy Issues. Few directors have had the word "Freudian" connected to them more often than Mr.Hitchcock. This is so largely on account of the fact that it is true.

It might seem like Hitchcock's 1960 slasher horror thriller classic, Psycho, would be the obvious choice when it comes to flushing out the director's cinematic maternal issues. The key wold there is "obvious".  As amazing as Psycho is, there are numerous other and more subtle examples of maternal themes that run throughout Hitch's work.

For instance, there's Cary Grant simultaneously escaping his own domineering mother yet at the same time seeking maternal protection from Eva Marie Saint while on the run in North by Northwest. The theme is even present in Hitch's quasi-apocalyptic thriller, The Birds (not the least of which is central conflict with Mother Nature, herself).  However, one of the most interesting displays of Hitch's mommy issues comes into play in one of Hitchcock's most purely cinematic films, the 1946 thriller, Notorious.

The plot of Notorious involves US government agent Cary Grant attempting to flush out some escaped Nazis in post World War II Brazil. To carry out his mission, he turns to Ingrid Bergman, the American daughter of convicted Nazi spy. While romancing Bergman in some of the most steamy Hollywood love scenes of the era, Grant manages to recruit her. She is to go to Brazil and resume the acquaintanceship of suspected Nazi operative Claude Rains. The somehow totally not suspicious Rains fall in love with Bergman. He asks her to marry him, which, as it turns out, plays nicely into the whole infiltrate the ring of Nazi spies plan.

It's the rare thriller director, then or now, who would bring a mother into this kind of a story. With Hitch, of course, such a thing is almost expected.

Despite being a suave elegant middle-aged man and an accomplished Nazi operative, Rains has got this really domineering mother who continues to play a very influential role in her son's life. He reports to her at the end of her bed each day. The story goes that these scenes were lifted from Hitch's real life in which his domineering mother required him to report the activities of his day to her in a similar manner. Some biographers report that this practice continued into Hitch's adult life right up to 1940, the year he relocated to Hollywood to further his film making career.

Whatever the exact particular inspiration, the scenes between Rains and his mother (played by veteran Austrian actress Leopoldine Konstantinare) are some of the most interesting dialogue scenes in Notorious. Rains is constantly facing his mother's continued disapproval, even as he attempts to break free of her influence by asserting his independence and marrying Bergman ( it's all part of the plan, as far as she and Grant are concerned, though). Rains finally figures out that he has, in fact, married an American agent. Before sharing the revelation with anyone else, he goes to his mother. Now Hitchcock's Freudian Mom is totally in her element. Not only is he is able to scold her son over his poor choice of a wife, but she is also able to regain power over his life. She concocts a clever plot to kill Bergman via slow acting poison. She  oversees the plan. She is often seen sitting or lying down; the maternal monster's power is such that she can exact control even from an apparently passive position.


Domineering control and manipulation to the point of attempting to murder Hitch,  don't know how to say this but you got a few issues there, buddy.

Directed by Ridley Scott 

On the surface, perhaps not a movie one might immediately associate with maternal issues. But, then again, there are those alien eggs...

Original Alien designs by HR Giger: See what I mean?
Besides some more subtle, underlying maternal themes, sexual imagery abounds in Alien. The alien monster with the big shiny phallushead and vagina dentata mouth, for example. Even the so-called "face hugger" aliens contain subtle phallic and vaginal imagery.

How does sexual imagery fit into discussion of maternal symbolism?  Duh. Aside from adoption, artificial insemination, surrogate and other clever means of sidestepping the course of nature, what's the number one major prerequisite for all moms everywhere?

Along with all the sexual imagery, images and themes of fertility, impregnation and maternity permeate Alien as well. Yet the presence of these images and themes is very much a perverse one.

An egg is often seen as a traditional image of fertility. This may be so but the egg is literally alien as well as  enigmatic, ominous and ultimately deadly. As the humans approach the alien egg for the first time, they shine flashlights through it. Murky fetal shadows appear inside the egg. There is life inside but it is dark and unknown. The egg then suddenly opens with of its own accord with a slowness that is both purposeful and potentially sinister. As the human astronaut approaches it, an alien being springs out. It quickly wraps itself around its victim's face, inserting a tentacle down the victim's throat. More sexual imagery. This time it is of a both invasive and aggressive nature. The alien "face hugger" then both feeds off of and at the same time keeps its host alive. Later, it impregnates it's human victim turned host. Finally, after it has gestated for a sufficient amount of time inside the human, a new alien being violently and bloodily bursts out of  its host's stomach, leaving the host dead. The whole sequence of events is a twisted and horrific vision of fertility, impregnation and childbirth.

In Alien, even the spacecraft itself has maternal overtones. The computer that runs the ship, the Nostromo, is, without much subtlety, named Mother. Mother, the computer, runs the ship when the crew is in cryogenic sleep. Mother also knows things the crew does not. It awakens them and sends them on their mission to investigate an unknown alien transmission.  In fact, Mother is operating on her own hidden agenda that remains unknown to the crew for much of the film. Mother may know best but just what the hell is she up to?

Mother's womb-like main computer access room 
The opening sequence of the film shows the ships crew being awakened from cryogenic sleep. The long sleep is a state that requires the nurturing care of  Mother, the computer. The scene where they crew quietly and delicately awakes from their long slumber is another birth image. Only this one is more positive than other such visual analogies seen in the film.

Even in the midst of all the death and fear that surrounds the crew, Sigourney Weaver's Ripley rarely loses her cool. She remains focused and driven by the vital task at had, get rid of the murderous alien creature. She is even cool and calm as she engages the ship to self destruct, the only truly reliable means of killing the alien creature. However, when Ripley discovers that the alien is blocking her route to the escape shuttle, she attempts to shut the self destruct sequence off. It being too late in the process, Mother will not cooperate. When this happens, Ripley has one of her most outwardly emotional displays seen in the film. In a rare moment of cathartic release, she screams and throws things at the computer, yelling out one simple word: "Mother!".


Directed by Oliver Stone 

Oliver Stone is quite the director. Often Over-the-top and highly Stylized, Stone's films are built around complex themes and characters that are, even in their complexity, boiled down to their most simplistic elements. And, oh yeah, it is often the case that, in an Oliver Stone picture, everything almost always comes back to the mother's. This is most especially true in his bio-pics.

In Alexander, legendary ancient Greek warrior's thirst for conquest was drilled into him by his mother, mostly through the use of Angelina Jolie's uber-stylized accent along with the off kilter angles with which she was shot. In W., President George W. Bush's, as portrayed by Josh Brolin, political foibles and miscalculations (as Stone's film classifies them to be) were in no small part created by the judgments and disapproval of his dad, James Cromwell,in the role of Bush 41. Though, in subtle shots and cinematic allusions, Stone implies that the George Sr. did so as the screws were being put to him by matriarchal Barbara Bush, as portrayed by Ellen Burstyn.

Nixon, Oliver Stone's 1995 biopic of Richard M. Nixon,  the only US President to resign, throws many thematic and stylistic concepts into he mix. Not the least of those ideas are the influences that Nixon's mom, Hannah Nixon, had on the future president. In real life, Nixon did, in fact, reference his mom in his last day on the job speech as President before leaving the White House forever. So it's not surprising that Stone chose to include her in his pastiche of Nixon's personal and professional life.

Nixon is portrayed by the unlikely Anthony Hopkins. His mother is portrayed, with just the appropriate amount coldness and distance, by Mary Steenburgen. Hopkins, though, never actually appears on screen with Steenbergen. In those scenes, Nixon is played by actors portraying the younger versions of Nixon. In one scene memorable scene, 12 year old Nixon (as played by Corey Carrier, the 10 year old Indy from The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles) is caught with a cigarette. Shot in that classic dark moody black and white cinematography that often constitutes a flashback in a Stone film, the scene depicts Steenburgen attempting to get a confession out the young Nixon. Hanna Nixon was a Quaker so, in the film, the maternal Nixon uses the pronoun "thee" towards her son. Just that, in of itself, suggests a constant sense of both emotional distance and judgement. Nixon finally confesses to possessing the cigarette but his mother promises not to tell his stern father about the incident. She states that it is "our little secret".

Hmmm...I wonder which part of Nixon's later life Stone is implying that story from his childhood may have informed.

Historically accurate or not, the intent of the scene is pretty clear.

Nixon's mom turns up in various other flashbacks throughout the film and, in all instances, displays a powerful sense of emotional distance coupled with a domineering demeanor towards her son.

Joan Allen plays Pat, Nixon's wife. Stone very strong suggests, both visually and textually, that Pat is Nixon's maternal substitute. Many of Allen and Hopkins's scenes involve Nixon crying on his wife's shoulder and/or confiding in her in a way in which, the film suggests, Nixon was never able to do with his mother.

The most powerful of the dark maternal images in Nixon turn up when the film supposedly recreates an interview conducted with Hannah Nixon shortly before her death in 1967. An aged version of Steenbergen appears once again in black and white, though this time it is much more grainy than in previous scenes, while sitting in a nursing home. The interviewer asks what Mrs. Nixon thinks of the fact that her son may well run for President in the next year. On the surface, her answers are all positive and supportive of her son. She even flashes the occasional smile when referring to him. However, to the great credit of her performance, Steenbergen delivers the seemingly nice answers with a subtle yet strong sense of cold emotional dissonance that lurks behind even her smiles.

It's hard not to draw the conclusion that, as far as Oliver Stone is concerned, all of the Nixon's characters flaws and his ultimate political fate all go right back to his mother.

Seriously? The carpet bombing of Hanoi? US backed regime change in Chile? Watergate? You wanna put all that on the guy's mother?

Directed by Peter Jackson 

Before The Lovely Bones, King Kong, Lord of the Rings, The Frighteners and Heavenly Creatures, Peter Jackson made a some pretty fucked up movies. Very entertaining....but fucked up.

Bad Taste, his first feature made back in 1987, is about aliens that come to earth in order to turn people into food. It is very much what they like to call now a "splatter" movie. In 1989, he made Meet The Feebles, a darkly twisted satirical movie about a group of Muppet-like puppets. Of this period of Jackson's work, 1992's Braindead takes the proverbial gory cake.

Known as Dead Alive in its North American release, Braindead, in addition to its absurdly extreme amount of gore, contains some of the most over-the-top Mommy issues ever put on film. On account of a Sumatran Rat Monkey (pretty sure that's fictional) that ends up in a New Zealand zoo, there is an outbreak of zombieism in Wellington. Long story short, the films's protagonist, Lionel Cosgrove (played by Timothy Balme) must fight off a most of his recently zombiefied neighbourhood.  To add the tension, his mom, played by Elizabeth Moody, also succumbs to the zombie epidemic. Even before she was infected, though, Lionel's mom was not exactly portrayed as a saint. Often shot from close, unflattering angles, she is yet another mom that is domineering and unlikable. She even goes so far as to make disparaging remarks regarding Lionel's Italian girlfriend.

In what is already a pretty damned ramped up film to begin with, Braindead ends with some of the biggest mother issues ever put on film...literally.

Before we get to that point, though, there is a lot of incredibly gory dismembering, disturbingly relentless attacks by a zombie baby, a kung fu fighting priest, and a scene  involving a lawnmower and room full of zombies that features one of the greatest slayfests this side of the Evil Dead movies.

After all that, Lionel's mom re-appears. She has now become the biggest-assed zombie ever (seriously -check out the scene). Proclaiming that she will keep and protect her son forever, giant zombie mom grabs Lionel and literally  sticks Lionel "back" into her gigantic womb. Our hero then must cut himself out in an absurdly over-the-top Freudian celebration of gore and rebirth.

While there is very strong sense of wry humour, satire and slapstick in Braindead, I still can't help but think, "What in the hell did Peter Jackson's mom do to him?".

In case you haven't already, Take a look. (the clip is in German but more than likely you will get the gist of it)

See what I mean? That scene puts the Big in Big Time Mommy Issues...

The Mummy
Directed by Karl Freund 


Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Avengers and The Movie Crossovers That Never Happened

The Avengers have arrived.

The long awaited big screen adaptation of the legendary Marvel Comics superhero team in is finally playing in theaters. There has never been a crossover movie quite like The Avengers; characters established in their own original movies, made with the express intention of later putting those characters together in one big movie. The hype surrounding the release of Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America was not just about the opening of a big blockbuster movie in and of itself.  As much as anything else,  the hype was also about how each movie brought the world one set up closer to The Avengers.

Movie crossovers are nothing new: Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, King Kong vs Godzilla, Alien vs. Predator...the list goes on. Granted, putting Frankenstein and the Wolf Man in the same movie was as an after thought and not the reason why they made a Frankenstein and a Wolf Man movie in the first place but, still, you get the general idea.

It's all been done.

Or has it?

What about those crossover movies, some potential dreams comes true, some potential nightmares come true, that never quite made it into movies theaters?

 In the world of Hollywood Development Hell that is the movie business, many ideas, crossover and otherwise, are talked about. Few come to fruition.

Some of those ideas can run anywhere from the bizarre to the unfeasible or, in some cases, both.

Take, for instance, these examples...

The Beatles in The Lord of the Rings as Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Speaking as a huge fan of all three of the above, I am so glad this project never came to be.

Back in the day when Beatlemania was all the rage, The Beatles original old school show biz manager, Brian Epstein, signed a three picture deal for the The Fab Four with United Artists. A Hard Day's Night and Help! were the first two films of these deals.

By 1966, things had changed a bit since those two cinematic moptop romps were filmed. The Beatles had performed their last live show.  They started smoking those funny cigarettes Bob Dylan gave them. They were among the first people on the UK to drop acid. And, perhaps most significantly, the lads from Liverpool were replacing lyrics like "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah. She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah" with lyrics like "No one I think is in my tree, I mean it must be high or low". 

The Era of Beatlemania had officially bitten the dust.

The boys themselves, now Zuckebergesque millionaires in their mid-20's, decided that they wanted to run their career a little differently from here on in. And they had the power to do pretty much whatever the hell they wanted. As anyone who has sat through the Star Wars prequels can tell you, that kind of creative control in not necessarily a good thing.

The Beatles were now, in part, defined by their own reactions against the earlier part of their career. They no longer had any taste for the incredible amount of handling they had undergone during their Beatlemania phase, for instance. Huge stadium shows were out. Rather than making live TV appearances, they made short films of their songs (early rock videos, really) to show on the Ed Sullivan Show and American Bandstand. And they sure weren't into making silly off-the-wall movies designed to sell soundtrack albums. Nonetheless, there was still a small matter of the contractual obligation they had for that pesky third Beatles movie. Well, if the lads were gonna do a film, they were gonna do it their way. Their, it turns out, lead to some -shall we say?- interesting ideas.

In the mid 60's, Italian film maker Sergio Leone had just created the genre that became known as the Spaghetti Western. The genre was typified by films of his like A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Yep, one of The Beatles movie ideas was that they would be the stars of a western; quite possibly a Leone-like Spaghetti Western. The movie may well have featured John, Paul, George and the aptly named Ringo sporting Clint Eastwood-like hair and beards while slinging their genre deconstructing six guns to the tune of an Ennio Morricone soundtrack perhaps peppered with a few psychedelic sounding Fab Four Country and Western songs.

The movie, oddly tittled A Talent For Loving, was actually scheduled to shoot in Spain. The reason for aborting the production was ostensibly on account of weather problems in that country. Though some might say it was the Hands of the Good Movie Gods intervening. If so, The Beatles would continue to keep those Hands pretty busy for some time to come.

The other idea the Beatles had was to do a film adaptation of JRR Tolkein's classic Fantasy  trilogy, The Lord of the Rings.  Back in the Sixties, The Lord of the Rings was seen as more of a mind blowing trippy hippie kinda book and not as much as the celebrated epitome of all geekdom that it is today. The lads were serious enough about the idea to approach the director of the SF classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick. This made perfect sense because, aside from Kubrick being an accomplished A-list director at the time, 2001 was a movie that was very popular with the hippie crowd in 1968.

The Beatles. Tolkien. Kubrick. 1968. Did I mention the part about those funny Dylan cigarettes and being some of the first people in the UK to drop acid?

Stanley Kubrick's Lord of the Rings, Beatles-style, had already been cast too: George Harrison as Gandalf, Paul  McCartney as Frodo Baggins, Ringo Starr as Sam Wisegamgee and John Lennon as Gollum.

Hey, man, don't shoot the messenger.

According to most reliable Kubrick biographies, the legendary director did actually consider taking the job. Kubrick finally passed on the film, though, on the grounds that the books, even with his 2001 visual effects team on the job, were unfilmable. In the pre-Industrial Light and Magic and CGI era, Kubrick was right.

While a Kubrick LOTR would have been fascinating, God knows how much of Tolkien would have actually made it to the final cut. Just ask Antony Burgess, Stephen King and Vladimir Nabokov how Kubrick film adaptations worked out for them.

Not to mention that The Beatles are not actors. They would have been plugging their own personalities into pre-established Tolkien characters. So the movie would have ended up with a Maharishi-like Gandalf, a over-the-top cutesy Frodo, an angry anti-authoritarian Golum and a goofily downbeat Sam.

It's also rumoured that, after Kubrick turned the project down, British film maker John Boorman was approached. Boorman too would have been an "interesting" fit, having gone on to direct films like Deliverance, Excalibur and one of the trippiest SF exercises of all time, Zardoz.

According to Peter Jackson, it was Tolkien himself, by virtue of the fact that he was still alive at the time, who put the ultimate kibosh on the whole bizarre mash-up of a project.

The Beatles finally ended up getting their long desired hippy dippy adventure movie and got to honour their United Artists contract at the same time. The solution to both problems was the animated film, Yellow Submarine. The animated movie was appropriately psychedelic to the era. It also demanded very little of The Beatles, outside of writing some new songs and appearing in a short live action epilogue at the end of the film.

Another crossover that never happened...

Zeppelins, Dinosaurs, Vikings and Nazis
With a line up like that, how could you go wrong? 
Well, let's start with never making it...

While none of the above elements were established movie franchises per se, they were, and still are, elements that, even by themselves in just one film, can make for awesome movies.

Hot on the heels of the success of the original 1933 King Kong, producers and directors Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper were approached by MGM studios to make a fantasy adventure movie so big that it would make King Kong look like a spider monkey. The movie in question was to have been titled War Eagles.

The basic elements of the movie would have gone something like this: explorers discover a lost valley. In this remote valley, descendants of Vikings lost centuries before continue to thrive. Also still existing in this valley: dinosaurs. Vikings and dinosaurs. Of course. De rigeur for any great adventure epic, really.

In addition to dinosaurs, there are also giant prehistoric eagles (the fossil records for which have yet to be discovered, I guess). Naturally, the Vikings ride these giant eagles majestically through the skies. Somewhere along the way, it being the eve of World War II and all, the Nazis attempt to invade the US of A. Their attack fleet is made up, naturally, of Zeppelins. Oh, yes, indeed, my friends, the climatic battle of War Eagles would have featured Vikings riding a top giant prehistoric eagles fighting off Nazi Zeppelins over the skyscrapers of Manhattan.

Total Geekasm.

For the 1930's, War Eagles have been positively Michael Bay in its scope (though probably better directed). The movie would have been in Technicolor, the same process for making colour movies (a rarity back then) used in The Wizard of OZ and Gone With The Wind. Willis O'Brien, the effects legend behind King Kong, was set to do the visual effects. The screenplay was written by Cyril Hume, who wrote many of the hit MGM Tarzan movies as well as the now classic 50's SF film, Forbidden Planet.

With a premise so rich and a team like that, it begs the question: how did this movie not get made?  Well, the answer had something to do with the real life version of World War II.

Producer Cooper was also very much the adventurer. He was a flier and subsequent POW during World War I.  Not unlike the Carl Denham character in King Kong, Cooper shot wildlife documentary footage in exotic locales like Africa and South America during the 20's. On the brink of  the US entry into World War II, Cooper left Hollywood to join the US Air Force, despite the fact he was already old enough to have been exempt from military service. When he left, War Eagles was put on hold. It was never picked up again. At the time of Cooper's departure, the film was pretty far into production too, as this excellent book tells us.

A novel , supposedly based on the unfilmed screenplay for War Eagles, came out many years later, though, I'm told, given War Eagles' history and pedigree, it is something of a let down. IMDB lists a 2012 version of War Eagles, with a similar plot to the original, as being "in development" but it cites no stars, director, writer, producer or studio attached to it.

Hey, Peter Jackson, you showed a great amount of admiration for King Kong in your 2005 remake. Maybe you could get to War Eagles after that Hobbit thing, k?

Star Trek Meets Eddie Murphy
The best idea in blockbuster movie crossovers since Richard Pryor met Superman.

Back in the mid 80's, riding high on the phenomenal success of the first Beverly Hills Cop movie, former Saturday Night Live star Eddie Murphy was just about the biggest comic on the planet. It seems that somebody got the idea of expanding Murphy's comedic range beyond that of just the planet.

Also not doing too badly in the mid 80's was the Star Trek franchise. The feature film series based the seminal SF TV series was hot off the one two punch of the hit movies, Star Trek II and III.  Leonard Nimoy, director and star of the upcoming Star Trek IV,  felt that, after all the emotionally wrenching death, destruction and resurrection in II and III, it was time for the Trek franchise to lighten up a bit. After all, where was the Star Trek movies answer to the show's classic comic relief episode, The Trouble With Tribbles?

Well, the answer certainly wasn't in the idea that came next.

Apparently some of the suits at Paramount Pictures got wind of the lighter direction idea for Trek. I guess they looked at some Beverly Hills Cop box office receipts and suddenly came up with a brilliant idea. Why not put Eddie Murphy in the next Star Trek movie? Unfortunately, their question was a rhetorical one.

Nimoy played the studio's little game and considered the idea. Murphy, reportedly a huge fan, leaped at even the very idea of appearing in a Star Trek movie. The wacky alien concept was bounced around but, in the end, it was decided that Murphy would be funniest if he were allowed to stay squarely in his mid 80's urban context. Thus the idea of a time travel story line was born.

According to Nimoy's book, I Am Spock, Nimoy met with Murphy in the ascending superstar's new sparsely furnished Hollywood Hills mansion. Nimoy writes that both parties,while remaining enthusiastic, expressed reservations over such a crossover and that both were well aware of its potential for failure.

The story goes that someone at the studio suddenly became aware of Superman III, which featured ground-breaking comedian turned movie star Richard Pryor in a central role. The combo of the very funny Pryor and the very established franchise of Superman was, well, poorly received by critics and fans alike. Superman III did okay at the box office yet still sent the franchise into a slump. Somebody at Paramount got appropriately scared of the idea of mixing franchises and of potentially killing both Murphy's and Trek's reputation simultaneously. Keep the two apart, though, and there was almost guaranteed success for each.

That ended up being the right call. Star Trek IV went on to become one the highest grossing Star Trek movies ever. Murphy's next two movies, The Golden Child and Coming to America, are still among the star's top ten highest money makers ever.

The time travel scenario did stay in the picture, though. The part Murphy was supposed to have played in Star Trek IV eventually morphed in the role of  20th century marine biologist Dr.Gillian Taylor, Kirk's love interest.

Imagine if Murphy had stuck with the part that far ; now that woulda been a crossover.

Which brings us to....

Batman vs. Superman
Wolfgang Petersen's Super Perfect Das Bat Force One starring Jude Law and Colin Ferell. 

Cast your mind back the time just after Joel Schmuacher and George Clooney "killed" the Batman franchise; the time when it was painfully obvious that Christopher Reeve would never play Superman again. Around that time, superhero movies were seeing something of a box office renaissance with the success of X-Men and the first Spider-Man movie. Hulk, Daredevil and Fantastic Four movies were also on the way. Not surprisingly, the idea of of reviving both the Superman and Batman franchises was very much one the minds of the people at DC Comics and Warner Studios. Reportedly, the predominant feeling was that bringing life back to Warner/DC's dormant flagship characters would best done sooner than later. Many different options on how to go about reviving Supes and Bats were explored.

What they settled on was Batman vs Superman.

Batman vs Superman...hmmm....well, the idea of getting those two guys together in a movie is a good one and one that is long overdue at that. However, the "vs" angle can be a bit problematic. Anyone who read World's Finest Comics (which regularly featured Superman-Batman team ups) when they were a kid knows that the two superheroes' alliance was generally an amiable one. Sure, in later Justice League and other comics, there was plenty of tension between The Gothamite and the Metropolitan. However, with the exception of Frank Miller's extremely gritty The Dark Knight Returns, relations between the two rarely broke down the "vs" level.

The battling superhero scenario has certainly been done in the comics. Plenty of times, in fact. It's a premise that can work, within certain limits. You can have The Thing vs The Hulk or The Hulk vs Wolverine and even the monumental Marvel-DC crossover of Superman vs Spider-Man seemed to make sense, but when comes to Superman and Batman, the whole "vs" concept just doesn't quite mesh.

Wolfgang doin' the directan' thang
Nonetheless, Batman vs Superman moved ahead. The studio got Wolfgang Petersen, director of such films as Das Boot, The Perfect Storm, Enemy Mine, The Neverending Story, Troy and Air Force One, on board to direct. Petersen stated publicly that he was very into the idea and loved the film versions of both characters that had appeared thus far. In fact, he still claims that he is interested in directing a Batman vs Superman movie some day.

Possible casting choices that hit the rumour mill at the time included Jude Law or Josh Hartnett as Superman and Colin Ferrell or actual eventual Batman, Christian Bale, as The Dark Knight himself. Apparently, Bale was also at one point considered for the role of Superman.

Wow. Imagine. Bale vs Bale. That, I woulda paid good money to see.

Like the Eddie Murphy meets Star Trek idea, however, Warner/DC got cold feet on the idea mixing franchises. Lighter heads prevailed. They decided that it would be better to revive each character separately. If Batman vs Superman bombed, both characters were screwed at box office. If only one or the other bombed, well, they always had Batman vs Superman in their back pocket to help boost the hypothetically less successful franchise.

In time, Warner/DC finally went with Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins. For the Kryptonian's resurrection, there was Bryan Singer's ostensible follow up to the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, Superman Returns. Batman Begins was a huge hit, as was its sequel, The Dark Night (and most likely that will also be the case for the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises). Superman Returns, on the other hand, did well financially but not so well with critics and fans. Whatever the case, there was never any talk of Bale's Batman duking it out with Brandon Routh's Superman.

In fact, now with The Avengers finally here, the DC superhero movie crossover project may well come full circle. Marvel Comics has just made a huge, bold and more than likely very successful move with a feature film version of their superhero team. Warner/DC have apparently been thinking about a potential movie featuring that company's biggest superhero group, The Justice League (also known for years on Saturday morning TV as the Super Friends) for some time. Now, it may well happen.

All Warner/DC needs to do now, is, after the 2013 Superman movie, Man of Steel, reboot Batman yet again (neither Nolan nor Bale are interested in seeing the Dark Knight join the league). Then they just need to tackle the small matter of making a Wonder Woman, Flash and Aquaman movie. And, well, popular or not, they've already established a movie Green Lantern, who could be ready to join the Justice League any time.

But, you know, after looking at the Development Hell process in detail in this post, it's possible that just about every project on this list may well come into being before we will ever see anything like a Justice League or a similarly ambitious crossover movie happen.