STAR WARS & Disney: Thoughts

If you haven’t heard, Disney purchased Lucasfilm for $4 billion. Today at work I got a bunch of texts and facebook posts related to the topic. Apparently, everyone wanted to be the one to break the news to me. I can understand, and, frankly, being known by so many friends for my love of STAR WARS, I even expect it to a degree. In a way, it’s like wanting to be the first to tell the guy that always talks about his favorite band that has been broken up for years is getting back together. It’s great news. Thanks to all who wanted to inform. I am thrilled as are many other more devoted fans, I am sure. And, as already stated on twitter by movie blogger Steve Weintrab, @colliderfrosty, “Thank you George Lucas for creating STAR WARS. But a bigger thank you for letting it go.”

I think many of us that grew up watching STAR WARS have been fed up with George Lucas’ frequent tinkering with his classic films and subpar writing and directing for the prequel trilogy that came out over the last decade. And I have said in many past nerdy conversations things to the effect of: “I wish George Lucas would just let other people develop STAR WARS stories that are good.” After all, no one can deny that the universe he created is so much bigger and vaster now thanks in no small part to the books, games, and comics that are all licensed to tell stories in the STAR WARS universe that are frequently better than anything Lucas has come up with in the last 15 years. It is long overdue for some fresh writing and directing talent, and Disney is the perfect place to develop some new STAR WARS films.

A Marriage of Epic Proportions

Disney is a great company that has made some really smart investments into other studios like Marvel and Pixar. The acquisition of Lucasfilm just makes their stable properties that much more appealing to moviegoers. In honesty, considering the value of STAR WARS thus far $4 billion is a steal. Do Star Wars films right, and it can easily gross $1 billion worldwide, not to mention the money (in the billions) to be made from toys and merchandise. It’s really a no-brainer for Disney. I just don’t think anyone saw Lucas letting go of it. Kudos, GL. Fans have less cause to stay mad at you for the prequels.

The big news is that Disney is already putting together plans for an Episode 7, based on a treatment by Lucas (he also has two more for–you guessed it–a trilogy). Kathleen Kennedy, the new president of Lucasfilm has already met with screenwriters. That’s a big deal. Actual screenwriters. A huge problem with the prequels wasn’t the overall story ideas, but how those stories were told–one-dimensional characters, wooden dialogue, and just campy direction with childish humor. That was because it was all Lucas. Using Lucas’ ideas as the jumping off point but letting fresh writers and directors take realize the story is the right move. And a property as legendary and formative for filmmakers as STAR WARS will attract the kind of A-list talent needed to get the franchise back on track. Articles are floating around names like David Fincher,J.J. Abrams, and even people like Guilermo Del Toro for the director’s chair. Abrams would be a good choice, but I don’t think on principle the guy behind Star Trek should also direct STAR WARS. I am inclined toward names from the Marvel & Pixar camp that have already proven themselves with Disney properties. Guys like Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Mission Impossible: GP) and Joss Whedon (The Avengers) no doubt would be outstanding choices, though Whedon is probably out as Avengers 2 is set to release the same year as Episode 7. Time will tell. But speculation has already begun.

As fun as it is to speculate about the behind the camera talent, I am even more interested in to know what kind of story we are dealing with. Does this follow an all new story created by Lucas which has no ties to the Expanded Universe Thrawn Trilogy (the de-facto 7,8, and 9 to many a STAR WARS nerd)? Likely. If it is a new story, does it use the same characters as the original trilogy? I hope so. I already have given my thoughts on who I would cast if we were making the original STAR WARS films with actors today. Some of those could still work for an Episode 7. Others might wish to see a story that takes place some 35 – 40 odd years after the original film. This would allow it to contain new characters as well as have the original actors reprise their iconic rolls. This could work, though I am less inclined to think this will happen. This is already being billed as a new trilogy, so they are going to want to tell a story that relies on young actors to tell over the next 7 to 10 years. Harrison Ford is 70, and the first new film is still three years away, just to put that in prospective.

Ford
Where did you dig up that old fossil?

All things told, I am elated that my son Liam will grow up seeing new STAR WARS films in theaters at a young age. In 2015, he will only be 3, which is probably too young to really enjoy it. But fore the next ones he’ll likely be 6 and 9, which is just about perfect. It makes the films that much more special for me getting to share them with my son. I grew up watching the originals with my dad and brother on TV and VHS, but the prequel films didn’t come out until I was in high school and college. I can’t wait to experience STAR WARS through the eyes of my child. It makes me giddy, to be honest.

STAR WARS has meant more to nerds than probably any other film property, and it is awesome to see new vitality injected into a franchise that seemed like it was on life support. Here’s hoping some new storytellers can recapture the magic that can only be found a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

By the way, if they do end up using the Thrawn Trilogy, I nominate Michael Fassbender for the Chiss Grand Admiral. I know. #NERDALERT

THRAWN
“Only nerds know who I am”
“I’m good at playing bad guys.”

WHAT IF: Casting STAR WARS for 2011

First of all, Happy 4th of July! Second of all, I know what you’re thinking. Seriously, casting for a Star Wars remake? Why even discuss such a horrible idea? Because I am nerd. And I spend time thinking about frivolities like this when I should be writing my paper on John Wesley for seminary.

Granted, I think the Original Star Wars movies are amazing, timeless pieces of American film history and I do not think they need to be remade in the slightest. But George Lucas, the creator of these incredible films, has in no small way sullied the name his own franchise with the prequel films and even gone back into his original movies and made changes (twice!), so I wouldn’t put any of this past him. So if we look at it that way, I am just giving him ideas…

But let’s not look at it that way. Let’s be positive. Let’s look at it as if no Star Wars film has been made, and it’s 2011.  We are in an alternate reality where nerds have had to do without Star Wars for the last 35 years. Up until now, it’s been a glimmer in George Lucas’ eye. It’s a new franchise. SO… Who would we get to play the iconic roles?

Without further ado, I submit to you my cast picks for the 2011 version of STAR WARS (and its sequels)

LUKE SKYWALKER

James McAvoy

Yeah, I know. Young Professor X. What can I say. The dude won me over in X-Men First Class. I was impressed with his character’s transformation from a somewhat-carefree, playboy type character to the leader he had to be. I could see him pulling off the transformation Luke Skywalker’s character has very well. And I think he would look awesome in the part. True, McAvoy is 32, but he has a boyish face that can both hide and show his age when it needs to.

HAN SOLO

James Franco

Wild card, is it not? I really do think that even for all of Franco’s goofiness that he is an incredibly versatile actor. You might think he is a little young for Han Solo. But he’s 33, just two years younger than Ford was when he first stepped into the role. Franco definitely could pull off Solo’s swagger and attitude. And I think he would have great chemistry with my choice for…

PRINCESS LEIA

Jamie Alexander

She’s a relatively new kid on the block. This is Andrea’s pick, and I think it’s an inspired choice. Alexander is probably best known for her role as Sif in this Summer’s THOR. Sif is somewhat similar to Leia’s warrior princess character. Alexander earned a lot of praise for her portrayal, and she definitely has the look for the part of Leia as well. She could definitely portray a believable sister for McAvoy’s Luke.

C-3p0 (Voice)

Simon Pegg

Never mind that he is already Scotty in the reboot of Star Trek.  In this alternate universe, who knows what Pegg would be doing. But all things being equal, lets all just acknowledge that Pegg would do a wonderful job voicing this role made famous by Anthony Daniels. He doesn’t have the build to actually fit in that tiny suit, but I don’t think that’s actually necessary.

OBI-WAN KENOBI

Russell Crowe

Probably my favorite choice (sorry about the spacing — couldn’t get the pictures to cooperate). While Crowe is a little young for the part, if you go by Obi-Wan’s appearance (and age) in the prequels, Alec Guiness was too old! So I didn’t have a problem re-imagining the mentor role a bit to make room for another heavy-weight like Crowe, even if he is a bit younger. I think Crowe can have the wise sorcer0r-mentor character. He hasn’t really done that yet, but he would do great. Plus, he sort of looks like an older Ewan McGregor.

DARTH VADER (VOICE)

James Ear Jones Can't Be Beat

If it ain’t broke… Since this character requires a deep, menacing voice, I am still opting for Jones since he is still with us and working.

LANDO CALRISSIAN

Idris Elba

It’s hard to beat Billy D. But if I had to cast Lando for 2011, it would be Idris Elba. You may or may not have recognized Elba as Hymdal, the guardian of the Rainbow bridge in Thor. He has also been acting for television with roles in HBO’s The Wire, the BBC series Luther. He is a big up-and-comer in the film world as well, with several upcoming roles for large films. He has shown himself to be a very versatile actor, and although it’s not a huge role, it is important that we get a Lando that can hold his own against Franco’s Han. Elba wouldn’t disappoint.

EMPEROR PALPATINE

Anthony Hopkins

Gotta have at least one knighted actor in Star Wars. So I opted for Sir Anthony Hopkins. Ian McDiarmid’s Palpatine is one of the greatest villains of all time. So is Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter. I really think McDiarmid’s raspy, cackling voice is hard to beat, so I went with a voice that’s equally chilling. Hopkins has the range necessary, and he certainly has proven that he can be a terrifying villain. All he needs is the robe.

I am sure there are other potential options that I have overlooked. If you have some other ideas, post them in the comments! Hopefully, this discussion will remain one for the internet and not give George any ideas :-)

[END]

Terminator 5: Rise of the Fake, CGI Arnold Schwartzenegger

Hmmm. Something's not quite right about my face...

It’s true my friends. All over the interwebs yesterday, we saw the rumor confirmed that director Justin Lin and AHNOLD himself were inking a deal to make a fifth entry in the aging franchise. Justin Lin, you may or may not know, is the director behind several of the strangely popular Fast and the Furious films. And Arnold… well, he’s Arnold. He IS the Terminator franchise.

So, before we get to my opinion on this matter, let’s back up a little bit and talk the history of the Terminator sequels. First, of course is Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Arguably one of the best sequels ever made and considered by most fans (including me) to be the best film in the series. Like the original, it was directed by James Cameron. It is awesome. And as far as Cameron is concerned, the story ended with that film, with Judgment Day averted.

Fast-forward twelve years to 2003. Hollywood wants to resurrect the franchise and finds a way to get Arnold back in the saddle w/o James Cameron’s involvement. The result is the enjoyable, but inferior T3: Rise of the Machines directed by Jonathan Mostow. While people tended to heap this belated sequel with criticism, the movie was certified fresh at 70% on Rotten Tomatoes. The bulk of the criticism came from hardcore fans who either were not looking for a sequel and wished that the movies had ended at T2 or simply thought it was throw-away popcorn fare rather than the innovative and smart film-making of its predecessors. They have a point, but like it or not, it reversed the course of the second movie and made it clear that Judgement Day was merely postponed and was in fact inevitable, which lead to one of the coolest moments of the franchise, where John Connor finally mans up and commits to being the leader that he has always been told he would be.

"Excuse us. Inevitability coming through..."

Despite lukewarm fan reaction, financially and critically, Terminator 3 delivered. One problem for future installments though. Schwarzenegger already showing his age in T3 became governor of California, and Hollywood seemed unwilling to jump into a new Terminator without him. That is, until director McG’s Terminator Salvation in 2009. McG brought in some new talent in Christian Bale, who would portray John Connor in the dystopian post-Judgement Day war and Jonathan Nolan (co-writer of The Dark Knight) to polish (read: attempt to salvage) the script. Great on visuals but somewhat schizophrenic when it came to plot and characters, Salvation was a misfire, disappointing both audiences and critics. Most notably because it was difficult to see who was really the main character. Is it supposed to be John Connor’s story of leading the Human Resistance to its first major victory, or does the story belong to Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington’s) struggle to understand his existence? Neither were executed well. The best part of the movie was the small cameo Arnold Schwarzenegger’s digital likeness (pictured at the top of this post) had at the end of the movie, if that tells you anything.

Just what is my roll in all this? Sit and look surly? No problem! Cut back to the robot guy's story.

Which brings us to yesterday’s story that Arnold would return to the franchise with Director Justin Lin. We will give Lin’s involvement little attention for now, because we all know the only reason this deal is happening is because Arnold said “I’ll Be Back.” and he’s making good on his promise. Lin’s “take” on where to go with story obviously impressed Schwarzenegger, but that’s all we know at this point. So the real question is. What sort of roll will Arnold have? Could he possibly be playing another T-800? On the one hand, that seems ridiculous. He originally portrayed the cybernetic assassin in 1984 at age 37. By the time T3 rolled around, it was pretty obvious he was older. He would be 64 by the time production got started for T5. At this point, it is too difficult for me to believe he is fresh off some assembly line.  “He is too old. Too old to begin the training.” As master Yoda would say.

So, if it is extremely unlikely that he will be back as an elderly automaton executioner, what would his roll in this new installment be. If it stays with the future war setting (which is the only thing that really makes sense at this point), could he possibly be playing a human survivor who served as the inspiration T-101 Model of the 800 series? There was a deleted scene in T3 that established this, but they did some silly stuff with Arnold’s accent so it was cut from the film.

This option seems likely, but lets face it, we know at this point that Arnold Schwarzenegger has another date with the uncanny valley. They may well have a human character that is an aged, human Arnold. Fine. But I guarantee you that there will be one or many T-800s that are digitally de-aged to look like 1984 Arnold. Good news is, we are getting better and better at it. Last year’s Tron Legacy was a good (not great) attempt at using motion capture from an aged Jeff Bridges to create a younger version of himself for flashbacks and an alternate villain character named CLU. The results were sometimes nearly perfect, but more often they were downright creepy or at least a little off-normal.

"Dude, man... I'm like... young, man..."

Still, with two years newer technology, I think it is entirely feasible to (re)create a robot character with very little facial expression or movement that often wears trademark sunglasses. Add to this that the movie can be shot in a dark and dingy futuristic setting, and I think this is a no-brainer. So, the question remains, do we follow the oft used formula that we need a super advanced terminator in the mix too? Maybe played by a younger beefcake action star like Vin Diesel or The Rock? Well guess what friends, it might just be on the table. Justin Lin, the purported director, is releasing Fast & Furious 5 this week, which features both actors. Lin himself has had at least off the cuff discussions with Diesel about his ideas for T5, so it’s entirely possible he might make his way into the film.

SO, to end, how would I describe my attitude toward T5 with Arnold in the mix. I will call it cautiously optimistic. I think there are a few ways they could go with it, but I am against a 64 year-old robot assassin. That just doesn’t make sense. And even the small cameo in Terminator Salvation showed that there is a lot of potential for the de-aged approach. I say go for it.

Regardless of how, Arnold has just moved the project forward and proved that “He’ll be back.”

[END]

Marvel’s Incredible Hulks… Who needs continuity, right?

Marvel, I understand. Really, I do. Hulk is a hard thing to get right. One suggestion though might help people get more attached to the character: stop recasting him! I know there is more going on here than that. I read the movie blogs, and I understand what’s what, but still. A little continuity is all I ask.

For those that are not familiar with the Incredible Hulk saga, let me give you the crash course. You see, Marvel Comics, the company that brought you some of the best comics around, went bankrupt in the 90s. They reorganized and got their act together, and to pay off some of their debts, they sold some of their key characters’ film rights to different studios. In 2003, Universal Pictures (one of those studios) made a movie based on the mean, green comic character called The Hulk, directed by Ang Lee. Eric Bana, a fine actor, portrayed the titular character’s alter ego, Bruce Banner. Bana’s performance was good. The film was not. In fact, by most accounts, it was very, very bad.

A few years later, a new company was formed: Marvel Studios. You see, over the last five or six years, Marvel had found a new way to make money: films based on its popular characters. Up to this point, these films had been exclusively made by studios who had purchased the rights to Marvel characters. Marvel retained partial ownership and got a nice percentage. Sony had Spider-Man; Fox had X-Men and Fantastic Four and a few others. Universal had hoped to make a killing with The Hulk, but as I said earlier, it failed. They cut their losses and decided not to try again, and the rights to the character reverted back to Marvel. And Marvel said, “Thanks! Don’t worry. We got this.”

Not just comic books anymore...

Marvel, now its own production company, starts production on projects not already sold to other studios. They have a plan. Make a better kind of super hero movie. Make quality films with talented people in front of and behind the camera and make each of these movies in a shared universe. A shared continuity among films if you will. The first two films to be released in this “Marvel Universe” are Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. The former made a killing at the box office. The latter did well, but no where near Iron Man numbers. This may have been (at least in part) due to the confusion on how this Hulk film tied in with the previous. You see, Marvel basically “rebooted” the franchise. They recast all the roles from the first film, replacing Bana with the excellently cast Edward Norton. But it was basically a fresh start with no ties to the original film. But, to be even more confusing, the film was not just a redo. It was a strange new subcategory of the “reboot” myself and others affectionately call a “requel” (reboot/sequel). The new narrative did not want to retread the story line of 2003 film, so we had an opening credit sequence showing a similar, but alternate origin story. Confused yet?

"HULK SMASH PREVIOUS ENTRY OF FRANCHISE!!"

Even with all the confusion, The Incredible Hulk is a much better, tighter story with an excellent performance from Norton, who really embodies the Banner we wanted to see the first time around. The film also pays homage to arguably the best and definitely the most remembered version of the character, The Incredible Hulk TV series starring Bill Bixby, even borrowing the “lonely man” piano theme from the closing credits.

RDJ in the final scene of "The Incredible Hulk"
"You know Norton is gonna bail on you, right?"

I mentioned the shared continuity of the new Marvel films earlier. The Incredible Hulk film featured a Robert Downey Jr. cameo as Tony Stark to let everyone know both films were happening in the same “universe.” There were other references about “The Avengers Initiative” as well as Captain America’s shield popping up in Iron Man and mention of the “super soldier syrum” project in The Incredible Hulk–easter eggs for other movies down the line. Marvel had nerds like me wrapped around their fingers! Great, quality films with a-list stars with more on the way, all leading to a super-team-up film, The Avengers. Too good to be true? Yes and no.

The problem started with Marvel and Edward Norton. Creative differences over the cut of The Incredible Hulk. And probably money. We heard rumors for two years about whether Norton would reprise his role as Banner in future films. Meanwhile, Marvel fast-tracked production on its cash-cow franchise and set to work filming Iron Man 2. Everyone was coming back to reprise their roles from the first film… except Terrance Howard a, who played Jim “Rhodey” Rhodes. He was replaced by Don Cheadle. A great choice. Maybe even better than Howard. But remember that continuity that was so important? Yeah, strike one.

"Next time baby... except I might look a little different..."

Fast forward to now, and we have three more films on the way: Thor and The First Avenger: Captain America in 2011 and the team-up film featuring each character The Avengers in 2012. All part of the same continuity. Except, to be a little more confusing and mess with continuity more, they cast Chris Evans as Captain America. Actually, a very inspired choice except for one small caveat: HE HAS ALREADY PLAYED THE HUMAN TORCH IN TWO FANTASTIC FOUR FILMS! Go back to what I said earlier, and you will notice that while Fantastic Four is not a Marvel Studios property. Marvel sold the rights to the characters to 20th Century Fox. So in Marvel Studios’ eyes, Chris Evans as Captain America poses no real problem since Fantastic Four is unrelated to the current continuity… I’ve gone cross-eyed.

Strike 2? I don’t know. It is definitely close. I, personally, would give them a free pass on this one since Fox is rebooting the Fantastic Four franchise anyway, so Evans was through with that role. One of the provisions of the sale of the rights to other studios is that they have to have films in production based on the characters or the rights revert back to Marvel after a few years… which Marvel would love. That’s why we have an X-Men prequel every few years now from Fox, a new reboot of Fantastic Four also from Fox, and a Spider-Man reboot from Sony. Those companies will run those franchises into the ground before they will ever give them to Marvel. Anyway, Chris Evan’s has begun filming for the role of Cap, but there are plenty of fanboys unhappy with his double dipping in the Marvel superheros roles.

"Flame on, internet fanboys... flame on"

So maybe we’re at strike 1.5… and now we receive word just last week that negotiations with Norton fell through for him to return for The Avengers as Banner. Definitely another strike. Putting us up to 2.5! I mean, I am sure Marvel tried to make it work. But it must have gotten pretty ugly because Marvel released a less than civil press release stating basically that they were going with an actor who would be more of a “team player” than Norton. Norton’s reps took the high road. I am sure there was silliness on both sides of the bargaining table, but the fact is, they couldn’t seal the deal, and Marvel had to recast the role of Banner AGAIN. The role went to actor Mark Ruffalo (Shutter Island). Again, like replacing Howard with Cheadle, Ruffalo is a solid choice and a great actor. I am sure he will do a great job with Banner, but it is another hole in that “continuity” Marvel was trying to create. They of course are downplaying it with the typical rhetoric about “the character being bigger than any actor.” Totally true, but totally rhetoric. The fact is that Norton rocked it as Banner, but Marvel couldn’t come to a deal and their continuity had to take a hit because of it.

I am sure this all came down to money (which is what Norton’s reps said), and of course, movies are big business. I just can’t believe that Norton’s personality and temperament issues would actually be deal-breakers when Marvel is trying so hard to keep all the other actors consistent. So this recast must have been the best option after Marvel weighed the costs. Still, in my book Marvel is .5 away from striking out with this Avengers film. But it looks like they have learned their lesson. Ruffalo signed a multiple-picture deal (something Norton didn’t do), insuring that he will be the actor to transform into the mean green for years to come…

"It's not easy being green..."

So Marvel, I love what you are trying to do. Just keep guys like me in mind. We bought into this initially because we are comic book nerds who like continuity. You are only .5 away from losing my devotion. Make any more casting flubs, and I will get angry… and you won’t like me when I’m angry…

This final image is dedicated to Kevin Bowles