Saturday, April 14, 2012

reflections on turtlegate

Before the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie came out, there was news on the Internet that Sam Raimi was changing one aspect of the Spider-Man character.  When Peter Parker got bitten by the radioactive spider, he was going to gain the ability to shoot webs out of his wrists.  "Hasn't he always spun webs out of his wrists?" you ask because you have never read a comic book and your only point of reference to Spider-Man prior to 2002 was the cartoon in the 70's where he roomed with Iceman and that was a long time ago.  "Well, yeah," a comic book geek would reply.  "But he built a machine to attach to his wrists.  In the comics, they didn't come out of his wrists organically.  They changed that for the movie."  Then, the comic book geek would get a dirty look and you'd be like "whatever" and you'd be right.  Giving Spidey organic web-shooters did not change the character at all, Spidey was still a high school nerd who becomes a superhero and makes nerds, geeks and dweebs in the audience cheer for him.  I DO like how they are giving Spidey back his regular web-shooters in the reboot (summer 2012) AND that they are having him date Gwen Stacey first (like in the comics), which I found a far more offensive change than the web-shooter thing.  But despite the fact that I was cool with it, the Internet is usually abuzz with hateful posts when they change the slightest little thing from the original subject matter.  For the record, I didn't care that they put flames on Optimus Prime in 'Transformers'.  He was still the same character.  He was voiced by the same guy from the cartoon.  The things that were horrible about the sequels had nothing to do with Optimus Prime having a flame decal on the side.  He was still a great character and the best part of two terrible sequels.  The reasons that 'Green Lantern' was a terrible movie had NOTHING to do with the fact that his costume was computer generated (an idea I actually liked), something that bloggers were complaining about.  It was the story and the acting and everything else that movies are about that made GL suck.  Comic book fans will cite 'The Dark Knight' as being one of the best comic book movies ever made, DESPITE the fact that they completely changed something that has been a staple of Joker's character for years, the fact that he fell in acid.  Chris Nolan completely ignored that, but the movie was SO awesome that nerdy bloggers who usually complain about stuff like that didn't even notice that the Joker was an anarchist in clown makeup.

As you can see from the above examples, changes to the 'mechanics' of a comic book character are okay in the name of giving the movie more realism (no yellow spandex on Wolverine), as long as the character is not changed.  As long as the Joker is still a murderer who laughs at his own antics, Optimus Prime is still the highly-respected leader of the Autobots, as long as Wolverine is Wolverine, as long as Spider-Man is a nerdy kid who gets superpowers (unlike that bad 1970's TV show where he was an adult) and as long as Han Solo shoots Greedo first in cold blood under the table because he was kinda shady before he fell in love with Princess Leia.

Which brings me to the matter that is the subject of this essay, 'turtle gate', as it is being called.  Citing the above examples, I can say that fans of comic book adaptations DO tend to complain about things that are not important to making a good superhero movie.  Their complaints are only legitimate if the change alters the character dramatically.  So, when Michael Bay made an announcement about the new Ninja Turtle movie and said that they were "from an alien race", every comic book fan that was staring blankly at their computer started to run the TMNT backstory in their mind, from the cartoons, the comics AND the movie (which was a mix of the comics and the cartoon).  "Wait a minute?  Did he say that they ARE aliens?  I mean, I was hoping they would have some aliens in the movie, cuz they have better special effects now and there were aliens in the comics, but...huh?"  Every TMNT fan started wondering why Master Splinter was not mentioned, as his involvement in the turtles' origin is why they are ninjas to begin with.  "Is he going to be an alien too?  Another planet of rat people, somehow involved with Turtletron (or whatever)?  Are they going to take him out completely?  What of his connection with Shredder and the Foot Clan?  Is Shredder going to be in it?  Is Shredder like Darth Vader now?  Darth Vader with spikes?"  Michael Bay's assurance that the turtles would LOOK awesome visually and his mention that he was working with one of the original creators of the Ninja Turtles did NOTHING to stop the nuclear bomb of hateful posts from fans who KNEW what a big change this alien element would be.  As you can tell, I follow comic-book movie news and I have NEVER seen anything like this.  Not just a few whiny comments about Spidey's wrists, angry posts from people who have a legitimate cause for complaint, as this is a much bigger change than a costume or a flame decal.

When Peter Laird wrote some obviously sarcastic comments on his blog about how 'brilliant' the new alien idea was, it was obvious to real fans which one of the turtles creators Michael Bay was working with (Kevin Eastman). "Kevin's work is always awesome!  He does the new IDW comic!  It's really good!  They're still mutants in that comic!  Has Kevin Eastman sold us out??? Peter Laird doesn't like the idea!"  Michael Bay's assurance that they would still act like teenagers, even though Paramount Pictures had shortened the name of the movie to just 'Ninja Turtles' (cutting out the 'Teenage' AND the 'Mutant') did nothing to make fans ignore the worst part of this whole controversy...."they're making the Ninja Turtles' ALIENS???"

Enter Jonathan Liebesman, the director of the Ninja Turtle reboot, who addressed the controversy in an Internet video by saying that he was glad that Ninja Turtles has such an enthusiastic fan base, following his comments about being in a room with Kevin Eastman working out the details by saying "I'm not saying that what Michael said is what the movie is..."  He also mentioned how he is a big ninja turtle fan and how "real fans" would know that the ooze came from aliens.  "Yes, you idiot!" screamed every TMNT fan in the world. "That's what we're mad about!  The OOZE came from aliens!  NOT The turtles!!!  Just tell us they are MUTANTS again and we'll go back to bashing DC's New 52!!!"

Having a man who was NOT responsible for ruining the Transformers comment on the controversy seems to have calmed things down amongst blogging TMNT fans.  I would love to have Professor Xavier's power to read minds when Liebesman said that to find out what he was really thinking.  "I don't want to tick off Michael Bay because he's producing this movie, but we're milking this controversy for all the press we can get and yeah, he misspoke, the OOZE is alien!  We'll announce that later, but right now, Michael Bay is making me be cryptic.  He's a jerk, seriously!"

As I am writing this, I am hopeful that Bay misspoke and that they will announce (soon, I hope) that the turtles WILL be mutants.  I, for one, welcome a big-budget TMNT film where the turtles look super realistic and FIGHT aliens (like the Utroms...maybe the Triceratons in a sequel).  This may blow over, but after this, even though it altered Han Solo's character, Greedo shooting first doesn't seem like a big deal.

UPDATE: A few more comments have been made about this film by co-TMNT comic book creator Kevin Eastman.  He has said a few things about how the new film should be faithful to the original subject matter ("or we're gonna get killed")  Both he and Liebesman point out that the Turtles have always had alien origin in that the OOZE came from space, but they talk about it like THAT and making the turtles aliens themselves is the same thing.  "Yeah, what's the big deal?  They've always been from space."  I maintain that the fact that Master Splinter has not been mentioned by any of the news about this movie is the most alarming thing of all.

Monday, March 5, 2012

What I like about 'The Man of Steel'...

The new Superman movie, coming in 2013, is (reportedly) going to be called 'The Man of Steel'.  Everything that I have read about the production of this film, I totally like.  Here is a list and why.
1) CHRIS NOLAN: The man who successfully rebooted Batman in the movies 'Batman Begins' and 'The Dark Knight' is going to be the producer on this new Superman film.  David S. Goyer wrote both the above-mentioned films and he will be writing this one.
2) ZACK SNYDER is the director.  As long as he is not allowed to write the film, like he did with 'Sucker Punch', he will no doubt use his awesome eye for special effects to show off how powerful Superman is.  Awesome director.  Sucky writer.
3) LAURENCE FISHBURNE.  Morpheous from 'The Matrix' will the first black actor to portray Daily Planet editor Perry White.  Ignore the color of his skin, watch his performance in 'Mission Impossible 3' as the no-nonsense leader of the IMF team and tell me that he is not perfect to play Perry White.  I like the innovation of looking past his skin color as well as him as an actor.
4) REBOOT.  Bryan Singer tried to make a Superman movie that was connected to the Richard Donner Superman film and it was incredibly boring.  Another studio tried to make a Ninja Turtle cartoon movie that was connected to a long dead movie series and that sucked.  Star Trek and Batman Begins started over with a fresh take and they were great.  This is what they are doing with Superman and that is awesome.
5) RUSSELL CROWE as Jor-El.  Because they are starting over, there will be scenes that take place on Krypton, flashbacks or otherwise.  I hear Russell Crowe is a jerk in real life, but he's a great actor and he'd make a good Jor-El.
6) KEVIN COSTNER and DIANE LANE as Jonathan and Martha Kent.  I like Martha Kent better as a younger mother than the doting old lady that was shown in the Christopher Reeves Superman films (and the comics for some time)  They picked an attractive older woman similar to what they did with Annette O'Tool playing Marha Kent in 'Smallville'.  Also, it's cool that they are doing the more recent comic book storyline where Jonathan Kent survives into Superman's adult life, instead of having him die before Superman leaves the farm, like in the first film.  I assume they are, judging by Kevin Costner's age.  Dude is getting up there.
7) GENERAL ZOD is the villian.  One of the reasons that Superman Returns was so incredibly boring was that Superman had no one that he could actually fight, despite the fact that the comics have given him countless characters that could pose a physical threat to Krypton's last son (Parasite, Metallo, Darkseid etc.)  The only person in Superman Returns who got beat up was Superman himself.  He got stabbed with a Kryptonite shank (like a chump!)  'Superman II' (back in the 80's) had the promising concept of Superman fighting three Kryptonian villians, but the special effects were so poor at that time, the scene is rather laughable (and it probably was back then too).  I love the idea of someone with Zack Snyder's talent for special effects tackling an epic fight between Superman and someone he can really duke it out with.
8) AMY ADAMS as Lois Lane.  I am just curious to see someone who is known for playing sugary-sweet characters (The Muppets.  Enchanted.) play tough as nails reporter/bad speller Lois Lane.  She's a good actress.  I'm sure she can pull it off.
9) HENRY CAVILL as Clark Kent/Superman.  Looks the part.  Hope he's a good actor.  Should be awesome.
10) NEW DC COMICS CONTINUITY COSTUME.  I am surprised that they haven't taken the red underwear off of Superman's costume sooner, but this movie will be following suit with the newest DC Comics version of his costume.  My only complaint is that they don't have the red belt that he has in the comics.  Because Superman has had red underwear over his pants for 70+ years, the red belt works because you instinctively want to see more red on his costume.  Maybe they will add the red belt later or maybe I will get used to the extra amount of blue.  Either way, the costume looks awesome, as I prefer the bigger 'S' on Superman's costume that this movie seems to have.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

No More Muppets for Brian

There is a scene in the new 'Muppets' movie where the Muppets are going from one TV station to another, trying to find someone who will air a telethon that will (hopefully) save their old theatre (from the original Muppet Show) from getting bulldozed. The TV exec who finally gives them a shot initially turns them down by telling them that they are not popular enough anymore and showing them their most popular show, a game show called "Punch Teacher". Now, the whole "Punch Teacher" segment simply makes the point that alot of children's entertainment today sends the wrong messages (too true!) and that the Muppets were never like that (when Jim Henson was alive, before his son Brian messed up alot of things). After seeing 'Punch Teacher', Kermit starts to say "Y'know, I think kids are better and smarter than all this..." before getting clobbered with an opening door, allowing the movie to make its point without getting preachy and getting back to the silly fun, mixed with satire, that the Muppets have always been about.

The Muppets (under Jim Henson) were all about being upbeat and positive, but with a certain mischevious quality to the humor that keeps it from being 'Brady Bunch' corny. Kermit enjoys show business because he gets to make "millions of people happy". He believes in his friends and won't do commercials for a restaurant that sells frog legs because he has integrity. All he can see are 'millions of frogs on crutches'. But when Brian Henson took over after his father's death, he started sticking the Muppets in movies where the human characters were front and center, movies based on classic literature (Treasure Island, A Christmas Carol) where the Muppets played other characters (Kermit as Bob Crachitt etc.) Also, he started making Muppet movies that were obviously for younger kids, but with a few adult (sometimes inappropriate) references thrown in, because the Muppets are supposed to be for adults too. Well, there is a BIG difference between a movie being for EVERYBODY (like the first three Muppet films...and most Pixar movies) and throwing adult references into a kids' movie. The most offensive example being a TV/direct to video movie called 'Muppets' Wizard of Oz' in which one of the bad Muppets (a member of a biker gang called 'The Flying Monkeys') excitedly blurts out something about wanting to be spit on and called names. Yes, Janice used to say stuff about people wanting her to pose nude (in the Jim Henson Muppet movies), but she was pretty adamant about not doing it, which made her a good role model for young girls in show business (kinda) and it was a joke for the adults. Statler and Waldorf have made a few jokes about going on vacation and seeing bikinis, but there is a BIG difference between that and 'please spit on me'. It's the kind of thing that parents complain about with the first two Shrek movies, but (again) there is a big difference between a reference to an R-rated film that would go over a kids' head (with nothing bad actually shown) and some puppet blurting out something dirty.

So, maybe when Kermit said that kids were better and smarter than 'Punch Teacher', he was apologizing for some of the creative choices that were made after Jim Henson's death. "This is not what we do. The Muppet Show was much classier than our later work." Maybe, in a future Muppet movie, the story will go back into why the Muppets went their seperate ways to begin with and it will be because. after Jim Henson died, they lost their creative spark and they needed a fan who gets what they were about (Walter) to reunite and inspire them. In real life, it took Jason Segel to bring the Muppets back to where Jim Henson left them. They even based a good chunk of the script for the new Muppet movie on what Segel experienced trying to make the movie (studio execs thinking the Muppets weren't popular enough) so Jason Segel is the real-life Walter. I'm not expecting the future Muppet movies to crack on Brian Henson the way I am, but maybe the fact that the Muppets lost their spark after Henson's death could be worked into a future story. They were sad. He was their producer. He inspired them. He had a talent-less hack of a son who drove their act into the ground. (Or whatever.)

At any rate, the BEST thing about the new Muppet movie is that Brian Henson's name is nowhere in the credits. He sold all of his father's characters to Disney and they gave it to someone who gets the Muppets. Fun songs. Intelligent writing. Positive characters with a mischevious sense of humor. A nostalgic trip to the days of the Muppet Show. And no vulgar S&M references. "No, Rhianna! You can't be in the sequel!"