Monday, February 18, 2013

Let the Wookie Win

"Pew! Pew! Pew!"
Everyone's very excited about the new Disney Star Wars movies that have been rumored to include three sequels and standalone Han Solo and Boba Fett movies. The most recent rumor is that Harrison Ford will reprise his role as everyone's favorite Corellian-smuggler-turned-rebel-hero: Han Solo.
I am, well, not quite as excited about all of this as everyone else, I'm afraid. The reason for this is that I -that we - have been disappointed before by our unbounded enthusiasm for additional chapters in our beloved Star Wars universe. I will, at this point, turn things over to Patton Oswalt for elaboration (NSFW):
Thank you, Patton.
Now, I can already hear you saying, "But Lucas won't be able to mess with the stories! Disney bought him out! And these are sequels, so it's not messing with the histories!"
Okay, fine, but let's take a look at our beloved Han Solo's story in the expanded universe (as in books, comics, and more that do not appear on film):
(Hereafter, there be spoilers aplenty.)
Okay, this is cute. Now we've seen it. Let's move on.
After the events of Return of the Jedi, Solo resigns his commission, marries Leia, and they have three kids. It is a wonderful happy ending for our hero, but it isn't the most riveting of stuff, cinematically. Even if it were, that was shortly after the ROTJ. Harrison Ford is 40 years older now, so - even allowing for the "arrested Hollywood aging" (I just made that phrase up) - Ford will not be  playing Han changing the diapers of his Jedi children. So what, then? Well, things get pretty tragic: Chewbacca gets killed, one of Han's sons is killed, and the other son turns to the Dark Side. Han spends a good portion of the rest of his life being awfully depressed. I really hope that's not what they're aiming for with the Han Solo movie, because that sounds boring. . . and depressing. . . and very much not the Star Wars that I love. Maybe Harrison Ford will be showing up in the sequels as Han Solo - which one supposes will be focused more on Jacen Solo (the bad seed) and Luke Skywalker and his son, Ben, as they attempt to save the universe from Han's bad son - now calling himself Darth Caedus.
However, some of the folks at Disney have said that the sequels will not be following the expanded universe.
Really? So, 40 years of storytelling meant to fill the void left among fans wondering about the fates of their favorite characters is just going to be cast aside? Nice.

Okay, so maybe the Han Solo standalone film will take place earlier and have another actor playing Han. Do we really want that? Really? Someone else playing Han Solo? Okay, they re-cast Star Trek with younger actors, and we eventually got used to that idea, but - I'm sorry - I just can't get excited about that idea with Han Solo.
Boba Fett, whom we've only seen unmasked as a little kid, is a different story. No offense to Jeremy Bulloch, the actor who primarily portrayed the adult Boba Fett, but if your distinction in the role is that you were the one in the costume most of the time, that leaves replacement casting pretty wide open. The difficulty here is that what most people love about Boba Fett is the costume. Fett is an enigma - or he was until Lucas turned him into a morose eight-year-old. He is cool because he mostly says nothing. Bulloch says he based the portrayal on Eastwood's "Man with no name" from A Fistful of Dollars. So, what is the Boba Fett movie going to be? Yojimbo in space? Okay, that actually sounds kind of cool, but something tells me that's not what we're going to get.
I love Star Wars. It is the very first movie I remember seeing. My parents took me to see it at the drive-in. I was pretty young, so I didn't understand everything that was happening, but I remember being upset when Ben Kenobi died. I remember liking Han Solo and Chewbacca. I made myself hoarse the next day imitating Chewbacca's yell. I was very upset after the Empire Strikes Back. What would happen to Han Solo? Vader is Luke's father? How is Luke going to save everybody now that he only has one hand? Then came Return of the Jedi, which - to me - was perfect. Ewoks and all.
I wondered what would happen to the characters, and I read some of the novels and comic books that detailed their further adventures, but then I stopped. I realized that I was happy with the story as it had ended. The galaxy was saved. Han got the princess. It was good.
I, too got a little excited about the prequels, but I was also very concerned that they might recast Luke, Leia, and Han. Fortunately, they were far enough before the other stories that it wasn't necessary. Unfortunately, they were, well, the prequels.
So, this is why I am not really all that excited about more Star Wars movies. Yes, Disney, you paid big bucks to buy these characters, so, legally, they are yours, and - if you want to have Chewbacca arm wrestle Sully from Monsters, Inc. - that's your prerogative. Just remember that these characters also absolutely belong to a bunch of wide-eyed kids who met them sitting at a drive-in movie in a way that has no calculable dollar value.
My Han Solo. My Boba Fett. My Chewbacca. Please be careful with them. Please.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Strange Magic, Part 2

"Witness how I control the elements! The
wind blows wild, and yet my junk remains
Okay, yesterday I looked at three different cinematic adaptations (or pseudo-adaptations) of Marvel's Doctor Strange: the 1978 made-for-TV pilot Dr. Strange, Full Moon's Doctor Mordrid in 1992, and the 2007 animated Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme from Lionsgate and Marvel Animated Features. Each version has its strengths and weaknesses. Yes, even the dreck that is Doctor Mordrid has a couple of saving graces: Jeffrey Combs would have made a terrific Stephen Strange in a better script, as would Brian Thompson have been a great Mordo. Also, Yvette Nipar's character, a research consultant for the police, provides a useful plot device that I will talk about more later.  (Just as an aside: I think that Nipar is among the most underrated and under-utilized actors of my generation. Google her.)
Now, I'm going to reference yesterday's post quite a bit today, so - if you haven't read it yet - you probably should do that now.
"What a piece of work is
Stan Lee?"
Today, I'm going to throw out a few suggestions that I think will make a Doctor Strange film worth watching for both fanboys/fangirls and the general movie-going public alike.
The first question that gets posed in when we talk about a comic book adaptation is generally about casting. Who will play Doctor Strange? Mordo? Clea? Wong? To me, that's putting the cart a bit before the horse, but, okay, I'll play.
There are some fan photoshops floating around the internet that have Liam Neeson wearing the Sorcerer Supreme's robes. I like Liam Neeson as much as the next guy, but I feel that the window for Neeson to play Doctor Strange has passed. Patrick Dempsey wants the role, but, as I said yesterday, I think he lacks the vocal quality necessary to make the reciting of incantations not seem too hokey. The first actor who comes to mind for me is Joseph Fiennes. He has the look, the voice, and the Shakespearean acting chops necessary to bring Stephen Strange to life.
"Play another evil wizard?
Oh, joy. Do I at least get
a nose this time?"
"Is this a sonic screwdriver I see
before me?"
My first choice for Mordo has - in a way- already played the role. Disney's The Sorcerer's Apprentice was, in my opinion, a great big rip-off the Doctor Strange comic books. Nicolas Cage's Balthazar was obviously inspired by Doc Strange and Alfred Molina's Horvath is pretty much a Mordo clone. So, Molina would be one choice, but another fun possibility might be to have Mordo played by Joseph Fiennes's big brother Ralph.
"How many more times
does he have to mention
me on his blog before I get
to file the restraining order?"
Clea is an interesting creature, literally. She's not human. She's spent most of her life living in a dark dimension. She should be - in my opinion - simultaneously tough-as-nails and very naive. My choice for Clea is also one of my favorite actresses: Ari Graynor.
Wong is tricky. He is basically the Alfred to Strange's Bruce Wayne, so some effort should be made to distinguish Wong from Alfred. I think the way to do this is to remove the surrogate father element and cast Wong much closer in age to Stephen Strange. To that end, I suggest Star Trek: Voyager's Garrett Wang.
"Whatever, Ari. I'm just glad
he didn't call me 'Harry Kim.'"
Do I have any thoughts about directors? Sure, but I'm taking the easy route here: Alfonso CuarĂ³n (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), David Yates (the last four Harry Potter movies), and Jon Turteltaub (The Sorcerer's Apprentice).
"I kick ass.
What more do you need to know?"
Now, as for the story, I think that we should learn the lesson taught to us by the 2007 animated feature and not get too hung up on detailing every aspect of the origin story. Do you remember The Shadow with Alec Baldwin? It took that movie way too long to really get rolling. Tim Burton's first Batman movie didn't bother with an origin story at all for its hero, allowing only one flashback to tell us of Bruce Wayne's motivation. We didn't see anything to fill in the gap between his parents being murdered  and him becoming the Batman. Look at The Avengers: two of the six heroes were given no on-screen origin story at all. We don't need it. Not every superhero movie has to explicitly portray the character's origin to be interesting. Let me just say that one more time in case Hollywood didn't hear me the first time: Not every superhero movie has to explicitly portray the character's origin to be interesting.
Admittedly, this would have been cool.
(Found at
I would like to see a less conventional approach to telling Doctor Strange's story.
Doctor Mordrid actually had an intriguing concept before they totally blew it: a series of bizarre murder/suicides are occurring related to the theft of alchemy materials. Police are baffled. This is about as far as Full Moon got before dropping the ball. What they should have done but didn't was to have the police researcher connecting the dots leading her both to the evil sorcerer and the good sorcerer. This, in a Doctor Strange movie, would allow the audience to learn about Doctor Strange's origins as the researcher does: a brilliant neurosurgeon is in a car accident and is unable to perform surgery because of injury to his hands. He spends millions of dollars on alternative cures and then just drops off the map. The researcher talks to people who worked with Strange at the hospital and even meets a few people within Strange's inner circle. She may even be warned off at one point by Clea. Ultimately, the researcher ends up being useful to Doctor Strange, so she (and we) are brought into his bizarre, mystical world. Instead of knowing every single thing that makes Stephen Strange tick, he is an enigma, gradually revealed to us through the first part of the movie by another character.
"Boom. Shadow junk."
Seriously, Yvette, your agent isn't doing
you any favors.
Now, this character could instead be a journalist. Possibly Ben Urich if that character is available having been used ten years ago in the Fox Daredevil movie. Norah Winters may be available if she hasn't been used in any of Sony's Spider-Man films. The character could also be a cop. We haven't seen Jean DeWolff on the big screen yet, have we? What a great role for Yvette Nipar!
Instead of spending an hour sloshing through everything Stephen Strange goes through to become the Sorcerer Supreme, we get a mystery that needs to be solved, and Doctor Strange gets to remain something of a sphinx, which is as it should be.
It's possible that we might not actually see a Doctor Strange movie come to fruition. Marvel has quite a few other definite and rumored films in the queue before getting to Strange: Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, a Nick Fury prequel, a Black Widow prequel or sequel, a Hawkeye movie, Avengers 2, Ant-Man... If any one of these movies tanks at the box office, Marvel might pull the plug on the whole thing.
I do think it's time that Doctor Strange made it to the big screen, though, as he is easily one of the most interesting characters in the Marvel universe.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Strange Magic, Part 1

"Go, Longhorns!"
Even before Marvel President Kevin Feige recently teased us with news of a possible Doctor Strange movie, I have long been imagining what a cinematic version of the Sorcerer Supreme might look like. I have a few ideas, but let's talk first about some of the previous incarnations of Doctor Strange.
For those unfamiliar with the good doctor, here's a brief history of the character:
"Jailbait? I'm Hellbait."
Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1963, Stephen Strange is a brilliant, but arrogant and selfish neurosurgeon who damages his hands in a car accident. After traveling the world to try many different and unsuccessful remedies to repair his hands, Strange finally arrives in the Himalayas before a mystical hermit called only the Ancient One. While there, he thwarts an attempt on the Ancient One's life by his disciple Mordo. Seeing goodness in Strange, the Ancient One decides to teach him the mystic arts, and a superhero is born. With his manservant/assistant/sidekick Wong, Strange battles the vengeful Mordo, the otherworldly Nightmare, and the demon Dormammu, in some of the more fantastically-drawn adventures of Marvel Comics. During one of his visits to Dormammu's dark dimension, he is aided by a human-looking girl who turns out to be Dormammu's niece. Later, we discover that she is named Clea, and she becomes a disciple and lover of Doctor Strange (So inappropriate.) Okay, that should have us all up to speed.

"Listen to the ground. There is movement all around.
There is something going down, and I can feel it."
In the late 70s and early eighties, a slew of science fiction and superhero TV shows emerged, likely to capitalize upon the success of movies like Star Wars and Superman. Among these was a made-for-TV-movie/pilot of Dr. Strange (1978) starring Peter Hooten, Sir John Mills, and Jessica Walter. This version is quite a departure from the comics. Dr. Stephen Strange (Hooten) is a psychiatrist, not a neurosurgeon. He's charming and really quite a nice guy, and there's nothing wrong with his hands. Thomas Lindner (Mills) is the current Sorceror Supreme, aided by his disciple Wong (Clyde Kusatsu). Morgan LeFey (Walter) has returned from, well, somewhere, to assassinate Lindner and take over the world for her master, the Nameless One - not to be confused with He-Who-Shall-Not-Be Named.
Doctor Strange's real
In this version, Clea (Anne-Marie Martin billed as Eddie Benton) is a human woman temporarily possessed by Morgan in an attempt on Lindner's life. Emotionally distraught by her ordeal, she ends up in the care of Stephen Strange, who Lindner discovers is the Chosen One (there's a lot of "ones" in this) who is to become the next Sorcerer Supreme. Abracadabra, presto-change-o: the good guys win, the bad guys lose, CBS aired it opposite a re-showing of Roots, and nobody saw it. Mostly. Stan Lee consulted on the adaptation and had only good things to say about it. (He was not so generous about the TV adaptations of Spider-Man and Captain America.) 
"Are you sure you're not John Holmes?"
I can be pretty generous about this movie myself. Yes, the effects are cheesy, and, yes, it doesn't follow the comic books very well, but it was a way around the origin story that didn't consume the entirety of the movie, and it didn't start off with a lead character who is largely unlikeable for a possible series pilot. 
Peter Hooten is good, and he has that great, deep voice. That's one thing that you have to remember about the Sorcerer Supreme: he has to sound convincing reciting those incantations. Patrick Dempsey has lobbied Hollywood to play Doctor Strange in a new movie, but, I'm sorry: he just doesn't have the right voice for it, in my opinion. 

"Mork calling Orson. Come in, Orson."
Moving on to the early 90s, Full Moon Features has acquired an option on a Doctor Strange movie but lets the option expire before going into production, so the script is re-tooled to remove any references to the Marvel character, and f-bombs and nudity are added. What we get instead is Doctor Mordrid (1992), which is about a centuries-old sorcerer (Jeffrey Combs) from another dimension who is living on Earth to protect it from a demon invasion led by rival sorcerer Kabal (Brian Thompson). Throughout, there are hints at what a Doctor Strange movie from Full Moon Productions might have been, and, frankly, we're all very lucky that it never happened. Full Moon makes schlock films, and that's what this is. The special effects are okay for a low budget, but the script is a mess, and the final "battle" sequence is boring. Watch it as a novelty only or if you're a Jeffrey Combs fan. (Which I am.)

About 15 years later, Marvel Animated Features gave us the direct-to-DVD Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme

Sidebar: I just want to say that I like that Marvel employs career voice-over actors for their features. DC does more "stunt-casting" with their animated features, using well-known celebrities to voice their leads. First, I don't think the fact that Eliza Dushku (good as she was) voiced Catwoman in Batman: Year One had any impact on people choosing to watch or not watch that feature, and, second, her casting took the job from someone who is a voice-over actor by profession. Okay, stepping off the soapbox now.

"There can be only one... Wait. What?"
Now, DS:SS does follow the comic book origin story a little more closely, but, frankly, I still don't think that the pre-accident Stephen Strange comes across as enough of a jerk. Another problem with the origin story is that - in a feature that's only 75 minutes long, it eats up 80% of the story. Now, one change is that the Ancient One starts out with small army of sorcerer disciples - including Wong and Mordo - so we do get to see plenty of magic battling going on even before Doctor Strange becomes the "Sorcerer Supreme" of the title. There's just not much from Strange himself. It's entertaining but way too short as far as I'm concerned. Is this to appeal to a younger audience? Given the body count by the film's end, I certainly hope not.

Here ends part one. Part two will have some of my thoughts about what a live-action 21st-century Doctor Strange movie could look like. 
In the meantime, here's the trailer for Doctor Mordrid as further evidence that you don't really need to see it: