Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Retro View: Greystoke-The Legend of Tarzan Lord of the Apes


With John Carter now getting his big budget moment, let's take a look back at John Clayton's big budget moment.

Surviving a terrible boat crash that leaves them stranded, Lord Jack Clayton and his pregnant wife Alice setup shelter best as they can while awaiting rescue. Before long their son is born, Alice dies and John is killed by a gorilla. A female gorilla-Kala-finds the baby Clayton and decides to adopt it as her own in place of her dead infant. From there the story follows the boy as he grows up amongst the apes into an adult (Christopher Lambert). His peace in the wilderness is shattered when he rescues Phillipe D'Arnot (Ian Holm) from savage natives and D'Arnot, discovering the jungle man's true identity, convinces him to leave and go to England. Once there our hero is warmly welcomed by his grandfather, the Sixth Earl of Greystoke (Sir Ralph Richardson) and the Earl's female ward Jane Porter (Andie McDowell). But John finds life in civilization even more cruel than life in the jungle and he ultimately must make a choice-stay and be the new Earl of Greystoke or return to his life in the jungle.

By the time Greystoke was released in 1984, Tarzan had went through every possible permutation you can imagine on screen-from Johnny Weissmuller to Bo Derek. This version was notable at the time for several reasons. First the film was a large scale production with some notable talent behind the scenes-director Hugh Hudson (who directed the 1981 Oscar winner Chariots of Fire), screenwriter Robert Towne (of Chinatown fame-even though Towne later took a pseudonym when his script was reworked) and a crew that included editor Anne Coates (Lawrence of Arabia) and makeup genius Rick Baker. It also boasted Sir Ralph Richardson in one of his last performances and promised a more mature approach to Edgar Rice Burroughs' character-no stereotyped natives, no Cheeta or Boy, no "Me Tarzan, You Jane" dialogue. John isn't even called Tarzan in the film.

But that is possibly the problem. Greystoke starts out pretty good and faithful to Burroughs' original novel-from the Claytons setting up a makeshift house to Tarzan growing up and establishing himself amongst the apes. These scenes are also helped by filming in Cameroon and Baker's excellent ape suits. Once things shift to Greystoke Manor things begin to unravel. One problem it seems is that large chunks of the film seem missing (even at 2 hours and 20 minutes.) A deaf and dumb servant suddenly seems to appear out of nowhere and befriends John and disappears also without notice while the film seems to setup a rejected suitor for Jane (played by James Fox) as possibly the antagonist of the film only for him to also disappear. I wonder if this was because of the rewriting or the film being too long. Also the film is one of the most depressing films I think I've ever seen. It doesn't seem that 20 minutes goes by without someone dying and leaving John howling in grief-which grows wearying after a while. And finally the major stumbling block is the recasting of the character of Jane and a lack of chemistry with John. Some of that can be attributed to the change in location-there is no romantic swing through the jungle but a rather silly scene in which John makes monkey noises while seducing Jane-and to the casting. Lambert is pretty stiff and seems uncomfortable delivering his dialogue in English (thankfully like in the novels the filmmakers allow John to have a French accent, which Lambert has) while McDowell seems passionless in the part-which could have something to do with her be re-dubbed in post because the filmmakers thought her American accent was out of place. The irony is they hired Glenn Close who 15 years later would voice Kala in Disney's Tarzan.

The film does have some virtues-it looks stunning in both the jungle and the mansion, the music score is sweeping and Richardson brings both warmth and humor to his role. But ultimately Greystoke is one of those films that Roger Ebert once described as being easy to admire rather than enjoy. I admire the film's ambition to do something different with a well-worn character. But I can't say I enjoyed it. ** out of 4

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Is this the First Costume Pic from John Carter of Mars?


Maybe...A razor eyed fan found this on the iMDB page of actress Kelly-Marie Kerr, who has two credits listed for John Carter of Mars-one as part of the Zodangan Air Crew, the other as a stuntwoman on the film. As you can tell, the costume does seem to have a Roman Gladiator look to it and there does appear to be some red paint or dye on her. If this is legit I guess we better enjoy it before the Mouse House finds out! You can see Ms Kerr's credits at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2707079/

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Laugh of the Day: Avatar From Mars!


No you're not seeing things. It looks like in the United Kingdom Asylum's Princess of Mars has been given a new and more on the nose of what they're cashing in on title. I wonder how long it will take Fox and James Cameron to notice? Amazon in the UK has it here http://www.amazon.co.uk/Avatar-Mars-DVD-Antonio-Sabato/dp/B003IMGTFW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1276926206&sr=1-1

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

RIP Al Williamson 1931-2010


Several sites are reporting that comic artist Al Williamson has passed away at the age of 79. http://comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=26686 Starting in the 1950s with fellow artists Frank Frazetta and Roy Krenkel on titles like Weird Science and Weird Fantasy for EC Comics, Williamson worked steadily, winning many with his work on Flash Gordon in the 60s and later a daily Star Wars newspaper strip in the 1980s as well as comic adaptations of films like The Empire Strikes Back and Blade Runner. His artwork will live on but he will be missed.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Retro View: Kull the Conqueror


Well I promised my two cents so here goes.

After a narrated open that manages to confuse the heck out of the viewer (something about demons, gods and a shooting nozzle of fire) we meet Herc...Kull (Kevin Sorbo), a barbarian exile from Atlantis who is in the middle of tryouts (I guess) for the Valusian army when word reaches that the mad king Borna (Sven-Ole Thorsen) is killing off his heirs. Kull arrives in time to stop the king who then ups and croaks but not before he leaves his kingdom to Kull. That doesn't sit well with the old king's surviving heirs who promptly strike a deal with a wizard to resurrect the demon goddess Akivasha (Tia Carrere). And like most royals Kull makes the boneheaded move and marries her even though she is a demon and 3,000 years old. That leads to Kull almost being killed and suddenly having to go on the run to find the one thing that can stop Akivasha from turning Valusia into Demonland. Oh yeah there's a hot fortune teller (Karina Lombard) who Kull falls for. And an icy wasteland our heroes venture off too. And Harvey Fierstein kvetching as Kull's backstabbing old pal...and yeah the movie is awful.

I admit I've been lenient in my views on movies on this blog. Heck I even found good things in Asylum's Princess of Mars. But this one takes the cake for pure agony. Some background for those unfamiliar with its origins-it originally began as Conan the Conqueror, a planned third go-around for Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Cimmerian and was supposed to adapt Robert Howard's one Conan novel The Hour of the Dragon with a script by writer Charles Edward Pogue (who did the script for David Cronenberg's The Fly and was the first writer hired to adapt A Princess of Mars for Disney in their early attempt to make a movie.) Those plans fell apart when Arnold bowed out and the studio decided instead to change Conan to Kull and rework the film into a starring vehicle for Sorbo, then at the time hot for Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. In a recent article in the movie magazine Empire on the troubles of Conan on screen, Pogue himself admitted the script got turned into a mess by other writers in order to appeal to the Hercules fans.

In fact the movie could have been called Hercules and My Demonic Wife since that's pretty much what it is with Sorbo doing his Herc shtick in several scenes (when he finds out his wife is 3,000 years old he responds "she told me she was 19") while wearing even less clothes than the female leads-I guess his chest was supposed to be the selling point for some. The other actors also seem to bounce back and forth with some (Miss Lombard especially) acting like they believe they're going to win Oscars and others (Fierstein and Roy Brocksmith as an effeminate Tu) play the comedy to the nth degree. Throw in some of the cheesiest dialogue ever-from the rather dirty sounding "its inside her" when the fortune teller gets possessed to Tia Carrere actually saying "I've altered our bargain. Pray I don't alter it any further" (which doesn't sound right without James Earl Jones dubbing) and you got an idea of why this film flopped. Only Carrere seems to know how to play this-camping it up in some scenes and chewing the scenery in others.

In the end Kull deserved better. Its just a shame Mystery Science Theater 3000 never got to do this. Then it would have been at least watchable. * 1/2 (and the half is for Karina Lombard-she was hot) out of 4.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Book Review: Kull-Exile of Atlantis


Again I can't come up with an opening. So let's just go on to Valusia.

Created by Robert E. Howard in 1926, Kull was Howard's second attempt creating a hero in what would become the sword and sorcery genre after Am-Ra the Ta-an. Howard would write only a handful of stories and see only three in print-"The Shadow Kingdom," "The Mirrors of Tuzan Thune" and "Kings of the Night," the last one with Kull in a supporting role to Howard's Pictish hero Bran Mak Morn. Howard would rewrite one story-"By This Axe I Rule!"-into "The Phoenix on the Sword," the first story starring a familiar Cimmerian. The remaining stories would not see print until the 1960s and beyond.

Which is a shame. While I know this will seem like blasphemy to Howard die-hards, I prefer Kull more to Conan. I know let the screaming and cursing start. But these stories deliver the goods in ways I never fully got from Conan. One thing I like about them is the fact that Howard has an actual supporting cast for Kull to react to-from the Pictish Brule the Spear Slayer to the exasperated advisor Tu-something the Conan stories lack. There is also more of a chronology to them. No jumping back and forth in time as with the Conan stories but a more linear time frame. I'm not saying Conan isn't great-in fact stories like "Red Nails" and "Phoenix" top the stories here-but as a whole Kull is to me more satisfying.

I also have to give Del Rey props for the entire approach to Howard and his work. The paperback collects all of the Kull stories plus surviving fragments of Am-Ra and early drafts along with two essays that puts Kull in perspective of both the fantasy genre and in Howard's work. So if you only know Kull from Kevin Sorbo (and I'll be giving my two cents on that film soon) you owe it to yourself to give this collection a chance. **** out of 4

Monday, June 7, 2010

John Carter Speaks!


Well briefly anyway. The folks behind the unofficial John Carter of Mars site scored some chat time with actor Taylor Kitsch. No real bombshells and the standard "it's going to be great" comments but Kitsch seems like a nice guy and is enthusiastic about the film and the process of making it. You can read the full interview at http://www.johncartermovie.com/cgi-bin/archive.pl?COMMAND=showarticle&num=12853

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Green Lantern Logo!


As you can tell from above the first official logo for the upcoming comic book flick with Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively and Mark Strong has been released, apparently as part of a promotional package between DC Comics and Mattel toys. I just hope the movie delivers next summer.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Thor UPDATE: It's Video Time!


Following the recent release of early concept art for The First Avenger: Captain America (which shows how actor Chris Evans will look in the costume and which you can see here http://www.aintitcool.com/node/45326) Collider has gotten some of the same sort of art for Thor, showing what the full costume will look like on actor Chris Hemsworth and giving us our first glimpse of his sacred hammer Mjolnir. You can see full pics at http://www.collider.com/2010/06/02/thor-chris-hemsworth-new-images-concept-art/ With concept art and even on set photos of the actors showing up for films like these, Green Lantern and Conan maybe Disney will drop the national security act and give us a glimpse of John Carter of Mars (other than empty sets and Utah anyway.) UPDATE June 10: Well you want to see Thor in action? Entertainment Tonight has posted up the first footage from the film, showing Hemsworth in action, Anthony Hopkins as his father Odin and interviews with Natalie Portman and director Kenneth Branagh. You can see the full clip at http://www.etonline.com/news/2010/06/87855/

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Princess of Mars Goes Syfy


Just some FYI for those who like to watch movies for free (but don't want to go to jail.) The Syfy Channel will have the television premiere of Asylum's Princess of Mars this Saturday June 5 at 9 p.m. EST. You can check out the rest of their schedule for the day at http://www.syfy.com/schedule/index.php?date=5-JUN-2010&feed_req=