Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Videogames Surge in Hollywood

Photo Credit: Nick Marquez
 A multitude of art forms have served as source material for film adaptations since the dawn of cinema: novels, plays, newspaper articles, comic books, and even videogames. However, the latter, unlike its peers, hasn’t exactly had the best marriage with Hollywood thus far. But it looks as though that is soon to change. Over the past decade, video games have evolved substantially, providing audiences with more advanced and sophisticated graphics on the surface, as well as more concise, layered, and eloquent storytelling underneath. Videogames have always contained intriguing and compelling stories; even as far back as 1986, with the releases of titles such as, The Legend of Zelda, Dragon Quest, and Metroid, but what they’ve always lacked, in regards to being transferred onto the big screen, is a sense of believable and realistic dialogue and character development. If you don’t know what I mean, let me draw your attention to the disappointing and abysmal attempts of adapting the likes of, Super Mario Bros., Mortal Kombat, Hitman, Doom, Max Payne, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, to name of few, all of which received under a 50% rating from critics that weighed in via Rotten Tomatoes.

Now, I understand there are some of you out there, die-hard fans of these games, who either enjoyed, or brainwashed yourselves into enjoying these adaptations, but let’s be honest with ourselves, these were all very poor efforts in filmmaking. In fact, I had convinced myself for the longest time that Paul W.S Anderson’s, Mortal Kombat, was a good film, probably because I was happy to be able to finally witness live-action brawls involving Sub-Zero and Scorpion, two of my favorite video game characters of all time; but in reality, the film is as unimaginative and uninspiring as the rest of the lot. And it is because of these poor attempts to bring these titles to the big screen that there has been a disparity between Hollywood and the videogame industry. But the good news is, that is all about to change.

On July 9, 2012, Michael Fassbender, the star of critically acclaimed films such as, Steve McQueen’s Shame, and X-Men: First Class was cast in what was reportedly an Assassin’s Creed movie, based on the videogame of the same name. However, videogames in recent years are often announced and rumored, only to disintegrate in the months or years following. But I’m happy to report that Assassin’s Creed is still in motion today, as Ubisoft has confirmed that the film will hit theaters on May 22, 2015. Little is known of the plot, and the debate still continues as to whether Fassbender will star as Desmond, Altair, Ezio, or some other unknown entity, but it looks as though Assassin’s Creed is going to be the beta tester of what could be the onset of a videogame revolution in Hollywood.

I use the word, “revolution,” implying that there must be more than one videogame property on its way to the big screen, and I’m proud to inform you, there is. In fact, there are multiple. As I mentioned earlier, videogame film adaptations are often announced only to join many of their peers in film purgatory, and the Warcraft movie was no different. Back in 2009, Sam Raimi, writer/director of the Spiderman Trilogy, was announced to direct Warcraft, from a script written by himself and Robert Rodat, writer of Saving Private Ryan. But as the story goes, Blizzard had reservations about the story that Raimi and Rodat had pitched to them, and they ultimately vetoed their script. Now, Raimi’s story on what happened is a little different, but, in any event, Raimi went on to helm OZ: The Great and Powerful, and we were back to square one, with no Warcraft movie. However, Warcraft fans can breathe a sigh of relief, as it looks as though the movie is once again moving forward. Duncan Jones, director of critically acclaimed films such as, Source Code and Moon, has been commissioned to helm the project, working off a script written by Charles Leavitt, writer of Blood Diamond. Moreover, Legendary Pictures CEO, Thomas Tull has recently gone on the record to express his confidence in Jones and saying that we will soon hear updates regarding the project, which at the moment has a tentative 2015 release, according to IMDB.com.

In addition to Assassin’s Creed and Warcraft, one of my favorite videogame titles has recently been in the news lately regarding a film treatment, and that title is Dead Space. In an interview with Game Informer, John Carpenter – the legendary master of terror, who brought you horror benchmarks such as, Halloween, and The Thing, has expressed his interest in giving Dead Space the big screen treatment. “You know, it’s great,” said the 65 year-old director. “The first game was more – I guess it was like Alien – but not quite. It was a little different than that.” When asked whether or not he’d be interested in adapting Dead Space, Carpenter went on to say, “I maintain that Dead Space would just make a great movie, because you have these people coming onto an abandoned, shut-down spaceship, and they have to start it up and something’s onboard. It’s just great stuff. I would love to make Dead Space, I’ll tell you that right now.” Although nothing is official, it seems as though Carpenter would be the perfect candidate to helm Dead Space, in my opinion, but only time will tell.

By now most of us have heard about the failed Halo movie, which had Neil Blomkamp attached to direct, writer/director of District 9 and the upcoming Sci-fi epic starring Matt Damon, Elysium, with Peter Jackson onboard as a producer, but what most of you haven’t heard, as the news was only leaked a few hours ago, is that Steven Spielberg, yes that’s right, is currently working with Microsoft on creating a live-action Halo TV series. While it might not be the big screen, this is still pretty exciting news. “The Halo Universe is an amazing opportunity to be at the intersection where technology and myth-making meet to produce something truly groundbreaking,” Spielberg said in a pretaped video during Microsoft’s official reveal of the Xbox One. The Halo Series will be commissioned exclusively for Xbox Live and the release date is currently undetermined.

As you can see the push for videogames to be adapted into live-action iterations, whether it is for film or TV is ongoing. Although the relationship with Hollywood and the videogame industry has been anything but affable, Hollywood still recognizes the potential for videogames in their world. Titles such as, Gears of War, Mass Effect, and Mortal Kombat still remain in the announcement-limbo phase, perhaps studios are merely awaiting to see how these guinea pigs will perform before they give them the green-light. I guess we will have to wait and see what happens. What do you think?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Batman Beyond: What Will Happen Next?

The Next Batman (*Major Spoilers*)

As established by the ending of The Dark Knight Rises and the profits realized from Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, Batman will undoubtedly endure on the big screen. But where exactly will the franchise go from here?

The Dark Knight Rises leaves many unanswered questions, but perhaps the most contemplative are those questions that surround Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character, John Blake, or rather “Robin” Blake.

At the end of Rises, we learn that John Blake’s legal name is Robin when he picks up a duffle bag left behind for him at Wayne Enterprises. But does that necessarily mean that John/Robin Blake will become Batman’s red tunic wearing sidekick?

Not likely. In the duffle bag, now under Blake’s ownership, are the tools one would need in order to gain access to the Batcave. That’s “Bat” as in Batman, not Robin. Christopher Nolan has stated on numerous occasions that he would not include “Robin” in his Batman universe. Now, that’s Robin the superhero sidekick as we know him from the comics, not Nolan’s depiction.

When you modernize one of the oldest and most iconic comic book characters of all-time into arguably the greatest trilogy in the history of cinema, you are allowed a little creative latitude. And with that latitude Nolan created a character (John/Robin Blake) that mirrors Bruce Wayne/Batman’s code of ethics and morals while paying homage to perhaps the most famous sidekick in superhero history.

In the last scene, we watch as Blake enters the Batcave using the cables and gear from the duffel bag. And then we witness one last taunt from Nolan. Blake, starts to rise unceremoniously on the platform that contains the Batsuit, but the image cuts off before we can really see anything. Well, unless a more fashioned sense Bruce Wayne replaced “his” suit with the colorful Robin ensemble from the comics, it’s pretty safe to say Blake will become the next Batman, or at least follow in Bruce Wayne's footsteps to some degree.

Now, I know that Blake becoming Batman isn’t everyone’s view on the ending, and yes until the next film it will be left open to interpretation. With that being said, Blake will definitely without a doubt be the next Batman, if Warner's decides to maintain continuity with the future of this franchise. You have to remember that movies are essentially art fused with business. And you also have to remember that the business gets substantial authority in the creation of that art, because...well...they’re paying for it. Taking that into account, Warner’s is not about to let one of their most lucrative franchises fizzle out. Batman has brand power that takes decades to build. There is no possible way Blake can become Robin, because Robin does not possess  any stand alone brand power. Secondly, Blake is not going to fight alongside Bruce Wayne as Robin either, because Bruce is now retired. Wayne is out of the picture, that way Warner’s doesn't need to replace such a popular character with a different actor.  And thirdly, there isn't a chance on God’s green Earth Blake will become Nightwing. Over half of the general public doesn't even know who Nightwing is. I think audiences would be pretty shocked and disgusted if the Batman franchise was replaced by a character that they had no prior knowledge of.  

So, that leave’s one last available option...Blake becomes Batman. In the end, it’s all about what will make the “majority” of audiences happy, because if you make the “majority” of audiences happy, well, you've essentially maximized your profit as a studio. Warner’s hit the jackpot with Nolan’s Bat-trilogy, seeing as how it is by far the most profitable Batman adaptation to date. They’re going to do everything they can to continue to milk more dollars. With that being said, if you were Warner’s would you rather try and manufacture a continuation of Nolan’s vision, reboot the character or introduce a new character entirely?

If you chose, “continuation,” congratulations you are correct. The conclusion to The Dark Knight Rises is a fitting end for Christopher Nolan, Christian Bale and Warner’s. It allows Nolan and Bale to exit and move onto other projects, but it also allows someone else to pick up where Nolan left off, without forcing Warner’s to reboot the character entirely. However, that does not mean it’s going to be easy for Warner’s to find someone that will be able to follow Christopher Nolan’s tough act.

That brings us to our next question...

Who will take over for Christopher Nolan?

Every time this question is asked, self-proclaimed “film fanatics,” blurt out Darren Aronofsky. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of Aronofosky’s work, but there’s more than one blatant problem with this answer. For one thing, the biggest budget Darren has ever worked with is $35 million, on his Sci-fi wonder, The Fountain. The Dark Knight Rises had a budget of $250 million. That is a significant difference. Now, I’m not saying that Aronofosky wouldn’t be able to rise to the challenge. Budgets don’t always mean everything, but it is something to take into account. 

Perhaps the more obvious reason Darren will not helm the next Bat project is due to the fact that his Batman script was rejected by Warner’s back in 2000. This was the period in which an influx of Batman scripts flooded the doors of Warner Bros., back when they were trying to figure out which direction they wanted to take Gotham’s greatest detective.

Ultimately, Aronofosky understood why Warner’s didn’t want to roll with his project, but he did believe in his vision. And that’s the problem. To put it simply, if Aronofosky were to continue Nolan’s vision, it would be “Nolan’s” vision and not his. That can be a tough pill to swallow for a creative mind such as Aronofosky’s. And I believe it would be enough to deter him from the project, at least until a complete reboot. I also believe that the same will ring true for other rumored “big name” directors.

Directors are visionaries; they want to carry out the images they see in their mind when they read or write a script. They want to be able to create the way they see the world and they often don’t like restrictions. And although it is not confirmed, it appears as though the future Batman films, at least the first one, will come with some restrictions in order to continue off Christopher Nolan’s vision. That poses a problem. Because how do you exactly find a director that will be willing to abandon that sense of individualism?

Well, I can think of one way...you keep it in the family.

Left: Jonathan Nolan Right: Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan has stated that this is “his” last Batman movie, but that doesn’t mean this is Jonathan Nolan’s last Batman movie. Jonathan, Chris’ younger brother, has helped pen the scripts for the last two batman films, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises. In addition, he co-wrote The Prestige with his brother, wrote the short story that Memento was based on, and now he has a TV show called Person of Interest in which he has 24 writing credits. That’s a pretty solid writing resume, but it doesn't mean he has the ability to direct, especially a big-scale film running north of a $200 million budget (there’s that budget problem again). Unless...

Unless his brother has been silently mentoring him for the past four years. And it’s really not that outrageous to think so, especially because Chris has not been afraid to mention Jonathan’s involvement in the past two Batman films. It has been stated that Jonathan’s primary task during the writing of The Dark Knight was to focus on The Joker. Now, I don’t think I need to further explain how big of detail this is, considering those words that Jonathan wrote helped the late Heath Ledger earn a posthumous Oscar. Make no mistake, Heath’s performance was simply incredible and completely his own. All I’m saying is those chilling speeches Jonathan conceived were unquestionably brilliant and it shows that he truly has an understanding for his brother’s vision.

Jonathan also had a substantial impact on The Dark Knight Rises. “I was nervous how Catwoman would fit into our world. But Jonah turned me around,” Chris said in interviews with Empire Magazine. Meaning, the inclusion of Catwoman was completely thanks to Jonathan. So, if you liked Catwoman, the Joker, or both then you like Jonathan’s style. But in any event, the man has been responsible for a significant amount of what you have seen from this trilogy.

So, if you want to see the Nolan Bat-Universe continue, I think this is your best shot. I also think Jonathan would do a fantastic job. Christopher Nolan has undoubtedly proved himself as one Hollywood’s elite directors over the past 5-10 years; I would imagine Jonathan has learned a trick or two by now. Moreover, Jonathan has said in interviews he would like to direct. The stars are aligning...

If you look at Christopher Nolan’s power over at Warner’s, you’ll see that he now has a substantial influence on their DC adaptations, as he seems to be God-fathering the Superman reboot, Man of Steel. This means that if Chris wanted to pass the torch to Jonathan, Warner's would more than likely jump at the idea. 

However, Chris is a mysterious filmmaker . He doesn't like to let fans in on any details until the absolute last second. I mean, most people thought The Riddler was going to be the villain in Rises until late 2011. With that in mind, I think it is entirely possible he could have been planning to hand it over to his younger brother. It could be days, months, maybe years before we find out, but it's possible. Anyway if it is true, I would speculate that Warner’s would fully endorse the idea.  

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Apes "Rise" in Vegas

Most of us have at least heard of the titular 1968 sci-fi classic, Planet of the Apes. And for those of you who haven’t you’re probably at least conscious of the more recent Hollywood reboots, specifically last year’s visual wonder, Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Rise, starring James Franco is a bit different than its predecessors. The story follows scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) as he vehemently tries to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. But like all modern scientists, he is forced to produce positive results before any of his potential cures can be FDA approved. So, Will tests his most recently developed drug on our distant ancestor, a chimpanzee named “Bright Eyes”. Initially, the drug called ALZ 112 appears successful. Bright Eyes becomes more sociable and she appears to be calmer than the other apes. But the next day, a series of unfortunate events ensue. When the caretakers at the lab try to get Bright Eyes out her cage she exhibits aggression and ultimately runs rampant through the building. The incident results in catastrophe as Bright Eyes is killed by the building’s security guards. Bright Eyes' death does not bode well for Rodman’s allegedly successful experiment. His boss, Steve Jacobs declares the drug project “dead,” fearing the drug has a violent side effect. However, we later learn that the real reason for Bright Eyes’ aggressive behavior was because she had given birth to a newborn. She felt threatened by the caretakers and her actions were that of her protecting her baby. Will, feeling responsible for the ill-fated disaster finds the baby ape hidden in the cell and ultimately brings it home with him to care for it himself.

Through the years, “Caesar” named by Will’s father, shows unusual mental growth, which is undoubtedly a result of Will’s drug during Caesar’s conception. Later, Will explains to Caesar about the drug that made him more intelligent and how his mother was accidentally killed. Enraged and betrayed, Caesar attacks one of his ape neighbors, but that is just the beginning of his new found anger. Caesar becomes so disgusted with his human captors he ultimately stages a revolt against the entire human race.

Well, a few chimpanzees in Vegas might be following a similar strategy. Earlier today July 12, 2012, Las Vegas Metro police shot and killed one chimpanzee and another was tranquilized and captured after the animals ran amok inside of a northwest Las Vegas neighborhood.  One woman who saw the wild chimpanzees told FOX5 that one of the chimps was acting “aggressive” and further explained how it began banging on the roof of her car. Now that's something you don't see every day. Police are currently unaware of where the chimps came from or how they got loose. Officer, Laura Meltzer said, “It is not immediately known where the chimps came from or to whom they belong.” 

They didn't see the movie...did they?