Holy box office, Batman!

To date, comic book adaptations have made $5,815,026,986 (that’s almost six billion dollars) at the box office, which is a lot of money! Hollywood has had a love-hate relationship with comics for quite some time now, as some of its most successful movies have been comic book adaptations, along with some of its biggest flops.

It all began in 1975 with the summer release of the blockbuster Jaws. It broke the Hollywood story stereotype of angry men, frantic car chases, big guns and exploited women as it swam from behind to take a big chunk of the box office – $100 million to be precise. Studios took notice and just two years later box office revenues went galactic when Star Wars stormed cinema screens across America. With it the ‘blockbuster’ was born. Around the same time, the comic industry was going through a renaissance of its own. The golden and silver ages of comic books were over and drastic changes began to surface in what became known as the bronze age of comics.

The two powerhouses of American comics – Marvel and DC – were exploring diverse issues within their respective panels. At Marvel, titles like Spiderman and X-men were going through drastic change in terms of tone and characterisation and many popular characters were killed off during this time. Storylines in DC Comics also took a different turn as issues like drugs and racism were tackled. Both industries were growing – whether it was the gross returns of the box office, or the quality of storytelling in comics. In 1978 these two worlds came together when audiences and comic book readers were made to believe that ‘a man could fly.’

Producer Ilya Salkind acquired the rights to DC Comics’ Superman. He went on to hire director Richard Donner and writer Mario Puzo of The Godfather fame for its adaptation. Donner’s unique approach to the character and Puzo’s detailed script (some 600 pages in length) were quite faithful to the ‘man of steel’ story.

It also had a stellar cast. Screen legend Marlon Brando played Jor-El (Superman’s father) and Gene Hackman starred as the diabolical Lex Luthor. Superman: The Movie (1978) swept the box office away with breathtaking special effects, a grand storyline and a little known stage star who outshined both leads. That individual was the first, last and only true Superman – the late Christopher Reeve.

With Superman, the floodgates opened and in the following two decades, many comics were given the silver screen treatment. Batman, The Mask, Men in Black, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Crow, Popeye, Dennis the Menace, Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Sheena, Steel, Dick Tracy, Casper, The Rocketeer and Time Cop are a few notable mentions. Some of them proved to be great hits whilst others crashed into box office oblivion. Batman (1990) is perhaps the most successful comic book movie of its era, bagging a total of $251,188,924, and is the third most successful comic book movie of all time. Like Superman, it was followed by numerous sequels which weren’t as successful as the original.

Most of these adaptations starred at least one A-list actor and their casts would often read like a who’s who of Hollywood. Actors like Jack Nicholson (who got paid a record $60 million for his role in Batman), Arnold Schwarzenegger, Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Kim Basinger, Jim Carrey, George Clooney, Val Kilmer and Cameron Diaz featured prominently in these adaptations. But it wasn’t just actors. Writers and directors were also lining up to do comic book movies. Names like Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher, John Hughes, Akiva Goldsmith and Richard Donner signed on to shoot or pen movies based on comics.

The arrival of the new millennium saw a new breed of comic book movies. This new breed came soon after the release of Batman & Robin (1997) which, according to many, is the worst comic book movie ever made. At the box office it collected barely $100 million while $130 million had gone into its production. The movie is so bad that lead star George Clooney said he would personally refund the money to anyone who paid to see it. He is also rumoured to have admitted that this movie single-handedly “killed the franchise.”

In 2001, Hollywood opted for a more faithful and traditional approach to comics. Sony Pictures acquired the rights to the Spiderman movie franchise, which had previously been attached to James Cameron, from the troubled studio Carolco Pictures. Sony then brought Sam Raimi on board, and he brought with him something that was crucial to the revival of comic book blockbusters: respect for the history and background of the comic. Raimi re-worked a script-in-progress by James Cameron, hired an almost unknown cast, and treated it in the same way as Richard Donner had previously done with Superman: The Movie. Raimi chose Donner’s Superman because that character’s story closely resembled that of Spiderman‘s.

Both have foster parents, both work at a news agency, both have secret identities-unbeknownst to their respective love interests (Lois Lane and Mary Jane). Both have villains that are megalomaniacs (Norman Osborne and Lex Luthor), both chose to give up their powers for their love interests and both have strong American patriotic motifs (Superman’s ‘Truth, justice and the American way,’ and Spiderman’s hometown of New York City, the unofficial American capital post-9/11).

Where Donner showed Superman holding an American flag, Raimi presented New York City as a supporting cast member. And the similarities don’t end there. Spiderman (2001) has become — and still is — the most successful comic book movie of all time, slinging in a mammoth $403,706,375, echoing the release of Superman: The Movie some 20 odd years earlier.

In the years that have followed, the number of comic book movies has increased dramatically, so much so that it has prompted Marvel Comics – which ironically went bankrupt in the ’90s – to rename itself Marvel Entertainment. Marvel is a leader in comic book movies, with 13 so far and several in various stages of production.

DC and Marvel aren’t the only two comic book houses around. Dark Horse Comics have also enjoyed a reasonable amount of success on the silver screen. Sin City (2005) and Hell Boy (2004) are two good examples, both extremely successful and now awaiting sequels. Though not from comics, the Alien vs. Predator franchise was first conceived in comics by Dark Horse and eventually successfully brought to the screen in 2004.

Since Spiderman, there have been comic book movies every year and even a few old ones have been remade. Director Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (2006) saw the return of the ‘man of steel’ after an absence of 20 years from the silver screen. Similarly writer/director Christopher Nolan stripped away the cheesy elements of all previous Batman films to bring us a very gritty look at the Dark Knight in Batman Begins (2005).

Once again, the great comic book movie craze is in full swing. Just recently Ghost Rider (2007) has set the box office ablaze, earning an impressive $80 million and the box office top spot for two consecutive weeks. Zack Snyder’s 300 (2007) rallied a resounding victory, having taken in $78 million and the top spot on its opening weekend, eclipsing Gladiator and Troy in its current returns.

There you have it; the story of comic book adapted movies. Though they are not always successful, one can be certain that the next big blockbuster just might be a comic book adaptation. In 1978, Superman: The Movie proved to the studios that they can tell good stories and still earn extremely high returns. Just as it proved to audiences that a man can fly.


Back to Futurama - The Second Season

Bender, Fry, and Leela return as the crew of the Planet Express in the second season of Futurama. If you thought the first season was whacky, wait till you see this one.

Futurama tells the story of Fry, a young pizza delivery boy who gets sent a thousand years into the future. There he meets a one-eyed alien spaceship pilot, Leela, and a suicidal, perpetually drunk robot, Bender.

Season 2 isn’t drastically different from the previous one, but in some cases – particularly in terms of story and acting – it is much better. The characters are all given interesting hooks and the stories are more complex and funnier. The Star Trek inspired episode Why Must I Be a Crustacean in Love? is a special treat, and is an opportunity for Dr Zoidberg to shine.

Another hilarious episode features the idiotic Zap Brannigan and his sidekick Kiff in Brannigan, Begin Again. The duo is ousted from their positions and forced to work with at the Planet Express. Brannigan, with his constant advances towards Leela, is always amusing in whatever he says or does.

Anthology of Interest I is by far the best episode of the series. It has three distinct stories in the space of 22 minutes, giving the viewer a feeling of having seen three whole episodes in one. The special features are nothing special really, besides the commentary on each episode by the script-writers and actors.

Futurama is probably the best animation show in a long time. Dare I say that it is far better than the Simpsons. It is guaranteed to give viewers a few laughs along with an interesting ride through the world of an imagined future.
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Voliminal: Inside the Nine

Voliminal: Inside the Nine album coverImage via Wikipedia
Nu-metal (nu-thrash metal, to be more precise) marauders Slipknot have unleashed a double DVD and CD collection of live performances and music videos. Though by no means a 'greatest hits' album, this behemoth of a collection is sure to keep thrash fans happy with a collection that quite literately mutes everything in the market.

A nine member band from Des Moines, Iowa; Slipknot shot to fame with their self-titled album in 1999. Ever since then they've hardly left any holds barred and let out a stream of heavy hits, stormed many musical festivals and redefined live performances along the way. They won a Grammy for Best Metal Performance in 2006, and have been nominated three times in different categories.

The album has a raw sound, particularly the harshness of each track combined with the intensity of each band member. Corey Taylor has displayed his versatility in the Spiderman soundtrack, but it's his day-job as the lead singer of Slipknot that truly exploits his ability to sing, or scream even. Guitarists Jim Root and Mick Thomson both craft exquisite riffs that are breakneck speed and filled with the crunch of metal and thrash. Sid Wilson's mixing and sampling adds the 'nu' to the nu-thrash, and his samples are haunting and yet almost cruel at the same time. Besides having a turntablist, they also have keyboardist Craig Jones and percussionist Shawn Crahan, both offering new layers to each of the songs and even providing backup vocals on some of the tracks. But the best performer of the bands is perhaps Joey Jordison whose drumming skills avalanches over everything else in the band. Jordison (who is also a producer for Marylin Manson) structures his beats and percussions in a very traditional thrash set-up, almost as well as (dare I say it) the great Dave Lombardo of Slayer fame.

Voliminal: Inside the Nine is an audible treat for thrash and speed metal fans, if that is they appreciate the fact that this is nu-thrash metal.
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Star Trek: The Next Generation

Star Trek: The Next GenerationImage via Wikipedia
After a long absence from TV, Star Trek returned in 1987 to the delight of fans around the world. The famed ship Enterprise returned with no major changes but definitely looking 24th century-ish.

The delight of the fans was short-lived when they discovered that the new vision of the future, provided by the show's creator Gene Roddenberry, was not exactly what they had in mind. They were particularly outraged when they found out that the show would have a new cast and was set further in the future.

It took a while for them to accept this vision, but they eventually did. Patrick Stewart plays the cool and calm Captain Jean-Luc Picard (a vastly different character than the ship's previous Captain). Though most of the cast consisted of previously unknown actors, the show featured many famous guest-stars in various episodes.

In terms of storytelling, this series is not that different from the classical show through a new dynamic within the new cast that enhances each story. It is a visual delight, with state-of-the-art special effects of its time, most notable of which are the make-up effects given by Michael Westmore. The first season sets off with a two-hour pilot, Encounter at Farpoint. Besides introducing the primary characters, it also features special guest-star DeForest Kelley as the eccentric (and now geriatric) Dr McCoy.

Star Trek: The Next Generation may have been a difficult sell to fans of the original series but it sure did spawn a whole new generation of fans of the show. This spin-off took a life of its own and became popular in its own right, whilst still adding to the mythos of the original show.

Special features include the development of the series, casting and the special effects of the show. A good watch for fans who wish to go where no one has gone before.
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Transformers: The Animated Series

Transformers: Generation 1Image via Wikipedia
An extremely successful toy line in the ’80s, The Transformers used to take Saturday mornings by storm in their TV series. The show follows the adventures of giant transforming robots, the ever-vigilant Autobots and the dastardly Decepticons.

The Autobots try their best to defend Earth, while the Decepticons take any and every opportunity to try and conquer it. Lead by the maniacal Megatron, the Decepticons do just about everything from hijacking oil rigs to kidnapping scientists and forcing them to make weapons of mass destruction — the plots are truly ahead of their time.

The premise of the show might sound silly and outlandish, but Transformers had a legion of faithful fans, who not only watched the show, but bought the comic and of course the action figures. But there’s more to the show than meets the eye. For one, there is always a message in each episode, whether about teamwork or admitting your mistakes. Besides, the voice-over is brilliant. Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime is simply the best, and he will be reprising his role in the upcoming Transformers movie. Frank Welker voices the evil Megatron, making him sound very vicious, but at the same time, with a comical touch to his voice.

The first season comes with many special features, including a very interesting blooper reel highlighting animation mistakes within certain episodes. Also included are interviews with some of the show's writers who offer unique insight into the characters and the writing process. Go out and grab it now.
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