Will creators be remembered for 2014 comic book movies?

John Romita Sr.'s cover to Amazing Spider-Man No. 121, written by Gerry Conway

John Romita Sr.’s cover to Amazing Spider-Man No. 121, written by Gerry Conway

There’s a spoiler concerning Amazing Spider-Man 2 in the post below.

April 4 is the start of the comic book movie season with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The presence of SHIELD, Marvel’s spy organization, merits inclusion of the subject here. The film’s arrival raises the question how much recognition those who created the original source material will receive.

Movies made by Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios have settled into a pattern. The comic book creators aren’t included in the screenplay credit. But, for the most part, they show up in the long “crawl” of the end titles. Those who did the original comic story get a “based on the comic book by” credit and later there’s a “special thanks” credit for those who worked on stories the film’s writers used in crafting their story.

Example: the first Captain America film in 2011 had a credit for Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, who wrote and drew the original 1941 comic book. The “special thanks” credit included Kirby and Stan Lee, among others, who did various stories that helped form the final movie.

Meanwhile, movies where Marvel licensed characters haven’t even done that much. The X-Men movies and the 2003 Daredevil movie released by 20th Century Fox never mentioned the comic book creators, for example.

For that matter, DC Comics-based movies only reference comic book creators where Warner Bros. is contractually obligated to do so. So you’ll see Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s names on a Superman film as well as Bob Kane on a Batman film. But you won’t see Bill Finger, Mark Waid, John Broome, Gil Kane or others who did comic book stories that the movies used. Jerry Robinson got a consultant credit on 2008′s The Dark Knight that didn’t say he actually created The Joker.

Which brings us to Amazing Spider-Man 2, which Sony Corp. will release early next month, having licensed Spider-Man from Marvel. The Spider-Man movies released since 2002 do include Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, the original creative team on Marvel’s most successful character.

Gerry Conway, who wrote Spider-Man stories in the 1970s, has taken to HIS TWITTER FEED to let folks know one of his stories — arguably his most important Spidey tale — figures into the 2014 movie.

I see in Entertainment Weekly that Spider-Man 2 is, in fact, based partly on my Amazing Spider-Man 121. Waiting for invite to premiere.

The Los Angeles Times noticed and a post on its Hero Complex blog. Conway’s original story included the death of a major character and there have been hints that will replicated with the 2014 movie.

In any event, many millions of dollars are riding on all this as Disney/Marvel, Sony and Fox all come out with superhero movies this year, with more scheduled for 2015 and 2016. None of those films would be possible without the comic book creators who, for the most part, aren’t with us. The likes of Kirby, Simon, Kane, Finger and others have died. Creators, such as Lee (91) and Ditko (86), are at an advanced age.

Only Stan Lee, with his gift of self promotion, is remembered by much of the population. Outside of comics fans, not many are aware the likes of Kirby, Finger, Larry Lieber (Stan Lee’s brother), Don Heck, Dave Cockrum, Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Herb Trimpe, etc., etc., etc., created the characters that are the foundations of the movies.

It’d be nice if that changed in 2014. But don’t count on it.

UPDATE (April 3): Gerry Conway says on Twitter he has been invited to the premier of Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Licence to Kill’s 25th: 007 flops in the U.S.

Licence to Kill's poster

Licence to Kill’s poster

Licence to Kill, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, is mostly known for a series of “lasts” but also for a first.

It was the last of five 007 films directed by John Glen, the most prolific director in the series; the last of 13 Bond films where Richard Maibaum participated in the writing; it was the last with Albert R. Broccoli getting a producer’s credit (he would only “present” 1995′s GoldenEye); it was the last 007 movie with a title sequence designed by Maurice Binder; and the it was last 007 film where Pan Am was the unofficial airline of the James Bond series (it went out of business before GoldenEye).

It was also the first that was an unqualified flop in the U.S. market.

Bond wasn’t on Poverty Row when Licence to Kill began production in 1988. But neither did 007 travel entirely first class.

Under financial pressure from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (which acquired half the franchise after buying United Artists earlier in the decade), Eon Productions moved the home base of the production to Mexico from Pinewood Studios.

Joining Timothy Dalton in his second (and last) outing as Bond was a cast mostly known for appearing on U.S. television, including Anthony Zerbe, Don Stroud, David Hedison (his second appearance as Felix Leiter), Pricilla Barnes, Rafer Johnson, Frank McRae as well as Las Vegas performer Wayne Newton.

Meanwhile, character actor Robert Davi snared the role of the film’s villain, with Carey Lowell and Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto as competing Bond women.

Michael G. Wilson, Broccoli’s stepson and co-producer, took the role as lead writer because a 1988 Writers Guild strike made Richard Maibaum unavailable. Maibaum’s participation didn’t extend beyond the plotting stage. The teaser trailer billed Wilson as the sole writer but Maibaum received co-writer billing in the final credits.

Wilson opted for a darker take, up to a point. He included Leiter having a leg chewed off by a shark from the Live And Let Die novel. He also upped the number of swear words compared with previous 007 entries. But Wilson hedged his bets with jokes, such as Newton’s fake preacher and a scene where Q shows off gadgets to Bond.

Licence would be the first Bond film where “this time it’s personal.” Bond goes rogue to avenge Leiter. Since then, it has almost always been personal for 007. Because of budget restrictions, filming was kept to Florida and Mexico.

The end product didn’t go over well in the U.S. Other studios had given the 16th 007 film a wide berth for its opening weekend. The only “new” movie that weekend was a re-release of Walt Disney Co.’s Peter Pan.

Nevertheless, Licence finished an anemic No. 4 during the July 14-16 weekend, coming in behind Lethal Weapon 2 (in its second weekend), Batman (in its fourth weekend) and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (also fourth weekend).

Glen and Maibaum were done with Bond, the latter being part of the 007 series since its inception.

Initial pre-production of the next 007 film proceeded without the two series veterans. Wilson wrote a treatment in 1990 for Bond 17 with Alfonse Ruggiero but that story was never made.

That’s because Broccoli would enter into a legal fight with MGM that meant Bond wouldn’t return to movie screens for another six years. By the time production resumed, Eon started over, using a story by Michael France as a beginning point for what would become GoldenEye. Maibaum, meanwhile, died in early 1991.

Today, some fans like to blame MGM’s marketing campaign or other major summer 1989 movies such as Batman or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But Licence came out weeks after either of those blockbusters. In the end, the U.S. audience didn’t care for Licence. The movie’s total U.S. box office of $34.7 million didn’t match Batman’s U.S. opening weekend of $40.5 million. Licence’s U.S. box office was almost a third less than its 007 predecessor, The Living Daylights.

Licence to Kill did better in other markets. Still, Licence’s $156.2 million in worldwide ticket sales represented an 18 percent decline from The Living Daylights.

For Dalton, Glen, Maibaum and even Broccoli (he yielded the producer’s duties on GoldenEye because of ill health), it was the end of the road.

Writer Lorenzo Semple Jr. dies

Lorenzo Semple Jr. scripted the Batman pilot and 1966 feature movie

Lorenzo Semple Jr. scripted the Batman pilot and 1966 feature movie

Lorenzo Semple Jr., a writer best known for the 1960s Batman television show but who also did spy-related scripts including Never Say Never Again, has died at 91, according to an obituary in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.

Semple wrote the pilot for the 1966-68 Batman series as well as the quickly made 1966 feature film starring Adam West and Burt Ward. When executive producer William Dozier decided on a less-than-serious take, Semple devised a simple format for other writers to follow.

The opening of Part I would establish a menace. Batman and Robin would be summoned by Police Commissioner Gordon. The dynamic duo proceeded on the case, ending with a cliffhanger ending. Part II opened with a recap, the heroes escaped and eventually brought the villains to justice.

Among Semple’s memorable lines of dialogue: “What a terrible way to go-go,” and “Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”

Never Say Never Again's poster

Never Say Never Again’s poster

Semple always was drawn more than once to the spy genre. In the 1950s, he worked on drafts of a script based on Casino Royale, the first 007 novel, but nothing went before the cameras. Decades later, he was the sole credited writer on Never Say Never Again, a Thunderball remake not produced by Eon Productions but starring Sean Connery. Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, writers brought in by de facto producer Connery, did uncredited rewrites.

Between Semple’s Bond work, he scripted films such as 1967′s Fathom with Raquel Welch (featuring a Maurice Binder-designed title sequence), 1974′s The Parallax View with Warren Beatty (a movie about a conspiracy to assassinate political candidates) and 1975′s Three Days of The Condor, a serious spy film with Robert Redford.

In The Hollywood Reporter’s obituary, Semple is quoted about the ups and downs of film production. Here’s a passage involving Never Say Never Again:

Semple met with Sean Connery in Marbella, Spain and sold him on his 70-page treatment for Never Say Never Again, which saw the aging actor return as 007 in the much-litigated Warner Bros. film based on Thunderball. But when some action scenes were cut as a cost-saving measure, the producers pacified an angry Connery by blaming — and then booting — Semple.

“I was quite relieved; I really didn’t want to go on with it,” he said. “I also agree a human sacrifice is required when a project goes wrong; it makes all the survivors feel very good.”

To read the entire obituary, CLICK HERE. There’s one mistake. It says Semple only wrote the first four episodes of Batman. He wrote or co-wrote 10 episodes during the first season, though he penned fewer in the final two seasons.

Bond fandom in the 21st and 20th centuries

A sample of Roger Deakins' photography in Skyfall

A sample of Roger Deakins’ photography in Skyfall

Perhaps nothing illustrates how Bond fandom has evolved in the 21st century than all of the attention being paid to how Skyfall’s director of photography, Roger Deakins, has said he won’t return for Bond 24 because “I don’t know what else I could do with it, really.”

The news has discussed and analyzed on fan message boards (CLICK HERE for one example and CLICK HERE for another). Websites such as Ain’t It Cool News declared the development to be a “little bit of a bummer.”

Deakins was nominated for an Oscar for his Skyfall efforts and got a lot of praise. Skyfall director Sam Mendes said Deakins’ opening shot was so special, he just couldn’t put the gunbarrel logo at the start of the film. So, fans are wondering how his absence will affect Bond 24, which will start filming later this year.

In the early years of the film 007, a director of photography didn’t get that kind of attention. Eon Productions had a kind of “in-house” DOP in Ted Moore. It’s not like Moore was a hack. He got AN OSCAR for photographing 1966′s A Man For All Seasons.

Moore was behind the camera for the first four Bond films and did other jobs inbetween. For the fifth 007 film, director Lewis Gilbert sought Freddie Young, who he described as “one of the great artists in British cinema.” But the center of fan discussion was Ken Adam’s volcano set or Sean Connery’s impending departure as Bond.

In 1974, Eon subbed one Oscar-winning director of photography for another when Oswald Morris took over after Ted Moore fell ill. But again, it wasn’t a major top of fan conversation.

Flash forward to 2014. Nobody’s pushing the panic button, but certainly many fans are disappointed Deakins isn’t coming back. Perhaps this reflects greater artistic expectations in the fan base. Perhaps it’s also concern about not breaking up a winning team after Skyfall. Perhaps it’s a lack of much else to talk about regarding Bond 24.

Things change. The attention given Deakins is an indicator how the 007 fan world has changed.

The Bond 24 ‘hot stove league’

Daniel Craig during the filming of Skyfall

Daniel Craig during the filming of Skyfall

For those who follow baseball in the United States, there’s what’s known as the “hot stove league” — what happens during the off-season that will affect the following year’s games.

Right now, we’re in Bond 24′s “hot stove league” — filming won’t start until sometime this fall and the movie won’t be seen until fall 2015. As a result, people get excited about the smallest bit of information, even when it concerns A BOGUS TITLE.

Here’s how the Bond 24 “hot stove league” is shaping up on some key ingredients.

Bond 24′s title: The information will be available when Internet domain names get registered. In the case of Skyfall, the THE FUSIBLE WEBSITE sniffed out the domain registrations a month before the official announcement.

Casting: This is a little harder to pin down. With Skyfall, Naomie Harris’ casting was reported by the now-defunct News Of The World; Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney by the Daily Mail; Javier Bardem’s offer to be in the movie was reported by the Deadline entertainment news website and Bardem confirmed he’d been cast in an interview with ABC News; Ben Whishaw’s casting was disclosed by his agent, even though Eon Production denied it for months.

In other words, fans inclined to keep up with casting news should be on alert going forward.

Crew: Again, harder to pin down, but Skyfall’s history provides some guidance.

Roger Deakins confirmed in a 2011 post on his blog (later zapped) in spring 2011 that’d he be Skyfall’s director of photography. John Logan’s hiring as writer already was reported by the Daily Mail and Deadline in November 2012. It was initially denied by Eon Productions but confirmed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer a few days later.

While Deakins isn’t returning for Bond 24, he said recently that Skyfall director Sam Mendes, who is returning for Bond 24, has a “great idea for another film, which is really an extension [of 'Skyfall'] but from my point, I don’t know what else I could do with it, really.”

If Skyfall is a guide, some of the crew appointments may get reported by mid- to late-spring.

James Bond Radio

James Bond Radio isn’t so much radio as a couple of 007 fans getting together to discuss what’s going on with their favorite fictional character.

The format is simple: the two participants (Chris Wright and Tom Sears) appear in a split screen format and have a wide-ranging conversation. There have been seven installments so far, including reviews of the first three 007 films and a look at the “lost music” of Bond.

James Bond Radio has a WEBSITE, a FACEBOOK PAGE and a YOU TUBE CHANNEL. The podcasts are also available on iTunes.

Here’s the second installment, in which the hosts discuss what may happen in Bond 24 and beyond. Topics include whether the gunbarrel logo will ever appear at the start of a 007 movie (at least during the remainder of Daniel Craig’s run), how many computer-generated special effects should be in a Bond film and possible successors after Craig retires from the role.

Golden Gun’s 40th anniversary: 007′s sacrificial lamb

goldengunposter

Normally, we’d have waited to do a post about The Man With The Golden Gun’s 40th anniversary. But with this week’s passing of co-director of photography Oswald Morris, this is as good a time to examine the ninth James Bond film.

Let’s face it: Golden Gun doesn’t get a lot of love among James Bond fans or even professionals. It’s exhibit A when the subject comes up about 007 film misfires. Too goofy. Too cheap. Too many of the crew members having a bad day.

Over the years, Bond fans have said it has an average John Barry score (though one supposes Picasso had average paintings). It has too many bad gags (Bond watches as two teenage karate students take out a supposedly deadly school of assassins). And, for a number of first-generation 007 film fans, it has Roger Moore playing Bond, which is bad it and of itself.

Golden Gun is a way for fans to establish “street cred” — a way of establishing, “I’m not a fan boy.” The 1974 film is a way for the makers of 007 films to establish they’re really talking candidly, that not every Bond film has been an unqualified success.

The latter point is true enough. Golden Gun’s worldwide box office plunged 40 percent compared with Live And Let Die ($97.6 million versus $161.8 million, according to THE NUMBERS website). Within a few weeks of its December 1974 U.S. release, United Artists hurriedly paired Golden Gun with Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, which UA released earlier in 1974, to make a double feature.

In terms of long-term importance, Golden Gun was the finale of the Albert R. Broccoli-Harry Saltzman 007 partnership. Saltzman would soon be in financial trouble and have to sell out his share of the franchise to United Artists. In a way, things have never really been the same since.

This is not to argue that Golden Gun is the best offering in the Eon Production series. Rather, in many ways, it’s the runt of the litter that everybody likes to pick on — even among the same people who’d chafe at criticism of their favorite 007 film.

The documentary Inside The Man With The Golden Gun says the movie has all of the 007 “ingredients.” Of course, such a documentary is approved by executives who aren’t exactly demanding candor. But the statement is true. It has not one, but two Oscar winning directors of photography (Morris and Ted Moore); it has a score by a five-time Oscar winner (Barry); it is one of 13 007 movies Richard Maibaum contributed writing.

Then again, movies sometimes are less the sum of their parts. It happens. Not everyone has their best day.

For many, Golden Gun is a convenient piñata. Despite some positives (including a genuinely dangerous driving stunt), it’s never going to get much love in the 007 community.

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