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Author Topic: 1980s Marvel Super Heroes Films: Why Did Hope Spring Eternal?
dan2448
Cosmic Superhero
Posts: 1146
Post 1980s Marvel Super Heroes Films: Why Did Hope Spring Eternal?
on: February 2, 2013, 07:17

Working my way through the collection of vintage "Comics Scene" magazines I recently bought, I have been struck by how endlessly hopeful the coverage was of potential or rumored movie adaptations of various Marvel Comics characters, despite a long string of prior underwhelming failures. This boundless faith in the late 1980s is all the more stark in light of Marvel's recent critical and commercial successes, 20 years later, with "Iron Man," "Avengers" and "Captain America" films.

But back in 1989, the only recent adaptation of a Marvel Comics character to see the light of day was a TV movie reviving the old Bixby/Ferigno "Hulk" TV show titled, "The Trial of the Incredible Hulk." I've seen it and it's terrible. For those of you lucky enough to've missed it, it also features Daredevil, though he's not in his trademark red suit with the double D's on the chest. Instead he's dressed in a cheap blue ninja costume that could've been a generic Halloween outfit. The villain is 'Wilson Fisk.' Though he's never called 'Kingpin' by name. And he's not bald, nor particularly obese or physically imposing. The whole thing is total dreck. When asked in a short interview for "Comics Scene" magazine why the Kingpin wasn't bald in the TV movie, the actor who portrayed him explains casually that no one ever told him before he signed on to the project that the character was bald, nor even that he was called 'The Kingpin' in the original comic books,. When asked by director Bill Bixby on the first day of shooting to shave his head, the actor apparently responded, "I really don't want to because I'm going to be doing another project soon. But I suppose if you really need me to...." To which Bixby allegedly replied, "oh, there's no need to go to all that trouble then." The actor also explains in this interview that he enjoyed the role because he liked "entertaining children."

How "Comics Scene" magazine maintained boundless, enthusiastic hope for future Marvel Comics adaptations in the face of stuff like that is totally beyond me. It brings to mind the satirical optimism of Dr. Pangloss in "Candide."

Before the 1989 'Batman" movie was even released, Stan Lee is quoted extensively in multiple issues about an upcoming Spider-Man film, as is the designated director, Albert Pyun. I laughed to myself when one of them referenced dismissively the legal entanglements that had already kept the project in limbo for years. (With the benefit of hindsight, they badly underestimated the difficulties involved in untying that Gordian Knot.)

Stan Lee is also quoted extensively in another 1989 issue enthusing about the specifics of a script for a soon-to-go-into-production "Captain America" film. Unlike the aborted Spider-Man movie, this movie ultimately got made later that year, directed by the very same (then 36 year old) Albert Pyun and starring JD Salinger's son, Matt. But the movie was 'so bad' that it was never released theatrically in the United States. Its release was ultimately delayed for a couple of years until it went straight to video in the US in 1992. As we discussed here before in another thread, I ultimately saw the film a few years ago on TV and enjoyed it. But having now seen the final film, it's hard for me to believe that Stan Lee really thought this B-movie by a young director would truly please comic book fans.

A similar fate befell the 1991 "Punisher" movie starring Dolph Lundren. I had no idea until I began reading these old issues of "Comics Scene" magazine that the film had actually been made in 1989. But its release, too, was delayed for a couple of years before the film ultimately went straight-to-video in 1991. Several consecutive issues of "Comics Scene" magazine from 1989 contain interviews with the (unreleased) film's director, the producer, Dolph Lundren himself (all with extensive set photos), and even a letter from the screen writer. I've seen this movie as well and thought it was 'ok.' But, with the benefit of hindsight, it's hard for me to believe that anyone involved in that film really thought it would appeal to fans of the Marvel Comics character either, given its notoriously small budget (which resulted in the film having a cheap, 'music video' look) and the fact that Dolph never wears the Punisher's trademark 'skull shirt.'

IndieComic-
sFan
Cosmic Superhero
Posts: 511
Post Re: 1980s Marvel Super Heroes Films: Why Did Hope Spring Eternal?
on: February 2, 2013, 13:17

Just a side note about Trial of the Incredible Hulk and "Wison Fisk: The actor who played Fisk was none other than John Rhys Davies (Gimli in TLoTR trilogy as well as an Indiana Jones sidekick in Raiders of the Lost Ark).

Another side note: Stan Lee, upon seeing the Rex Smith Daredevil costume asked "Why doesn't it have eye-holes in the mask?", to which the producers said "Because he is blind.", which prompted Stan to say "yeah but everyone else is not supposed to know Daredevil is blind!".

You are far more kind in your reviews of the early Marvel movies (re: Punisher, Captain America) than I could ever be. I can find no redeeming qualities of these movies except to say that Dolph Lundren was the perfect choice to play the Punisher in my mind. If only they had a script, a director, a budget etc.
I remember reading a Stan Lee interview either in Comics Scene or Marvel Age where he enthusiastically tries to support the Punsiher release saying "They even kept the skull in there!" (referring to the silly skull-hilted daggers Dolph was forced to fling around in that film).

Majestic
Cosmic Superhero
Posts: 2627
Post Re: 1980s Marvel Super Heroes Films: Why Did Hope Spring Eternal?
on: February 3, 2013, 14:42

I detested that Punisher movie so much that I can't even imagine watching it again; my only remembrance of it was wanting to gouge my eyes out after seeing it! :) And though I'm not a fan of the Punisher that much, I really enjoyed the two later movies. They had their flaws, but overall I thought they were entertaining. I don't remember much of the Captain America film, but I certainly agree with you, Dan, that's it's hard to imagine Stan Lee (or really anyone) imagining that it could please the fanbase in any way. Likewise with the Roger Corman Fantastic Four movie of that era, which was so bad they wouldn't even release it to video. You can see it on bootlegs, but it was really only made on a pathetic budget in order to retain the film rights longer; my teenaged kids seriously make better quality movies in the backyard now than that one, as it's so bad it almost doesn't rise to the level of Mystery Science Theater mockery.

V&V GM and player since 1982 (my current campaign is 22 years old); also run West End Games d6 Star Wars monthly, as well as the occasional The One Ring and Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game

dan2448
Cosmic Superhero
Posts: 1146
Post Re: 1980s Marvel Super Heroes Films: Why Did Hope Spring Eternal?
on: February 4, 2013, 09:10

Quote from Majestic on February 3, 2013, 14:42
Likewise with the Roger Corman Fantastic Four movie of that era, which was so bad they wouldn't even release it to video. You can see it on bootlegs, but it was really only made on a pathetic budget in order to retain the film rights longer.

I've never actually seen this 'Fantastic Four' movie. But I've definitely heard of it and always wanted to see it. A later issue of "Comics Scene" magazine had several articles devoted to it, including photos of the main characters in costume, cast interviews, and an interview with the guy heading up the special effects.

I'd heard that the movie was terribly low budget, so it cracked me up that the SFX guy was raving about the work they'd done on the film. Having already read over a dozen earlier issues of "Comics Scene," it also made me laugh that, years earlier, Stan Lee had been touting publicly how this same German film company that held the rights to the 'Fantastic Four' was going to make this super high budget FF film centering on their first meeting with the Silver Surfer and Galactus. And in the end, years later, what results is them giving Roger Corman a paltry $4 million to crank out the cheapest possible FF film, apparently as a 'back door' way for this German film company to prevent their rights to the FF from lapsing due to non-performance.

And there is good old "Comics Scene" magazine, eagerly publishing full color photos of the FF in spandex costumes with sewn on '4' logos that wouldn't meet the standard for a Comic Con costume today, along with cast and crew interviews. Nothing I read betrayed any understanding that this 'movie' was really just a creative way for the film company to pay $4 million to extend their rights to the FF, and that it was never going to be seen by audiences.

Though in fairness, "Comics Scene" very successfully accomplished its primary goal by publishing that. It was clearly something its readership (including me, even 20 years later) was very interested in, and so would presumably drive sales of the magazine. (I say 'clearly' because the overwhelming majority of their covers over the years featured photos from upcoming movies and TV shows.) I read all of their coverage of this FF film avidly and was very entertained. So I can't really criticize the magazine. They did their job.

But thinking back, I suppose I wish they'd taken a slightly more skeptical editorial line about these low budget movie adaptations of Marvel characters at the time. By not doing so, I remember my youthful, teenaged hopes being elevated sky high by their similar coverage of other films (the "Captain America" movie in particular) - with what on hindsight seems like almost no justification whatsoever. "Comics Scene" was just making 'stone soup.'

I was surprised by how Stan Lee abetted this, too. Over-and-over he is quoted in the magazine talking up soon to be released TV and movie adaptions of Marvel heroes, in his characteristic 'carnival barker' way. And then, months later, long after the TV shows have already aired or the movies have come and gone from theaters, he's quoted again acknowledging (usually in qualified, 'political' ways), the patently obvious deficiencies. (When asked about the depiction of Thor in the 1980s 'Hulk' TV movie that had recently aired he said something like, "You can imagine how well that went over in The Bullpen.") As a kid, I sort of thought of Stan Lee as a 'buddy' and a creative genius. This made him seem more like a mere corporate shill. As the man spearheading Marvel's efforts in Hollywood at the time, I suppose he had little to gain by 'biting the hand that feeds.' That's understandable. But at the same time he was using goodwill he'd built up with kids for years in a way that wasn't necessarily in their best interests.

To his discredit, I also noticed a tendency Stan Lee had to talk up his role in developing future movie and TV projects but then, after these abominations were released and had been critical and financial failures, he would be quoted again minimizing his own involvement ("I'm just a consultant- they don't have to listen to me"), touting recent changes in how Marvel was going to do business in Hollywood going forward, and promising 'brighter days' in the future.

Majestic
Cosmic Superhero
Posts: 2627
Post Re: 1980s Marvel Super Heroes Films: Why Did Hope Spring Eternal?
on: February 4, 2013, 11:34

Well put. While I find myself really "liking" Stan Lee (his persona in all forms of media makes you feel like you've known him forever), this is a spot-on portrayal of how he's operated over the years. Carnival barker indeed. :)

V&V GM and player since 1982 (my current campaign is 22 years old); also run West End Games d6 Star Wars monthly, as well as the occasional The One Ring and Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game

R_Mortisse
Cosmic Superhero
Posts: 443
Post Re: 1980s Marvel Super Heroes Films: Why Did Hope Spring Eternal?
on: February 4, 2013, 20:39

Not to sound all negative or anything... but, lets be honest here...

That 'perpetually optimistic' outlook you are discussing here, is an EXPECTED PRACTICE of the industry. It DOESN'T matter if a film is artistic, pleasing, or even remotely 'good'. What matters is THAT PEOPLE SPENT MONEY to see it. (NOTE: That 'to see it' was not in caps! As NOONE gives a rat's patoot if you actually saw a movie or not. The only thing that matters to them is that you SPENT MONEY on a ticket. They'd be just as happy, if you walked into the theater, purchased a ticket, and walked right back out not even bothering to watch the film. They'd make their money either way. And, THATS what its really about. Frankly, in the above example, the only person who would NOT be happy, is the theater's general manager... AS, he would not have the opportunity to sell you ONE bucket of popcorn, ONE 28oz soda, and ONE box of M&Ms, for $25.00!! As, concession sales are how the actual 'physical' theater earn their money.)

Thats right. A film can be an utter piece of garbage,... BUT, until it has had it's ('EVERY POSSIBLE') chance at making it's FIRST RUN profits... EVERYONE INVOLVED is going to tout how totally awesome it is!! (A VERY quick way to make sure you NEVER work in the film industry again, is to even remotely 'bad mouth' a project you are associated with, before it has made it's initial RETURNS. The film's producers have a tendency to get a little miffed, if they don't even have a chance to recoup their investment before people start badmouthing their garbage.) Most actor's have to sign a contract-waiver when they start a project, that expressly forbids them from discussing a movie they're in, except for 'promotional reviews' which are predominantly 'scripted' affairs. The first two weeks are the 'critical time'. It is a 'given understanding', that public opinion will be cemented at that point, and afterwards... it really wont matter what you say. As 'word of mouth' will have conveyed the truth about the pic, and people will have already formed their own opinions. Ever notice that the commercials for a movie keep running as long as it's playing, BUT the talkshow interviews and newshow reviews stop at about the two week mark?

After it has quit running you can say whatever you want to about a movie. As noone is risking 'profit loss' at that point. (Tho, its still a pretty good idea NOT to badmouth 1-the producers, 2-the director, and 3-the other cast members. IN THAT ORDER.)

Majestic has it right. 'CARNIVAL BARKER' is the ideal way to think of it... and 'Stan the man' has been Marvel's quintessential 'barker' since Day-1. (Just read some of his old issues. Thats where it really shows through, in the way he writes.)

Oh. And, to answer the initial question that this thread is based around... "Hope sprang eternal"... "because someone thought there was some money to be made off of it." And, until someone else proved otherwise, thats the way they are expected to act.

CARNIVAL- *BARK BARK BARK BARK*...

dan2448
Cosmic Superhero
Posts: 1146
Post Re: 1980s Marvel Super Heroes Films: Why Did Hope Spring Eternal?
on: February 4, 2013, 21:41

Quote from R_Mortisse on February 4, 2013, 20:39
lets be honest here... That 'perpetually optimistic' outlook you are discussing here, is an EXPECTED PRACTICE of the industry.

I think that this is a very fair point as it applies to Stan Lee's initial enthusiasm about various soon-to-be-released movies and TV shows. But I don't think it explains "Comics Scene" magazine's perpetual enthusiasm for these projects, since the magaine's publisher had no financial stake in the films' financial performance.

I'm sure that some of the magazine's boosterish, non-critical editorial stance was about access. If they were viewed as a 'positive' voice, they were much more likely to be granted access to cast and crew, as well as to proprietary set photos. But I've convinced myself that much of it was more about, to paraphrase the X-Files, "I want to believe." If "Comics Scene" was reflexively hyper-critical of everything (like maybe I perceived the "Comics Journal" to be of mainstream comics), I don't think it would've sold anywhere near as well as it did. Its readers (like me) wanted to believe these films would be good. But as a result, the magazine trafficked in hope and aspiration, rather than 'fact.'

I also don't think that 'industry practice' explains Stan Lee's post hoc concessions that these 1980s adaptations were artistic failures. To give him the benefit of the doubt, I suspect that he was genuinely torn between being 'a good company man' obligated to talk up these projects on the one hand, and, on the other, his innate understanding that he was a beloved, admired public figure and was the personification at the time for most people of the entire 'comic book industry.'

R_Mortisse
Cosmic Superhero
Posts: 443
Post Re: 1980s Marvel Super Heroes Films: Why Did Hope Spring Eternal?
on: February 5, 2013, 19:42

I see what you are saying... But, I'd still put MY money on betting that they got paid to hype the stuff.
Besides, Comic Scenes magazine's continued optimistic disposition still doesn't invalidate my point... as THEY were making money off of people buying their magazine to read their reviews. (Perhaps that was their ANGLE, on selling their own magazines.)

As for Stan himself, he still hasn't gone out of his way to rag on past 'flop' projects, too terribly much. He might be continuing to do so, just as a professional courtesy at this point.

A long time ago... when the first Dungeons & Dragons movie was released, EVERYONE panned it on the net. There was a constant throng of people vehemently asserting, "Do not go see this movie!" And, I was definitely 'onboard' with this viewpoint.
UNTIL...
One guy posted somewhere, that if you DIDN'T like the D&D movie, then you SHOULD go see it.
His reasoning?

"We were LUCKY to even have a movie like this made at all. And, if we WANTED more movies of this genre to be produced, then THIS movie would have to do well... and provided the needed (economic) incentive for someone else (hopefully 'better') to make another one."

I think Stan is very much OF that same mindset! Acting as the 'movie industry pointman, trying to get us (the comics fans) the kind of movies we want to see, based on the comic characters we know and love. (And, his royalty check is probably pretty nice, too.)

dan2448
Cosmic Superhero
Posts: 1146
Post Re: 1980s Marvel Super Heroes Films: Why Did Hope Spring Eternal?
on: February 6, 2013, 04:23

Quote from R_Mortisse on February 5, 2013, 19:42
I see what you are saying... But, I'd still put MY money on betting that they got paid to hype the stuff.

You know, I hadn't even considered that possibility. A good point. And certainly a possibility.

"We were LUCKY to even have a movie like this made at all."

Thinking back 25 years to just before the release of the 1989 'Batman' movie, I know I certainly felt this way to a degree, too.

In a later issue of "Comics Scene" from 1990, the editorial on the first page discusses the magazine's coverage of films and impliedly answers my critique by asserting that the magazine's staff can't know in advance which films will be good and which will be bad. That's certainly true. But reading the magazine as an adult now 25 years later, I noted that their coverage of the Roger Corman 'Fantastic Four" movie did reference its budget ($4 million), as did their coverage of the 1990 'Captain America' film ($7.5 million) as did their coverage of the first 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' film, also from 1990 ($12 million).

The budget figures would've meant nothing to me as a teenaged reader at the time. (Is $4 million for a 'Fantastic Four' movie a lot, or a little?) Doing some quick checking online, I see that the budget for the 1989 'Batman' film is estimated to've been anywhere from $35-48 million. Since "Comics Scene" magazine was a sister publication of "Starlog," I think it's safe to assume that, from the paltry budgets alone, the magazine's staff and writers would've known with some certainty what type of films Roger Corman's "Fantastic Four" and the 1990 "Captain America" film would be.

Why were they not more critical at the time? It'll probably never be known for sure. But as I've skimmed over subsequent issues I have noticed that their coverage of these sorts of film and TV adaptations did become incrementally more 'discerning' after the 1989 "Batman" movie was such a huge hit. That, I suspect, supports the assertion that their less critical coverage prior to then was based in part on a belief that, before 1989, we were 'lucky' to have these adaptations made at all.

IndieComic-
sFan
Cosmic Superhero
Posts: 511
Post Re: 1980s Marvel Super Heroes Films: Why Did Hope Spring Eternal?
on: February 6, 2013, 12:18

Quote from R_Mortisse on February 5, 2013, 19:42

As for Stan himself, he still hasn't gone out of his way to rag on past 'flop' projects, too terribly much. He might be continuing to do so, just as a professional courtesy at this point.

Yeah Stan was never any saint in all this crap and I was not much for giving him a pass for his 'barking' and snake oil salesmanship. I read these mags back then excitedly for news and pictures of any potential super hero/comic book movies right up until it became apparent that the producers of such films had no real interest in making good movies and were instead interested in taking advantage of 'fan boys'.

A long time ago... when the first Dungeons & Dragons movie was released, EVERYONE panned it on the net. There was a constant throng of people vehemently asserting, "Do not go see this movie!" And, I was definitely 'onboard' with this viewpoint.
UNTIL...
One guy posted somewhere, that if you DIDN'T like the D&D movie, then you SHOULD go see it.
His reasoning?

"We were LUCKY to even have a movie like this made at all. And, if we WANTED more movies of this genre to be produced, then THIS movie would have to do well... and provided the needed (economic) incentive for someone else (hopefully 'better') to make another one."

Could not disagree more with that guy. When people flock in droves to go see the same tired, cliche, horribly scripted, badly acted and terribly directed movies then Hollywood will keep putting out that same crap. See Michael Bay's Transformers movies (well, ANY Michael Bay movies really). First one was horrid and I lost 4 IQ points just watching it. It was a HUGE hit. Second one was even worse and made even more money. The third one I could not have gotten through without Rifftrax. It was that bad. I am a guy who can sit through Ed Wood movies even without the MST3k boys riffing them but I could not make it through Transformers 3 without Mike Nelson and the boys providing their comforting analyses.
Same goes for Spider-man movies, Wolverine movies, Daredevil movies etc. If we do not demand they hire an actual screenwriter worth his salt (like maybe someone who actually wrote comic books ala Grant Morrison or someone like that) then we will keep seeing the same plot with the same villain doing the same things to the heroes we have grown to love (in comic books).
Sam Raimi's Spider-man = Tim Burton's Batman = McG's Daredevil = Story's Fantastic Four = ALL of the crappy Punisher movies, etc.. I would much rather they never made any more comic book movies if the alternative is for them to butcher and ruin my favorite characters over and over.

I think Stan is very much OF that same mindset! Acting as the 'movie industry pointman, trying to get us (the comics fans) the kind of movies we want to see, based on the comic characters we know and love. (And, his royalty check is probably pretty nice, too.)

Maybe. But even if this were true, Stan Lee has no power to compel producers to to hire writers who know how to write these characters or directors who know how to direct or actors who at least look like the characters they are playing. He is a mute pointman at best and Hollywood is not going to heed warnings from mute pointmen and most fan boys do not care if they are walking into a cesspool because most of them can't discern sewage from salad. So Transformers 4 is undoubtedly in pre-production, Fast and Furious 6 or 7 (what the Hell number are they on now?) is on the way, Die Hard: Assignment Miami Beach will be coming our way soon etc.

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