Saturday, June 11, 2011

Coming up: a "darker tale"

Thirty years ago, the Man of Steel was flying high at theaters. But will he ever get off the ground again?

Richard Donner‘s “Superman,” released in December 1978, was a box-office triumph and critics were, for the most part, cheering right along with the fans. Roger Ebert called the film “a pure delight,” while the late Jack Kroll wrote in Newsweek that Donner had pulled off “a major feat in filmmaking.”

It was by nature a sunny film, sentimental and playful, never embarrassed while soaring with its John Williams score and (literally) with its special effects. But show it to a teenager today and he or she will snicker and roll their eyes. These are kids who have sat in dark theaters with Wolverine, Hellboy and Heath Ledger’s Joker. If they’re holding out for a hero, you can bet he’s not going to be plucking kittens out of trees, reciting patriotic mottos and chasing down bumbling bad guys named Otis.

This brings us to the Superman problem. Warner Bros. just pulled in half a billion dollars in the U.S. alone with the relentless nihilism of “The Dark Knight,” and the other hero films of the summer (“Hancock,” “Iron Man,” “Hellboy 2,” etc.) presented troubled protaganists who struggle as much with themselves as they do with bad guys. So, of coruse, Warner now wants Superman to tone down the Boy Scout stuff.

Lauren A.E. Schuker had a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal that quoted Warner Bros. executive Jeff Robinov (who, by the way, is apparently the man who came up with the idea of postponing the sixth “Harry Potter” film until next year) about the plans for the Man of Steel’s next flight in Hollywood:

Like the recent Batman sequel — which has become the highest-grossing film of the year thus far — Mr. Robinov wants his next pack of superhero movies to be bathed in the same brooding tone as “The Dark Knight.” Creatively, he sees exploring the evil side to characters as the key to unlocking some of Warner Bros.’ DC properties. “We’re going to try to go dark to the extent that the characters allow it,” he says. That goes for the company’s Superman franchise as well

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