Superheros: From pulp to celluloid


Monday, July 17th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


When comic book heroes hit the silver screen, it's no laughing matter. Since comics are visual and movies are visual, you'd think they'd be a merger made in paradise. Think again.

Here's a sampling of how some pulp and slick favorites have fared in the movies. Frequently, it's not a pretty story.

- Philip Wuntch


Barbarella - Drew Barrymore isn't content simply to resurrect Charlie's Angels. She's now talking about remaking Barbarella, the Space Age heroine, first discovered in a French comic book. Back in 1968, Jane Fonda was the first movie Barbarella, and her opening-credits striptease is something she'd rather forget - along with the rest of the stupid movie.

Prince Valiant - In 1954, Robert Wagner was Hollywood's prettiest male ingenue, but casting him as the valiant Viking prince wasn't such a great idea. At least he had the good grace to laugh at himself, saying that the lengthy locks-and-bangs hairdo made him look like Jane Wyman.

Popeye - Robin Williams made his post-Mork and Mindy starring debut as the spinach-loving sailor, and he went down with the ship. The 1980 movie was a muddle, but Shelley Duvall was right on target as the eternally prissy Olive Oyl.

Dick Tracy - This inventive flick, directed by and starring Warren Beatty, deserved better than it got from both public and critics in 1990. Beatty's jaw was never more square, but Al Pacino's villainous Big Boy Caprice stole the show. Glenne Headly's Tess Trueheart was a stout-hearted delight. Does anyone even remember that Madonna was in it?

Judge Dredd - Both Rocky and Rambo had the simplistic qualities associated with comic heroes, but Sylvester Stallone's official entry into the world of comics was a disaster. The visuals in this 1995 dud resembled those of a too-violent video game rather than an imaginative comic book.

Flash Gordon - Max Von Sydow starred in some of Ingmar Bergman's finest films (The Virgin Spring, Through a Glass Darkly) and even played Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told. But he may never live down having played Ming the Merciless in this 1980 spoof. Surprisingly, the flick wasn't half-bad; in fact, it was more than half-good.

Batman - The first two segments, starring Michael Keaton and directed by Tim Burton, were bizarrely humorous antics, with such memorable baddies as Jack Nicholson's Joker, Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman and Danny DeVito's Penguin. But after Mr. Burton and Mr. Keaton departed the show, the series headed south.

Superman - Considering the turn of events that awaited both Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, watching them fly through the skies as Superman and Lois Lane can be saddening. As with Batman, the first two were the best. Intriguing cameos: Marlon Brando as Superman's galactic pop; Glenn Ford and Phyllis Thaxter as Clark Kent's Earthly parents.

Supergirl - No one expected this 1984 exercise in low camp to be any good, and it wasn't. Helen Slater seemed like just another bland blonde, while villainess Faye Dunaway was scarier as Joan Crawford. The wildly eclectic cast includes Peter O'Toole, Mia Farrow and Matt Frewer.

Howard the Duck - The turkey by which all other comic book turkeys are measured. Tim Robbins, Lea Thompson and Jeffrey Jones survived this expensive 1986 mega-bomb. Director Willard Huyck never emerged from its squawking shadow. Executive producer George Lucas prefers that it never be mentioned.

Tank Girl - Lori Petty was athletic and appealing as the spring of hope in a waterless world, but the script for this 1995 version of the British comic book lacked her energy.

The Addams Family - The screenplays for The Addams Family (1991) and Addams Family Values (1993) weren't exactly bewitching, but Angelica Huston and Christina Ricci are a sublime mother-daughter duo.

Annie- Based on the musical version of the Little Orphan Annie comics, this elephantine 1982 production was an anti-climactic anecdote to director John Huston's career. Carol Burnett said she tried to play the horrendous orphanage headmistress as if she were the madam of a bordello.


WHAT'S AHEAD FOR COMICS FANS

Attention, Spider-friends: Here's the low-down on Marvel movies in the works.

Spider-Man: Director Sam Raimi (For Love of the Game) dumped James Cameron's treatment in favor of pitting the webslinger against the Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus. Scheduled for a Christmas 2001 release, Spidey hasn't been cast yet but contenders include Tobey Maguire (Cider House Rules, Wonderboys) and Wes Bentley (American Beauty).

Blade 2: Bloodpact Wesley Snipes is back as everyone's favorite hybrid vampire. Writer David Goyer returns, as does actor Kris Kristofferson after being killed by vampires in the first film. Mimic director Guillermo del Toro heads up the project.

The Fantastic Four: Director Raja Gosnell (Big Momma's House) has been tapped to film of one of two scripts about the dysfunctional super-Cleaver family; for summer 2001 release.

Ghost Rider: Johnny Depp may play this motorcycle stuntman turned vigilante demon in 2002. Mr. Goyer is working a script to be produced by Jon Voight and Crystal Sky Entertainment with a $75 million budget.

The Incredible Hulk: Ballooning budgets put the big green guy in turn-around for a while, but he's back on track at Universal Pictures with a script by Michael France (GoldenEye) and special effects by ILM. Directors and stars are being looked at for a 2002 release.

Men in Black 2: Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are reportedly back on board to make sunglasses and aliens cool again. No target release date yet.

Iron Man Scribes: Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (The Mask of Zorro) are writing a script for the tin man's silver-screen debut. Tom Cruise has been mentioned to step into the suit, but will Black Sabbath get the theme song?

NON-MARVEL MOVIES

Ghost World: John Malkovich executive-produces this slice-of-life tale about two girls in their post-high school years. American Beauty's Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson star opposite Steve Buscemi and Brad Renfro. Crumb documentarian Terry Zwigoff directs a script he co-wrote with creator Daniel Clowes.

From Hell: Johnny Depp is on the trail of Jack the Ripper as a Scotland Yard detective. Heather Graham and Nigel Hawthorne co-star in this complex political/supernatural thriller directed by the Hughes Brothers (Dead Presidents). Based on comic icon Alan Moore's seminal series.

The Crow - Salvation: Kirsten Dunst (The Virgin Suicides) and Eric Mabius try to put some life back into this gothic formula, as a man again returns from the grave to avenge his and his girlfriend's murders. Already completed, but mysteriously pushed back to an as-yet unannounced release.

G-Men From Hell: Madman creator Mike Allred gets exposure with some of his early characters. Already in the can, the film stars William Forsythe and Tate Donovan as feds escaped from the fiery pits seeking redemption. Robert Goulet plays the devil, with Nic Cage's brother, Christopher Coppola, in the director's chair.

Wonder Woman: Sandra Bullock has been mentioned to star in ber-producer Joel Silver's project about this crime-fighting Amazon. Who'll get hog-tied by the Golden Lasso? Pick me! Pick me!

Superman Lives Maybe. After Tim Burton rejected Kevin Smith's much-applauded script, Mr. Burton himself left the project. Nic Cage still expressed interest in playing the Man of Steel, but had to move on because of scheduling. Studio wrangling may kill this project faster than Kryptonite could.