Wednesday, June 3, 2009

News - 06/03/09...

Next on the Disney 2D drawing board: Winnie The Pooh

Some disappointing news out of the Licensing Expo now going on in Las Vegas. Disney has officially announced their next hand-drawn animated theatrical: a new Winnie the Pooh movie. The new Pooh feature is planned for release in spring 2011.

This is a real let down for me. I was hoping the The Princess and the Frog was the starting point for a new era of original hand drawn masterpieces. Greenlighting a new Pooh is an understandable commercial business decision, but it only seems to reinforce the stereotype of what hand drawn cartoons have become: a babysitter - and it’s a regression of the medium’s true potential.

Disney needs not only to reclaim its mastery of this art form, but to push it forward. I fail to see how Pooh will accomplish this. However, if it keeps artists employed while more ambitious projects are developed, that could be a good thing. And who’s to say a good Winnie the Pooh film can’t be created?

The studio also announced today plans to “pump more enthusiasm into the world’s largest licensed character franchise: Mickey Mouse.”

“That effort, said consumer products chairman Andy Mooney, could include classic footage of an animated Mickey mashed up with contemporary Disney properties, with the resulting creations running on the Disney Channel. “Through extensive research with kids, we found they actually love the original Mickey Mouse property,” Mooney said.

Yeah, mashing classic Mickey cartoons into Hannah Montana is exactly what kids want. Hoo-boy!

(Thanks cartoonbrew)

The secrets of Planet 51 are revealed at Ilion Studios in Madrid

An animator at Madrid's Ilion Studios

An alien has landed ... and he's human.

In the upcoming animated film Planet 51, Capt. Chuck Baker (Dwayne Johnson) has discovered a new planet. That's news to the green inhabitants who are fairly certain they live there already, and that he's the alien. Their culture is almost exactly that of Earth in the 1950s, an innocent time where the biggest fear was alien invasion. Chuck must enlist the help of Lem (Justin Long), a young resident of Planet 51, to get back home to Earth in sort of a reverse E.T. scenario.

The film was created by Ilion Studios, and the video game by Pyro Studios. SCI FI Wire got a chance to tour both facilities in Madrid last month and learn about the process of creating the studio's first animated film.

storyboards for Planet 51

Ilion Animation Studios, along with Zed and Pyro Studios, were founded and are run by Ignacio Perez Dolset and Javier Perez Dolset. Planet 51 is their first animated film. Pyro Studios, creators of the best-selling video-game saga Commandos, is actually right down the hall. Being in the same building allowed the studios to work closely on every aspect of the project.

Ignatio Cajigas gave us a tour and told us that the studios, which employ people from many different countries and backgrounds, do their work mostly in English. In fact, there are English and Spanish classes on site.

Ilion created more than 100 tailor-made applications for the film in-house over the past six years. One such innovation was the "Mask Creator," which is "a powerful system of facial animation which gives life to faces," Cajigas said.

We got a chance to see this in action. On a split screen, we see the face of the character Lem. On one side is a line map of the face, and on the other a finalized character drawing. As the technician moves his cursor over the map, the face on the other side moves as if rubberized.

This, we are told, not only gives a greater range of facial expressions and a continuity to the features of each character, but also saves loads of time for the animators, who have 400 characters to tackle. We are also told that with this new process, it takes one day to animate one face.

One animator showed us a video of himself acting out a shot, lip-synching to an actor's voice, which he then uses as an animation guide to get realistic expressions. Most of the animators have mirrors at their desks for the same purpose. Virtually every scene is acted out in this fashion. Cajigas said that workers in neighboring buildings were amused watching the animators in the parking lot pretending to shoot each other with cardboard guns.

We also observed the process from beginning to end. First, characters are created and given to a storyboard department, which creates 16,000 vignettes, which are then animated. Once decisions are made as to which ones work, the storyboard is animated and sent to the layout department. A low-resolution 3-D layout then becomes a guide for the rest of the departments, and the tasks are laid out.

The animation department only works on the characters; the set dressing department adds the landscape. For this film, the landscape department has based its design for the movie's environments on flying saucers. As we watched the film, we noticed that the backgrounds feature round mountains and cars that look like saucers. Even the houses have a rounded, disk-like feel.

The film is also keyed to 1950s American culture, and every effort is made to reference TV, films and pop culture and turn them into a Planet 51 version. A wall of test drawings includes the film's version of a Statue of Liberty, pyramids, movie posters (Arach'no Man instead of Spider-Man) and, though they were not used in the final film, Planet 51's version of Star Trek characters.

The next stop is the lighting department (which is referred to as the "vampire room" because the light is dimmed to cut down on reflection) and the department where the effects are added. We watched as animators created an explosion, showing us each layer as it was added to create a glittering fire effect. It was pretty impressive, as there are about 15 layers for each effect.

Finally, we were taken into a dark hallway, where, behind a window, we saw the "render farm," a massive bank of computers that looks like a giant black box with thousands of blinking lights, filling an huge white room. Cajigas explained that this is the heart of Ilion Studios, where all the rendering and all the graphic information from every department is put into the frame. The farm processes a staggering 40 terabytes per second of data, and there are only five machines like it in Europe. The security is so heavy in this area that even our tour guides had to spend 15 minutes hunting down a key.

Planet 51 will be released on Nov. 20. A tie-in video game launches at the same time.

Here's some behind the scenes footage on Planet 51 - Sorry the voiceover's in Spanish -

What we saw when we previewed footage from Planet 51

SCI FI Wire screened some early footage from the animated Planet 51 during a visit to Ilion Studios in Madrid last month and got a good look at the film's unique designs, characters and sense of humor.

The film is described as being E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial in reverse. An astronaut from Earth crash-lands on an alien planet and needs the help of a friend to get back home. But that's just the beginning. Astronaut Chuck Baker (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) didn't just land on any planet. He landed on Planet 51, which is exactly like America in the 1950s, ... except the planet's residents aren't human. They go to the drive-in, they dress in '50s styles and, like America in the '50s, they fear nothing more than an alien invasion. When Chuck lands, their worst fears are realized, and he must rely on Planet 51 resident Lem (Justin Long) to help him return to his own world.

The project has been in development for seven years and is set to be released on Nov. 20. It's the first animated film from Ilion. The script was written by Joe Stillman (Shrek, Shrek 2) and directed by first-timer Jorge Blanco.

Johnson voices Baker, the astronaut and the 37th sexiest man in the United States, who's working to break into the top 10 by impressing everyone with his discovery of a new planet.

In the footage we previewed, Baker takes his first step on Planet 51 in a style reminiscent of the first moon landing, but he looks around to discover that this is no uninhabited space rock. He's wandered into a suburban neighborhood, complete with backyard barbecues, '50s-style cars and stunned green residents.

Baker runs off and hides in the local astronomical observatory, where he bumps into the young Lem. As they develop a friendship (and Lem explains that Chuck is actually the alien here), Lem must help Chuck avoid the military force that has been sent to hunt him down. The film is being released on the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, though we were assured that this was not actually a marketing ploy.

Planet 51 is an alien's version of 1950s America, complete with a Marilyn Monroe lookalike, old-style gas stations (for flying-saucer-like cars) and a soundtrack that includes "Be Bop a Lula" and "Twistin' the Night Away."

We asked production designer Julian Romero about the difficulties of designing of the film. "To find a consistent idea," he said. "To start to find the kind of pattern or basic concept that is going to be repeated all along the design and thinking about what we have in mind about the alien culture ... the main thing for me was the crop circles in the fields; that was quite a good idea to start with design. ... And the flying saucer is the other thing. ... We used it to design the houses. What they used to visit us a long time ago, it was their home."

The animated film also features sly homages to classic sci-fi films, such as Alien (the "dogs" in this film resemble the title xenomorphs). One of the pets is a Mars Rover. There is even a nod to E.T., complete with music from the film.

"We're trying to take what we know about aliens in different films and make small jokes as much as we can, because people would recognize it and laugh about it," Romero says.

Romero says the film's creators worked hard to create the feel of the 1950s, including Planet 51 versions of classic American B movies.

Layout supervisor Charlie Ramos told SCI FI Wire that the movie is heavily influenced by such movies as Aliens, Forbidden Planet and The Day the Earth Stood Still. "I think it's because they're so fun and wacky, and they also bring back a lot of memories for people," he said of those movies' enduring appeal. "I remember watching them. ... Jason and the Argonauts and things like that, ... those movies, the technology wasn't there, but the fantasy, it really kind of awoke something in you. It's because you didn't need all that stuff back then to get energized and excited."

Though Planet 51 is designed as a family film, the footage we saw was entertaining for adults. The voice cast is stellar. In addition to Johnson and Long, the film stars Jessica Biel as Lem's love interest, Neera; Gary Oldman as Gen. Growl, the military man leading the hunt for Chuck; and John Cleese as the wise Professor Kipple. The animation was done in Madrid, and the voice-over work was done in Los Angeles.

“Well, Hello WALL-E …” : Pixar star to appear at 2009 Tony Awards ceremony

Jim Hill reveals that the Living Character Initiative version of WALL-E will be taking part in a televised tribute to composer Jerry Herman

Over the years, many actors have been accused of turning in somewhat robotic performances while appearing on Broadway. But when’s the last time you heard about an actual robot performing on the Great White Way?
Well, this coming Sunday night, history will be made. As WALL-E (Or at least the Living Character Initiative version of this Pixar star) will be taking part in a special tribute to composer Jerry Herman. Who will be honored at this year’s Tony Awards with a lifetime achievement award.

Copyright 2008 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

“So what’s the connection between Jerry and WALL-E?,” you ask. Well, in that Academy Award-winning animated feature, this cute little bot repeatedly watched a VHS tape of the 20th Century Fox version of “Hello, Dolly!” And WALL-E particularly seemed to enjoy two musical numbers from that movie, “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and “It Only Takes a Moment.”

Well, as it turns out, Jerry Herman is the composer of “Hello, Dolly!” And as he recalled in a 2008 interview with “Entertainment Weekly” :

Composer Jerry Herman

“I … immediately said yes (when Disney asked for the rights to use these two songs in the film), but I had no idea that (‘Put On Your Sunday Clothes’ and ‘It Only Takes a Moment’ were) going be that instrumental in the message of the (movie). So I'm absolutely thrilled.”

Of course, one of the main reasons that Herman is thrilled about how his songs were showcased in this Pixar production is that “WALL-E” ‘s enormous success has actually spurred interest in a revival of the stage version of “Hello, Dolly!” There’s been a lot of talk lately about how a brand-new production of this 1964 Tony Award-winner could bow on Broadway as early as the 2010-2011season.

But that’s still a few years off in the future. For now, all eyes are on this coming Sunday, when several Broadway stars (reportedly including Disney Legend Angela Lansbury) are expected to take to the stage at Radio City Music Hall and then pay tribute to this 77-year-old composer.

As for WALL-E’s part in the program … I’m told that the Living Character Initiative version of this Pixar star is supposed to introduce the “Hello, Dolly!” portion of this tribute. Though given this robot’s rather limited vocabulary, I’m not exactly sure what this introduction will entail.

The Living Character Initiative version of WALL-E during a test run at WDI last year.
Copyright Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

And as for the folks who are producing this year’s Tonys … Well, they ain’t talkin’. If anything, they’ve tightened security at Radio City this time around with the hopes of keeping most of the surprise appearances planned for this Jerry Herman tribute under wraps.

So if you want to see WALL-E make his Broadway debut, set your DVRs for CBS this coming Sunday night from 8 – 11 p.m. ET. When Neil Patrick Harris will be hosting the 2009 Tony Awards.

Pixar mascot Luxo Jr. coming to Walt Disney World

Luxo Jr., the small hopping desk lamp that's the mascot for Pixar Animation Studios, will be taking up residence at Walt Disney World, Disney officials confirmed Monday to the Orlando Sentinel.

The lamp appears in Pixar's production logo before and after every feature film.

A 6-foot-tall animatronic version of the light-bearer will appear on an elevated platform at the "Lighting" building in the Pixar Place section of Disney's Hollywood Studios, just across from Toy Story Mania!.

The lamp was the title character in John Lasseter's pioneering Oscar-nominated short Luxo Jr., released in 1986.

"He's going to come out and do some little shows," said Roger Gould, Pixar's creative director for theme parks. "He'll be out there throughout the day and through the evening."

According to the Sentinel, the Luxo project has been rumored for to be underway. Recently, construction walls were erected around the "Lighting" building.

Although Disney did not give an exact date for Luxo Jr.'s Disney World debut, "it should be very soon," the paper said.

The Walt Disney Company bought Pixar for $7.4 billion in 2006.

Aussie researchers fume over Simpsons-smoking link

So many characters smoke in "The Simpsons" that the perennial series may tempt kids to take up the habit, two researchers said in a study published Monday in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Dr. Guy Eslick and Marielle Eslick "made the supreme sacrifice of watching [the first] 18 seasons of the popular cartoon series The Simpsons," or 400 episodes, the Australian Medical Association's official journal said.

"We recorded 795 instances of smoking or references to smoking," said Dr. Eslick, a fellow of the International Union Against Cancer and honorary associate of the University of Sydney's School of Public Health.

Leading the pack as the show's "most prolific smokers" were Marge Simpson's chain-smoking spinster sisters, Patty and Selma. They "started smoking as teenagers, causing their raspy voices -- as seen in Season 2," he said.

However, other Simpsons characters are guilty of puffing as well. In the article "Smoking and The Simpsons," Dr. Eslick singled out Bart's idol, Krusty the Clown, as well as his teacher, Mrs. Krabappel.

One episode featured a children's beauty pageant mascot, Menthol Moose.

Dr. Eslick found that the number of smoking references per season ranged from just over 10 to more than 60.

He observed that most examples of smoking involved male characters. Another 20% involved females, while 2% involved both sexes. And 16% involved such characters of unspecified gender as animals.

"An important finding was that instances of smoking with a negative impact occurred much more often in child and adolescent characters than among the adult characters," he said. "Yet even instances of smoking being reflected in a negative way, particularly among younger characters, could have an impact on prompting children to smoke cigarettes."

The study says that 63% of smoking scenes were shown as neutral. Smoking was depicted negatively in 35% of cases, but in a positive way in only 2% of cases.

It also indicated that those stories presenting smoking in a negative way were more likely to feature children or adolescents than adult characters.

Although The Simpsons' content is relevant to adults, its cartoon form ensures that many viewers are children, while series merchandising is directly aimed at children, Dr. Eslick said.

Research conducted earlier had indicated that children who watch more TV are more likely to begin smoking at a younger age. Children as young as three "see, understand and remember cigarette advertising," the authors of the study said.

"(It) is clear that smoking is a frequent event on The Simpsons show, and that even instances of smoking being reflected in a negative way, particularly among child and adolescent characters, could have an impact in prompting children to smoke cigarettes," they added.

"It appears to indicate there is a causal relationship between exposure to movie and television depictions of smoking and the initiation of smoking among children and adolescents. Just being exposed to The Simpsons characters smoking in so many episodes may prompt children to consider smoking at an early age."

The full text of "Smoking and The Simpsons" can be read at

"Up" makes debut in Russia, takes #1 spot

"Up" made its overseas debut in Russia simultaneously with its North American general release, taking the top spot at the box office.

It collected the equivalent of $4.2 million U.S. in 560 locations, which was the most successful weekend opening of a Pixar/Disney film in Russia.

Piracy concerns were largely responsible for Up opening in Russia at the same time as its domestic debut. DreamWorks Animation's Monsters vs. Aliens appeared in Russia a week before its North American premiere for the same reason.

Actor, Disney publicist Ben Hartigan dead at 86

Actor Benjamin S. "Ben" Hartigan, a publicist on several animated feature films at Walt Disney Studios, died April 14 in Los Angeles. He was 86.

Hartigan promoted The Jungle Book (1967) and Robin Hood (1973), as well as the re-releases of Lady and the Tramp (1955) and Sleeping Beauty (1959). He was also the publicist on live-action Disney works, including The Incredible Journey (1963), Emil and the Detectives (1964) and Snowball Express (1972).

Born on August 18, 1922, he began his career in entertainment as a page for NBC in New York City and worked his way up to the publicity department.

Hartigan enjoyed a second career as an actor and appeared in several films, including
Psycho 2 (1983), Punchline (1988), and The Hunt for Red October (1990). His television credits included Moonlighting (1986), War and Remembrance (1988) and Tales from the Crypt (1991), as well as many commercials. He was also featured in Madonna's music video Bedtime Story.

Other acting credits included
Wild Orchid II, Switch, Skin Deep, Caddyshack II, The Colbys, The A-Team, Dynasty, Knots Landing, Dallas and National Lampoon's Movie Madness

Hartigan served in the United States Marine Corps from 1943 to 1946, and the U.S. Naval Reserves from 1947 to 1952.

Ben Hartigan was predeceased by his sister Eileen and brothers Joseph and Bernard. He is survived by a large extended family, composed of numerous nieces and nephews and their families.

Nelvana Spins New BeyBlade Relaunch

The massively popular toyline and animated series about the spinning tops called BeyBlades is getting a reboot. Nelvana and d-rights announced today that 51 new episodes of the series will be ready to air in the fall of 2010 under the Beyblade: Metal Fusion banner. According to Nelvana, the series will feature a fresh cast of characters that will continue the never-ending battle between good and evil!

The companion toyline is produced by Tomy Company, while Hasbro has been chosen as the master toy licensee outside of Middle East and Asia. Hasbro brought the product line successfully to market in the U.S. and other regions in 2002. Nelvana Enterprises will represent d-rights in various countries, distributing the TV series internationally, as well as for merchandising rights and home video. All-new tournaments for the Beyblade Battle Association are also planned for North America.

“Nelvana is excited to be part of the relaunch of this global toy phenomenon and to work with our international partners to bring kids this great updated toy line and new television episodes” said Mark Northwood, Vice President, Worldwide Licensing, Nelvana Enterprises.

Based on the manga by Takao Aoki, Beyblade originally premiered on TV Tokyo in 2001. VIZ and Nelvana later introduced the show to YTV, Cartoon Network, Five, Kix!, Toon Disney and Cartoon Network and other broadcasters around the world. The new season of the show began airing on Japan’s TV Tokyo this past April.

If you’re attending the Licensing Show in Las Vegas this week, you can find out more about the property at the Nelvana Booth, No. 2211.

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

LEGO Builds Deal for Ben 10 Toys

Cartoon Network Enterprises and The LEGO Group have struck their first ever product-development deal in bringing a line of construction toys based on the popular animated series Ben 10: Alien Force.

The toy line will feature never-before-seen LEGO elements and what the company calls “a new twist” on classic LEGO.

“Over the past four years, Ben 10 has established itself as a global brand that continues to expand and thrive in different categories and markets,” said Christina Miller, vice president, Cartoon Network Enterprises. “Expanding this relationship with LEGO, the leading construction toy brand, is an exciting opportunity for Ben 10 that will continue to build towards years of future success at retail.”

The LEGO Ben 10: Alien Force line is scheduled to launch in the construction toy aisles in the U.S. in spring 2010, and will roll out in additional territories thereafter.

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

Sid and Ty Set Playdate for Online Store

Sid the Science Kid has a whole new toy box to play in.

Ty’s Toy will launch July 1 an online store for the animated PBS KIDS series, featuring “print on demand” apparel and such licensed products as DVDs of the show’s first season.

The show is produced by The Jim Henson Co. and KCET, the Los Angeles affiliate of PBS.

"Sid the Science Kid is not only a hit with preschoolers, but also with parents who want to foster their children's curiosity about the world around them," said Ty Simpson, CEO of Brand Performance, parent company for Ty's Toy Box.

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

Holiday Classics Get New Products

Classic Media is launching new consumer products lines for its popular holiday brands, including Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, Halloween favorite Casper the Friendly Ghost, and Peter Cottontail.

According to information released by Classic Media, plans for the new line of products includes:

1. Leading apparel company, M. Hidary, will debut new light-up and non light-up children’s apparel based on Classic Media’s seasonal portfolio. Merchandise will roll-out for Halloween 2009 at mass-market.

2. Popcorn in seasonally-branded collectible tins will debut from packaged food and gift company Signature Brands for Holiday 2009 at mass, specialty, drug, and grocery stores.

3. A new line of ornaments and decor from leading holiday supplier Kurt Adler based on Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town will debut in 2009, including resin, blow-mold and glass decorations, stockings, table-top products, and picture frames at mass-market and regional department stores.

4. The Little Drummer Boy joins the Christmas line-up with nativity sets and figurines from innovative collectibles company Round 2, launching at specialty toy stores in 2009.

“Classic Media has the perfect gift for the holidays. We are a one-stop-shop for turn-key seasonal solutions for licensing, promotional and retail partners,” said Karyn Schneider, VP licensing, Classic Media. “Our brands are powerful holiday icons and these expanded partnerships are a testament to their lasting appeal.”

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

"Star Wars: The Clone Wars" Second Season Launches on TELETOON in Sept 2009

Canada's TELETOON Network has announced that Star Wars: The Clone Wars will launch its second season starting in September. The new CGI animated series from Lucasfilm chronicles the adventures of Anakin Skywalker, Obi-wan Kenobi, Anakin's padawan Ahsoka, and the rest of the prequel trilogy characters as they battle the Separatist forces during the legendary Clone Wars. The Star Wars: The Clone Wars feature movie will also air on TELETOON this fall.

Michael Bay Gives Transformers Sneak

Seibertron reports that BotCon attendees were shown new footage from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen by director Michael Bay. The footage did include spoilers, so read at your own risk!

The footage started with John Turturro and Sam's roomate in the middle of a construction zone looking on to a group of construction vehicles surround them. The constructicons were revealed when Mixmasters Decepticon symbol is shown and Scavenger begins to transform. At the same time the other constructicons move closer to form Devastator!!!

Scavenger literally forces all the other constructicons into the gestalt ala Scorpion in Mortal Kombat. Tuturro then runs with Sam's roomate when the scene cuts to Sam and Mikaela running from Rampage.

Rampage begins chasing Sam's father when Sam jumps in front of him to draw his attention. Sam then says "Wait, it's not them you want. It's this, the MATRIX! He then holds up an item and continues to coax Rampage when Bumblebee arrives. The battle begins.

Rampage and Bumblebee fight ferociously with Bumblebee getting the better of Rampage when Ravage enters the fray. Using his hip cannons he blasts Bee and jumps on his back. Bumblebee then forces Rampage to the ground when Rampage lunges for Sam and takes Ravage and terrors him apart piece by piece.

Bumblebee then rips Rampages arm off and decapitates him.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen opens in conventional and IMAX theaters on June 24.

Anthony Head: The Buffy spinoff Ripper may still be possible

Anthony Head as King Uther in Merlin.

Anthony Stewart Head, who played Giles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, told reporters that he is still discussing a possible British spinoff series or film centering on his character with creator Joss Whedon.

Just as news is breaking that a new Buffy movie is in the works, Head said that he was talking about the proposed spinoff, to be called Ripper, with Whedon just before Whedon began to conceive Fox's Dollhouse.
"I actually introduced Joss to Julie Gardner, who was the executive producer on [Merlin] with the BBC," Head said in a conference call on Monday during which he was promoting Merlin. "She has long wanted to do something with the project. There are obviously complications with Ripper, because there are lots of tie-ins. There's Fox, there's the Kuzuis [who own the rights to Buffy], there's all sorts of stuff. Basically, it isn't just the simple question of Joss making a series that he wants to make. As far as anything concerned with Buffy, there are a lot of people down the line that would have a say. That's part of the equation, but we were sort of talking about what we might do with it. Pretty much at that point he had this conversation with Eliza [Dushku about Dollhouse], and the rest is history, for the moment."

Whedon announced plans for a Ripper series as soon as Head left Buffy in 2001 to return to his home in England. Over the past eight years, the idea has evolved, he said.

"Originally, when he pitched it to me, it was a series, and it was Giles as this sad, lonely man in England without a real reason to be," Head said. "It was pretty much ghost stories. Week by week, some ghost story would somehow affect him. Then he said he didn't want to. By that time, I think he had been affected by Angel, the need to write a weekly story. I think he found at that point the drive was different, so he suggested this one film that we were going to make. He told me this story that he had written, and it's absolutely beautiful, and I hope that one day it gets made, whether it's in the guise of Ripper or whether we just tell it as a one-off TV movie. It's a lovely, lovely story. It's kind of a ghost story. It's also about a man investigating his own soul, and it's fascinating, lovely, sad, and it's classic Joss Whedon. I hope we get to make it one day. From there on in, if it was successful, maybe he could have been convinced to do a series. As I say, now he's back in the seat of doing a weekly series with Dollhouse; maybe he can be convinced otherwise. Never say never, but at the same time, I think it's on a shelf for a while."

Just in case Ripper remains on Whedon's shelf, Head offered hints as to what Giles' nickname means after all. "I don't think we'll ever really know," he said. "I think Ripper just means it's the darker side of someone that you suddenly see that you never ever knew existed. It's a very dark side, and we got to see some of it in Buffy. He's the only guy who's killed an innocent man in Buffy, although Faith did, but Faith was bad. He smothered somebody who ultimately was an innocent bystander. That takes some darkness. That's Ripper."

7 'unfilmable' sci-fi books—and the filmmakers who could adapt them

Nicolas Cage played Charlie Kaufman, the filmmaker who adapted the unfilmable Orchid Thief

Watchmen, The Lord of the Rings: These are books that were commonly thought to be impossible to adapt to the big screen. That is, until a filmmaker such as Zack Snyder or Peter Jackson found the keys to unlock them.

Whatever you may think of the final results, the fact is that Snyder and Jackson succeeded in translating the books to film. And that got us thinking about other great works of SF literature that are supposedly unfilmable—and how they might be successfully adapted, and by whom.

It's a heady list. The following novels have captured the imaginations of generations of readers, but have so far been given a wide berth by filmmakers. We examine what makes these greats hard to shoot, and who out there in the dream factory actually has the kind of (dare we say it?) Snyder-ian vision to get the job done.

1. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

Why It's Great: An undisputed classic of science fiction, Gravity's Rainbow tells a sprawling, complex and convoluted story about the quest by several characters to uncover the mystery of a secret device to be installed in German V-2 rockets at the end of World War II.

Why It Can't Be Filmed: Any attempt to winnow the plot of Gravity's Rainbow down to feature-film length would not do justice to it. The book features a maddeningly digressive narrative structure, goes into minute detail about the most obscure aspects of history and technology and delights in the depravity of its characters.

Who Could Do It: Charlie Kaufman. He famously took a previously unfilmable book, The Orchid Thief, and made it work as a movie—Adaptation—by adding a meta-narrative about a screenwriter and his fictional twin brother. Kaufman is also conversant with science fiction and surrealism, as demonstrated in his Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich. And he's no stranger to darkness, complexity or absurdity.

2. Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Why It's Great:
Set in a far-future universe in which hard SF concepts such as teleportation and artificial intelligence co-exist with philosophical mysteries about the existence of God, the two Hyperion novels play freely with the concept of time travel and galaxy-shaking events, but they also focus on the very personal stories of a group of pilgrims traveling to the title planet.

Why It Can't Be Filmed: The sheer scope and continuity of the Hyperion books—modeled roughly after The Canterbury Tales—mean that the director wouldn't be filming one movie; he or she would be filming dozens. You'd almost need a President Director overseeing a group of Joint Chiefs of Directing, all of whom would be off making their own movies. And let's not forget the difficulty of trying to create a believable and frightening Shrike.

Who Could Do It: French filmmaker Christophe Gans, s'il vous plait. His alternately slow-mo and fast-paced action sequences (have blobs of water ever looked as cool, or wet, as they did in Brotherhood of the Wolf?) would give visual horror to the Shrike, for sure. But Gans has an eye and love for beauty, too. Imagine his alien landscape, which would be both comfortingly familiar and strangely alien. Like Europe is for most Americans.

3. Identity Crisis by Brad Meltzer, art by Rags Morales

Why It's Great: Say what you will about retconning, none of it erases the fact that writer Brad Metzler crafted a cracking good murder mystery set in the DC universe: one that exposed the ugly underbelly of the seemingly unimpeachable Justice League of America. It also spotlighted second-tier characters such as the Green Arrow, Doctor Light and the Elongated Man.

Why It Can't Be Filmed: As we all know, most superhero movies get exponentially worse the more "named" heroes or villains get added. Identity Crisis offers up the entire Justice League, with snapshots of the Titans, the Outsiders and the Justice Society of America, not to mention a who's who of the DC universe's most nefarious evildoers. The casting alone would be a nightmare. And let's not forget that the story starts with a brutal murder.

Who Could Do It: Bryan Singer, but not for the reasons that you'd think. Sure, he brought two great cape franchises to life—but Identity Crisis isn't a superhero story. It's a whodunit. And who better to guide such a story onto film than the man who turned mousy con man "Verbal" Kint into the ruthless Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects? Identity Crisis also shines in the little moments, and Singer has shown that he can take tertiary characters with brief screen time and make them pop. The comic-book boxed narration would work wonderfully on Singer's already established noir palette.

4. The Sandman Series by Neil Gaiman, art by Dave McKean

Why It's Great: Visually imaginative, thematically distinct and balanced on a razor's edge between whimsy and darkness, Neil Gaiman's Sandman comic is one of the defining milestones in the form. It's also a powerful and sometimes moving piece of storytelling, detailing the adventures of the King of Dreams and his Eternal siblings both in the real world and in fantasy realms.

Why It Can't Be Filmed: There is not a CGI special effects algorithm in existence that could render some of Gaiman's creations in Sandman in a way that would look anything but cheesy and ridiculous. And, sure, making a film that entices both fanboys and goth girls may be the holy grail from a box-office perspective, but good luck finding a writer (outside of Gaiman himself) who could package that duality in a 120-minute frame. Also, David Bowie is probably too old to play Morpheus now, so what's the point?

Who Could Do It: Neil Gaiman, meet Tarsem Singh. Only a collaboration between these two could render anything approaching a good Sandman film. Gaiman, of course, knows his own work inside and out. Singh, meanwhile, has proven himself a visionary in eye-melting features like The Fall and The Cell. If anyone could capture the anything-goes dark fantasy of the Dreaming on film, it would be him.

5. The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

Why It's Great: It's The Count of Monte Cristo ... in space! Bester's tale of revenge and obsession features one of the most memorable characters in the history of SF in the person of Gully Foyle, and it's considered by many to be a precursor to and a source of inspiration for the cyberpunk movement.

Why It Can't Be Filmed: Much of what makes the book great is the style in which Bester tells it: He was one of science fiction's first great prose stylists, and without that prose a movie would be only a pale imitation. It would be equally problematic to cast the lead. Gully Foyle—the mad thug-turned-aristocrat hell-bent on revenge—is such a larger-than-life character and is so despicable-yet-fascinating that it's hard to imagine anyone pulling off the role.

Who Could Do It: The Fountain was not the masterpiece we'd hoped it would be, but if Darren Aronofsky had had his way, it could have been a great movie. Stars would require a director who could truly get into the mind of the protagonist, and given some of the characters Aronofsky has worked with before in previous films, in his hands—with the right actor in the role of Gully Foyle (The Fountain's Hugh Jackman?)—we could see The Stars My Destination coming to life on the screen.

6. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

Why It's Great: Not only the best SF novel about post-apocalyptic monks, but also one of the best SF novels, period. A Canticle for Leibowitz is the pinnacle of the literature produced by the Cold War anxieties of the 1950s: It tells us that we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of our past, and that no matter how much we think we've progressed, in all likelihood humankind will live to see the world burnt to cinders by our own hand.

Why It Can't Be Filmed: Not only would the book basically require three separate films to tell the story, but the story is also understated and often introspective, not to mention relentlessly bleak. It could be that books like The Road (and its forthcoming film adaptation) will make audiences more receptive, but with so little action and no real possibility of adding any without a complete betrayal of the text, it doesn't seem like Hollywood material.

Who Could Do It: Tom Tykwer. He's best known for Run, Lola, Run, but his most recent film—Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (based on a book that it was said could not be filmed)—makes us think he could bring Canticle to the screen. Like Canticle, Perfume is dark and bleak and has little action (well, except for all the murdering), but in the end Tykwer makes it work brilliantly with pure auteuristic vision.

7. The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

Why It's Great: Gene Wolfe's four-part masterpiece is the pinnacle when it comes to the Dying Earth subgenre of science fiction. It features an imaginative and twisted far-future world, a protagonist/antihero who starts out life as a torturer and a strange mix of fantasy and far-flung SF. His archaic and often impenetrable language weaves words together to add flesh and texture to the bones of his story.

Why It Can't Be Filmed: Wolfe's dense writing would drive any screenwriter mad. And try finding actors who could speak his stylized patois without sounding absurd (Christopher Lee and, ... well, that's it). The books are also filled with digressions and stray thematic threads that would probably have to be cut, damaging the tone of the story. Plus, the problem of a hero who tortures for a living.

Who Could Do It: The Lord of the Rings was once similarly considered unfilmable, before Peter Jackson deftly amputated unnecessary plot points while maintaining the book's spirit in a way even the hardest-core Tolkien fans accepted. Jackson is the best man to take a stab at an epic that is, in essence, the pitch-dark side of high fantasy. As long as he casts Christopher Lee, we're there.

James Cameron Talks Avatar... A lot.

So far, the strategy for James Cameron’s Avatar (his first fiction film since Titanic, the highest-grossing movie of all time blah blah blah…) has been to reveal as little as possible and let the mystique fuel fanboys’ dreams. But at this recent Ubisoft E3 press conference, he finally opened up about the plot… for fourteen minutes. This approach seems to work just as well, because after listening to him talk about his imaginary alien planet for about three and half minutes I thought, “Eh, I’ll just wait for the movie.”

Is Brian Blessed Playing Odin In ‘Thor’?

“Thor” director Kenneth Branagh has already cast one of his previous co-stars in the upcoming Marvel Studios film — and if rumors are to believed, he’s about to do it again.

Bleeding Cool’s Rich Johnston reports that actor Brian Blessed will play Odin in “Thor,” the film adaptation of Marvel’s Thunder God. If his report pans out, Blessed will join the ranks of Tom Hiddleston, previously cast as Loki, which adds yet another layer of Shakespearean credibility to the comic book flick.

Blessed is a regular fixture in Branagh’s directorial work, having provided substantial roles in “Henry V,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Hamlet” and “As You Like It.” The actor has also played the leading role in “King Lear,” a Shakespeare-written play that Blessed’s would-be co-star Hiddleston recently referenced himself.

In the “Thor” comic books, Odin is the ruler of Asgard and father to Thor and Loki, though Loki is his adopted son. The all-powerful Odin decides that Thor needs to be taught humility, and thusly casts the Thunder God down to Earth where he inhabits the body of Donald Blake, a medical student, without any knowledge of his godly past.

Without confirmation from Marvel, it should be noted that Blessed’s involvement in “Thor” is purely speculative at this point. Johnston, however, has a solid track record of reporting accurate industry scuttlebutt, proven through his recently ended Lying in the Gutters column at Comic Book Resources.

Combine that history with Blessed’s previous working relationship with Branagh — and not to mention Blessed’s own resemblance to the massive, bearded Odin — it’s looking likely that the British thespian will be joining the Marvel movieverse.

‘Thor,’ ‘Captain America,’ ‘Iron Man 2’ & ‘Avengers’ Movie Logos Debut — ‘Scott Pilgrim,’ Too!

The annual Licensing Expo show is under way in Las Vegas, and just like in years past, there are some shots from the event popping up around the ‘Net involving some highly anticipated comic book movies.

Over at Ain’t It Cool News, there’s a bunch of pics from the show floor revealing logos, posters and general branding design for various upcoming films — including a group shot of the new logos for Marvel’s “Thor,” “Iron Man 2” and “The First Avenger: Captain America,” as well as the film everything is leading up to: 2012’s “Avengers.” There’s also a shot of a new, fantastic-looking “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” movie poster that, according to the AICN contributor, stands around 20 feet tall. (Please bring this to me. Now.)

While it’s always cool to see any updates whatsoever from the Marvel movie and “Scott Pilgrim” fronts, the presence of the “Scott Pilgrim” poster at the show (I’ve posted the image below) certainly seems to indicate that the buzz surrounding potential “Scott Pilgrim” toys and other types of movie-related merch is not only legitimate — but we could see some really cool swag come out of the licensing deal, too.

Of course, how any of that will overlap with “Scott Pilgrim” creator Bryan Lee O’Malley’s recent call for merchandise suggestions remains to be seen — but if O’Malley is involved with the licensing decisions, it’s pretty much assured that whatever hits the market will be well received by fans.

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