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VULTURE DROPPINGS OF THE WEEK: Comic Book Movies

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Its Friday! Which means it’s time once again for the weekly video round-up of my favorite pop culture atrocities, misfires and entertaining trainwrecks. This week’s theme: Comic Book Movies.

Hollywood is busy this weekend unveiling their upcoming releases in San Diego at Comic-Con. And they’re all in 3D! Well, most of them are. Among those that aren’t are the upcoming Twilight sequel and the The Green Hornet, starring Seth Rogen and directed by Michel Gondry. So while they’re busy promoting it, this may be a good time to remember what can go wrong when filmmakers try to turn a comic book into a movie.

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1. ‘CAPTAIN AMERICA’ (1990)

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Marvel Entertainment has been going through a renaissance at the box-office in the last few years with the success of the X-Men, Spider-Man franchises and last year’s Iron Man. Among their upcoming releases is The First Avenger: Captain America which is scheduled for 2011. It will give them a chance to re-do one of their more notorious failures.

Marvel had high hopes for Captain America twenty years ago. The first movie adaptation was intended to be released in the summer of 1990, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the character itself. It started out as a high profile blockbuster and according to IMDb, the very late-80s list of names considered for the lead role include Val Kilmer, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dolph Lundgren.

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21st Century Film Corporation, the company that produced it, even launched an ad campaign, advertising the movie and release date on posters that were displayed in theaters nationwide. By the time that the cameras started rolling the movie’s fortunes had changed. The lead role ended up being played by an unknown actor named Matt Sallinger and the budget must have gone the way of the casting.

No surprise then that the finished result was deemed “unreleasable” by the studio heads. Captain America sat on the shelf for two years before finally being released direct-to-video. Posted below is the movie’s trailer along with a clip from the climactic battle scene, where Captain America battles the Red Skull.

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2. ‘JUDGE DREDD’ (1995)

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Judge Dredd features Sylvester Stallone as the iconic executioner, as well as an out-of-place Diane Lane and Max von Sydow, as his love interest and mentor, respectively. The 90s weren’t easy for Stallone career-wise. He tried to change his action-hero image by starring in comedies, which may have worked if the list of movies he did during this period didn’t include titles like Oscar and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.

In an interview with Variety at the time, Stallone is quoted as saying, “After each of my movies was released I’d read my obituary in the Los Angeles Times. They’d say my audience had abandoned me, that my time had come and gone. My image and Rambo’s image were fused. For seven years, beginning in 1985, I was dragging and driving with the brakes on.”

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The basis for the movie version of Judge Dredd was one of Britain’s best known comic books created by John Wagner. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic future where a team of uniformed Judges carry out the rule of law. Dredd was supposed to be Sylvester Stallone’s triumphant return to the action genre.

It wasn’t, ending up as one of biggest financial disasters of 1995. With a budget of over $80 million, it made less than $34 million at the box-office. Posted below is the movie’s trailer, a scene where Stallone saves the day as a terrified pre-Deuce Bigelow Rob Schneider looks on, and a clip where Stallone utters the movie’s much derided catchphrase, “I am the law!”

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3. ‘CATWOMAN’ (2004)

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According to Variety, Ashley Judd was the first actress seriously attached to the project. She would have been the third in line to portray the character after the late Eartha Kitt, who originated the role in the 60s Batman TV show, and Michelle Pfeiffer, who portrayed the character with great success and plenty of sex appeal in Tim Burton‘s Batman Returns. It wasn’t until Judd left to star in a play that Halle Berry was finally cast in the role.

Berry had followed her 2001 Oscar win for Monster’s Ball by taking a turn as a Bond girl in Die Another Day, reprising her role as Storm in an X-Men sequel and last, but not least, playing a crazy girl in the poorly received Gothika. The worst was yet to come.

Catwoman, released in 2004, went on to win the Razzie award for the Worst Film of the year, Worst Actress in a Leading Role, Worst Director and Worst Screenplay. Most of the blame should fall on Warner Bros., who trusted the movie in the hands a French visual effects supervisor named Pitof, whose previous directing experience had been the little-seen experimental French film Vidocq.

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In the opening scenes we’re introduced to Berry’s character, named Patience, who’s having a staring contest with a cat on the ledge of her high-rise apartment. From this point on, Catwoman quickly devolves into a badly written melodrama with the feline characteristics of the character used as a misguided and clunky metaphor for female self-empowerment.

In one of the movie’s most unintentionally hilarious scenes, Berry goes to visit a cat expert played by Six Feet Under‘s Frances Conroy, who has the misfortune of playing a character that could be summed up as “wise old sage”. She has lines like, “You follow your own destiny. This is both a blessing and a curse. You are a catwoman. Accept it, child.”

Catwoman is also notable for the casting of  Sharon Stone, in a role she could relate to all too well. She plays ruthless skin care magnate who is deemed “too old” to represent the company. At one point she utters the line with intense sincerity: “They threw me away”. The trailer, a scene from the movie that shows Berry’s feline transformation, and Ebert & Roeper’s review of it is posted below.

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