Newsbites: Gilly! Hobbit! Mel! Cinerama! City! Racism! Expelled! Charlie! Superman! etc.!

Time to unload another stockpile of links ‘n’ things.

1. Bridge to Terabithia (2007) was a modest hit, so now, reports Variety, it is time to convert one of Katherine Paterson‘s other children’s novels to the big screen, namely The Great Gilly Hopkins. Like the film version of Terabithia, this one will be based on a screenplay by Paterson’s son David. I read the book once, a couple decades ago, and I remember very little of it beyond the fact that there was a fair bit of swearing — so it will be interesting to see how the film turns out, if, as Variety says, the filmmakers do intend to make this a “movie for children”. For what it’s worth, Paterson has also called the novel “the most openly Christian book I have written”.

2. The Hobbit director Guillermo Del Toro has given another interview, this time to MTV News, in which, among other very interesting things, he nicely dismisses recent efforts to cast doubt on his affinity for the works of Tolkien:

MTV: Just two years ago, you were quoted as saying, “I was never into heroic fantasy.” Did your views change?

Del Toro: I wasn’t. I completely gravitated towards horror. For whatever reason, I never hooked into sword and sorcery. I really rediscovered fantasy through my love of filmmakers as a filmmaker. Something kind of popped and jelled. I now can empathize with one side of the fantasy genre without ever wandering into lubricated musclemen with giant swords. “The Hobbit” occupies a particular seat in fantasy that is irreplaceable. They can dredge up old cadavers in my closet. I’m not running for president. I’m a f—ing filmmaker! I’m just trying to make the movie I want to.

3. Variety reports that Mel Gibson is going to step in front of a camera again for the first time in years, as the star of Edge of Darkness, a remake of a British mini-series from the 1980s. Coincidentally, Gibson’s last speaking part was a supporting role in The Singing Detective (2003), which was also a big-screen remake of a British mini-series from the 1980s. Even more interesting: The new version of Edge of Darkness is written by William Monahan, and Gibson once claimed that he had been offered a part in The Departed (2006) — which was also a remake written by William Monahan.

4. Lou Lumenick reports that a new DVD edition of How the West Was Won (1962) will digitally erase the “join lines” that were an inevitable byproduct of the original three-panel Cinerama process. Apparently only one other fiction film, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962), was shot using this technique, but that film was also shot in CinemaScope, so existing video versions have been transferred from a one-panel master. How the West Was Won, on the other hand, only existed in the three-panel format — until now. I’m not entirely sure what to make of this; I have never seen this film, and a part of me thinks it would be nice to watch the film without the ugly “join lines”, but a part of me also thinks I should experience the film the same way everyone else has experienced it until now.

5. High-Def Digest confirms that a “director’s cut” of Alex Proyas’s Dark City (1998; my article) is due to come out on DVD and Blu-Ray in July. says the “director’s cut” will be about 15 minutes longer than the version that came out one whole decade ago.

6. The New York Times has an article looking at how some of the more racist cartoons produced by Warner Brothers way back when are now available on YouTube, despite efforts by the studio to suppress them. One complicating factor is that some of the cartoons are so old, it’s not exactly clear who owns them, if anybody. Jerry Beck says the article “has had an (unintended?) effect in further spreading the awareness of said cartoons”, though it has apparently also prompted YouTube to yank one of the videos that Beck links to.

7. The National Post has a profile of Walt Ruloff, the Canadian producer of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed:

For the past 17 years, Walt Ruloff has done an admirable job of keeping out of the public eye. For years, the business press seemed to miss the tale of how he, along with a roommate, built a world-beating software company out of their Toronto bedroom. After just seven years, when they sold Inter-Trans Logistics Solutions to a U.S. buyer for $160-million, “I took my family and my little kids and we hid off on a little island called Bowen Island, just outside of Vancouver,” he says. There they stayed, unnoticed, unbothered. Until now. . . .

“I’m definitely not a creationist. I’m the furthest thing from a creationist,” says Mr. Ruloff, who produced the film through his company, Premise Media. Just a mild-mannered West Coast Anglican venture capitalist, he maintains, who was trying to do a bit of biotech investing one day when he stumbled upon what he believes are the taboos of biology.

“The first thing I discovered in talking to these biotech engineers was they weren’t allowed to ask a whole bunch of questions; they weren’t allowed to collaborate under these new paradigms that were being discovered,” he says.

“They were all kind of talking in code.… I realized that the issue was that what they were discovering has massive metaphysical implications and so they were trying to retrofit their findings back into a Darwinist position.”

Coming from the software business, Mr. Ruloff explains, he was used to tossing commonly accepted thinking out the window every few months. “People in the biology field and biotech and microbiology are kind of on the threshold of some massive breakthroughs, and they need to be able to collaborate. And if what they find has metaphysical implications … who cares? If Darwinism is going to collapse, well, who cares? Let’s move on.” . . .

Still, the film is having an impact. Private screenings for lawmakers in Florida and Missouri have helped fuel state bills that could put intelligent design into public classrooms. But while he waits to see if his project brings change to the halls of academia, Mr. Ruloff is warming to his new career. “What I loved about software [is] it’s very creative, very dynamic, very fluid. And the movie business is all that on steroids. If we are profitable and we can figure this Holly-wood machine out, we hope to make a lot more films.”

When it comes to matters of faith, there’s a built-in market for such films as Expelled among America’s 70 million or so Evangelical Christians. “Being a capitalist that I am, there’s an opportunity here.”

8. The Washington Times reports that former senator Charlie Wilson himself thinks Charlie Wilson’s War might have missed an important political detail or two:

Former Rep. Charles Wilson played no official role in the making of last year’s film “Charlie Wilson’s War,” which chronicled how he helped the Mujahedeen repel the invading Soviet army in the 1980s.

If the Texas Democrat had participated, it’s clear he would have cast an actor to portray a figure all but ignored in Mike Nichols’ production — President Reagan.

“He was absolutely essential to the victory,” over the Soviets in Afghanistan, Mr. Wilson says during a phone interview to promote “War,” out on DVD this week. . . .

“There just wasn’t time,” he says, adding former Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill deserved a film mention as well for his support of Mr. Wilson’s efforts. . . .

“Charlie Wilson’s War” ends with a cautionary note about the lack of follow-through that left a power vacuum in Afghanistan.

“The American people are a generous people, a creative people, a can-do people, but we have the world’s shortest attention span,” he says, a lesson he hopes will be applied to the current Iraq war.

“Learn from it. Finish the job,” he notes, adding that the United States owes it to Iraq to reconstruct the battered nation. “We must at least try.” . . .

9. has an interview with Superman Returns (2006) star Brandon Routh that might shed a little light on what producer Thomas Tull meant by that “angry god” comment:

CS: What sides of Superman and Clark Kent are you excited about exploring in the sequel?
Well, I think that something that audiences are looking for – and I certainly am, too – is for Superman to actually be able to lay a punch on someone or something. I was filming and I thought, “I haven’t really hit anything. I feel like I’m going to need to let some of this anger out.” So I’m happy that I think that’s going to be a central part of the sequel, getting a good villain that we can actually have physical altercations with.

10. The National Post has an update on the war of words between Paul Rusesabagina, the hotelier played by Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda (2004; my review), and Paul Kagame, the current president of that country. Kagame says Rusesabagina is a lying opportunist; Rusesabagina says Kagame is a war criminal.

11. Yellow Scene magazine says a new independent movie called Stealing Baby Jesus could be a boon to the Colorado film scene:

It’s about a rash of thefts of baby Jesuses (Jesi?) from manger scenes all over Denver during the holidays. As Denver DJ Warren John Narrates from atop a billboard in an encroaching blizzard, the city is whipped into a frenzy over the rash of disappearances. Throughout the ensuing hullaballoo, the interpersonal relationships between characters are explored against the backdrop of faith tested; parent to child, husband to wife, friend to friend. It’s “Love Actually” meets “Miracle on 34th Street;” a holiday piece that connects seemingly unrelated dots to a conclusion both touching and funny.

12. The Hollywood Reporter says Cloud Ten Pictures, the Ontario-based outfit that has produced the Left Behind trilogy (2000-2005) and a slew of other end-times movies, has promoted writer-director Andre van Heerden to the position of CEO, while Variety says the studio has signed a new distribution deal with Koch International, after being dumped rather suddenly by Sony.

Is Chris Nolan remaking Tim Burton’s Batman?

It doesn’t happen often, but there are times when I wish I had that boxed set of the original Batman films, just so I could fact-check stuff like this. Is the trailer below for Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) the real deal, in which case Chris Nolan and the marketing team on The Dark Knight are mimicking the earlier film’s ad campaign and are thus twisted geniuses far beyond anything I ever realized? Or did someone edit the trailer for Burton’s film together to mimic the trailer for Nolan’s film? Christopher Campbell, who starts out by writing as though the old movie’s trailer is genuine, leans towards the latter option in the end, and so do I. (For one thing, I doubt that a trailer back then would have followed the Warner logo with a wordy title card giving credit to DC Comics; my hunch is, that bit was pinched from the earlier film’s opening credits, to create a parallel to the extra logos that appear at the beginning of the new trailer.) But I kind of wish Nolan and his team were the sort of twisted geniuses who might have done something like this.
Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly.

APR 29 UPDATE: Speaking of Dark Knight trailers, check out this leaked video of the new trailer due sometime this week:
Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly.

APR 30 UPDATE: Here is another version of the new trailer, which has apparently been “defaced” by the Joker.

Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly.

Canadian box-office stats — April 27

Here are the figures for the past weekend, arranged from those that owe the highest percentage of their take to the Canadian box office to those that owe the lowest.

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay — CDN $2,340,000 — N.AM $14,570,000 — 16.1%
21 — CDN $8,360,000 — N.AM $75,775,000 — 11.0%

88 Minutes — CDN $1,280,000 — N.AM $12,632,000 — 10.1%
The Forbidden Kingdom — CDN $3,690,000 — N.AM $38,255,000 — 9.6%
Deception — CDN $206,776 — N.AM $2,225,000 — 9.3%
Forgetting Sarah Marshall — CDN $3,060,000 — N.AM $35,077,000 — 8.7%

Nim’s Island — CDN $2,850,000 — N.AM $38,954,000 — 7.3%
Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! — CDN $10,710,000 — N.AM $147,883,000 — 7.2%
Prom Night — CDN $2,570,000 — N.AM $38,115,000 — 6.7%
Baby Mama — CDN $839,692 — N.AM $18,271,000 — 4.6%

Agora — our first glimpse of Alexandria

The Times of Malta has posted the first picture from the set of Agora, the Alejandro Amenábar film starring Rachel Weisz as 4th-century philosopher Hypatia, Oscar Isaac as Orestes and Sami Samir as St. Cyril of Alexandria. Quoth the Times: “The idea is to bring ancient Alexandria back to life, allowing the audience to see, feel and smell a remote civilisation as if it were as real as today, the director has been quoted as saying.” Does that mean they’ll be using less CGI to recreate the city than, say, Ridley Scott used to depict Rome in Gladiator (2000)? (Hat tip to

The Square Root of Three, revealed!

Many thanks to Debbie for posting The Square Root of Three by David Feinberg as a comment on my earlier post. I don’t know if she transcribed it in the theatre or found it somewhere else, but it certainly sounds like the poem I remember Kal Penn reciting in Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.

And many thanks to Google and whatever other search engines have been sending literally thousands of people to this blog over the past couple days as they search for this poem. The blog hasn’t been this hot since I posted my interview with The Golden Compass author Philip Pullman five months ago.

The Hobbit — the anticipation begins

Now that Guillermo Del Toro has officially been hired to direct The Hobbit and its sequel, the anticipation and speculation have begun. How will the new film fit, stylistically, with The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) — or will it? Why did it take so long to finalize the deal, given that reports of Del Toro’s involvement were first reported three months ago? And will the resulting films be any good?

Christopher Campbell runs through some of the reasons why it might have taken three months for Del Toro to sign on the dotted line: He wanted to make sure there wouldn’t be too much clashing between his creative vision and Peter Jackson’s, he had to assure another studio with whom he has a four-picture deal that he wouldn’t forget all about them while he spends the next four years in New Zealand, he wanted to make the announcement closer to the release of Hellboy II: The Golden Army — which comes out in July. Are there any other possibilities?

Andrew O’Hehir worries that Del Toro is a bad choice for this franchise, and indeed that The Hobbit and especially its sequel are already compromised by the motives of their makers:

Let me be clear: I’m a big fan of Tolkien’s books, Jackson’s film trilogy and most of del Toro’s movies. (We can discuss “Mimic,” which has its defenders, some other time.) At least on the surface, it’s a natural fit, and I hope my premonition is wrong. But this whole project smells to me of hubris, and indeed of something worse: It smells of George Lucas.

First of all, hasn’t anybody noticed that del Toro has repeatedly said he doesn’t like Tolkien, and that he never finished reading “The Lord of the Rings”? Here’s what he told me in Cannes in 2006, when I asked him about the influence of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis on his own work: “I was never into heroic fantasy. At all. I don’t like little guys and dragons, hairy feet, hobbits — I’ve never been into that at all. I don’t like sword and sorcery, I hate all that stuff.”

Let’s see, he doesn’t like “little guys and dragons” or hairy-footed hobbits, and “The Hobbit” would be a movie about what, exactly? Seriously, I think del Toro was speaking from the heart, and I think he’s right. His aesthetic is darker, more Gothic and more grotesque than the Tolkien-via-Jackson universe; it derives more from the medieval mire of middle-European fairy tale than from the high-toned, pre-modern northern European epics Tolkien was channeling. . . .

For his part, Del Toro gave an exclusive interview to and hinted at what he might do differently from Jackson:

The only thing I will be pushing for more in these films that the other three are full animatronics and animatronic creatures enhanced with CGI, as opposed to CGI creatures themselves. We really want to take the state-of-the-art animatronics and take a leap ten years into the future with the technology we will develop for the creatures in the movie. We have every intention to do for animatronics and special effects what the other films did for virtual reality.

Another thing people will notice, at the beginning of the film will be the palette, that will be slightly different, the world will be the same but it will be a more ‘golden’ world, a more wide-eyed world. But by no means will we depart from the canon, we will take the three previous films as canon. When I become part of a world that I love, such as this, I really come with a lot of enthusiasm and hard work, and we know we are recreating and creating a world that is part of the mythos of millions of people and we will approach it as passionately and respectfully as it needs to be taken.

Let’s hope it all works out and the naysayers have it all wrong.