Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Carrying on from the last post, I got to thinking about the handful of literary creations that have transcended their source material. While Fagin will always be entwined in the parish boy’s progress and Fitzwilliam Darcy remains the romantic interest of Elizabeth Bennet, the truly iconic characters are the ones that can exist not just in other media but outside of their original milieu.

If it’s Alice fate to forever tumble down the rabbit hole or step through the looking–glass, there is still some room for maneuver. Alice, written by Dennis Potter for The Wednesday Play and broadcast in 1965 to coincide with the hundred anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland, examined the relationship between Charles Dodgson and the Liddell family. Blending biographical fact with flights of fantasy, the play explored the source of Dodgson’s creativity that would eventually lead to the underground adventures of his eponymous heroine.

Twenty years later Potter revisited the characters in Dreamchild, this time focussing his attention on the elderly Alice Hargreaves (née Liddell), on the eve of receiving an honorary degree from New York’s Columbia University. Suffering the intrusion of unruly journalists whose attention she cannot fathom, conflicted childhood memories and hallucinations of the Wonderland characters come together to allow Alice to finally be reconciled with her memories of the unwavering adoration of the Reverend Dodgson.

Instead it has been left to Sherlock Holmes and Dracula to not only exist far beyond their authors’ writings but also influence the creation of many more characters beside. So it’s a shame that Michael Valle’s rather entertaining Sherlock Holmes and the Vengeance of Dracula, which has been knocking around for the better part of a decade, never went into production after the script was picked up by Columbia Pictures toward the end of the 1990s. Instead, at the turn of the new century, we got yet another screen adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles starring Matt Frewer as the Baker Street detective and the decidedly sucky Dracula 2000.

Even with the odd hiccup, such iconic characters are still afforded more freedom that figures from English myth and folklore. Film and television dramas featuring King Arthur find their roots either in Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d'Arthur, TH White’s The Once and Future King, or the legend of Tristan and Iseult. There are the odd exceptions like The Black Knight and Prince Valiant, which take place in Arthurian times, or ITV’s Arthur of the Britons from the 1970s where Oliver Tobias’ Arthur is a Celtic chieftain uniting tribes against encroaching Saxon invaders, or the BBC’s Merlin, pandering to the current interest in wizards, but for the rest the die has pretty much been cast.

Of course that’s not so much a bad thing because left to their own devices filmmakers come up with something like King Arthur. Supposedly inspired by recent archaeological findings that allowed the producers to claim it presented a more historically accurate take on the Arthurian legends, it replaced medieval knights with Roman soldiers, led by Clive Owen’s atrocious Artorius Castus, cost a lot of money and died on its arse. Of course what they forgot to understand was that when it comes to legends audiences want the legend, even if Camelot is a silly place.

The same could be said for the legend of Robin Hood, which has gone through any number of permutations from the musical Robin and the 7 Hoods, set in 1930s Chicago and starring Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, to Krantz Films’ animated outer–space adventures of Rocket Robin Hood, and beyond to Kevin Costner’s interesting accent and the bizarre sense of geography that contribute to the complete dog’s breakfast that is Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. I’ve said before that for me Robin Hood begins with Michael Curtiz and William Keighley’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, ends with Richard Lester’s Robin and Marian, and everything else is superfluous, but still they come.

Back in early 2007 Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, creators of the television drama Sleeper Cell, sold their script Nottingham in a bidding war eventually won by Universal Pictures. A revisionist take on traditional legend, their story saw the newly appointed Sheriff of Nottingham investigating a series of murders in which Robin Hood is the chief suspect. That might have been an interesting take on the story, seeing the Sheriff as a benevolent character and Loxley a real outlaw. Soon Russell Crowe signed on to play the lead, Ridley Scott was onboard to direct with and then a couple of months after that Brian Helgeland was drafted in to rewrite the whole thing.

Having begun to read the script just before Christmas, giving up after twenty–odd pages, and then eventually finishing it on the weekend it was easy to see why more money was spent to switch it back around. The newspaper articles trumpeting the initial role reversal was the same sort of misguided rhetoric that tried to convince readers early on that the latest Sherlock Holmes movie would be all fisticuffs and chopsocky. While Robin Hood may have been suspected of the murders he ends up as a rather inconsequential figure, appearing in three or four scenes at most, as the whole thing turns into something more akin to a medieval CSI: Nottingham.

Early on in the film’s development process they must have picked the plot apart and wondered what the point was. Three years later, with the release only a few months away, we’re back to pretty much more of the same with Robin of Loxley returning from the Third Crusade to face tyranny at home and use his military skills to restore justice to the land. And while it may just be another variation on the familiar theme, no doubt it will look spectacular.


At 10:30 am, Blogger Stephen Gallagher said...

This ROBIN HOOD trailer looks better than the first, which I saw back-to-back with the trailer for IRON MAN 2 (it suffered from the comparison), but I can't say it quickens my pulse for the movie. I thought about that for a while and then realised that the trailer is completely free of any suggestion of story.

At 6:29 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Before the music kicked in, the low acoustic moans on the soundtrack that end with Crowe coming up out of the water reminded me of the audio on the original trailer for Alien.

Compared to Iron Man 2 – which looks an absolute hoot – it is going to suffer, but I quite like the fact that there’s no suggestion of what the storyline is, especially thinking back to the trailers that pretty much give the whole plot away.

I’m liking the look of this new version of Clash of the Titans. The second trailer is a much better improvement on the first – “Damn The Gods” at least makes it looks like they put some thought into the copy, where as “Titans Will Clash” had the five o’clock Friday feel to it. But with all the other creatures on show I could have done without the reveal of the Kraken. I know they’ve got to promote the movie but leaving a few surprises would be nice.


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