Tuesday 24 January 2017

Versus, crossovers and shared universes

With Marvel's impressive wave of success in theaters, it seems everyone wants to jump on the "shared universe" bandwagon, as if it was some kind of new thing. DC of course launched a Batman v Superman movie, followed by bigger crossover stories like Justice League. Universal announced a slate of monster movies set in the same universe, starting with a Tom Cruise-starring Mummy, and we even get a new King Kong movie as an introduction to an upcoming King Kong vs Godzilla. Hell, rumor has it that we will also see a Men in Black / 21 Jump Street crossover in the near future!

But none of this is really groundbreaking. At all. The original King Kong vs Godzilla was made in 1962, and was only the third episode in the Godzilla saga. Universal Monsters practically invented the concept of a shared cinematic universe in the 1940s, starting with the amazing crossover Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man. And even Marvel tried its hand at it as early as the 1980s, with the special episodes of the Incredible Hulk, co-starring Daredevil and Thor.

TV series have also been doing this for a long time: long before Flash and Arrow teamed up, viewers could watch The Pretender's Jarod visiting the Profiler squad, or Chuck Norris lending a hand to Sammo Hung in a Martial Law / Walker Texas Ranger crossover. And in the 60s, Batman and Robin crossed paths on-screen with the Green Hornet and Kato!

In fact, you don’t even have to be very old to remember a couple of relatively high-profile crossovers that hit the screens in the 2000s. Freddy vs Jason had been announced for a few years when it was finally released in 2003, and the clash of boogeymen was an entertaining revival for both franchises at once. Then in 2004, we got Alien vs Predator, followed three years later by its sequel Requiem. They kept the Aliens and Predator sagas alive during the long gaps between their respective official episodes.

But crossovers were invented way before film and TV entered our lives. Readers have seen Arsène Lupin meet Sherlock Holmes, or rather Herlock Sholmes (the name was slightly changed at Conan Doyle's request) in a couple of Maurice Leblanc’s novels. The encounter was brought to the screen in a German film serial as early as 1910, where the detective became Sherlock Holmes again.

Long before that, Ivanhoe joined forces with Robin Hood in Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe, and we can trace back the idea of crossovers to Homer’s tales of Gods and Heroes. Greek mythology was one of the first known cases of shared universes, with Zeus and Hera showing up in all kinds of stories – so it should come to no surprise that Italy would come up with a movie called Hercules, Samson and Ulysses in the 1960s!

Of course, Sherlock Holmes and Frankenstein have also had their share of cinematic crossovers: the detective met Jack the Ripper on screen twice, and Frankenstein was confronted to Dracula, Santos, Jesse James and numerous other characters. But Sherlock Holmes vs Frankenstein? Not yet. We're working on it, remember?

Friday 21 October 2016

Screen versions of Frankenstein

With Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy teaming up on the big screen, Bernard Rose winning awards with his indie modern version, and The Frankenstein Chronicles unfolding on TV, it's fair to assume that audiences are still interested in the character of Frankenstein. Like Sherlock Holmes, it has been adapted on all types of media and with various tones, and there seems to be no limit to what can be done with the name and the concept behind it. Mary Shelley's original book, however, has rarely been directly adapted, and almost never faithfully. Whereas The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Sign of Four have been done many times on film and TV.

My favourite Frankenstein movies, by far, are the Hammer ones. I discovered the first, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), when I was 13, and watched the others in no particular order, as it wasn't particularly easy to put your hands on these movies on VHS in the 90s. I would be hard pressed to say which one I prefer, so I would simply point out that Evil of Frankenstein, the third in the series, is my least favourite. The others are all gems, even the underappreciated comedy Horror of Frankenstein, the only one without Peter Cushing. Cushing is fascinating as the Baron in all six films in which he plays him, and one can only wonder what would have happened if Shane Briant had been allowed to take up his mantle after the last outing, Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell. Well, at least he is given a new opportunity to shine in the world of Frankenstein, with his role of Burgermeister Simon Helder in Sherlock Holmes vs Frankenstein.

This is not to say that I don't enjoy the Universal Frankensteins. James Whale's movies are the first versions I saw, at age 9 or 10, and there's no argument that they're both classics. But unlike Hammer, where the quality has been constant and the storylines creative, the Universal saga has an almost systematic decrease in quality (both in production values and script), to the point where the last movie is a pathetic farce with Abott and Costello, the poor man's Laurel and Hardy. I know this last
film is often considered a good comedy, but I've never understood why, and I'd rather rewatch the cheesy but straightforward previous mashups House of Dracula and House of Frankenstein. One of the most interesting thing about watching the whole saga is to see how they reflect the careers of certain actors: Boris Karloff plays the monster in the first three movies, then leaves the role, and shows up later as a scientist in House of Frankenstein. Bela Lugosi however, who turned down the part of the monster in the first film, plays Igor in Son of Frankenstein and Ghost of Frankenstein, then gets "downgraded" to the part of the monster, and finally comes back as Count Dracula in the Abbott and Costello movie. Finally, Lon Chaney Jr. was the first to reprise the part of the monster after Karloff, and then gets stuck as the Wolfman Larry Talbot in all subsequent outings.

Son of Frankenstein
1973 was not only the year Hammer released its final Frankenstein (Monster From Hell), but also the year of two major Frankenstein films: Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein and Andy Warhol's (or rather Paul Morrissey's) Flesh for Frankenstein. Both refreshing, but both were simply paying a homage to one of the established traditions: Young Frankenstein was a comedic remake of 1931 Frankenstein combined with Son of Frankenstein, and Flesh was little more than a trashy Hammer film, with the Baron being portrayed by Udo Kier as an immoral nobleman who likes to stack body parts in his lab. It was also in 1973 that the overlong TV movie Frankenstein: the True Story tried to adapt Mary Shelley's novel for the first time.

But it wasn't until the 1990s that such attempts occured again. Of course there was the 1994 blockbuster with Robert de Niro and Kenneth Branagh (and John Cleese!), but it came off as a bit pretentious, and not all that faithful to the book. I much preferred the TV movie produced two years earlier by David Wickes, with Patrick Bergin as Baron Frankenstein. Still not the most faithful version, as this honour goes to the 2004 mini-series directed by Kevin Connor (who happens to support our film!)

Connor's version came out the same year as Van Helsing, which was a fun throwback at the old Universal mashups with Dracula, a werewolf and Frankenstein's monster going at each other's throats.

And in recent years, the most enjoyable Frankenstein movie I've seen was... Tim Burton's Frankenweenie! You just can't beat a black and white stop-motion gothic extravaganza.

Thursday 29 September 2016

Memorable versions of Sherlock Holmes

With the announcement of yet a new Sherlock Holmes film, starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, which will coexist with Cumberbatch's Sherlock, Jonny Lee Miller's Elementary and possibly a third Robert Downey Jr movie, some might think that the world might get an overdose of Arthur Conan Doyle's character (not to mention the recent movie with Ian McKellen). In other terms, who needs Sherlock Holmes vs Frankenstein? The answer is simple: Sherlock Holmes being everywhere is not a recent trend. In fact, Sherlock Holmes NOT being everywhere is just an anomaly that lasted about a decade (roughly, 1999-2009). Otherwise, the character has been seen in countless movies, stage plays, books and comic books, and the thirst for new iterations and variants seems to be inextinguishable.

I won't try to list every film and TV version ever produced, nor will I respect chronological order. I would just like to share which versions affected me most, and are most likely to influence my take on Holmes and Watson (besides, of course, the original stories by Conan Doyle.

As I mentioned earlier, one of my very first contacts with the world of Sherlock Holmes was through Disney's cartoon The Great Mouse Detective. At the same time, TV was also showing the Japanese anime Sherlock Hound, which I also enjoyed a lot. Basil and the Japanese Holmes had the same kind of personality: clever, bold and youthful, with a physical energy propelled by their mental agitation. Both were a good introduction to the "real" Holmes.

Not long after, I discovered Granada's series with Jeremy Brett, which was probably showing for the first time in France. I had recorded The Sign of Four on VHS, and probably watched it hundreds of times. I started reading the books then, and in my mind, Brett was definitely the Sherlock Holmes described in these pages. At 8 years old, I saw the "other" Sign of Four of the 80s, where Holmes was played by Ian Richardson: the actor was definitely appropriate for the part, but the productions he was in didn't stand a chance in front of Granada's.

Other cinematic encounters I had at a young age with Holmes were The Seven-per-cent Solution and the Spielberg production Young Sherlock Holmes. Both were surprising takes on the character, and I found it refreshing that filmmakers could take the liberty of pairing Holmes with Sigmund Freud, or to make up an early encounter with John Watson in high school. I never thought that Nicol Williamson was fit to play Sherlock Holmes, but he did a good job of playing a coke-head detective who falls in love while following a therapy.

When I started watching Hammer movies, I particularly enjoyed The Hound of the Baskervilles with the great Peter Cushing playing the Baker Street sleuth. I think the only complain I had with the film, when I first saw it, was that Holmes was shorter than Henry Baskerville (played by Christopher Lee). I've moved past this detail, especially since I've seen Cushing in other Holmes productions (the BBC series and the TV special Masks of Death): even when the quality was a bit flimsy, he embodied the character perfectly.

I also loved A Study in Terror, where John Neville played Sherlock Holmes on the trail of Jack the Ripper. Probably my favorite non-canonical Holmes movies. There were numerous stories revolving around Holmes investigating the Ripper murders, one of the best in my opinion being Michael Dibdin's novel The Last Sherlock Holmes Story. It was turned into a terrific comic book in 2010. Holmes has the face of Jeremy Brett in this fine piece of work by French authors Olivier Cotte and Jules Stromboni.

Sherlock in New York is a guilty pleasure: the plot is weak and the production values are far from epic, but the casting is extremely entertaining: Roger Moore as Sherlock Holmes (what an odd choice)! Patrick Macnee as Watson! John Huston as Moriarty! Charlotte Rampling as Irene Adler!

The last iteration of the character that really impressed me was Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. I wasn't too sure about the idea of moving the stories to our time, but it works perfectly, and the scripts are as enjoyable as the performances. Elementary, on the other hand, did nothing for me, as I felt it was just another American procedural show ala Bones, Mentalist or Castle.

And yes, I love Christopher Lee of course, but I don't think he really fits the part of Holmes, even when paired with a good Watson played by Patrick Macnee.

Thursday 22 September 2016

Teaser unleashed!

This summer, we finally put the last touch to the film's first five minutes, by doing the 5.1 sound mix with Matthieu Tibi and completing color-grading. So now you can watch a teaser of these first scenes of Sherlock Holmes vs Frankenstein at the end of the video below, and if you like what you see, remember that the Indiegogo crowdfunding video is still open: igg.me/at/holmes-vs-frank

While you wait for this film to be completed, you can take a look at my first film, which is now out on DVD in Australia and New Zealand under its original title House of VHS. In the United States and the UK, it will come out as Ghosts in the Machine, and the DVD can be pre-ordered from Amazon.

We are also working on distribution for our other feature film called The Girl With Two Faces, directed by Romain Serir, which is now touring film festivals (already 5 selections!)

And more surprises coming soon from Marteau Films!

Tuesday 24 May 2016

Cannes 2016

Now that we're back from Cannes, it's time to debrief. What happened there? First, we got a lot of exposure on Parkland's booth: the poster was attracting people's attention, and we were able to show them the first few minutes of the film, which were not quite finished (sound mix is still a few days away) but were good enough to start a conversation.

Usually at the film market, sensational posters are used to promote very cheap movies with low production values. In our case, the footage always surprised the viewers because... well, it looked good. Shane Briant is very classy, John Lebar is menacing, Stephanie Campion is a perfectly british Mrs Hudson... Those of you who pledged for the DVD on the crowdfunding campaign should be able to check for yourself when you receive it in a few weeks. As for the others, the campaign is still open, you can join the project right now if you want to be a part of it: igg.me/at/holmes-vs-frank

What else happened there? Lots of meetings regarding possible coproductions, sales of our movies Revenge, The Girl with Two Faces and House of VHS (which will be on DVD in the UK in September, under the title Ghosts in the Machine) and of Ian Powell's Razors (which will also be released in the UK in a few months)...

But of course, the film we all want to see come to life is Sherlock Holmes vs Frankenstein. Any good news on this side? Probably, yes. We still can't announce who will play Holmes and Watson, but the financing part is progressing nicely, and we're still looking at shooting in Belgium soon. Keep supporting the movie by joining the Facebook page and the Twitter account, by getting the book from Amazon (version française disponible bientôt !), and by mentioning it to everyone around you. Needless to say, we would rather be filming right now than wait a few more months!

Favourite titles and posters from Cannes film market