Weekly Ketchup: Del Toro officially takes on The Hobbit

Plus news that the death of the Justice League may breathe life into Wonder Woman and Superman

#1 - THERE AND BACK AGAIN, AND THEN THERE AGAIN

There's been much talk in recent months that the directing gig for J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (the book that the Lord of the Rings trilogy was technically a sequel to) would be going to Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth), but this week, it became official. The screenwriting hasn't started yet, but the writing trio behind Peter Jackson's Tolkien movies are expected to join Del Toro to form a quartet, aiming to get it ready to start on two movies, back to back, starting in 2009 for releases in late 2011 and late 2012. The first movie will be the actual adaptation of The Hobbit, while the second movie will be the long-discussed theoretical "middle story" between The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, based upon hundreds of notes and concepts left behind by J.R.R. Tolkien, telling us what characters did after The Hobbit, or before LOTR (or both).

Ah, but the news from the world of Del Toro doesn't stop there. He's been promoting Hellboy II: The Golden Army, and some fanboy reporter types have been asking him questions. First up, the Mexican director revealed recently that he has plans for another "little fantasy" movie in the spirit of The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth, entitled Saturn and the End of Days, about a boy who watches the Rapture and the Apocalypse happen around him as he goes about his daily business of going back and forth to the grocery store and such. The subject of Hellboy III also came up this week, which Del Toro confirmed would be the end of the road for the character and his friends. Apparently someone somewhere also thought to think of Del Toro directing a theoretical adaptation of the recent hit videogame, Bioshock, which IGN Movies then inquired about, but nope, he's not doing that. Based on what he says in that piece about Saturn, it sounds like he won't be doing his dream project of H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness anytime soon either, because of a lack of financing which is outside his (current) grasp. After the Tolkien movies, however (like in 2013 or later?), I suspect that might not be so much an issue.


#2 - NO JOKEY SUBTITLES FOR HITLER BIOPICS

Hot on the heels of news last week that one very thick (and controversial) book, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, is nearing production, from Germany comes news that Adolf Hitler's autobiographical (and political screed), Mein Kampf, is finally being adapted to film. This adaptation is 60+ years in the making, as filmmakers have considered adapting it ever since Hitler was actually around to approve such rights (specifically, David O. Selznick wanted to make a Mein Kampf movie 60+ years ago during World War II, with Alfred Hitchcock directing). German filmmakers were once very hesitant to touch Hitler movies, but in recent years, they have reversed course, and made quite a few of them, including the very well-made Downfall. So, it's not that surprising that Mein Kampf would inspire a film, which is actually an adaptation of a play based on the book. Specifically, Mein Kampf will tell the story of the young Austrian's experiences of living in a Vienna hostel with two Jewish roommates, and how that influences his world view. Currently, Mein Kampf is being produced as a German theatrical release, but unless it's really awful, I can't see how this particular movie won't eventually get picked up for release in the USA.


#3 - PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD, JOIN HANDS... OH WAIT, THAT WAS THE LOVE TRAIN

In the "movie concepts from left field" category this week, we can solidly place the concept of a Soul Train movie ( ), adapting the popular 1970s/1980s R&B hits/dance show (basically, it is/was like a cooler American Bandstand for black performers/music). My first reaction was a guess that this might be a movie about the classic Soul Train years (sort of like 54?), sort of a biopic about the show and some of the performers who were regulars. That guess, however, was way off. Nope, the show's creator, Don Cornelius, is instead teaming up with Warner Bros to make a "buddy movie" comedy about two Soul Train dancers and all the comic high jinks they get into. Doing research about this movie, I was a bit surprised to discover that Soul Train is actually still on the air, and this movie will therefore tie in to promote the series (which obviously needs it, if someone like me who used to watch it "back in the day", thought it went off the air 20 years ago). I'm not sure the rather cliched comedic premise is going to do much to that end, however. The script is being worked on by a newcomer to the trade, J. Gil Williams, and no cast or director is attached yet.


#4 - ELOISE: HOPING TO SUCCEED WHERE MADELINE, THE LEMONY SNICKET KIDS AND SO MANY OTHERS DID NOT

An Australian 9-year-old actress named Jordana Beatty has shone through an auditioning process that considered 4,000 girls for the title role in Eloise in Paris, a new attempt to bring the classic 1950s children's book character to the big screen, following two direct-to-video projects from Disney a few years back. Uma Thurman has also signed on to costar, and the project will be directed by Charles Shyer (The Parent Trap remake starring Lindsay Lohan, both Father of the Bride films). Eloise in Paris is actually the second book in the original series, and the recently published (and posthumously, by a different author), Eloise in Hollywood, is already being developed as a sequel. Apparently, at one point, this was expected to be a TV movie for ABC, but with the casting of Uma Thurman, and a different director, the project is now aiming for theatrical.


#5 - ANG LEE'S WOODSTOCK: NOW WITH 100% CGI NAKED HIPPIES!

Director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, the pre-Edward-Norton Hulk), is reuniting with his longtime screenwriting partner, James Schamus, and Focus Features, which has distributed many of his films, for Taking Woodstock, an adaptation of a memoir by one of the people instrumental in getting the landmark 1969 concert underway in a farmer's field in upstate New York. Elliot Tiber, the author of the book, will be the central character, supplemented by a large eccentric ensemble cast, in a story that is much more about the time leading up to the concert, and possbily behind-the-scenes shenanigans, than the actual concert itself. Production is expected to start this fall on a relatively modest budget of $5-10 million, which suggests Focus is hoping to release it during the Oscar season of 2009. Ang Lee has displayed pretty good judgment casting young actors on the cusp of success in the past (Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood, Eric Bana, Heath Ledger, etc), so one might expect him to go that route with his lead in this project as well.


#6 - J.J. ABRAMS BOLDLY GOING WHERE MANY TEENAGERS WISH THEY COULD

Having crafted arguably the best adventure TV show ever (Lost), started the revitalization of the Star Trek movie franchise, and redefined what a monster movie could be (Cloverfield), J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot production company are now setting their sights on... the teen sex comedy, with the acquisition of a comedy spec script called Hot for Teacher, by one of the writers of Showtime's Californication. The comedy, about a teenage boy's attempts to seduce one of his teachers, might seem a bit out of left field for Abrams, until you consider that the series he really made his name in TV with was Felicity.


#7 - THE AFTERMATH OF THE JUSTICE LEAGUE IMPLOSION, WEEK ONE

The breaking news as I published this column last Friday was that action producer Joel Silver had told CHUD.com that the Justice League movie had been "tabled" (with other sites reporting since then with harsher words like "dead"). My guess last week was that this would lead Warner Bros to focus instead on other movies focusing on Justice League members, and sure enough, in these last 7 days, we've had press attention for Wonder Woman and Superman: The Man of Steel. Talking to SCIFI.com, Silver discussed his interest in coming up with a way to tell an origin story for Princess Diana of the Amazons, but without setting it in World War II, and apparently from his referencing of 300, still keeping at least some of Diana's mythological origins.

As for Superman, the big news this week was that one of the Legendary Pictures bigwigs used the phrase "angry god" to describe the approach for the second film, and that created the comic nerd equivalent of Barack Obama's "bitter" controversy, with people no doubt imagining a literal image of Superman as a grumpy diety. I think the phrase was taken way out of context, which was probably just meant to illustrate the sort of raw power that Superman should be shown displaying on screen (the movies always make him look way too light and fluffy, IMO). Anyway, it also appears that they're aiming to start filming in early 2009, probably aiming for a summer, 2010 release. As for when Wonder Woman will probabyl get made, you'd probably have to catch Joel Silver in a golden lasso to get that answer.


#8 - THIS WEEK IN HORROR REMAKES (SIGH)

If four business days have passed in Hollywood these days, then that must mean that nearly that many horror remake projects have been announced. April 21-24, 2008, was no different. What is marginally more acceptable with these week's entries (IMO) is that the three original movies weren't that great (or that popular) to begin with, so there isn't a lot of fan-enraging heresy going on here. Brian De Palma's 1978 foray in horror, The Fury, a Carrie/Eyes of Laura Mars-clone that mostly served to make 1984's Firestarter (another movie about psychic people being hounded by the government) seem a lot better, even if it was about an adorable little tyke of a girl instead of a fairly hot young lady who disrobed a few times. Anyway, Fox 2000 has hired two newcomer screenwriters who landed an award recently for their first spec script, to adapt The Fury as a contemporary story, which I'm okay with. I always say, if Hollywood is going to do remakes, it makes a lot more sense to tackle movies that were flawed the first time around.

Which brings us to both Happy Birthday to Me and Hell Night. Happy Birthday to Me was a 1981 slasher flick that sits firmly in that wave of early '80s movies that tried to use a holiday theme of some sort, "inspired" by Halloween. Bloody-Disgusting reported that it's being remade, but they give no real details. Hell Night, also made in 1981, starred Linda Blair (The Exorcist) and was about a bunch of frat pledges who have to stay in a scary haunted house as part of their hazing, but they of course end up getting sliced and diced instead. It was good for what it was, but it's not a classic of horror, so it seems like a good candidate for remaking. Now the bad news: Screen Gems' plans for Hell Night include taking all the blood and gore and making it PG-13, which sort of neuters the whole point of remaking a gory slasher flick. Perhaps Hollywood will start doing G-rated remakes of porn next.


#9 - ROB ZOMBIE'S T. REX APPARENTLY NOT A MARC BOLAN BIOPIC AFTER ALL

That title's not a joke, when I heard that Rob Zombie's next live-action directorial project was going to be a non-dinosaur movie called Tyrannosaurus Rex, and that it was set in the 1970s (pretty much the only detail that was revealed for a while), I really did think/hope that he was tackling the story of the late lead singer of the 1970s British glam band, T. Rex. Nope, instead the title character is a professional wrestler, and the movie will be about him either chasing or being chased down by a biker gang, who probably did something to annoy him (or vice versa, or... something). In other words, Zombie is sort of re-visiting The Devil's Rejects, except probably with less gore and just more of an over-top, grindhouse feel. That isn't particularly surprising, but after the flop of his Halloween remake, it's probably best for Zombie to get back to his roots anyway. Zombie's also got an animated movie in the works called The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, but I think it's probably going direct-to-video. Expect Tyrannosaurus Rex to be in theaters in late August, 2009, via Dimension Films, and watch Rob's MySpace page for the project for more details.


#10 - DOES THIS MEAN WE'LL GET A MILKSHAKE MOVIE IN 2039?

Thirty-five years ago, singer/songwriter Jim Croce died in an airplane crash, right in the middle of what was a streak of hits in his young career. Since then, apparently, his widow has been trying to get one of his better known songs, Bad Bad Leroy Brown, made into a movie, and now, *finally*, someone has picked up the project, in the form of producer Warren Zide (the Final Destination and American Pie franchises). The song's lyrics tell a fairly simple story of a really tough guy who hits on a girl, and ends up getting "pwned" as the kids would say, so I guess that would be what the movie would be about, but are they going to use Croce's original song, or get some hippity-hoppers or rejected American Idol karaoke contestants to remake it?


You can contact Greg Dean Schmitz via a message at the RT Forums, the thread there devoted to him, or his MySpace page.

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