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The Return of "Pulp" Heroes?

Worf

I'll Lock Up
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Troy, New York, USA
I've heard talk on the web that "Da Rock" might be playing "Doc Savage" on the big screen. For those who might not know "Doc Savage" was/is part of that special group of "heroes" who pre-dated Superman and Batman by many a year. Their exploits were chronicled in cheaply made magazines called "Pulps" because of the poor quality of the paper used in them.

In addition to Doc Savage the pulps gave of "The Shadow", "The Spider" and believe it or not, "Conan the Barbarian". I read reprints of all of these in Junior High and High School, thanks to my Dad who didn't read much but he loved these books. As per Doc Savage" there was a monstrously poor movie done on him in the 70's, starring Ron Ely of TV Tarzan fame... A marginally better version of The Shadow with a woefully miscast Alec Baldwin. The only one they got even remotely right was John Milius' version of Conan starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Now I LOVE the pulps and so far Hollywood has done them dirt. I almost turned violent after seeing what they'd done to Will Eisner's beloved comic "The Spirit". So I'm asking here.... what are the chances of Hollywood getting Doc Savage or ANY of the true pulp heroes "right"?

Worf
 
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19,270
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Funkytown, USA
I've heard talk on the web that "Da Rock" might be playing "Doc Savage" on the big screen. For those who might not know "Doc Savage" was/is part of that special group of "heroes" who pre-dated Superman and Batman by many a year. Their exploits were chronicled in cheaply made magazines called "Pulps" because of the poor quality of the paper used in them.

In addition to Doc Savage the pulps gave of "The Shadow", "The Spider" and believe it or not, "Conan the Barbarian". I read reprints of all of these in Junior High and High School, thanks to my Dad who didn't read much but he loved these books. As per Doc Savage" there was a monstrously poor movie done on him in the 70's, starring Ron Ely of TV Tarzan fame... A marginally better version of The Shadow with a woefully miscast Alec Baldwin. The only one they got even remotely right was John Milius' version of Conan starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Now I LOVE the pulps and so far Hollywood has done them dirt. I almost turned violent after seeing what they'd done to Will Eisner's beloved comic "The Spirit". So I'm asking here.... what are the chances of Hollywood getting Doc Savage or ANY of the true pulp heroes "right"?

Worf

As you may remember me saying a few times, I have been waiting for a decent Doc Savage to be produced most of my life. I could see Johnson pulling it off, but someone who really knows the character needs to make sure it stays true to it's roots. I wouldn't want to see a spoof or light treatment. Humor would be necessary, of course, but if they're going to spoof, Buckaroo Bonzai already went there.

They would need to get the team right; it should work as an ensemble. They gotta get Monk, Ham, Long Tom, and Renny right or the whole thing would fall apart.

Johnson looks the part, for the most part, at least. Ely just didn't cut it in my book.

I'll keep my fingers crossed.
 

Doctor Strange

I'll Lock Up
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5,236
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Hudson Valley, NY
Sorry to be a pessimist, but it seems very unlikely to me that they'd get it remotely right.

Like I recently said about the next Indy film on another thread, they may get it "right" by their standards - pleasing today's (much younger than us) audience, making a profit, starting a franchise - which almost certainly means that it will NOT please us old-school fans.
 
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This is from Feb 19, 2020:

EXCLUSIVE: The Man of Bronze is headed to the small screen. Sony Pictures Television and Neal H. Moritz’s Sony-based Original Film have partnered with Condé Nast Entertainment to develop a scripted television series based on the Doc Savage pulp fiction franchise from the Street & Smith library. The project is part of the new three-year deal Original Film signed with the TV studio last summer.

The scripted series will chronicle his adventures, featuring rampaging dinosaurs, secret societies led by dastardly villains, fantastic gadgets and weapons, death-dealing traps, hair-raising escapes, and plots to rule the earth.

Executive producing the project are Moritz and Pavun Shetty from Original Film, and Oren Katzeff and Jon Koa of Condé Nast Entertainment. Condé Nast acquired the Street & Smith Library in 1959.

Sony first partnered with Moritz’s Original Film to develop a Doc Savage movie, recruiting Shane Black in 2013 to write the script, and signing Dwayne Johnson in 2016 to star as the classic pulp hero. In a 2018 interview, Johnson noted that business affairs-related issues had hindered the project.

While trying to get the feature off the ground, Moritz began contemplating a small-screen adaptation. He felt like, with hundreds of characters and myriad stories featured in the books, the Doc Savage IP would be better served as a TV series where there is more time to explore characters. Original Film has a successful track record adapting comic books/graphic novels to television with The Boys, Preacher and Happy!

doc-savage_artwork.jpeg

Conde Nast
First debuting in 1933 in pulp magazines, Savage, otherwise known as Clark Savage Jr., was inspired by (and created to be a semi-combination of) notable literary and pulp heroes such as Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan. The adventuring polymath was trained from early childhood to be at peak physical condition and is blessed with genius-level intellect and an eidetic memory, abilities he uses to right wrongs and correct injustice wherever he happens to encounter them. Along with characters like The Shadow (1930), Dick Tracy (1931), Conan the Barbarian (1932), The Lone Ranger and Tonto (1933), and Green hornet and Kato (1936), Doc Savage was part of the later pulp genre that directly inspired the comic book superhero genre that emerged in the late 1930s. Marvel’s Stan Lee credited Doc Savage as being the forerunner to modern superheroes.

The character, which continues to have a devoted fan following, was previously adapted to the big screen in 1975’s Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze starring Ron Ely.
 

Edward

Bartender
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London, UK
Now I LOVE the pulps and so far Hollywood has done them dirt. I almost turned violent after seeing what they'd done to Will Eisner's beloved comic "The Spirit". So I'm asking here.... what are the chances of Hollywood getting Doc Savage or ANY of the true pulp heroes "right"?

Worf

I remember that Doc Savage... I saw it on TV back in the eighties when I was about seven. I remember enjoying it at the time, but that's no guarantee it'll hold up now! In those days I was also watching the Gold Monkey and Bring Em Back Alive series.

I actually loved that 1994 version of The Shadow. It still holds up for me. I would love to see Sam Raimi get a shot at it. He wanted to do it back in the 90s, but when he went digging he discovered someone else already had the rights (which led to the Baldwin version), and so he created Darkman. Which I also really enjoyed, but....

The Spirit I saw; I didn't have any prior experience with the source material, but it seemed to me to suffer a bit from wanting to glom onto the commercial success of Sin City, except a sort of PG version. Didn't satisfy the existing Spirit fans, didn't attract new ones...

Sorry to be a pessimist, but it seems very unlikely to me that they'd get it remotely right.

Like I recently said about the next Indy film on another thread, they may get it "right" by their standards - pleasing today's (much younger than us) audience, making a profit, starting a franchise - which almost certainly means that it will NOT please us old-school fans.

As you know, I'm less pessimistic insofar as I hold to the view it is possible they could satisfy all those things, but I am realistic enough to acknowledge that satisfying a niche fandom will fall way behind the profit motive...
 
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As you may remember me saying a few times, I have been waiting for a decent Doc Savage to be produced most of my life. I could see Johnson pulling it off, but someone who really knows the character needs to make sure it stays true to it's roots...
I absolutely agree, which is why I'm almost convinced we'll never again see a decent movie treatment of any of the literary characters named here so far and here's why. The longer anyone waits to make another Doc Savage, or Dick Tracy, or The Shadow, or Tarzan movie, the less likely it will be faithful because the people running Hollywood are getting younger and younger all of the time and for the most part they just don't give a rat's furry backside about those characters except perhaps to "reinvent" them to make them more current.
 

Edward

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London, UK
The last Conan picture - in, what, about 2011? - was really good, I liked it a lot. The Arnie ones had their charm, but they are a bit campy and dated. I went into the latest one expecting it to be entertainingly rubbish, and actually really enjoyed it on its own merits. I assume, however, it wasn't hugely profitable, given the lack of sequels.
 

Doctor Strange

I'll Lock Up
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I saw that recent Conan flick with Jason Mamoa. It wasn't bad... but a year or two later I can barely recall anything about it, which is a bad sign. And yeah, it seemingly failed, I've never read anything about a sequel.

Re Ahnuld's films - speaking as someone who was already an adult Conan fan when they came out - the first is one of the best flicks of the eighties fantasy boomlet (The Dark Crystal, Krull, Ladyhawke, Dragonslayer, Labyrinth, Legend, The Neverending Story, Willow, etc. ad nauseum). It does justice to the character/setting, has great production design, music, fight choreography, etc. Alas, the second one is an embarrassing mess. It feels cheap, exudes stupidity, and wastes good actors. And it doesn't even look good, despite being shot by one of the greatest DPs of all time, Jack Cardiff.

Conan the Barbarian (1982) - ***
Conan the Destroyer (1984) - *
Conan the Barbarian (2011) - * and 1/2
 
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I thought Mr. Momoa was a good choice to play Conan, but that the movie itself didn't quite come together. Earlier this year he apparently mentioned that he'd like to make another one with him as Conan, but Netflix has announced they now own the property and are developing their own show so seeing Momoa in the role again seems unlikely.
 

MikeKardec

One Too Many
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The biggest issue with these Pulp concepts is that filmmakers keep confusing the genre with comics. This was even an issue with Raiders of the Lost Ark, and continued to get worse as the series went on. It's actually easy to do correctly.

Take it as seriously as you can, there's a bit of Science Fiction involved but don't overplay those elements. Any "heroic" pulp series has the potential to devolve into the James Bond escalation of stakes syndrome: if you save the world this week what are you going to do next week?

The tone should be serious but light, the best example of this is the FX series Justified. The characters were so well delineated and the performances so well executed that there were always several good laughs per episode ... but never at the expense of the tension.

The James Bama Bantam paperback covers aside, Doc doesn't need to be a huge musclebound dude. If you compare the typical 1930s physique with today's super fit actors, there are plenty who could fill the bill. More difficult would be the writing and performance that would make you believe you are in the presence of a major intellect.

It's a VERY expensive world to recreate. Money is more and more expensive (even if it's "internal" to the company they still balance what they spend, and the profit they could make, with leaving it in the bank and both prices and interest rates are going up), I fear the days of 1923 style budgets may be over. Chaos is coming to the TV biz. There are too many streamers and too much product and it's too hard to find. Some consolidation is headed our way. Lots of projects will get lost in the shuffle. Nearly everyone is working, meaning it's hard to get quality writers. I'm not sure what's going to make it through the system or not. The business is gobbling up westerns right now and that could go on for awhile. Pulp might come in but it will take a great and popular series to stoke the feeding frenzy just as Yellowstone primed the western market.
 

Worf

I'll Lock Up
Messages
5,183
Location
Troy, New York, USA
The biggest issue with these Pulp concepts is that filmmakers keep confusing the genre with comics. This was even an issue with Raiders of the Lost Ark, and continued to get worse as the series went on. It's actually easy to do correctly.

Take it as seriously as you can, there's a bit of Science Fiction involved but don't overplay those elements. Any "heroic" pulp series has the potential to devolve into the James Bond escalation of stakes syndrome: if you save the world this week what are you going to do next week?

The tone should be serious but light, the best example of this is the FX series Justified. The characters were so well delineated and the performances so well executed that there were always several good laughs per episode ... but never at the expense of the tension.

The James Bama Bantam paperback covers aside, Doc doesn't need to be a huge musclebound dude. If you compare the typical 1930s physique with today's super fit actors, there are plenty who could fill the bill. More difficult would be the writing and performance that would make you believe you are in the presence of a major intellect.

It's a VERY expensive world to recreate. Money is more and more expensive (even if it's "internal" to the company they still balance what they spend, and the profit they could make, with leaving it in the bank and both prices and interest rates are going up), I fear the days of 1923 style budgets may be over. Chaos is coming to the TV biz. There are too many streamers and too much product and it's too hard to find. Some consolidation is headed our way. Lots of projects will get lost in the shuffle. Nearly everyone is working, meaning it's hard to get quality writers. I'm not sure what's going to make it through the system or not. The business is gobbling up westerns right now and that could go on for awhile. Pulp might come in but it will take a great and popular series to stoke the feeding frenzy just as Yellowstone primed the western market.
Nice, thoughtful and well balanced response. I never considered the crunch of so many competing entertainment streams on money, quality writers etc... Thanks.

Worf
 
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Nice, thoughtful and well balanced response. I never considered the crunch of so many competing entertainment streams on money, quality writers etc... Thanks.

Worf
And that's only one part of the equation. Another part is finding an audience--the studios can make all of the Doc Savage and Tarzan movies they want, but if nobody wants to see them... And, let's face it--there are already too many franchises for the money-grubbers to sink their teeth into, so why add to that roster when it means taking a risk on a property people might not care about? The closest thing the latest generation has to a pulp hero is Indiana Jones, and even that franchise is already 41 years old (and the actor playing it's hero nearly twice that age).

The modern demographic for movie audiences is people aged 18-39; if you aren't within that age range the studios would love to have you buy tickets for their movies, but they aren't counting on it so movies aren't being produced and/or marketed for you/us. If any pulp heroes do re-emerge, they'll likely be CGI and have little in common with their own origins.
 

MikeKardec

One Too Many
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Location
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And that's only one part of the equation. Another part is finding an audience--the studios can make all of the Doc Savage and Tarzan movies they want, but if nobody wants to see them... And, let's face it--there are already too many franchises for the money-grubbers to sink their teeth into, so why add to that roster when it means taking a risk on a property people might not care about? The closest thing the latest generation has to a pulp hero is Indiana Jones, and even that franchise is already 41 years old (and the actor playing it's hero nearly twice that age).

The modern demographic for movie audiences is people aged 18-39; if you aren't within that age range the studios would love to have you buy tickets for their movies, but they aren't counting on it so movies aren't being produced and/or marketed for you/us. If any pulp heroes do re-emerge, they'll likely be CGI and have little in common with their own origins.
The process of "finding an audience" in film and TV is best exemplified by what has happened with Yellowstone. Westerns are successful in literature to a certain extent, an extent that doesn't change too much over the years. Taylor Sheridan starts writing "modern westerns" and rapidly distinguishes himself as a significant talent, one of the best screenwriters in the business. These don't challenge Executive Level Hollywood's normal loathing of Westerns, because they are contemporary. He gets a chance to do Yellowstone, bringing his specific subject matter to the small screen and paying his way by making it fairly soapy. After establishing himself and these types of story as very successful in both mediums he gets a chance to do 1883. I'm going to guess he also feels he has a freer hand so, like his features, it's not so soapy, not soapy at all in fact. Finally given Western material that they like and in volume, the audience responds very positively. Executive Level Hollywood is suddenly no longer resistant and the floodgates open wide. Will they over do it and kill the genre with schlock? There is no telling.

The point being there was demand prior to Yellowstone, but nothing in the film world that proved it was marketable. If Yellowstone had been bad, or undercast, or cheaply made, and few had watched it, the demand would still be there but there would have been no proof of concept and there would be no "boom" in the genre. Hell on Wheels succeeded in nothing more than keeping the door open.

The Classic/Exotic Adventure genre hasn't had a entry that operated as a proof of concept since Raiders. The closest successful example was probably Romancing the Stone ... which worked because it didn't attempt to channel every aspect of Raiders. Most of the other recent Classic/Exotic Adventure films have been pretty lousy or the powers that be have been able to pretend that they were good or successful for other reasons. For decades any time there was a successful Western the studio types would say, "that's because it's Clint Eastwood movie" or something of the sort. Slap a label on it and you can allow yourself to forget it.

I doubt that there will be any real cross over but about a third of 1923 functions as an entry in the Classic/Exotic Adventure genre. And, though we tend to ignore it, Westerns were "Exotic Adventures" from the 1880s through the Depression.

All that said, here's what I'm thinking is going to happen in Hollywood: 1) Budgets are going to go down. 2) Outlets are going to consolidate. 3) The reliance on foreign markets is going to become a lot more fragmentary and films will focus more on domestic stories (ie. China is going to dwindle as a force to be reckoned with because they will be enemy de jure and they will have no money). 3) TV series will begin to rely on ensemble casts that can replace badly behaved or unhealthy stars. 4) For the same reasons series build around concepts rather than casts will become more popular, like 1883 and 1923, the concept just needs to be strong enough. 5) Market forces will reassert themsleves and the product will be more responsive to the audience (this has not had to happen because the world market has brought in so much money and streamers have been comepting for market share based on moey raised from outside the business). 6) A lot of people are going to lose their jobs and only the fit will remain.

Film requires a certain alignment of the stars, elements that no one person, or group of people, has control over. Luckily for us, there is always literature!
 

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