Road to… The man From U.N.C.L.E.

Last weekend, Warner Bros. Pictures released Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram‘s adaptation of the television series The man From U.N.C.L.E..

The original series featured 105 episodes between 1964 and 1968 as a collaboration between creator Norman Felton and You Only Live Twice‘s Ian Fleming, creator of lead character Napoleon Solo. Other contributing writers were Robert Towne, Sherman Yellen and Harlan Ellison. The pilot episode featured character Ilya Kuryakin, who drew positive reception from audiences, prompting Felton to make him the second lead rather than April Dancer. Solo and Kuryakin would star in the series as two spies working for United Network Command Law Enforcement, Section Two – Operations and Enforcement. Solo was Number One and Kuryakin was Number Two. The third and final regular was Alexander Waverly, Number One of Section One. It wasn’t so much The man From U.N.C.L.E. as The men From U.N.C.L.E.. U.N.C.L.E. was founded by the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics from mutual fear of T.H.R.U.S.H. Producer Sam Wolfe created U.N.C.L.E.’s hierarchy, and designed it as a global agency recruiting agents from anywhere.

The series’ pilot was feature length. W.A.S.P. took the place of T.H.R.U.S.H., and Allison took the place of Waverly. Kuryakin has a brief role, which would be upgraded to major for the rest of the series. The original version was edited to an hour, titled The Vulcan Affair (Wolfe). Due to the unseen feature-length edition, The Vulcan Affair was released theatrically as To Trap a Spy. The success of this lead to other feature-length stories from the show being released theatrically…

Clyde Ware and Joseph Calverri‘s The Double Affair also had additional scenes, which was included in the cinematic version, The spy With my Face. The United Kingdom release was titled Mr. Solo, and not marketed as part of the series. It remained in British cinemas for two months, which elevated the series to top ratings on ITV Granada.

Season two premièred with the two-part Alexander the Greater Affair (Dean Hargrove). These two episodes were released theatrically as a single feature, One spy too Many, which not only added a romantic subplot that were more sexual than what was seen in the series, but also removed elements from the television broadcast to compensate. Sydney Morning Herald’s Richard Neville described One spy too Many as “a slick and imaginative production, it is nothing more than a celluloid comic strip”.

Another second season two-parter, The Bridge of Lions Affair (Howard Rodman, Wolfe and Henry Slesar) was also released theatrically as One of our Spies is Missing. This was adapted from a tie-in novel, Slesar’s The Bridge of Lions. This involved scenes being rearranged to accommodate the run time, as well as new scenes being filmed to add substance.

Season three featured another two-parter, The Concrete Overcoat Affair (Peter Allan Fields). Unlike previous theatrical releases of episodes, less changes were made to the televised version. The music was carried-over, and no new scenes were added. Some scenes were re-edited to include longer versions than seen in the original episodes. The theatrical title was The spy in the Green Hat.

Another third season two-parter, The Five Daughters Affair (Norman Hudis), was released theatrically as The Karate Killers. Like The Concrete Overcoat Affair/The spy in the Green Hat, minimal changes were made, though these did include musical changes, and scenes were trimmed rather than extended, but still made more graphic than the broadcast edition.

Season four’s final two-part episode, The Prince of Darkness Affair (Hargrove), was released theatrically as The Helicopter Spies. Like The Concrete Overcoat Affair/The spy in the Green Hat and The Karate Killers/The Five Daughters Affair, little changes were made. Scenes remained generally the same apart from being longer to include more mature material, and few scenes were added. But music was changed as before. Alternate cuts were used, involving different camera angles and higher quality stock footage of the rocket launch. Of all the theatrical releases of television episodes, The Helicopter Spies resembled its original television edition the closest.

The final two episodes, The Seven Wonders of the World Affair (Hudis), were released theatrically as How to Steal the World. This was the only theatrical edition to not feature Jerry Goldsmith’s theme music.

The television series was cancelled during its fourth season. Its popularity had lead to imitators, which caused the original show to experiment with different styles that regular audiences felt tested their loyalty. Ratings dropped, and National Broadcasting Company cancelled The man From U.N.C.L.E..

After the cancellation, the series’ cast would reunite in a television feature, The Return of the man From U.N.C.L.E.: the Fiteen-Years-Later Affair (Michael Sloan). This was instead broadcast on Columbia Broadcasting System, guest starring The Avengers‘ Patrick Macnee and featuring a tribute to Ian Fleming with a George Lazenby character driving an Aston Martin DB5 identified as J.B., the initials of Fleming’s most popular character, James Bond. (Lazenby portrayed Bond in the adaptation of Fleming’s On her Majesty’s Secret Service (Richard Maibaum and Simon Raven), and Bond drives the Aston Martin DB5 in the adaptations of Goldfinger (Maibaum and Paul Dehn), Thunderball (Maibaum and John Hopkins) and Skyfall (Neal PurvisJohn Logan and Robert Wade) and the theatrical features GoldenEye (Michael FranceJeffrey CaineKevin Wade and Bruce Feirstein) and Tomorrow Never Dies (Feirstein). It also appears in the adaptation of Casino Royale (Purvis, Wade and Paul Haggis).) The television feature establishes that T.H.R.U.S.H. is disestablished, with their leader incarcerated. Kuryakin resigned after a mission in-which an innocent was killed and now designs fashion. Solo was dismissed, and sells computers, until he’s contacted through the radio pen he kept for sentimental reasons and assigned to capture T.H.R.U.S.H.’s escaped leader. Solo and Kuryakin are separated for the majority, working as a back-door pilot to a potential new series that wasn’t commissioned.

In 1993, producer John Davis optioned theatrical film rights to Warner Bros. Pictures and Felton. Over the next twenty years, Davis claims, he commissioned twelve to fourteen screenplays from such screenwriters as Jim ThomasJohn ThomasJohn RequaGlenn Ficarra and Scott Z. Burns. Burns’ screenplay was selected by director Stephen Soderbergh, slated to begin production in March 2012. Warner Bros. Pictures line producers wanted a budget beneath USD60, 000, 000, a budget Soderbergh felt wouldn’t meet the required period, props and locations. In November 2011, Soderbergh departed. It was eventually directed by Guy Ritchie. Armie Hammer was signed as Kuryakin with Tom Cruise set to be Solo. Cruise dropped-out to work on Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (Christopher McQuarrie), adapted from the fourth season of Mission: Impossible, which began as one of The man From U.N.C.L.E.‘s imitators. Cruise was replaced with Henry Cavill. Hugh Grant was cast as Waverly. Production began in September 2013 in London and Italy. Principal photography began on 9th September 2013, utilising locations from across Europe and with a final budget of USD75, 000, 000. Ritchie’s collaborator David Allcock said of Ritchie’s process:

“He’s quite intuitive and tends to constantly rewrite stuff, which he does even when they’re shooting. He’ll rewrite things in the morning if they’re shooting that day, working with the actors if something doesn’t feel right.”

Originally scheduled for release on the 16th – 18th January 2015 weekend, Warner Bros. Pictures moved release on 12th August 2014 to the 14th – 16th August 2015 weekend. Goldsmith’s original score was replaced with Daniel Pemberton. It opened to USD13, 421, 036 at third in the box office, directly beneath Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, which had opened three weekends prior. In the United Kindgom, it opened with GBP1, 448, 298 to fourth position, also directly beneath Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, which opened in the same weekend as its North American release. In the Russian box office, the Cold War theme is considered by analysts to have helped its performance, as it opened with RUB201, 036, 611 at number one, instead directly above Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, which was only in its second week. Metacritic scored The man From U.N.C.L.E. at 55, “mixed or average reviews”. Rotten Tomatoes aggregated its reviews to 66%, and said “The man from U.N.C.L.E. tries to distract from an unremarkable story with charismatic stars and fizzy set pieces, adding up to an uneven action thriller with just enough style to overcome its lack of substance”. The North American under-performance was compared with Straight Outta Compton (Jonathan Hermann and Andrea Berloff) having a better marketing campaign, as well as Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation having already provided enough espionage until Purvis/Wade/Logan’s Spectre, the first Bond after Skyfall. The liberal use of the original series as a property was also thought to have been too limiting to the target audience for having little brand recognition.

The man From U.N.C.L.E. was written by Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram, based on the television series by Ian Fleming and Norman Felton.

Fantastic Four: the Movie — graphic novel review

Written by Tom DeFalco. Fantastic Four: the Movie is a graphic novelisation of Michael France‘s and Mark Frost‘s Fantastic Four. And having already reviewed that, it’s really quite difficult to review this incarnation without mentioning things that don’t also apply to the film. If this comes across more a series of thoughts rather than a straight-up review, that’s because it was the only way to talk about this graphic novel. The first thing that comes to mind is the character art. It seems that Marvel Comics didn’t hold the likeness rights to the actors Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis, so instead the Fantastic Four get a complete redesign, along with Julian McMahon’s Victor Doom. That’s a thing, actually; a lot of people can be confused as to why a villain calling himself Doctor Doom would have the real name Victor Doom, but it’s because his identity is public. His name is Doom and he’s a doctor, and this is the person known to be behind the mask. When people refer to him as “Doctor Doom”, they mean “Doctor [Victor] Doom” and not “[the villain known as Doctor Doom]”. The surname’s Latverian, so it’s just a coincidence. That’s just a little thing I wanted to point out.

I suppose I should really talk about the differences. Well, most of it’s the same. Fantastic Four might have crappy, expositional dialogue, which is written to inform the audience what’s happening and not because it’s of the character, but at least it’s more realistic than comic books. Early comic books, particularly Ant-Man, always had a way to describe what they were doing and what was happening in a way that makes Deadpool look real and grounded. For some reason, the graphic novelisation decides to reject the screenplay’s dialogue and instead go back to the corny style of the 1960s that may as well be prefixed with “this is what’s happening:”. But, it’s better than George Lucas‘ dialogue, so there’s that. And at least then it’s actually being said and not hammered into action description as italicised “thoughts” like Greg Cox novelisations.

Most of it is just slightly different versions of the original. Like on extra features, where they show a scene shot from a different angle, or edited in a different way. But it was all done to make reading the graphic novel shorter than watching the film. Which means that a lot of the time it feels forced and rushed. The film might only be one-hundred minutes, but that was a good length.

At the end, the graphic novelisation feels more like an extended promo for the real product, and not something that exists on its own. It’s really only at fault as much as novelisations of anything else.

Fantastic Four — review

I actually really liked Fantastic Four. In the run-up to the new Fant4stic, the general consensus seems to be that this version is mostly disliked. But that’s fine. Because unlike some idiots on the Internet, I know what subjectivity is.

Anyway, so Fantastic Four. Here’s what I liked about it more than anything – I didn’t have to worry about how this connected to a much larger universe. There were no easter eggs to spot, no tie-ins or continuity to think about. Basically, Fantastic Four wasn’t trying to fit into a story already in progress. It just exists as a standalone, so it actually had room to breath and to just be the thing that it wants to be without the existence of other releases getting in its way or influencing it. As much as I like recent releases based on comic books, I’d prefer that they weren’t part of some big, interconnected world, because that causes a lot of practical storytelling problems, as well as inserting an element of expectation or comparability into what you’re watching. With Fantastic Four, there are no connections to anything. The Spider-Man trilogy was already in progress at this point, but there are no references to anything from it made. Both they and he live in New York, and have super-powers, and defeat a supervillain, but Marvel decided to allow Fantastic Four to exist on its own, which was a much more logical choice, because it lets the characters prove themselves on their own. It’s simpler, and simpler is better. Especially when the new Fantastic Four team are (probably) going to be a part of the X-Men universe, which already has a very complicated continuity.

And so, given my preference for standalones, it makes sense to look at Fantastic Four by not thinking about other superhero films at all, and actually showing the kind of credibility its status as a standalone has.

So – despite there being a sequel, which I’m hoping to get to, we begin Fantastic Four in a brand new world that’s about to become much braver. And as it progresses and develops, it seems that it isn’t taking itself too seriously, which works better than it doesn’t. The characters are extremely likeable, and that’s what Fantastic Four has going for it – they’re like a family. Reed Richards is scientific, and skeptical, and approaches everything with logic in a way that does work, even if it’s at the detriment of his connection to the other characters. Susan Storm’s role in the story is… interesting. Johnny Storm was my favourite, however, because of his comedic apathy and for being semi-aware of questions I actually found myself asking, e.g.: where the Thing’s ears are? And also for pointing-out how gross Richards’ power is (which I’ll admit is created through effects since dated). I’d point out how fun it was to watch a serious hero like Steven Rogers suddenly being comic relief, and that it’s entirely due to Chris Evans, who gains legitimacy here because of his contrasting roles, but… standalone!

But though Storm’s my favourite (Johnny, though I can understand the affinity for Susan), it was Benjamin Grimm that affected me the most. The scene where his fiance runs away from him, despite him having set-up his reveal so carefully, worked because it’s accurate. Some people really are capable of being monster on the inside, when there are people considered monsters on the outside. And I especially liked his exchange with Storm, where he tells her that he wishes he had her ability, because he hates being seen.

Fantastic Four‘s the kind of thing where, the screenplay… kinda sucks. it has good moments, but it mostly sucks. But somehow, everything else worked. The Thing was really well-realised, I don’t get the hate for it. And it didn’t have the overbearing sense of dread that modern superhero releases have. Not that I don’t like dark themes, it’s just that they’re all looking as if they’re trying to have them, as opposed to just having them.

Really, I’m satisfied with what Fantastic Four provides. Again, I’d mention how, to me, it’s set the bar high in terms of Fant4stic, but…

…standalone!

Fantastic Four – goofy, but not overly so. 7/10