Margaret Thatcher vs the Creature From the Pit

6 Jan

What’s all the fuss with Lincoln? Yes, it’s by Spielberg. Yes, it stars Daniel Day-Lewis. But – smacks forehead in disbelief – it has no vampires in it. Not one. What’s with that?

On the ferry back to England, I caught up with the film that rectifies this schoolboy error: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Sadly, it’s not quite as silly as it sounds, and is all the poorer for it. At least last autumn’s FDR: American Badass, in which Teddy Roosevelt takes on Nazi werewolves in a pimped-out weaponised wheelchair, has the grace to realise it ought to be played for yuks as well as yucks.

Now I know what you’re thinking. What kind of demented fool/genius would dream up concepts like those? But actually, this is just part of a wider trend. Studios love properties with ‘brand equity’: in other words, that people have heard of before. It saves them a fortune in marketing. That’s why you get movies based not just on books and graphic novels, but on theme parks (Pirates of the Caribbean), board games (Battleships), hell,  even lists (um, Schindler’s).

Even better is to get them copyright-free. Fairy tales are a rich seam to plunder: Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror Mirror; the upcoming Jack the Giant Slayer and Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters. So, too, are mythical figures: Rise of the Guardians throws together the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Jack Frost and Santa Claus. An HBO TV series of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which features the old Gods of Asgard roaming contemporary America, is in the works.

I guess it all began, as do so many things, with Alan Moore, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The idea was so strong – put fictional heroes such as Mr Hyde, Captain Nemo and the Invisible Man together in a super-team – that the film rights to it sold before anyone had read the graphic novel, which explains why the film version was so lamentably different.

And now Hollywood has realised they don’t have to stop at fictional characters, and are co-opting real flesh-and-blood figures into the shadowy realms of fantasy. Lincoln and Roosevelt are, surely, only the tips of the iceberg. What next? King George vs Cthulhu? The Iron Lady vs the Creature from the (Miners’) Pit? Mick Jagger vs the Spiders from Mars?

On second thoughts, these all sound strangely plausible. Any film execs out there? I’m ready to write 🙂

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