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X2 Special Coverage:
A Discussion With Chris Claremont By David Weter
Anyone who has read the X-Men comic has probably heard of Chris Claremont. They've definitely heard of his storylines: "The Dark Phoenix Saga," "Days Of Future Past," "X-tinction Agenda," and the list goes on. In fact, it is nearly impossible for any X-Men fan to not know his stories; he wrote the book for seventeen straight years, and, after a nine-year absence, returned to the book in 2000. Currently writing X-Treme X-Men for nearly two years, Claremont extended his hold to the X-stables to adapting this summer's big screen sequel to the printed page. I talked to Chris about adapting the movie into novel form as well as his take on our favorite mutants.
David Weter: After logging nearly two accumulative decades on these characters, you've come to write the novel adaptation of the sequel to the 2000 blockbuster movie, loosely based on your 1982 graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills. Is there a feeling of full circle here?
Chris Claremont: Not quite full circle, but there is a feeling of accomplishment, of completion. It's fun (A) to see the characters on the screen and (B) to be in the peripheral part of it.
DW: How did you become involved with the novelization?
CC: Well, I actually was interested in writing the novelization of the first movie. But then I was in an executive position at Marvel Comics as an editorial director. And there simply weren't enough hours in the day to do the work I was doing with the X-Men and do my staff job, and to do a novel in the three and a half minutes that they have budgeted for it in terms of the deadline. So, that gig went to someone else -- Kathryn Rusch. So when this one rolled around, especially given the connection to God Loves, when I heard from Steve Saffel that Del Rey was very much in hunt for the license he and I talked about it, and I said, if they indeed did get the license to give me a call because I'd be very interested in doing it. And so they did. He and [Del Ray Editor-In-Chief] Betsy Mitchell gave me a call and we sat down and hammered out a deal.
DW: How much lead-time were you given?
CC: (CHUCKLES) About twenty minutes. Basically we had a handshake deal at last year's San Diego Con, and we got the green light on the first draft of the screenplay by mid-August. The first half was due September 13, the finished book was due October 13. So, it was basically ten weeks to turn out a novel.
DW: That's rough. When there were script changes -- like the deleted danger room sequence -- how did that hamper or help you write?
CC: Well, the script changed every hour. For the most part it was a matter of evolution. What I did in August was draft an outline of the book. Then, over the course of the succeeding eight to ten weeks it was a matter of evolution to make sure that scenes that were added to the movie were included to the book, and scenes that were deleted from the movie were deleted from the book. There were a couple of instances we knew were deleted from the movie we got greenlighted to leave in the book because they were cool.
Some things were a matter of surprise. For example, in the earlier drafts of the scene in the American History Museum, Kitty Pryde is one of the courtside attendants in the lunchroom scene along with Iceman, Rogue, and Pyro. By the time we got to the following draft she had been pretty much excised from that particular sequence. So, we had to make some last minute adjustments, which, I gather from some online correspondence we didn't quite catch every reference. What you see in terms of the novel is a snapshot of the screenplay as of the middle of November, which is when we had to lock in the book once and for all.
The fact is they were still engaged in principal photography, they were still working on the movie. As Bryan [Singer] himself has said, the movie is actually made up of three screenplays. There is the screenplay that is written at the very start of production is simply used to sell the movie. There is the screenplay while the movie is being shot. Then there is the screenplay that is written during the editing process. In certain respects, the evolution from the first iteration of the screenplay to the last iteration of the screenplay, from the first words on paper to what you actually see in the theater can be extraordinary.
So, I would expect there are a lot of surprises in store for the audience come May.
DW: What was the biggest challenge on this project?
CC: Hitting the deadline. Writing a book in ten weeks is quite an adventure.
DW: You probably didn't have time for anything else.
CC: Not really. Unfortunately life doesn't stop for deadlines. But, the challenge was to be true to the characters, be true to the canon, be true to my own instincts as a writer, and be true to the story. The idea was to create a piece of work that does justice not only to what I have to contribute to the project, but to the source material, which in this case is the movie.
DW: What was your target audience? Was it the general public who, perhaps, saw the first movie and never read the comic, or was it for the fans?
CC: Both. The idea is to create a book that avid and longtime readers and aficionados of the X-men would enjoy, but at the same time the movie opens up a potential audience for that concept to a much broader, deeper spectrum of people. So, my challenge is to, in effect, satisfy both audiences. Make it totally clear for someone who had never encountered the content before, but also totally irresistible so that if you read the book you want to see the movie. But if you read the book you might be intrigued enough to go out and look for the comic and see what that's all about.
DW: In the book you mention characters like Rhane Sinclair and Moira McTaggert. Were they actually referenced in the script or was that a bonus for fans?
CC: Six of one, half dozen of the other. In some cases they were me, in other cases... The delightful thing about the screenplay is that it was not a significant stretch, not a stretch at all, really, to go from the characters defined in the movie and the characters that have been define in the comic for the last thirty-five years. In their essence, in their heart and soul, the movie has captured what makes the X-Men the X-Men. Both as individuals and as a team. To me they are actually the theme of the screenplay. The theme is the people I've been writing since... the Ford Administration. So, I felt I had to be true to that vision as they were true to, for want of a better term, my vision. But at the same time I wanted to make it enticing and exciting and irresistible to the broader, general interest populace. I basically want every reader I can get for this book because every reader who comes to this book and enjoys it is a potential viewer of the movie. If so, by the same token you hope that everyone who views the movie might have an impulse to go buy the book.
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DW: In the book you describe Wolverine as short, yet Hugh Jackman is taller than most of the cast.
CC: Yeah, but through the magic of movies…. Ian Holm is not a tall man and Ian McKellen is, yet the disparity between them is in Lord of the Rings. Hobbits are pretty short, but I don't think any of the actors are that short in real life. So, through the magic of movie making I suspect you can get away with almost anything. I think in there it's a matter, again, of trying to straddle the two worlds as honorably as possible. Even though Hugh Jackman is six foot two, if you look at the first movie he's never established as being that tall in context with everyone else. He did not tower over Halle Berry. I think my presumption was based on X-Men one without being obvious about it they were trying to be as true as they could to the comic book reality where Wolverine is not a giant, where he is average or below average height. And so, in essence, it wasn't a stretch to mention it in the book. And, obviously, if it were a problem they would have said something. By the same token, we didn't go out of our way to mention it, but Storm is a little taller in the book than Halle Berry is in real life. But, what the heck. If Storm in the comic looked half as good as Halle Berry I think we would all share.
DW: Moving a little bit more to the first movie, how do you feel [screenwriter] David Hayter portrayed the characters?
CC: Fine. I think, as I said before, watching that movie, aside from the incredible treats and delight, of seeing characters that I worked on, and in some cases created, brought to life by people like Ian McKellen and Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart and Anna Paquin. On one level it's quite a lot of fun to suddenly have faces and voices and real bodies to suddenly flesh out and give life to the characters. I find myself now, when I write Xavier, when I write Magneto, or even a certain extent when I write Storm or Wolverine I hear the actor's voices, I see them in my mind's eye. Which can be both a plus and a minus. But in terms of the first movie I think David did a wonderful job of, again, transferring the essence of the characters, transferring what is their heart and soul from the page to the screen and I didn't see anyone substantially, or even marginally different on the screen from what I've been reading and writing in the books for years. And I think that is a superb and wonderful achievement on the part of the filmmakers. It showed how much they understand and respect the source material. You couldn't ask for more as a writer of the source material.
DW: In X-Treme X-Men #25 you're beginning a story arc that you've billed as a sequel to God Loves, Man Kills...
CC: I don't bill it. Marvel bills it. But...
DW: But you've said that this is the X-Men film YOU would make?
CC: Well, one of them. Along with "Dark Phoenix" and "Days of Future Past" and "Asgard Wars." In my mind I could turn X-Men into a never-ending series, but who has the budget of 100 million dollars a week?
DW: Were you ever approached to do an X-Men movie?
CC: No. That's West Coast. There's a big country between L.A. and New York and they don't intermingle very much.
DW: How do the X-Men movies stand up against other Marvel movies like, Daredevil and Spider-Man?
CC: (Laughs heartily) Without the success of the X-Men movie there wouldn't be a Daredevil, and there wouldn't be a Punisher. I think that the X-Men proved three years ago is that in the hands of the right production crew, and the right creative crew, that you can come up with a film that is not only a creative success, but a commercial one as well. I think it laid the foundation for the tremendous success of Spider-Man. But, of course, Spider-Man has raised the bar for all the films that come afterwards. If X-Men had not demonstrated that a top-notch Hollywood auteur like Bryan Singer could bring his own individual vision and talent to what most people would think of as a comic book property you wouldn't look around today and see Ang Lee doing The Hulk. One builds off the other. Another director might not consider doing a film like this except, "Well, Bryan had a good time why don't I try it. Hey Sam had a good time and made a ton of cash."
I think that success breeds success. If it had turned out to be the 21st century equivalent of The Punisher or the old Captain America movie filmed in Yugoslavia or, God forbid, that awful Fantastic Four, we wouldn't be having this discussion. But I think the thing to remember with Marvel, and these Marvel characters in particular, is that if you trust the material, if you trust the characters. If you approach it with the same degree of faith and commitment that you would if you were adapting, God Help me, Shakespeare then you might very much surprise the audience and have a lot of fun in the process. I don't think anyone considered or had a clue what Baz Luhrmann was up to with Romeo and Juliet, and yet it works not only as a piece of contemporary pop culture but as a fairly impressive adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Again, I think it paves the way for a whole series; some good, some bad, some indifferent, subsequent films that attempt to modernize or re-adapt or re-interpret various Shakespeare plays like Ten Things I Hate About You and O. Some worked, some didn't, but the fact is people, I don't think, would have tried if Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet hadn't attracted a lot of attention and success. I think the same thing is true here. I think how Daredevil, and now X-Men, and later in the summer The Hulk, do will conceivably inspire a whole inspire a whole other round of directors and creators to take a shot at comic book characters and who knows what they might come up with -- maybe a Superman and a Batman film worth watching.
DW: The film is premiering in the summer, near The Matrix sequel. Is X2 going to suffer because of that?
CC: Why should it? I mean, I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. They're something like four weeks apart. Four weeks in movie-making terms is an eternity. In four weeks Spider-Man had racked up $200 million dollars! So I don't think that's a problem. Obviously there’s a great deal of anticipation for Matrix 2, and there's also a great deal of anticipation for Lord of the Rings 3. That's the nature of the beast, that's movie stuff. The movie is, I assume, made. It's locked in. Whatever Bryan's doing is what Bryan's doing to put the finishing polish on the material. From here on I suspect it's in the lap of the gods. But based on everything I have seen to this point I think it will be a tremendous treat. And hopefully as much fun for the audience as it seemed to be for the cast and crew involved. I would hope it's as big, if not bigger success. From that perspective I'm from the outside looking in, I have no idea. The marketing and commercial studio people are all sweating bullets because that's their job. My job, per se, ended six months ago. I'm just happily looking on and enjoying the ride.
DW: What contribution of yours that has made it onto the screen are you most proud of?
CC: Basically, these are characters that I've created and these are characters that I've defined, relationships that I've established over the course of twenty odd years. It was a tremendous rush three years ago to realize that the relationship between Xavier and Magneto is mine. The triangle between Scott and Jean and Logan is mine. Rogue is mine, Mystique is mine, and Kelley is mine. As I would hope the feeling is, to a greater or lesser extent in Stan and Len Wein. From Len's point of view, if it weren’t for him, none of this would be here. Wolverine is his, Storm is his, Nightcrawler is his, and Colossus is his. In Stan's case, Scott, Jean, Charlie, Magneto, Iceman, Beast, you name it. The three of us, I think, on that level, it has to be tremendously exciting to see our contribution to our field, and by extension, pop culture in a way legitimized by the actors and the script.
When I started out I wanted to be an actor. So one of my gods, as a young thespian, so to speak, was Ian McKellen. When he would come to New York to do his one man shows I would scrape up whatever bucks I had and go see him. Because to me, dreaming of being an actor, that was what I wanted to do, that was who I wanted to be like. Even though my life has gone in a different direction, to have the opportunity to provide a character, even twice removed, for him to play, the opportunity to see him bring to life a character, pretty much as I have defined him over the years is tremendously exciting and both a compliment and a treat, wonderful, every other happy word you can think of. So, whether it's one character, one line, one scene, a whole story, a portion of a story, it doesn't matter to me it's the totality of what's up there is something that I feel very much a part of and feel very much responsible for. And that's a real rush.
DW: You said that you originally wanted to be an actor. How did you end up becoming a career writer?
CC: They get paid more, and better, and faster, and more often. Clear as that. I was acting in New York, and writing freelance, and I got more writing assignments than acting gigs. I figured I would take some time off, do some writing, build up a stake, then go off and do some acting. About the time I decided to go back and start acting again I met the X-Men. I figured, "I can do this for a couple of years, that will be fine." About ten years later I looked around and thought "oops."
DW: Have there ever been any regrets in your career choice?
CC: Every now and then. It ain't like there's a time machine to go back and fix it. To be honest, while I love acting with a passion I cannot conceive of not writing. I would be writing while acted as opposed to acting while I write. So, I have a feeling I'm doing what I was always meant to do, or what I always wanted to do. Acting is fun. Writing seems to be my life. Which is not a bad thing. It allows me the privilege of earning my living for the substantial part of my life doing what I love.
DW: In the early nineties, when you told Marvel that you were leaving X-Men, were you ever afraid of the consequences?
CC: Of what?
DW: Of not being able to go back?
CC: Things change and you move on. When I left in '91 it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Looking back from now, maybe it wasn't such a bright idea. But you play the hand you have at the time you have it. There were things I wanted to do at the time, I did them, and some worked out some didn't. I came back, things worked out, things didn't. It's the nature of life.
DW: You've stated your distaste for the run following yours...
CC: I would suspect distaste is too pejorative a word. At the time it was hard for me to look at anybody writing the X-Men and judge them fairly. I was looking at it from a perspective that was pretty much, "Who's screwing around with my toys." It seems to color any judgment you make. I was young then and foolish.
DW: Do you think the books are on the right path with Grant Morrison and company on the books?
CC: It's not my call. Obviously Marvel believes they're on the right path or they wouldn't be doing it. That's their prerogative as a publisher. I think the realization that is different between now and then is what I said before that it's hard to imagine anyone else playing with my toys. They're not my toys they're Marvel's toys. I get loaned them for a time, we all get loaned them for a time, but ultimately we have to give them back. Ultimately the determination of what they are and who they are is in the hands of the publisher and the editor. If you're not prepared to accept that particular reality you shouldn't be doing it. If you do accept that reality it spares you a lot of aggravation and grief.
DW: With the novel being released two months before the movie do you think the spoilers will ruin the film for fans?
CC: Per se I don't think there are any spoilers. At this stage I don't think anybody knows precisely what the finished film is. Bryan knows, obviously. The producers know Lauren Schuler-Donner and company. But, what you're seeing is a snapshot of the film as of the middle of November. But they weren't finished shooting the film. They were still doing photography through late November. Obviously, even when photography is finished the editing process allows for tremendous opportunities to shape and mold and focus the film. I suspect, as I said before, that there are a lot of treats and surprises for the audience, come May. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing it.