Saturday, February 8, 2014

Why Can't We Have a Movie Based on Thundarr the Barbarian?

A friend of mine posted some sketches of Thundarr the Barbarian and a few other of the old Hanna-Barbara action cartoon characters from the early 80s this morning, and it got me thinking.  How can it be that we've had movies based on things like Battleship the boardgame and Rock'Em Sock'Em Robots, but Thundarr and his cohorts have been sitting on the shelf for thirty years?

We can all see the influences here, right?  I mean, this is basically a Robert E. Howard-style concept, deliberately set in a dystopian-fantasy future using lightsabers.  That's not a bad thing.  Rather, I think it's an example of creativity wearing its inspiration openly in ways that have since become fantasy genre staples.  Moreover, (at least according to Wikipedia) Thundarr has some pretty damned distinctive creative parentage:

"Comic book writer-artist Jack Kirby worked on the production design for the show. While many people believe that Kirby was the primary designer of the show (mainly due to his similarly themed Kamandi: The Last Boy On Earth), the main characters were in fact designed by fellow comic book writer-artist Alex Toth, who also designed the popular character Space Ghost for Saturday morning television. Toth, however, was unavailable to continue working on the show, so most of the wizards and other villains and secondary characters that appear on the show were designed by Kirby. He was brought onto the show at the recommendation of comic writer Steve Gerber and comics and animation veteran Mark Evanier, who realized that the same imagination that producedKamandi could contribute significantly to the series. Indeed, the evil wizard Gemini, the only repeating villain on the show, resembles Darkseid, an infamous Kirby villain."

Now, it's not true that everything Kirby touched turned to gold, but he did a lot that has survived and thrived beyond his own personal involvement.  It'd be nice to see a few of his other ideas resurface in new and different ways.  

Promotional image for Thundarr.  I got it off the Wikipedia entry.
As with a lot of these kinds of questions, I often find myself thinking about the strategy by which Thundarr could be re-introduced to the public consciousness.  There are a few live-action fan trailers for would-be Thundarr movies on YouTube, most of which use a combination of footage from 2012, Armageddon, the various Star Wars prequels, and something like the Lord of the Rings movies to show what a Michael Bay-style Thundarr might look like.  If I'm being honest, that is not exactly the kind of thing I'm looking for in a Thundarr movie.  Considering how movies like John Carter and the most recent Conan fared, I'd be concerned that a bad script, over-the-top CGI, and a general misunderstanding of the property by whichever director got it would kill the thing's value for another two generations.  

Instead of that, what I'd like to see is something like what DC (Warner Premier) is doing with its DC Comics properties via direct-to-DVD/On-Demand animation.

This approach is, to me, a better--i.e. lower cost--way to test the property's current market value.  How many hard-core Thundarr fans are there out there?  How excited are they by the prospect of more Thundarr?  I have no way of knowing.  

Neither, I suspect, does Warner Brothers.

The problem is that not every comic and cartoon property necessarily translates instantly and automatically to the big screen for live-action film.  In particular, I think magic has a tendency to look ridiculous if it's not handled with care, and that kind of care is often lost on some of these big budget directors.  And anyway, aren't these direct-to-DVD things making money?  They must be.  Otherwise, why would Warner keep making them?

Space Ghost.
Is a badass.
Look, I remember Thundarr fondly from back when I was an eight-year-old kid watching cartoons on Saturday mornings.  I would love to share my memories of those times with my kids.  But that does not mean that I need some asshole to spend $250 million putting together an extremely risky big-budget version of Thundarr that would have to be rated PG-13 and which I would therefore be concerned about showing to my kids in the first place.  Rather, what it means is that I'd like to see more Thundarr--or even the same Thundarr--but in HD using update animation techniques.  Hasbro did something very like this for Transformers: Prime, and I feel pretty certain that a business model exists to make the property make some money.  

Now, maybe it's cheaper from a rights perspective for Warner to keep cranking out Batman and Justice League movies, but for fuck's sake, haven't we seen enough Batman?  I know I have. 

I want something new.  Or, if you insist on rehashing something, then rehash something else.  It's enough with the grim and gritty Batman, the Superman who treats Metropolis like his own personal battlefield, and all the rest of those origin stories that you keep telling over and over and over again.  Thundarr is not by any means the only property in the Hanna-Barbara/WB archives that could be mined for content and new ideas, it just happens to be my favorite.  But I'm pretty sure that the geek world would also applaud a Space Ghost direct-to-DVD cartoon or TV show update, especially if it was awesome.  

I mean, that obvious, right?

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