Mr. Hyde Comic to Screen

HYDE_WThe Hollywood Reporter carried the story that Skydance Prods., Dark Horse Entertainment and producer Mark Gordon will turn the upcoming Dark Horse comic The Strange Case of Hyde into a feature film.
Written by screenwriter Cole Haddon (THIEVES OF BAGDAD), the as-yet-unseen comic book will debut at Comic Con this weekend.
It’s a not an adaption of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This version is a different take on the Jekyll & Hyde mythos that will make the dual character “the center of a Victorian-era action-adventure that sees him go head-to-head against a historical villain.”
Sounds a little bit like THE LEAGE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMAN’s Hyde— more the movie version than the graphic novel’s.
If the idea is to make Mr. Hyde into a transformational superhero, that’s been done before, too. There was minor golden-age superhero called The Terror  that used that shtick.
One of Stan Lee’s main inspirations for The Hulk was the Jekyll/Hyde idea, suped-up for the atom age.
Baldwin_HYDEThe Francis Ford Coppola (DRACULA)-produced DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE (1999) starred Adam Baldwin as a heroic Jekyll who transformed into Mr. Hyde to track down his wife’s killers in the Far East.
But the Hyde as hero angle—if that indeed is what this might be—is a workable idea, and might make for a fun comic and movie.

CHANGING SAKÉ INTO WINE – Neil Gaiman on Adapting "Princess Mononke" for America

Over a decade afters its original release, Hayao Miyazaki’s PRINCESS MONONOKE remains a monumental achievement in animation, an enthralling adventure-fantasy whose traditional hand-drawn cells easily outclass much of the soulless computerized cartoons of today. Looking back, it is easy to see MONONOKE as part of a trend toward showing some respect for anime when releasing it for the U.S. market; in an earlier era, Japanese animation was typically re-edited and dubbed down to the level of a kiddie cartoons, but that was not the case here.
When PRINCESS MONONOKE first began appearing at press screenings in the United States in 1998, it was Japan’s official entry in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences category for Best Foreign Language Film, and U.S. distributor Miramax had picked up domestic distribution rights. This was good news to fans of anime in general and fans of Miyazaki in particular, because Miramax was in the habit of setting new box office records for subtitled, foreign language releases, with films such as LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE and IL POSTINO. (LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, which came later, continued the trend.)
However, the Motion Picture Academy, against all good sense, failed to deliver a foreign language nomination to Miyazaki’s brilliant animated epic. Without the statuette, or at least the potential of one, to use as a marketing hook on which to hang an advertising campaign, Miramax head Harvey Weinstein opted to abandon a planned release of the subtitled version in favor of taking the time to dub the film into English for release in 1999. Considering the quality of most foreign-film dubbing, especially of anime, this was a sore disappointment to those who had seen and fallen in love with the Japanese version. Thoughts of cartoony voices giving stiff line readings within the audible confines of a tiny recording studio sprang quickly to mind.
Fortunately, the expected debacle did not occur. Miramax hired a big-name voice cast (Claire Danes, Billy Crudup, Minnie Driver, Gillian Anderson, Billy Bob Thornton), giving the American version its own sheen of respectability. Equally important, they hired author Neil Gaiman to write the English-language dialogue, working from a translation of the original Japanese. Gaiman is a noted author in his own right, who has worked in diverse media, including comics (SANDMAN), television (NEVERWHERE), and even records (he collaborated with Alice Cooper on the concept for the album THE LAST TEMPTATION, and also wrote the tie-in comic book illustrating the story). Gaiman captures most of what was apparent in the subtitled version and even clarifies a few points for the benefit of Western viewers—while also making the whole thing sound natural in English, adopting a poetic, sometimes mythic tone in keeping with the film’s visual impact.
Purists might quibble over whether the result matches or exceeds the subtitled version. But it is a testament to the quality of the dub that any evaluation of the new version has to be based on weighing the relative merits of valid artistic choices. Whether or not one thinks English-language performances improve upon the original, one has to acknowledge that they are legitimate acting performances in their own right. In short, the fact that the film has been dubbed is almost no longer an issue: we’re not assessing a clearly inferior product whose only justification is selling tickets to those too lazy to read subtitles; rather, it is a faithful adaptation that was rendered into a new form for the benefit of its audience.
How was this remarkable feat achieved? Below, fantasy author Neil Gaiman explains why he took on the task, how he surmounted the inevitable difficulties inherent in the project, and what he thinks of the final result.
Neil Gaiman: I was astonished. I was amazed by the film. I’d never see anything like that before. That was what got me to agree. I had expected to say no. When Harvey [Weinstein] asked me to write it, I wasn’t going to say no outright, so I said, “Send me a video.” He said, “No, I don’t want you to see this on video. I want you to see this on the big screen.” I said, “Oh…okay.” I came to LA., went to a screening room, sat down, fully expecting to come out at the end of the day and say, “I don’t think so, but thank you very much for asking me.”
The film started, and all of a sudden there’s a giant demon creature that turns out to be a giant boar but looks like a spider covered with snake-worms, and I was hooked. I sat there, and sat there, and sat, and came out at the end and said, “I have to do this. I have to be involved. This is so cool, and I’ve never seen anything like it. I love the gods, and I love the animals and monsters and the people. I love the complexity of the people and all the motives.”
I felt I could write these people, but more important I felt I could write the gods, these giant animals, without ever going Disney.
I was given a raw script translation, and I translated the translation into lines that people could say. What they gave me was the subtitles, essentially—slightly expanded, but “here, word for word, is what people are actually saying in Japanese.” That was very interesting, because you’d run into a number of phenomena. For example, some things would be untranslatable. Sometimes you would want to “elegant” the translation. I was trying to explain to somebody the other day: the jokes are really hard to translate, because they don’t—not quite. Why something is funny doesn’t necessarily translate. You have to go and find something that is the emotional equivalent.
There was an enormous amount of creativity in the job. If it had just been a matter of taking the script and tidying up the language to make it sound more like dialogue, that would have been easy. The fun for me was that all of these people are different; they have different characters and different voices.
That got a bit silly for awhile. “Samurai” they left; we got to keep “samurai.” We lost “sake”; “sake” became “wine.” We lost “Japan,” interestingly enough, and we even lost China—at one point [in the original version] they talk about these guns that come from China.
It’s not even a matter of how long they’re moving their mouths. It’s a matter of matching exactly. People have been asking if we reanimated it. There are two schools of thought coming out from the film. School of Thought #1 is that we reanimated the mouth movements. School #2 is that they must have made two different versions at the same time.
What is interesting is that we actually match the mouth movements better than the Japanese one did, only because what would break suspension of disbelief for an American audience is much more than for a Japanese audience, so we had to be closer.
The delight with PRINCESS MONONOKE is we set a new standard for dubs. You get different responses from fans, because you get different types of fans watching it. One are the people who have seen the original Japanese film many times; sometimes they love it, and sometimes they have stuff they miss from the Japanese version, in terms of performances. In the Japanese one, for example, the part of Moro, the giant wolf, is played by a transvestite, a female impersonator; it actually sounds, frankly, like a fairly deep-voiced male actor, although Moro the wolf is a female. So they sort of remember a very deep, growling kind of voice. Now, we have Gillian Anderson, and we don’t try to recreate that voice. There was no attempt to recreate that. There was no attempt to tell Gillian Anderson, “Do it in a deep voice like a bloke” or anything. The idea was, we have Gillian Anderson, and she’s wonderful and astonishing, and she’s really, really good. We did that all the way through. Billy Bob [Thornton]does not sound like the Jigo from the Japanese version. But on the other hand, Billy Bob as this wonderful, sort of used car salesman—this little wild card forever fiddling stuff behind the scenes—is terrific.
In the Japanese one, they are talking about other things, and he goes and cuts his hair, puts it on the alter, goes out, and never comes back to his village. As far as most Americans are concerned at this point, he’s just given himself a haircut, possibly because it’s going to be a slightly long trip. You want people to get the same amount of information that they would have got.
Rarely. Mostly no. There was very little that got left out. You change things for effect. At one point they’re talking about women and how they have to stay and guard the town. The captain of the guard says, “Don’t worry about our ladyship. I will protect her.” One of the women in Japanese turns to him and says, “Useless!”—and everybody laughs. Which is fair enough, but it doesn’t take you terribly far in doing the translation. You go, “Why is she saying ‘useless’? Why is this so funny?” So I have her go, “Even if you were a woman, you’d still be an idiot!”—and everybody laughs. Now, we lost the word “useless,” but we had the laugh and the context.
Basically, although Claire [Danes] was in there from the beginning. I knew pretty early on that if I wasn’t going to get Minnie Driver, I would get Helena Bonham Carter, and if I didn’t’ get Helena Bonham Carter, I’d get Kristen Scott Thomas, if you see what I mean. It was going to be one of those. Lady Eboshi was going to be icy and British. Actually, Minnie is astonishing. She gives Eboshi a level of ambiguity that is astonishing.
Wonderful, although the point where it really became great was just seeing it with an audience. That made me very happy.
They laughed in all the right places. And in a couple of places I still haven’t figured out why they laugh. It’s like when the heads go flying: audiences always laugh, but it’s an uncomfortable laugh. It’s funny and there’s a moment of rejection.
I can’t ever imagine doing it again. It was wonderful. If Miyazaki asked me to, I probably would, and if a movie came along that was even cooler…but how many of them are there going to be? I’ve been asked a lot since, especially from Japan, where they say, “MONONOKE HIME [the film’s Japanese title] was the greatest Japanese animated movie—we want the guy who did that.” So I get a lot of requests, but I have no real interest in doing it again.
Let me say, the person who really did raise the bar—I may have done it in terms of script quality, I like to think—but the dub itself is Jack Fletcher, who was the dubbing director. He is the reason why we match the lip movements even more accurately than the Japanese did. He is the one who took every line and… Fundamentally, it’s all my dialogue. Every once in awhile, there are little bits where I go, “How did that happen? I don’t get it.” I was asking them last night, “Why did the little girl in the village become explicitly his [Ashitaka’s] sister? I didn’t think she was in the script they gave me, and she certainly wasn’t in the script I wrote.” And nobody seemed to know where that had come from.
But mostly you got the lines that I wrote, fiddled with very slightly by Jack to make them work, if you see what I mean. Sometimes, you get my dialogue perfectly. One of the reasons I love all the Gillian Anderson-Moro stuff so much is it’s mine, dammit, all mine. Which I really do like; it makes me very happy. At that point, that’s what you’re hearing, because we didn’t have to match lip movements, so you could actually hear the rhythms of my dialogue. That was great.
The hardest thing, as a writer, was coming up with a line of dialogue that was absolutely beautiful, powerful, brilliant, elegant, poetic, fine, and then…only if the character had moved their mouth one more time, I could have used it!

Princess Mononoke (1999) – Anime Review

Complex adult animation from anime-auteur Hayao Miyazaki

Feature film animation was once monopolized by Disney; in the era of CGI, other production companies like DreamWorks and Pixar staked a claim to the territory. But fans of anime know that there is another company that puts out consistently high-quality animation that often surpasses the best of Disney: Studio Ghibli, presided over by writer-director Hayao Miyazaki. While much of anime’s fame (or infamy—at least in the U.S.) derives from a sense of puritanical shock at the outrageous, adult aspects (including X-rated sex and violence) Miyazaki’s work has always been more closely aligned to the Disney aesthetic: his films tend to feature cute characters and pastoral beauty that falls within the comfort zone of Occidental audiences, while also including PG action and adventure elements that appeal to teens and young adults, as well as to older audiences impressed with the artistry.
With PRINCESS MONONOKE Miyazaki rose to a whole new level of achievement. The familiar pictorial elements are on display, but not the light-hearted humor of KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE and MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO. Instead, the adventure strikes a remarkably adult tone, beginning with a frightening attack on a small village by a monster that appears to be a mass of slithering worms in the form of a spider. Prince Ashitaka kills the rampaging beast, which turns out to be a former forest god: a large boar that passes its curse on to Ashitaka as it dies.
His arm starting to show signs of transformation (wispy, worm-like tendrils), Ashitaka leaves his village to search for a cure, his only clue a small metal pellet found in the body of the slain animal. The bullet leads Ashitaka to Lady Eboshi, who runs a mining company that has been deforesting an area rich in raw ore for her irons works. Unfortunately for Ashitaka, Lady Eboshi is not simply a villain whom he can blame for the cursed animal that attacked his village; she is also a beloved leader who not only employs lepers but also buys out the contracts on local prostitutes and provides them honest work.
While Ashitaka is forced to see the good side of Lady Eboshi, the same cannot be said for Princess Mononoke, a feral young woman raised by the wolf goddess Moro. Committed to defending the forest and its residents, she wants only to kill Eboshi, but the film never allows us fully to condone her quest. Consequently, Ashitaka finds himself trapped in the middle of this feud, unable to join fully with either side, yet desperately hoping somehow to find a resolution that will benefit all concerned. In a strange way, the story echoes YOJIMBO, wherein the title character formed alliances with rival factions in order to play both sides against each. But the master samurai in YOJIMBO had no allegiance to either side; Ashitaka, on the other hand, it torn between allegiances to both sides while trying to mediate the flames of conflict. It is a hopeless task: because of his refusal to ally himself definitively with either side, neither one will give him the trust he needs to bring about a resolution to the conflict.
Although the situation seems irresolvable, the audiences never disengages from the story. We identify with Ashitaka’s apparently hopeless quest, even as we despair of his chances for success. We see the apparent righteousness of the rival characters, even as we realize that their conflict will lead to disaster. Amidst this human bickering, the relatively honorable conduct of the forest gods (all in the forms of animals) seems relatively noble, even if the creatures themselves are dangerous and violent.
Miyazaki is making a statement about respect for nature, but he refuses the simple option of making the iron foundry out to be a bastion of evil. In fact, it seems that the conflict lies not in nature versus civilization but in the personal animosity that many of the major characters hold for each other. Ultimately, the film allows us the luxury of identifying with the clear vision of extremists who believe in their own righteousness, but then strips that luxury away from us as they are forced, by the consequences of their own actions, to take stock of their beliefs and revise them in order to go on living.
This description sounds heavy-handed, but the thematic subtext is dramatized in vivid exciting scenes. From the very first frames, Miyazaki proves himself a total master of the medium, manipulating audience responses with ease. The opening sequence of the boar’s attack is as frightening as any horror film. The monstrous appearance of the beast aside, the sequence works because of subtle touches that instill fear: Yakul, Ashitaka’s formerly and courageous-looking red elk (which the villagers ride like horses) goes paralyzed with fright at the sight of the monster. The sudden transformation from noble steed to quivering creature underlines the approaching threat.
Elsewhere, Miyazaki juxtaposes his patented pastoral landscapes with outbreaks of violence that are positively shocking to anyone familiar with his work. The visceral impact of these action scenes ranks with the best work appearing in live-action films today; in American animated films, there is quite simply nothing to compare. Under the influence of the curse working through his body, Ashitaka’s skills as a warrior reach demonic proportions; the arrows released from his bow dismember and decapitate his foes (amazingly, the film somehow avoided an R-rating without any cuts). As with everything else in PRINCESS MONONOKE, the scenes evoke complex responses the audience: on the one hand, his opponents seem to deserve their fate; on the other, we see that the violence is slowly overwhelming the character, who must find a solution before he turns as evil as the demonic boar he slew.
PRINCESS MONONOKE’s English language version attempted to set a new standard for dubbing. Not only do the lines effectively match the characters’ mouth movements’ Neil Gaiman’s English-language script also captures the flavor of the original, loosing little in the translation from Japanese. The English track clarifies a few minor plot points that might not be obvious to Western viewers without sounding too much like added exposition. The voice cast do a solid job, but they do not quite match the zest of the original. Moro, the wolf mother, loses the most: the Japanese language for the character was delivered by a female impersonator, creating a strange combination of masculine strength and feminine delivery. Gillian Anderson certainly does a good job, but some of the weirdness is missing.
PRINCESS MONONOKE is an outstanding achievement. At a time when Disney was struggling to make more adult fare (such as MULAN), and while DreamWorks was stumbling with their Biblical rehash PRINCE OF EGYPT, Miyazaki made a film that sets the real standard, easily equaling and surpassing other achievements in the genre. Fans of Miyazaki’s had no reason to be surprised. What was pleasantly surprising is that his vision reached American shores in relatively unadulterated form, thanks Miramax (who abandoned plans to release a subtitled version after the film failed to earn an Oscar nomination in the foreign language category). PRINCESS MONONOKE may not have catchy musical numbers, or comic relief sidekicks, or computer-generated characters, or fairy tale source material; that is, it might not have any of the elements we associate with animation in America. Nevertheless, it is a true work of art; unburdened with commercial compromises, it succeeds beautifully. It is at once a rousing adventure and a profoundly moving meditation—two elements that sound exclusive but actually enhance each other. PRINCESS MONONOKE is, quite simply, one of the greatest animated films ever made.


The Region 1 presentation of PRINCESS MONONOKE is sparse on bonus features, but it does a fine job of showing off the movie itself, thanks to a bright, colorful transfer that looks great on widescreen TVs and nicely mixed audio tracks. Both the original Japanese dialogue and the careful English dub (written by Neil Gaiman) are provided in 5.1 surround; plus, the well-regarded French dub is available in 2.0. Extras are limited to a trailer and a featurette. The latter is essentially a promotional piece, interspersing footage of the movie with interview snippets of the American cast (Danes, Crudup, Thornton, Anderson, Pinket-Smith) – plus Gaiman and dubbing director Jack Fletcher – extolling the virtues of Miyazaki’s vision.
PRINCESS MONONOKE(a.k.a. “Spirit Princess” [Japanese title translation], 1997; U.S. release 1999). Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. English langauge dialogue by Neil Gaiman. Japanese Voices: Yoji Matsuda, Yuriko Ishida, Yuko Tanaka, Kaoru Kobayashi, Masahiko Nishimura, Tsunehiko Kamijo. English Voices: Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Gillian Anderson, Billy Bob Thornton, Keith David.

The Sixth Sense (1999) – Film & DVD Review

1999 was the year that the horror seemed to rise from the dead, thanks to the success of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT; unfortunately, that film was more box office phenomenon than a good movie. Thankfully, THE SIXTH SENSE came along to offer ample evidence that the genre’s resurrection was more than just a fluke. This film proved that a supernatural spook show, combined with solid drama, could appeal to a broad, mainstream audience, without downplaying the horror. The film benefits from writer-director M. Night Shyamalan’s low-key, realistic approach, which mixes the supernatural with sentimentality. Yet, it is much more than a mere manipulative crowd pleaser that struck box office gold by combining guaranteed commercial elements; it is actually a thoughtful, expertly crafted piece of entertainment. The film achieves both sophistication and scariness, without short-circuiting on its own ambitions. Best of all, the thrills are of the creep-up-the-back-of-your neck variety that work on the individual psyche, as opposed to the simple shock sort (which is Shyamalan would descend to in later work, such as LADY IN THE WATER), which really only works a receptive audience eager for cheap thrills.
Shyamalan achieves a brilliant sense of dread by completely convincing us of the everyday believability of his situations — and then, in the great tradition of ghost stories by M.R. James, allowing the supernatural to intrude gradually, thus creating a sense of the uncanny that had been long absent from the genre. Neither a self-reflexive comedy like SCREAM nor a contrived gimmick film like BLAIR WITCH, this is a film as strong in the characterization, dialogue and acting department as any mainstream drama from its year, including the Best Picture Oscar-winners AMERICAN BEAUTY.

Perhaps the story’s greatest coup is its amazing twist ending, which (like the ending of PSYCHO) turns out, in retrospect, to be no twist at all. In other words, the revelation makes sense of what preceded, without any cinematic cheats to keep you from guessing the truth; in fact, you realize that what appeared to be typical movie cheats are actually dramatically justified by what we learn at the end. The proof of this is that, like PSYCHO, the film works perfectly during a second viewing: you reinterpret events in light of what you didn’t know the first time through, and you realize that the story makes even more sense than you realized.
To list the film’s virtues would be to turn this review into a laundry list of almost every single element on view. Suffice to say that it well warranted its six Academy Award nominations. In addition, one should give credit to Bruce Willis for abandoning his movie-star action-hero persona in favor of giving a genuine acting performance. His scenes with Haley Joel Osment (which comprise most of the movie, you realize after the fact) feature some of the best screen chemistry every captured on film. And the cinematography of Tak Fujimoto, with its dark, imposing shadows and the recurring red motif, works to excellent effect.
It’s a shame that THE SIXTH SENSE walked away empty-handed on Oscar night, but don’t let that diminish your perceptions of the film’s excellence. THIS SIXTH SENSE ranks among the greatest ghost stories ever filmed.


THE SIXTH SENSE is a movie that rewards multiple viewings. It’s very clear that a lot of thought went into the making of the film, and it is fun to be able to go back and observe details that fly by during a regular viewing, even if you’re not obsessive about picking the film apart. This makes THE SIXTH SENSE a perfect candidate for a film to own on DVD. It’s been released on disc in a few different versions; unfortunately, none of them includes a director’s audio commentary. On the plus side, the Collector’s Edition provides lots of interesting extras.
The picture is enhanced for widescreen TV sets. If you don’t have a widescreen television, you need to adult the aspect ratio on your DVD player to get a letterboxed image; otherwise, you will be seeing a squeezed image. The Dolby sound works wonders for the spookiness of effect, bringing out James Newton Howard’s score and the sound effects as well.

Bonus features include storyboard to film comparisons, deleted scenes, a theatrical trailer, two television spots, and several featurettes that cover topics like “Rules and Clues.” In this segment, the filmmakers discuss the rules of the afterlife, which had to be followed so that the film would make sense on a second viewing. These rules, along with clues dropped as to the truth about Dr. Malcolm Crow (Bruce Willis) set up the film’s surprise ending. (For instance, when Dr. Crow takes a seat with his wife at the restaurant, he does not pull the chair up to the table; the chair remains motionless.)
M. Night Shyamalan provides introductions to the deleted scenes, discussing what they were intended to achieve and why they were ultimately dropped. The deleted material is quite good when taken on its own, but its deletion clearly served the best interest of the movie.
Shyamalan also provides a brief interview to introduce a clip from a home movie he made when eleven years old. The writer-director expresses interest in making movies that enter into the cultural consciousness, becoming part of the shared experiences of millions of people around the world. (In retrospect, this sounds a bit like the first sign of the hubris that would lead him to cast himself in LADY IN THE WATER as a writer whose work will save the world.)
Despite the lack of audio commentary, the Collector’s DVD gives a good glimpse into the making of THE SIXTH SENSE. The chapter stops are very convenient when you want to pinpoint a particular scene or shot for close inspection. The interviews are entertaining, and the picture and sound quality make this film almost as frightening in your home as it was in the theatres.
NOTE: The subsequent Two-Disc Vista Series DVD includes all the bonus features from the Collector’s Edition plus several additional extras.

Mischa Barton as one of the film's troubled ghosts

THE SIXTH SENSE (1999). Written & directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Cast: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Donnie Wahlberg, Peter Anthony Tambakis.

Lake Placid (1999) – Horror Film Review

LAKE PLACID is the next step in the evolutionary process that led from JAWS to ANACONDA. The unlikely but amusing story has a JURASSIC-size Salt Water Crocodile showing up in an isolated lake not too far from the Easter Coast (having apparently migrated across the Atlantic). Needless to say, in order to keep the horror coming fast and furious, the beast has a metabolism like no retile on Earth, eating almost everything that comes into its path. A band of outsiders come to help the local sheriff capture or kill the monster, but the film never really address the obvious question: Why bother? The area around the lake is inhabited only by one crazy old coot (played by Betty White), who turns out to be feeding the animal cattle, as if it were some kind of oversized pet; so the risk to human life is almost nil, until everyone shows up to hunt the thing down, providing a virtual smorgasbord for the creature. Continue reading “Lake Placid (1999) – Horror Film Review”