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The Definitive Movie Has Not Yet Been Made

There's probably been more Tarzan movies made than of any other fictional character. I haven't counted them, but if you look up "Tarzan" in the Internet Movie Database, you get a list of well over fifty, ranging from Tarzan of the Apes (1918) to Disney's upcoming animated Tarzan (1999). Despite all of the King of the Jungle's screen incarnations, the definitive Tarzan movie has yet to be made. Why is that? I finally got around to reading Edgar Rice Burrough's original novel last year, and quickly realized that there's a great movie in there. In fact, if you throw in Return of Tarzan (which you really should do, since it's a continuous story), there's actually three great movies to be made. Yet to this day, there has never been a Tarzan movie that is completely faithful to the original book. The closest so far is Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984), which is fairly faithful in the beginning and then heads off in its own boring direction halfway through. I have to wonder why director Hugh Hudson and screenwriter Robert Towne (who took his name off the film) did this when the original book was so much better. From what I've heard, Disney's version promises to be very literal, but how much can they do in 90 minutes, with a G-rating, and as a musical? If there was ever a Disney animated film that screamed "No Songs!" this is it. I've heard that George P. Cosmotos had planned to make a new Tarzan film, but has since given up due to the Disney version and the died-a-quick-death-at-the-box-office Tarzan and the Lost City (1988), starring Casper Van Dien (any surprise that picture was released by Warner Bros?). I have a bit of advice: George, come on, they poo-pooed you in the dueling Earps showdown, but we all remember how that turned out, right? Work your Tombstone magic on Tarzan, George, and think three movies -- three movies! The studio will love you for it in the end. And, most of all, so will the movie-going public.

Probably the project with the most unrealized potential is Lord of the Rings. It's easy to figure out why no one has tackled a live-action version of this one yet -- we're talking one, huge, expensive monster. We're also talking film history, though, too. On the level of Titanic and the Star Wars Trilogy. As most Middle-Earth fans know, Lord of the Rings was attempted once before as a series of animated films/TV specials. The Hobbit (1978) was animated by Rankin-Bass, stays fairly close to the book, but they could have done a lot better if they'd left out all the musical interludes. Ralph Bakshi attempted the trilogy as two animated films (Lord of the Rings, 1978), but he never got around to making Part II, so the story was left incomplete. Enter Rankin-Bass again, who completed the saga with Return of the King (1979). The rumor mill has been buzzing quite a bit lately that director Peter Jackson is working to bring Middle Earth to the screen for Miramax, and Dreamworks is itching to make Lord of the Rings themselves. If done correctly, we are talking film history. Another Star Wars Trilogy and then some. A word of advice on this project: Start with The Hobbit, then if you screw it up, you can forget the Trilogy and still not leave the story half-told. Plus, The Hobbit will give you a good foundation for doing the Trilogy, and you need it anyway to tell the whole tale. Four pictures. Three hours each. Stick to the books. Close your eyes when you write the checks. I guarantee you'll be glad you did.

Every few years or so, somebody tackles Alice In Wonderland, but to this date, no one has ever gotten it right. Irwin Allen set out to make the definitive version about a decade ago with his star-studded mini-series (1985), which should tell you right there that he didn't succeed. The Disney version (1951) is good, but way too short, and like all the others, doesn't capture the essence of the material. Alice has an edge, which is always the first thing to go when people adapt it for the screen. If you want a glimpse of what Alice In Wonderland could be, check out the movie Dreamchild (1985). It's about Charles Dodgson's (aka Lewis Carroll) relationship (not a healthy one) with the girl on whom he based Alice. The film features several sequences from the books, with creatures created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop. Why this didn't spur Jim Henson to go ahead and do the whole thing, I'll never know. It sure beats Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). I like all the other Henson films, even Muppet Treasure Island (1996), so that's the only one I'll slam. Four words for Brian Henson: Alice Alice Alice Alice! You've already got the puppets!

Four Batman movies later -- wait, make that three Batman movies and one terrible joke -- the definitive live-action Batman movie has still yet to be made (for the definitive animated Batman, see Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Sub-Zero (1998), or any episode of the animated shows). Heck, even the serials (1943 and 49) are better than Batman and Robin (1997). The "thank God they finally did it" big screen adaption of Batman (1989) was finally put in motion by the success of several graphic novels, Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, and Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's The Killing Joke. If you put Batman: Year One with The Killing Joke, you will quickly realize that there is not just a great Batman film to be made, but an incredible Batman film to be made. I'm told Sam Hamm's original script was great, but somewhere along the way, somebody threw out all the good material. I've ranted before on what's wrong with the Batman movies (see Holy Screwed Franchise, Batman!), so I'll just skip straight to my advice: WB, scrap the current franchise and start over. Get Paul Dini and Bruce Timm from the Animated Series and give them full reign. They understand the character. What's more, they respect the character, which is a lot more than I can say for Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher. And while you're at it, give them full control of Superman Lives/Reborn/Sucks, too (thank goodness we do have two definitive Superman films).

The greatest definitive movie to have never been made is the "greatest story ever told" -- the life of Jesus Christ. There've been a few close calls, but none that have ever gotten it completely right. My top two picks are Jesus of Nazareth (1977) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). Some may call me a heathen for citing Last Temptation, but hear me out. As far as Biblical Films go (and I'm citing this as a genre) Jesus of Nazareth is pretty darn good. Robert Powell looks just like Jesus as depicted in numerous paintings, which is how most of us picture Him anyway. But it's still a Biblical Film. The definitive film should be more like a biopic, as realistic as possible, and for that we turn to The Last Temptation of Christ. This is my favorite and least favorite "Life of Christ" film at the same time. I think Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader should have stuck with the Holy Gospel instead of a fictionalized novel as their source material. Scorsese said, as I recall, that he was drawn to the book because it presented a different approach, in having Satan tempt Christ to come down from the cross (hence, the title). Martin, if you wanted to do something different, why didn't you try NOT casting white people? Harvey Keitel is a great actor, but as Judas? And David Bowie as Pontius Pilate? For once I'd like to see a Biblical movie cast with people actually from the Middle East. As for the rest of the movie, there were several parts I thought pushed the blasphemy envelope, including the whole "last temptation" sequence. I got the message, I liked the extra oomph it gave to Christ saying, "It is accomplished" (they changed His last line -- rewriting Jesus? That takes moxie), but I also think Jesus had already made up his mind by that point. We didn't need to see him sleeping around. What I did like about Last Temptation was the realistic approach it took to Christ himself, in presenting Jesus as a living, breathing man. Especially poignant to me was the Sermon on the Mount, which is usually presented with Christ standing on a hill, speaking as if drugged, with a bright light behind him. In Last Temptation, he really believes what he's saying, is excited about his message, and rushes around, trying to tell as many people as he can. It's doubtful that the definitive Christ movie will ever be made, since Biblical films are a genre of the past, and are unlikely to be revived any time soon. We're all better off just reading the Book anyway.