Hollywood “high concept” means that you can fit the plot synopsis of a
movie on the back of a matchbox . . .
So how does this one grab you: in Runaways a bunch of teenagers discover that their parents are in fact
secretly super-villains. Needless to say, the teens set out to stop them .
It should come as no surprise that Marvel, who is making
their own movies nowadays instead of entrusting their properties to Hollywood, wants to turn their Runaways
into a feature film with a release date slated for 2012.
The latest Internet rumors have it that Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist director Peter Sollett
beat out Joss Whedon (Buffy) to direct this Marvel Studios movie. No stars have been announced as yet. Brian K.
Vaughn (who created the comic along with Adrian Alphona back in 2002) has
drafted a screenplay.
Things are going quite well for this thirtysomething writer.
Not only is Vaughn writing for the hit
Lost television series, but
Hollywood is also very interested in his critically acclaimed Y: The Last Man
comic book about the aftermath of a mysterious disease that kills off all
the men on the planet except for one guy (Transformers
star Shia LaBeouf was attached to it at one stage).
Runaways boasts the sort of high concept that
makes Hollywood execs go just gaga. One can just imagine it being the sort
of light-hearted comedy starring Tim Allen that Disney would release over
the December holidays, something in the vein of Sky High. Now don’t
take us wrong: we kinda enjoyed Sky High – the Kurt Russell comedy
about a high school for superheroes. Or at least we did while watching it.
Afterwards it faded from the memory pretty quick, but hey, we’ve done
"In Runaways a bunch of teenagers discover that their parents
are in fact secretly super-villains!"
The only problem is that Vaughn’s comic is nothing like
Sky High. This is actually good news for readers, but bad news for
Hollywood suits. Vaughn’s comic is a bit on the dark side and one can
imagine Vaughn’s screenplay (no matter how it turns out) to probably
undergo several major rewrites before execs would be happy with it.
foreword Vaughn acknowledges that his tale is a bit dark, and
argues that in the age of Harry Potter
it shouldn’t be a problem really. Not for teenaged readers, no. But for
Hollywood suits who would want a safe family flick, definitely.
To recap: each year a group of friends come together for
a weekend long get-together. Each year they drag their impossibly cool
teenaged kids along for the weekend. (The youngest kid in the group is
twelve. Most of them are fifteen.) We have a disaffected Lisa Simpson kid,
a Goth kid, a wrong-side-of-the-tracks kid, a typical “Valley Girl”, a
brainy kid and the twelve-year-old. This weekend however things go wrong
as they decide to spy on their parents and discover that, yes, their
parents are in fact super villains.
And not just your garden variety “let’s rob a bank”
villains either. Nope, each year they ritually sacrifice a young girl –
usually a prostitute who won’t be missed – to an ancient race of giants.
The giant creatures have existed since time immemorial
and wants things to back to being like they were before all the pesky
humans popped up all over the place. Yup, they want to wipe all of
humanity and our teenaged heroes’ parents are helping them do this. You of
course have to ask what’s in for them: it would seem that six of the
twelve adults will be granted immortal life by the giant creatures after
completing their task. Not exactly our idea of a good deal, but anyway . .
what we mean by dark? Somehow we can’t see any ritualistic human sacrifice
going down in any Tim Allen comedy. After learning the truth about their
parents the kids become runaways, hiding out in a cave while plotting
against their parents. Soon the kids also come to blows with their
parents, an aspect which sits somewhat uncomfortable with this reader.
me which teenager doesn’t believe that his or her parents are actually
evil? But actually coming to blows with them? What must be kept in mind is
that the kids’ parents aren’t actually bad parents.
Part of the joke is
just what normal respectable bourgeois types they are on the surface. Just
how easily the kids turn against their parents in Runaways never
really convinces on any emotional level. Hey, they may be ritualistic
murderers, but they are still your family, right?
Chances are Hollywood money men would probably feel the
same way about whole “kids vs. their own parents” thing.
like Runaways to work as a movie, the material should be feather
light. Bring any dark elements into it and you get an uneven mishmash like
Will Smith’s Hancock. Come on! This is
after all the sort of thing in which a pudgy fifteen-year-old girl has her
own pet Velociraptor!
Runaways boasts a killer concept, but the source
material needs some reworking if Hollywood wants it to be the next
Men in Black. Don’t get us wrong: despite
some of Runaways’ faults, we still enjoyed reading it.
Some of the
dialogue was quite sharp (and should be kept in any movie adaptation) and
we dug some of the unexpected visual conceits. We just however can’t see
Runaways being turned into a successful movie, both creatively and
financially, if the material isn’t given a substantial rewrite. There is a
good movie in there somewhere. The trick will be just to find the right
tone to settle on. It needn’t be Zoom 2, but it shouldn’t be
Hancock 2 either . . .