Chatting With Chris Claremont Part 2: Days Of Future Past, X3, Marvel Films And More
Yesterday we presented the first part of our interview with legendary X-Men writer Chris Claremont. The man who helped turn around the series when it was close to cancellation and wrote the title for an unmatched 17 years will be returning to the world of mutants this November in the pages of X-Men: Gold #1, the special 50th Anniversary issue. We discussed that story as well as some of the highlights of Mr. Claremont‘s illustrious career in the part 1. If you missed the chat, you can click right here and catch up. In the final installment we talk about comic book movies. Of course we had to see what the writer thought about Days of Future Past making it to the big screen, but we also discussed some of the other big movies coming out over the next few years. Read on for Claremont‘s thoughts on everything from Riddick to X3.
What are your thoughts on Days of Future Past now? Obviously with the movie coming up the story has gained a lot of interest, but it has always been one that took on a life of its own much like the Phoenix Saga.
I think what I find most amusing is how amazed people seem to be that John [Bryne] and I did it in 34 pages. Two issues. We got on, we told the story, we got off, we moved on. That was an era when the primary rule was get on, say your piece, and get off. You could perhaps do a storyline like Dark Phoenix which encompassed a year’s worth of stories until you got to the climax, but each of those stories was one or two issues. It was not just one long, continued saga. That was the way we did it in that era. There was no room to, I guess, be lazy or self-indulgent. We did it in the most efficient way possible and that clearly has evolved since then, but that’s the nature of storytelling.
The difference between an 89-minute black and white adventure story shot on the back lot in Culver City in 1940 (i.e. The Maltese Falcon) versus Lawrence of Arabia shot all over the Middle East in a three and a half hour movie complete with overture and intermission, leading up to the present day where you have something like The Matrix which is like 3 two and a half hour movies. Or even Lord of the Rings which is 3 four and a half hour movies plus The Hobbit [laughs]. Everything evolves. Different stories and different creators utilize different means of conveying that information to the audience. What works, works. That’s the key. Whether you’re doing Birth of a Nation or Lord of the Rings, it’s coming up with a story that keeps the audience engrossed and coming back for more.
We’re sort of in a comic book movie renaissance right now. You’ve talked about The Wolverine when it came out, but are there any upcoming movies that have your attention?
I’m intrigued by Thor. That will be out in a couple of months. I think like everyone I’m curious to see what Joss Whedon comes up with for both Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Avengers 2. I’m intrigued to see Ben Affleck as Batman. I guess that’s setting up Justice League. I think the real challenge is not that there is so much coming down the pike…I’m very intrigued to see what they’re going to do with Ant-man simply because it’s such an unexpected concept. Captain America 2 I think involves the Back Widow, which should be interesting. What is, is. They just announced that Ellen Page is going to be working in Greg Ruka’s Queen and Country. I think Fox or whomever wants it to see if they can establish that as a Bourne Identity style ongoing series.
The advantage of deriving cinema from comics is that first off you have writers and artists working as a matter of course to come up with different variance on existing tropes and concepts, but secondly they’re complete stories. I mean you have a concept, you have a proven market value ideally. Therefore it gives you at least a leg to stand on in terms of ‘can we make a movie that a mass market audience, a global audience will come in and watch?’ It’s a lot easier for an executive to visualize I guess, especially when he goes home and hears his kids rant about how brilliant it is, than just following their instincts and coughing up bazillions of dollars on a totally new idea.
The interesting thing is Riddick just opened this week and the production cost was something like $60 million dollars which these days is like ‘Holy cow! What did they do, go to Kmart?’ Opposed to probably the real reason that the director and the production people sat down and figured out how they could do that efficiently and get the best possible bang for the most reasonable amount of buck. If we can produce a movie with a sane budget, you have a much better chance of earning out. You have to figure that will help Riddick a lot more than something like John Carter did with Disney where they blew a quarter of a billion dollars. Holy crumb cakes! I mean it was a brilliant film visually, but a quarter of a billion dollars?
It’s almost unimaginable.
It’s not like you’re talking the X-Men where you’ve got two Oscar winning best actresses, one Oscar winning best supporting actor, one Oscar winning best supporting actress, one Oscar winning director, an Olivier winning actor. I mean you look at the pedigree of the cast of Days of Future Past and you’re going ‘Holy cow!’ We’ve got Emmys galore, we’ve got Oscars, we’ve got Tony award winners, and we’ve got Olivier award winners. When I was looking at the cast list myself I thought it was a cast to die for. You read the phone book with these guys and it would bring tears to your eyes. The other thing, which I did say to Bryan [Singer], was how the hell are you going to do this in one movie? I mean I look at the number of people and to give them proper justice in terms of their faces, their abilities, the characters they portray…to me it would be like Lawrence of Arabia where you would need three and a half hours of screen time. With an intermission! Bryan just smiled like ‘I know something you don’t.’ You can take that an infinite number of ways, but I have to figure this is at least at the starting point from the totally ignorant perspective of one heart-felt fan (i.e. me) this has more going for it than any film I’ve seen. Certainly any superhero film I’ve seen in ages. I think it will be a real treat. The fact that they moved it to a May opening suggests that Fox understands that. Thank goodness!
While we’re on the subject, last month at Wizard World you told MTV that you had been asked to serve as a kind of consultant and offer advice on Days of Future Past. Have you had any talks since then about the movie with Bryan Singer or anyone at Fox?
It’s going to be an action-packed and a character-packed movie. Are there any X-Men characters you would have liked to have seen made it into a film or maybe even be treated better in a film than they were?
I think we all felt that X3 was not the film we all hoped it would be when we were looking at it from the potential of X2. The Phoenix, like it or not, is the primal trope of the X-Men omniverse. I would have liked to have seen the story treated with more depth and complexity than it turned out to be. There just really wasn’t time. Bryan wasn’t available to direct it, Matthew Vaughn left unexpectedly, and Fox was absolutely unremittingly committed to the 2006 release date. There just was no time for screwing around and no time for rewrites. On any of it. It was just one of those should have been, could have been, oh well. It’s a shame. On the other hand it got made, so that wasn’t so bad. What actually made it on screen was quite an enjoyable film. It’s just when you’re like me you look at it from terms of what is and think of it in terms what might have been or what I would think of what it should have been. Then you think ‘dammit!’ I suspect I’m not the first writer of source material to have that response. Oh well. Pick yourself up, dust yourself of, and move on. Oh look they’re making another film and it’s a chance to be even better.
What are you working on now? Do you have some new novels in the works or something else we should be on the lookout for?
On the lookout for, not [anything] that far along. I’ve got a bunch of projects that are under submission. I’m just waiting to hear back from various publishers and the like. A number are waiting to get printed out of my computer so I can try to sell them. The one disadvantage of prose as opposed to comics is that it takes a hell of a lot longer. Not only to produce, but to sell. One sort of gets spoiled and self-indulged by the idea you have to produce something every three weeks. With X-Men Forever it was every two weeks. One gets into that rhythm, one gets used to it, it’s life and it’s fun but then you get out into the real world and ‘Holy cow! How many years?!’ They tell you we have to talk to the editor, we have to sell the book, you have to write the book, we have to rewrite the book, you have to get this and that. This is where you look at the check and suddenly think this check has to support me for how many years? I should have gone into banking!
Our thanks to Mr. Claremont for speaking with us about all things X-Men and comic books in general. I think most of us can agree with Claremont‘s comments on the X-Men: The Last Stand front. There were several good parts, but a lot of it could have been handled better. The good thing, as the writer points out, is that Days of Future Past will pick things up and try to correct some inconsistencies in the movie universe. Singer will definitely have to have some tricks up his sleeves to give such a huge and talented cast the screen time and character moments they deserve. From everything we’ve seen so fa, it does look like the cast and crew have cooked up something pretty special. What do you think about Claremont‘s movie comments?