By Jason Apuzzo. • We had some very sad news lately in the Sword & Sandal world with the passing of Spartacus’ Andy Whitfield, who recently succombed to non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The intense Whitfield was only 39 years old, and after his first – and only – season as the star of the hit cable series Spartacus on Starz his career really seemed to be on the rise. We extend our condolences to his family and friends and to his colleagues at Starz – and the network will be holding an Andy Whitfield-Spartacus marathon in his honor. Whitfield will be missed; the arena won’t be the same without him.
• Otherwise, the biggest news of late on the Sword & Sandal front is the long-rumored return of Mel Gibson to the genre with a new film project on the Maccabees story, the freedom-fighting tale of Jewish revolt against Syrian and Hellenic rule in second century B.C. Judea – essentially the story that inspired Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. Almost as striking as the fact that Gibson is taking on this material is that the gruff and colorful Joe Eszterhas (Basic Instinct, Showgirls) will apparently be returning from self-exiled Hollywood purgatory to write the screenplay – returning to material with which he is familiar, having previously written about the Holocaust in Hungary.
How do I react to all this? Twenty years ago this project would’ve sounded great. Today it sounds like two middle-aged guys who want to bond over bottles of Cazadores while auditioning dancing girls. In the wake of Gibson’s distasteful anti-Semitic tirades, this film is feeling like his belated mea culpa, like D.W. Griffith making Intolerance as penance for Birth of a Nation – which is not to imply, incidentally, that Gibson has a fraction of Griffith’s talent or determination.
Look, Gibson can do whatever he wants to do with his career as far as I’m concerned. Personally, however, I can’t watch his films anymore – even the Mad Max and Lethal Weapon movies I enjoyed so much years ago. His behavior has ruined those films for me; the magic is gone, Gibson’s ‘charm’ eroded away after too many boozy encounters with police, racist and/or paranoid rants, and Russian mistresses. I get very tired of people these days talking about how ‘George Lucas spoiled their childhood’ just because he re-edited a few scenes from Star Wars, or dropped some new digital creatures into the back of Jabba’s palace. You know who’s really spoiled a lot of fond memories from my teenage years? Mel Gibson. I look forward to the day when Gibson’s personal psychodramas are no longer routinely inflicted on us as industry news.
• A lot of new Sword & Sandal projects are suddenly in the works: a new Spartacus movie is on the way; Warner Brothers has acquired a Viking-related project for Alexander Skarsgard, a project said to be in the Gladiator-Braveheart vein; there’s yet another new Viking project floating around that deals with the Viking slave trade in Irishmen (centuries before the Irish were owned by the USC Trojans); The Rock is in talks to play Goliath in Goliath; Jonathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles, Wrath of the Titans) is attached to a big new Julius Caesar movie that would apparently cover “Caesar’s Spanish campaign, his formation of the 10th Legion, and the battles that would eventually establish Caesar as ruler of the Roman republic” (this is great history to cover in a film); Justin Lin will now only be producing the Highlander reboot, because a new director has come on board; 300: Battle of Artemisia (which now has a director) will have small roles for Gerard Butler and Lena Headey, meaning that Butler will have to train for 6 months to get his abs in shape for 30 seconds of screen time; and some sweet new concept art (see to the right) is out for the Frank Frazetta-inspired Fire and Ice that Robert Rodriguez wants to do, a film that will hopefully prevent Rodriguez from doing any Machete sequels.
• The Immortals continues to roll down the tracks with a new marketing push, although the film still isn’t looking any better than it did before. Is it the bad dialogue? The trite storyline? Mickey Rourke wearing bunny ears? Hard to say. A lot of eyes will be on the film in November because it stars the new Superman (Henry Cavill), and because Freida Pinto will likely be getting her last chance to make an impression in a major film. Director Tarsem Singh will probably survive, of course, because he can always be hired to do Christian Dior ads.
• I don’t want to do it, but we have to talk about the Conan disaster. To date the film’s made only $48 million worldwide on a budget of $90 million (pre-advertising). As if that wasn’t bad enough, Stan Lee media is suing to regain the rights to the Conan character. Ouch. In the meantime, Jason Momoa claims to be writing a Conan sequel, although he might first want to read a sad new piece by Conan screenwriter Sean Hood, called “What’s it like to have your film flop at the box office?” Here’s an excerpt, in which Hood talks about how he felt after Conan’s disastrous opening weekend:
“For the next couple of days, you walk in a daze, and your friends and family offer kind words, but mostly avoid the subject. Since you had planned (ardently believed, despite it all) that success would propel you to new appointments and opportunities, you find yourself at a loss about what to do next. It can all seem very grim.
You make light of it, of course. You joke and shrug. But the blow to your ego and reputation can’t be brushed off. Reviewers, even when they were positive, mocked Conan The Barbarian for its lack of story, lack of characterization, and lack of wit. This doesn’t speak well of the screenwriting – and any filmmaker who tells you s/he ‘doesn’t read reviews’ just doesn’t want to admit how much they sting.”
It’s hard not to feel for this guy. Those of you who read my review of the film know I didn’t think the film was that bad, although it certainly was a far cry from the Schwarzenegger-Milius version. Oh, well. If you want to feel better about this whole mess you can always check out Conan’s Rachel Nichols in Maxim.
• Game of Thrones’ second season is a ways off, but it’s still all over the news: George R.R. Martin just give a new interview, the series’ showrunners are talking about the second season (see here, here and here); Jason Momoa talks about his participation in the series; there’s casting news (see here and here); the series is shooting in Iceland and Croatia; a Game of Thrones video game is also in the works; and one actress has already dropped out of the second season due to the show’s nudity demands. Impressive.
• Something there definitely won’t be nudity in is Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit – probably for the better. You can see a group photo of all the dwarves together (see above); you can learn more about Andy Serkis’ work on the film (here, here and here); see a behind-the-scenes video; and Evangeline Lilly talks about her work on the film here.
• A brief shout-out to a blog I really like, and easily the best Sword & Sandal site out there: Peplum. Peplum unearths treasures (rare photos, posters, comics, etc.) from Sword & Sandal cinema from its heyday in the 50s-60s, and also uploads a lot of hard-to-find films to the blog’s various YouTube Channels. If you love this stuff the way I do, be sure to check out Peplum.
• With a heavy heart Spartacus moves on without Andy Whitfield – the star who was so instrumental to the show’s success. New photos are out of Liam McIntyre, the new star of Spartacus: Vengeance; you can also read about the casting of the new series, and the series has a great new trailer out.
• In other Sword & Sandal News: both Robert Rodriguez and Rose McGowan seem to be setting aside Red Sonja (see here and here); there is a new picture out of Kristen Stewart in Snow White and the Huntsman; and Sam Worthington talks about Wrath of the Titans here and here, as does Edgar Ramirez.
• And in today’s most important news … we thought we’d take a look at Katrina Law, who will be returning as the newly freed house servant Mira in Starz’ Spartacus: Vengeance. Speaking on a recent panel about the series, Law said of Spartacus: “I think this is a great series for women to be on because we do get a lot of range. We do get to express a lot of our sensuality, our power, and get to explore that side, and we don’t have to stand in the background.”
Looking like she does, I doubt she’ll ever be standing in the background.
And that’s what’s happening today in the world of Sword & Sandals!
Posted on September 23rd, 2011 at 12:22pm.