Posted on Monday, June 20th, 2011 by Germain Lussier
Internet comic book lore tells a tale that Robert Smigel, the famous comedy writer who created The Ambiguously Gay Duo, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and more, once wrote a comedy screenplay for Green Lantern with Jack Black pegged to star. The hypothetical film is right up there with J.J. Abrams’ or Tim Burton’s Superman as projects that actually were developed but never got off the ground. With the new, serious Green Lantern currently the #1 movie in America, Vanity Fair took some time to sit down with Smigel to discuss some specifics about his mythic screenplay, its ideas, the process and, ultimately, its fate.
The basic story is this. Around 2004, Warner Brothers hired Smigel to write a funny Green Lantern screenplay. Jack Black was originally not interested but after he read Smigel’s script, he changed his mind and came onboard. Warners gave Smigel notes but once word leaked on the Internet about the idea, Warners had a change of heart and canned the project, opting to begin developing a more serious take, which you can see in theaters now.
Vanity Fair has the full interview with Smigel and, as we’re just going to clip some highlights, you should head over there to read it. Also, they pointed out that the script in question is actually available online for those curious about it.
Though Green Lantern is a serious character in the comic books, Smigel thought it lent itself perfectly to comedy:
What appealed to me about it on a comedic level was that, in order to be a superhero, this requires no physical skill or talent. All it requires is owning this ring. Automatically, that’s a comedic premise.
So, the film had Jack Black playing a reality TV star whom the ring mistakenly chooses as the new Lantern. But for that premise to work, everything else about Green Lantern – save for Black’s character – had to be steeped in the comic book lore:
I did a lot of research. You know, I only knew Green Lantern on a very superficial level and I had seen a few cartoons as a kid and I was aware of it. I never had read the comics, so I immersed myself in Green Lantern comics from every era—partly because I wanted to take the world seriously. It wouldn’t be funny unless the actual legend and the world of Green Lantern were accurate.
He even based the whole arc of the story on a specific arc of Lantern comic books:
My movie is an adaptation of the first chapter of a story called “Emerald Dawn” from the 80s. I mean, it’s a very loose adaptation, but a lot of the villain elements I took from it: in my version, Sinestro is a major villain, and this was at the time of all of the controversy of the Patriot Act and the way we were responding to terrorism in the mid-zeros.
The film had a brilliant ending as well:
I was writing sequentially and it got to this thing of a [yellow] asteroid headed toward Earth. So his idea is: “Oh, I’ll just push Earth out of the way.” He does it and people are trying to tell him not to do it, but he had gotten really cocky at that moment and he does it and then, of course, there are natural disasters all over the planet. It’s something he can only fix by reversing time so I thought, Oh, yeah, he could just conjure up Superman, because he’s seen that movie. [Laughs.] You’ve run out of abilities, so you conjure up the best superhero that exists and let him solve the problem. Then the whole sequel could just be him sitting around watching the green Superman do everything. The laziest Green Lantern in history.
But Smigel had a strong sense that his screenplay would never see brightest day or blackest night pretty early on:
The studio, when they gave me the re-write notes … at one point I had a long discussion about whether or not to make it Green Lantern or whether to create a make-believe character. They were already asking me, “What if it’s not Green Lantern? What if it’s very similar, but you change it and make it a fictional superhero so we can make that a straight comedy?” Maybe foolishly, I argued that I thought it was funnier to make it a real take on a real cartoon character. That was the first time I sensed that they were rethinking this, and I’d like to think that it wasn’t because they didn’t like my movie.
If you head over to Vanity Fair you can read more including Smigel’s thoughts on how the Internet reacted, the moment he found out it was over and his currently relationship with the property. It’s a great read, as you can tell from those quotes. Do you feel this is any worse than what we have now?