Hans Rodionoff on "Man-Thing" the movie, the comic and more

Wed, May 12th, 2004 at 12:00am PDT

TV/Film
Dave Richards, Staff Writer

[Man Thing]The stories in Marvel Comics typically are set in a bright four-color world. However, there are shadowy corners of the Marvel Universe where monsters lurk and creatures slither in the darkness. Hans Rodionoff wants to take comic fans and moviegoers to the creepy corners of the Marvel Universe. Rodionoff wrote the screenplay for Lion's Gate Films (formerly Artisan) "Man-Thing" film adaptation. He also wrote a three-issue "Man-Thing" mini-series, which Marvel will publish in July. CBR News recently talked with Rodionoff about "Man-Thing" and his other comic book and film projects.

Writing "Man-Thing" could prove challenging to some writers, because unlike DC Comics' "Swamp Thing" Marvel's swamp monster can not talk. This wasn't a problem for Rodionoff. "Actually, I think that's what makes Man-Thing a better character to adapt for the big screen than Swamp Thing," said Rodinoff. "While it might work well in comics, I think talking swamp monsters wind up being pretty ludicrous on screen, as proven by both 'Swamp Thing' movies. When creatures vocalize, they lose all of their power. How do you make a whole movie where the main character doesn't speak? The way I got around that was by shifting the focus of the story to the human characters. If the Man-Thing was the protagonist of the movie, then yeah, I could see that being a pretty difficult task. But as it is, the Man-Thing is a malignant force of nature. The shark didn't talk in Jaws. I approached the Man-Thing in a similar way."

Rodionoff was reluctant to reveal any plot details about "Man-Thing." "Well, it's a horror film, so I don't want to give too much away prematurely because I feel like that will ruin it. The basic idea is... cue the ominous music... Deep in the dark, brackish waters of the Louisiana swamp, something has been awakened. Something terrible," he told CBR News. He also said that unlike past Marvel films, "Man-Thing" is not exactly an origin story.

Even though Rodionoff's script focuses on human protagonists he felt it was important to capture the spirit of the comic book. He tried to include many of the ideas found in the comic. "Man-Thing is faithful to the spirit and the tone of the original comic books. To me, that means that it should be a very atmospheric, creepy story about a mysterious entity in the swamp. The story touches on the idea of the Nexus of All Realities, but it's really just a pit stop. Jennifer Kale is a great character, and someone that I would love to include in a sequel. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I get that opportunity. But she's not in this movie, and neither is Howard the Duck. Other key characters in the comic book are referenced, but not seen directly." One of the trademark catchphrases in the "Man-Thing" comics was, "Those who know fear burn at the touch of the Man-Thing." Comic fans will be pleased to know that the cinematic "Man-Thing" might also have this power. "In this movie, everybody knows fear, and there's plenty of burning in the end," Rodionoff explained.

Rodionoff was familiar with "Man-Thing" when he began writing his screenplay. He had been a fan of the character since childhood. "When I was a kid, I used to have a bunch of these Power Book and Record sets. They were comics with a 45 record in the back that had the whole story acted out with sound effects and voices and stuff. For my birthday one year, my grandma gave me a Man-Thing book and record. It was called 'Night of the Laughing Dead' and the cover showed the Man-Thing carrying a dead clown in his arms. Clowns freaked me out back then, so I was already predisposed to be scared out of my wits. I played that record once. My dad heard the gruesome noises and wailing screams coming through the wall, and he stormed into my room, yanked the record off the player and confiscated it. I never saw that book and record again until the magic of eBay."

Losing his Powerbook and Record Set only intensified Rodionoff's interest in "Man-Thing" and Marvel's other horror comics. "Getting my Book and Record taken away only made my curiosity stronger. Now that 'Man-Thing' comics were taboo in my house, I was even more determined to get my hands on them. Of course, the first one I grabbed was 'Night of the Laughing Dead,' Which is pretty great. It's also the book that turned me on to Mike Ploog, who I followed into 'Werewolf by Night.' But it was the 'Adventure into Fear' comics that really influenced the way I thought of 'Man-Thing,'" he explained

These comics helped Rodionoff write his screenplay and determine which elements of the "Man-Thing" comics must be captured in his screenplay. "Ultimately I think there's only one essential element of the Man-Thing. It has to be scary," said Rodionoff.

"Man-Thing" has finished principal photography and is currently in post-production. According to Rodionoff, the final sound, music, and computer graphic effects are being completed. There has been some speculation on the release date of the film and whether it will be released in theaters or direct to video. "The last I heard, it was going to be released theatrically this Halloween," Rodionoff said.

If the film is successful Marvel and Lion's Gate are planning return trips the Man-Thing's swamp. "There are a lot of interesting directions that the character can go. There have been some very preliminary discussions about a sequel, but we'll have to wait and see what happens," Rodionoff said.

Like the first "Blade" movie, Marvel is hoping that "Man-Thing" will capture the imagination of comic fans and filmgoers even though its based on an obscure horror character from the 1970s.

Some comic fans might make the mistake of writing off "Man-Thing" as a two-bit version of "Swamp Thing." "In reality, 'Swamp Thing' and 'Man-Thing' were created by two friends who took their ideas to DC and Marvel respectively. Both books hit the stands within a week of each other. 'Swamp Thing' eventually got reinvigorated by Alan Moore, and a lot of fans only know 'Swamp Thing' from that run. From that perspective, I can see how 'Man-Thing' pales in comparison. But if you go back to the early 70's, 'Man-Thing' had Mike Ploog doing the art, and the storylines were pretty dark. I think that incarnation of 'Man-Thing' was a lot creepier than the 'Swamp Thing' of the same time period," Rodionoff explained.

[Man Thing]Rodionoff believes that "Man-Thing" has the right elements to be a cool and creepy experience for horror film fans. "There are a handful of movies that I saw when I was too young that really burrowed into my subconscious. 'Legend of Boggy Creek', 'Prophecy', 'Southern Comfort'. I tried to tap into the essence of those movies when I was writing 'Man-Thing'. There's something very potent about horror films set in the swamp, with all the Spanish Moss hanging down and being up to your waist in algae-covered water. It's been a while since we've had a horror movie set in the swamp. It's a great place for some really awful things to happen."

If October is too long to wait for a journey to the Man-Thing's swamp, head to your comic shop in July. That's when Marvel is releasing a three issue "Man-Thing" mini-series written by Rodionoff with art by Kyle Hotz. The mini-series will serve as a prequel to the film. "'The Man-Thing' limited series is meant to co-exist with the Ultimate universe, but also seeks to build a new universe with Man-Thing as the nucleus. What I'd love to see happen is the creation of a horror universe that is barren of costumed heroes. In other words, Captain America wouldn't ever make a guest appearance in 'Man-Thing.' The Man-Thing series is not really an origin story, but it's as close to an origin as the mythology will allow. I hate to be so guarded about it, but again, I don't want to ruin it for anyone by giving away too much. There are moments in the prequel series that I wanted to have in the film, but they were impossible from a budgetary standpoint. If the series does well, I think it's possible that there will be further journeys into the swamp and hopefully beyond."

Rodionoff also has been working on adapting another favorite Marvel monster for the big screen. He wrote a draft for a "Werewolf-by-Night" feature film, a project that is being slowly developed by Marvel and Dimension Films. "Marvel is taking very specific, methodical steps with that one. It's a story that's very near and dear to everyone there, so I think they want to take their time and make sure that all the elements are perfect," said Rodionoff.

"Werewolf-by-Night" was another comic that Rodionoff loved as a child. Rodionoff identified with Jack Russell, the book's protagonist. "I was definitely a fan of Jack Russell. Again, it goes back to my childhood. I was convinced that the woods around my house were filled with werewolves. I was also convinced that the only way that I could keep them at bay was to become one of them. But I didn't want to become a werewolf and eat my parents. That would have been a bummer. So I really wanted to believe that it was possible to be a cogent werewolf, in control of what you were doing when you were in lupine form. When I picked up my first 'Werewolf by Night' comic book, I saw the werewolf as a hero for the first time. It fit right into my plan. I like most of the 'Werewolf by Night' stories. I like the Mike Ploog/Gerry Conway ones for different reasons than I like the Paul Jenkins/Leonardo Marco ones. The Jenkins/Marco tone is very introspective, and deals much more with Jack's personal torment. Those books were a great evolution. There was also an arc that appeared in the old 'Marvel Comics Presents' comics that stands out in my mind," Rodionoff said

Rodionoff penned a draft that he believes is true to the core ideas of the comic book. "It's a story about a werewolf who's trying to come to terms with his existence. It's a Jekyll and Hyde allegory about a man who is torn by the constant conflict of his rational self and his primal self. That's the general concept of the Werewolf by Night comic books, and the movie is faithful to that."

There has been a slew of werewolf movies throughout cinematic history, but Rodionoff believes "Werewolf-By-Night" will stand out from your average werewolf film. "In this one, the werewolf is the hero. And I don't mean anti-hero; I don't mean reluctant hero. He is the hero of 'Werewolf-By-Night.' I haven't seen that yet."

Rodionoff wrote a draft for the "Tortured Souls" film. The film features the characters from the macabre action figure line created by Clive Barker and produced by McFarlane toys. "Tortured Souls" is in pre-production and rapidly moving forward. "Late last year, Clive made the decision that he wanted to direct 'Tortured Souls.' I just about fainted. It's such great news. I think fans have been waiting for Clive to get back behind the camera for a long time, and this story is perfect for him. Right now, Clive is tweaking the script. The last I heard, they were getting ready to turn in Clive's draft to the studio in the next few weeks. The basic plot of the movie concerns a man who decides to exchange his wife for a demon. The exchange sends his wife to a place called Primordium, where she must battle her way across a hostile landscape to try and get back home."

There were two series of "Tortured Souls" figures. Each figure came with a novella written by Barker detailing their story. Rodionoff used these novellas as the basis for his screenplay. "There is a core mythology of Primordium that's built in the novellas. That core mythology is respected and expanded. There are characters from both figure lines in the script. Fans of the action figures can expect to see some familiar faces, but there will also be things that will be new to everyone," he said.

Rodionoff has adapted comic books for the screen and recently one of his screenplays was adapted to comics. "Lovecraft" is a new hardcover graphic novel from Vertigo. It's based on a screenplay by Rodionoff that was adapted by comic scribe Keith Giffen and features art by Enrique Breccia. In "Lovecraft" the monstrous Elder Gods that legendary horror writer H.P. Lovecraft wrote about are real and the writer is the only one aware of their existence.

Like many of his favorite horror authors, Rodionoff discovered Lovecraft when he was a child. "I was exposed to Lovecraft when I was about 7 years old. My family used to take these annual two-week long backpacking trips with our friends, the Johnstons. Rich was the patriarch of the Johnston clan, and he used to terrorize us with campfire stories. He had one story, called 'The Green Fungus Hand' that was supposedly too grisly for us. Well, if the Man-Thing Book and Record proved anything, it was that telling me that something was forbidden just made me want it more. So, I tried to convince Rich that I was ready to hear 'The Green Fungus Hand' by bringing along horror novels when we'd go backpacking. After watching me read through several Stephen King books, Rich gave me my first taste of H.P. Lovecraft. I read the book in one night, and got no sleep. Lovecraft's particular style is very insidious. It worms into your brain and stays with you, it instills a feeling of cosmic dread that's hard to shake."

"Lovecraft's" journey from screenplay to comic began with a fourth grade school assignment. "When I hit fourth grade, we had to do a biographical report for school. Not wanting to do mine on Benjamin Franklin, I rooted around in the library and found 'Lovecraft: a biography by L. Sprague DeCamp.' Needless to say, my teacher thought I was a little odd after I turned my paper in. But that experience, like so many, took root in my subconscious. Years later, I found the book again and read it, and the story just laid itself out for me. By that time, I had written two screenplays, and 'Lovecraft' became my third. When I read the secondary story in 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,' I thought Lovecraft's story might have the makings of a graphic novel. I met Keith Giffen and sent him the screenplay. He took the script in to Vertigo, and they teamed us up with Enrique Breccia," said Rodionoff.

Rodionoff enjoyed working with Vertigo and hopes to do so again. At this point it's just a question of finding the right project. Even with his pleasure at how the comic turned out, Rodionoff still hopes to have "Lovecraft" hit theaters. "I'm being careful and moving slowly, because I'd like to see the film version come out as well as the graphic novel did. It's taking shape, but at its own pace," he explained.

Now that he has written his first few comics, Rodionoff finds that he still loves screenwriting, but enjoys the freedom in writing comic books. "Writing a comic book is a pretty fulfilling experience. For one thing, you don't have to worry about the budget. The big joke is that in screenwriting, the most expensive sentence you can write with an economy of words is 'And then the armada attacked.' What's great about comics is that you can write that sentence, and nobody gets upset. The artist just asks, 'How many ships you want?' Another thing that's liberating about comic books is that there are fewer people involved on a comic book. You have maybe six people that are crafting that book, whereas in film, there are dozens and eventually hundreds of voices. It's hard to keep a persistent vision within that cacophony. There's a synergy that I've experienced working on comics, where I feel like everyone involved becomes one mind. I haven't experienced that level of synergy on a movie, but I think that's just the nature of the beast. Movies are a lot more expensive than comic books. Right now, my first love is screenwriting. But I'm still new to comic writing."

Now that he has successfully penned film and comic scripts, Rodionoff is planning on taking his love of horror to a new medium. He is planning his first novel. "I've got an idea that I'm outlining right now as a novel. There's a movie, a graphic novel, and probably a kickass video game there, but I want to present it first as a novel. It's one of those scares that burrows. I want to write something that will embed itself deeper than anything I've done before, and a novel is the best way to do that," Rodionoff explained.

The horror genre is going through a renaissance. Horror films and comic books have experienced a resurgence in popularity and quality. Rodionoff believes it's due to the current economic and political climate of the world. "I do think it's directly related to the current climate. From a historical perspective, there's always a rise in horror-based material after a time of social crisis. Even Bram Stoker's Dracula was a response to Syphilis. One of America's most prolific horror periods was after the Vietnam War. I think when people are forced to watch horrific events on the news; they start craving an outlet for those emotions. When it's done right, horror provides that catharsis."

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