Well, this marks the second big move in two days from Warner Bros., which seems to be deviating from the gameplan of safe plays and taking on riskier fare. Just yesterday, they came aboard the massive “The Dark Tower” franchise from Ron Howard and Brian Grazer that Universal dropped last year, and now they are continuing with bold maneuvers, taking on the vintage comic “Mandrake The Magician” and bringing it to the big screen.
As Russ Fischer of /Film perfectly tweeted: “Movie of classic pulp novel causes endless talk of bomb-like failure –> Warner Bros. announces development of MORE obscure pulp character.” Indeed, you would think that in the shadow of “John Carter” failing to capture the imagination of audiences, any other properties from that era might not be the best idea right now. But Warner Bros. has been down this path before, taking on the much better known “Sherlock Holmes” but even then giving it the taste and feel of a modern buddy action flick, and indeed that’s the template they are looking at here.
The comic kicked off in 1934, introducing the world to Mandrake, who with an African strongman Lothar as his sidekick (yeah, you can bet that element will be dropped or changed significantly), the pair fought a wild variety of baddies ranging from gangsters to aliens. He also had a twin who used his powers for evil instead of good. Yet somehow, the movie world has eluded Mandrake. Columbia Pictures made a twelve part serial in 1939, a TV series was attempted on NBC in 1954 and in 1979 a TV movie was made. In the mid-’80s, the character popped up in animated form alongside The Phantom and Flash Gordon (two other King Syndicate characters) in the shortlived “Defenders Of The Universe” but that’s about it. Hollywood has been trying to crack the nut for years with various folks like Chuck Russell, Mimi Leder, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Hayden Christensen all circling at various points.
But WB is going to start from scratch and will be hiring new writers to take it on. Whether or not they can find the recipe for success is anyone’s guess, but a movie based on an old timey comic about a magician (always a winner in Hollywood) — good luck. [THR]