#312. Crossovers

Popular culture has created a lot of memorable characters over the years. Most of the time, these characters exist in their own, unique universes. However, every once in a while these universes are shown to be part of a larger, more complex universe. In combining these universes, the characters are allowed to cross over into the realms of other famous figures. Usually, these crossovers are possible because an overarching company owns the rights to the characters at large. From Marvel and DC’s respective cinematic universes to Disney’s Kingdom Hearts and Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. video game series, fans love to see their favorite characters interacting together. Even the Hannah-Barbara universe (which gave us The Flintstones meet The Jetsons (1987)) knew this back in the day. This week’s two films look at some character crossovers.

Van HelsingVan Helsing
Year: 2004
Rating: PG-13
Length: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours

During the first golden age of cinema in the 1930’s, Universal found success in bringing some of the world’s monsters to life. All the famous Halloween staples like Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), and The Wolfman (1941) are part of the Universal Studios repertoire. It’s no wonder that these characters spawned numerous sequels and crossovers back in their time. Even today, films like Hotel Transylvania (2012) capitalize on their shared universe. Of course, while this animated film is more comedic, Universal brought out their monsters almost a decade earlier in the action-packed Van Helsing (2004), tying them all together via the titular character, who himself was based off the vampire hunter found in the Bram Stroker novel, Dracula. Of course, with the current popularity of cinematic universes, look for these monsters to be rebooted in the near future.

After Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) neutralized the threat of Mr. Hyde (Robbie Coltrane) in the bell tower of Notre-Dame Cathedral (likely also a reference to another famous hunchback), he is sent by the Vatican to Transylvania to kill Dracula (Richard Roxburgh). Intel they have received from Igor (Kevin J. O’Connor) informs them that Victor Frankenstein (Samuel West) is collaborating with Dracula to bring a horde of dead vampire children back to life. Upon finding Frankenstein’s monster (Shuler Hensley), Van Helsing learns that the reason Dracula’s experiment failed was due to the missing monster. The werewolf (Will Kemp), one of Dracula’s lackeys, also learns this information and runs off to tell his master where the reanimated monster has been hiding. Unbeknownst to Dracula, the Vatican has just learned how to defeat the immortal vampire and lets Van Helsing know before their final showdown.

The Brothers GrimmThe Brothers Grimm
Year: 2005
Rating: PG-13
Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours

Much like Shakespeare in Love (1998) revealed the fictional inspiration for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, The Brothers Grimm (2005) delves into a potential origin story for the famed fairytale founders. Both the TV shows Once Upon a Time and Grimm have taken the numerous Grimm fairytales and combined them into their own shared universes, the former of which did so via their Disney interpretations. Stories like Snow White (1937), Cinderella (1950), Sleeping Beauty (1959), and Rapunzel (via Tangled (2010)) all received their Disney treatment over the years. These films don’t even touch on Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rumpelstiltskin, all of which reside within the same Grimm fairytale universe. With these stories in mind, seeing their potential origins in The Brothers Grimm helps to give an idea of the brothers’ inspirations.

Con artists Wilhelm (Matt Damon) and Jakob (Heath Ledger) Grimm soon find themselves out of their depth when they discover that an actual supernatural threat has been causing the girls of a remote village to disappear. An immortal Queen (Monica Bellucci) has been stealing the girls’ youth via an enchanted mirror. While she cannot leave the tall tower where she lives, a werewolf huntsman (Tomáš Hanák) does her bidding. In helping to rid the huntsman of his werewolf curse, Will becomes entrapped by the Queen’s magic, leaving Jake to shatter the magic mirror and releasing the youthful energy trapped within it. Even with the Queen defeated, the girls of the village remain trapped in a state of slumber. It’s up to Jake to kiss the last of the twelve girls in order to wake them all up and break the last piece of the curse. With the adventure over, the brothers mull over the idea of writing down their adventures.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 conglomerations of characters

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#051. Modern Fairy Tales

In recent years, it seems like the fairy tales we all grew up with are seeing resurgence in popular culture. Television shows like Grimm and Once Upon a Time have taken a lot of these classics and fused them into greater storylines. This resurgence has also been seen in the film world as well, with retellings of “Snow White”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, “Hansel and Gretel”, and “Beauty and the Beast” having been released in the last few years, some even so far as to have two versions of the story released in the same year (Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman). And yet, while it seems that the realm of fairy tale stories has been bled dry, occasionally you will see a new story appear which would fit well in the fairy tale category. This week’s two films are stories that were created recently (not derived from any of the Grimm works) that would easily hold their own against any classic fairy tales.

StardustStardust
Year: 2007
Rating: PG-13
Length: 127 minutes / 2.17 hours

At the base of a strong fairy tale are two elements: fantasy and love. The fantasy realm engages the imagination of young children and gives them something that older audiences would immediately pass off as impossible. Of course, a lot of fairy tales in their original context were not meant as pleasant stories for children, but that is beside the point. The aspect of love can be applied across a wide range of situations, and does not restrict itself to the romantic (or “Eros”) form in order to produce a good fairy tale. Still, this emotional aspect is perhaps one of the reasons that fairy tales survive for so long, especially when you combine them with a fantasy element. We all want that happily ever after, so these stories give us some semblance of hope.

Stardust excels in both of these elements; even if some of its “love” aspects are a bit unorthodox. The story begins with Tristan Thorn (Charlie Cox), and his desire to impress his unrequited love, Victoria (Sienna Miller) with a gift. When he sees a star fall from the sky and land outside his hometown of Wall, he decides that this would be the perfect gift. Of course, at the same time, witches wanting of power and two princes wanting their inheritance are searching for the exact same star, with the hopes that it will allow them to advance in the world. After finding that the star has taken the form of a human woman, Tristan drags her back home, but eventually finds himself in the middle of the battle for the star, as well as being truly in love with someone other than Victoria.

The Princess BrideThe Princess Bride
Year: 1987
Rating: PG
Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours

An interesting note about Stardust is that the director (Matthew Vaughn) wanted to make it like a mix of Midnight Run and The Princess Bride. Considering how much The Princess Bride has influenced popular culture, it’s no wonder that twenty years later, directors are still trying to recreate the magic that Rob Reiner brought to the screen in 1987. And to think that the story it originated from has only been around since 1973, it makes one wonder how many great stories are out there, just waiting to become the next fairy tale (Stardust‘s story was written in 1998, fyi). After all, The Princess Bride is probably one of the most quoted movies of all time (if not the most), which just goes to show how timeless it really is.

Once again, The Princess Bride follows the two elements of a successful fairy tale: fantasy and love. Even to the point of being about “wuv . . . twue wuv”. In a realm known as Florin, there are many strange aspects that include men with six fingers, giants, fire swamps, and rodents of unusual size (although I think these still don’t exist). The simple love of Buttercup (Robin Wright) and Westley (Cary Elwes), torn apart by Westley’s alleged death at the hands of the Dread Pirate Roberts, forces Buttercup to settle for marrying Prince Humperdink (Chris Sarandon). But when the Dread Pirate Roberts enters the scene, and his true identity is revealed, it’s a race against the clock to stop the Princess Bride from sealing her fate with the prince. Will there be a storybook ending?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 fairy tales written recently