Wednesday, 2 September 2009

This is why Superman works alone.

Hey I know. Let’s play a game. It’s called “Who would you hire?”. Never played it before? Don't worry, it's really simple. "Who would you hire?" goes a little summin’ summin’ like this...

You’re a movie producer working for a really big studio. The studio has fallen on hard times recently and has struggled to make more than, oh gosh, three decent movies in the past ten years. During this time two other studios have made big money with comic book adaptations. And so, not being adverse to jumping on bandwagons, your studio has purchased the rights to as many superhero franchises as it could get it‘s grubby little corporate hands on. Sadly, despite some initial promise, the resulting movies fail to ignite the box office and are largely panned by the critics. Still the studio keeps making these movies despite not being very good at it, a contractual obligation forcing them to or risk losing the rights to these potentially profitable properties.

So here’s the dilemma. It’s decided that one of these superhero movies needs a reboot. You’re the producer, and you have to hire a screenwriter who will revive this flagging horse. Who do you choose?

A) A comic book fan with a proven track record for writing good comic book based movies? (Gee Note: Like David Hayter for example)

B) A comic book fan with a proven track record for writing good non comic book based movies? (Gee Note: Like a pre Dark Knight Jonathan Nolan for example)

C) A non comic book fan with a proven track record for writing good movies? (Gee Note: Like William Goldman for example)

Or D) The dude who wrote Batman & Robin? (Gee Note: Like, er, the dude who wrote Batman & Robin for example).

If you answered A, B, or C then congratulations you are not a moron. If you answered D then you are a moron. You are also either already employed by Twentieth Century Fox or are on their graduate program.

That’s right folks, in an attempt to breath life in to the tired and flabby Fantastic Four films, Fox have decided to reboot them with Akiva F***ing Goldsman at the creative helm. For those not familiar with the work of Akiva F***ing Goldsman, he’s the unparalleled genius who wrote lines such as

POISON IVY Once you have frozen mankind, these babies will overrun the globe, and we shall rule them, for we will be the only two people left in the world.

MR. FREEZE Adam and Evil.

Or the almost Shakespearian

MR. FREEZE What killed the dinosaurs? The Ice Age! (Gee Note: Er, well, no. Dinosaurs were killed by a bloody great big asteroid hitting the earth like it was Chris Brown’s girlfriend. Or they were wiped out by Volcanoes. Or they all grew a pair of wings and evolved in to birds. It wasn’t the goddam ice age. Unless there was a Brontosaurus who had survived all that by hiding out in the Congo only to forget to pack a sweater. “Why would I need it?” thought the Brontosaurus. “It’s a tropical jungle after all.” Ah, poor Brontosaurus. So noble and yet so foolish.)

And so according to reports The Fantastic Four, who are some of the most recognisable comic characters ever, have had to already endure two tremendously lifeless movies and now Akiva F***ing Goldsman. Knowing him, he’ll probably pair The Fantastic Four against a crap villain. Like the Mole Man. Or a giant kung fu teddy bear.

Speaking of the Mole Man, one of the most fascinating urban legends to have popped up over the past fifteen years are the Mole People of New York City.

The legend goes like this. In the 1950's some archaeologists stumbled across a group of albinos living way below the earth's surface. These albinos kept freaky deaky mutants known as mole people to wash their cars harvest mushrooms, which the albinos ate after frying them in some butter with a pinch of nutmeg. Probably. Anyway eventually the mole people, tired of their slave status, rebelled against the albinos. During the confusion the archaeologists escaped with a buxom young lass in tow who, although being born of albino stock, looks exactly like Cynthia Patrick. I mean all kinds of Caucasian with strawberry blonde hair.

Alas the question of how the hell she managed to keep her skin colour and lovely locks in place while living in the earth's core was never answered. She was killed shortly after escaping to the surface, a volcano erupting rather unexpectedly and falling on her head. Meanwhile a member of the albino clan managed to evade the blood thirsty mole people and went on to carve out a successful career in television, playing the role of Alfred in the 1960's television show Batman (Gee Note: Man I love 1960's Batman. Anyone one remember that episode where the Joker tied Batman and Robin to two electric chairs, and they were all like "Oh no, we're going to die!" but then there was a city wide blackout and they were saved? And then the power came back on, but some cops arrived an untied Batman and Robin before the current could get to the chairs? Proving that Gotham City's finest are in fact the faster than electricity and therefore the ideal place for Usain Bolt to end up after he hangs up his running boots? That was ace. Also it had a kick ass theme tune. Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah BATMAN!) .

Well ok maybe not. That might actually be the plot line to a 1956 classic B movie called "The Mole People". Still the real urban legend is pretty much as unbelievable. And it all started with a woman named Jennifer Toth.

Now before we start it should be mentioned that there are many cities around the world where the subways and underground railway stations are used by homeless people as shelter. That's pretty hard to disagree with. However there have been persistent rumours that in New York a group of homeless folk have become tribalistic, electing "Mayors", fighting with other tribes, accessing electricity by means of illegal hook up, that kind of thing. The idea is that an ordered and organised society is thriving under the very streets of the big apple.

In 1993 a book called "The Mole People: Life In The Tunnels Beneath New York City" was published by the Chicago Review Press. Written by the above mentioned Ms Toth, who at the time was an intern at the Los Angeles Times, it is pretty much the primary source for all this subterranean society stuff. In the book Toth, who apparently spent several months interviewing homeless people, also claims that mole people use steam from pipes as showers, have exercise rooms, and that she saw one of these underground types catch a rat and bang it against a wall until it was dead. After which he, of course, ate the deceased rodent. (Gee Note: Well… at least it was fresh I guess).

Which all sounds very interesting. Except sadly it appears to be make believe. Or, say the critics, at the very least it has been sensationalised somewhat.

The most notable of those critics are Joseph Brennan and Cecil Adams. Brennan, a rail enthusiast, has gone to great lengths to research the book's claims. From a purely geographical and structural perspective Brennan claims there is not one “fact” in the book that could be reliably verified. Particularly vexing for Brennan was one particular passage that, when talking about the thriving population underneath Grand Central Station, read:

...Grand Central Station, which is spread over forty-eight acres, making it the largest train station in the world. It also goes down six levels beneath the subway tracks. There is no complete blueprint of the tunnels and tracks under the station. Many tunnels were begun but abandoned. Some were built but forgotten. Some were sealed off, but underground homeless people have broken through, either directly or by hacking a hole through the wall or by circuitous routes, to inhabit them now.

To which Brennan quite rightly replied.

What a load of nonsense. Grand Central Terminal is not in any place below subway tracks, and it goes down two levels of tracks and with passages at two levels below that. "No complete blueprint"? Detailed diagrams can be found in several published books, and photographs of the excavations can be found in published books and articles as well. No tunnels in the terminal were begun and abandoned. The terminal was constructed in one project completed in 1913, and not accreted piece by piece over many years as this may imply.

Before going on to say

By the time I found her describing her own visits to places that do not exist, I realized this is something worse than a little sloppiness.

Adams, who runs the wonderful The Straight Dope website, was initially supportive of Toth’s claims. Before posting an initial report on the book after receiving a question from one of his readers, Adams had contacted Toth and had been convinced she was genuine. And so, although he admitted that he had not ventured down the tunnels himself, he gave Toth’s version of hoards of homeless people banding together to create underground societies a ringing endorsement.

However Adams' readers are a cynical bunch and his mail box was flooded with cries of “Bollocks!”, many sighting Brennan’s report as proof. Adams read Brennan’s work and, now less convinced of Toth’s sincerity, decided to give her a call.

Says Adams.

I called Toth back; we had a tense conversation. I asked if there was any way of corroborating her story. She put me in touch with a woman named Cindy Fletcher, who stayed in the tunnels on and off in the early 90s. (She and Toth didn't meet at the time.) To my astonishment, Fletcher did not second Toth's claims. "I'm not saying the book is not true, I just never experienced the things [Toth] said she saw," Fletcher said…. Fletcher for her part doubted Toth's claim of subterranean societies: "There are no leaders down there."

Coupled with the fact that despite Adams’ relentless prompting Toth “could not remember” the way to get to one of the mole people’s “villages” even though she had been to the tunnel “two or three times a day for seven months”, Adams was led to the conclusion that

Parts of Toth's book are true, parts of it aren't, and you take your chances deciding which are which.

And you know maybe it’s a good thing. I mean if it was true that tribes of mole people were inhabiting the sewers and tunnels of underground New York, there’d be nowhere for the alligators to live. Also if Jennifer is a such a dab hand at fiction, then maybe we could start a petition to get her added to the writing crew of the Fantastic Four movie?

After all she can obviously write a much better story that Akiva F***ing Goldsman.

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