Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Third Age of Peplum is upon Us...

thanks to Friday's premiere of "John Carter" (Warlord of Mars) starring the appropriately named Taylor Kitsch as Edgar Rice Burrough's mesomorphic interplanetary swashbuckler.
But of course, this has all happened before, and it will happen again, especially in Hollywood.
The first age of Peplum started in Italy in 1957, it was built around Steve Reeves, Champion American Bodybuilder who starred in the hugely profitable "Hercules".
Well, the movies abhor a vacuum and soon almost any US Bodybuilder with any sort of title to his name was jetting off to Rome to star as Maciste, Ursus, Goliath or Samson as well as dozens of variants on Hercules. At it's height, obscurities like Ed Fury (chiefly known for being a sort of musclebound chorus boy in Mae West's Las Vegas revue) was starring in motion pictures up and down the Mediterranean Littoral.
All these movies made money, do not forget this, muscles = money.
The whole thing lasted almost eight years before the creative winds deserted peplum's sails and everyone moved on to Spaghetti Westerns, Horror Flicks or in the case of Steve Reeves a comfortable retirement breeding horses in California.

Then in the 1980's the whole damn thing flared up again, thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger;s short lived "Conan the Barbarian Franchise. This time in Hollywood and driven by Arnold and by "Rocky" star Sylvester Stallone whose physique became increasing cartoonish in the Jack Kirby sense of the term. Other than the two "Conan" movies, the second peplum wave eschewed the purely mythological type of script. This time around it was less Hercules and more soldiers of fortune, androids, crusading cops and the like...But believe me this was peplum sans the dubbing and the classical setting.
However, at the height of this second wave, TV's Incredible Hulk, Lou Ferrigno made a counterintuitive return to Italy where he discovered that the whole Hercules filmography was short by at least two films starring himself as the Lovechild of Zeus.
Eventually that wave receded, leaving in the tidal pools everyone from Dolph Lundgren to Mister T. (both of whom got their starts jobbing to Sylvester Stallone in the "Rocky" franchise).

I think Billy Crystal did the second wave in...that is just a theory though.

Now a third Peplum Wave is upon us, and it is driven much like the first by fantasy and or mythological narratives, commencing with "300" starring Gerard Butler and running straight thru Brad Pitt's turn as Achilles in "Troy".
Now it is the turn of "John Carter, Warlord of Mars", Edgar Rice Burrough's first action hero (circa 1912).
I dunno if this film is gonna be a hit, the blunt truth is, Edgar Rice Burrough's non-Tarzan film adaptations have run the gamut from mediocre ("At The Earth's Core" starring Doug McClure) to...mediocre ("The People that Time Forgot" starring someone). I'm giving this film despite it's Mitt Romney-esque price tag, long odds.
I'd like it to be a success, some the finest reading pleasure I had a as a boy was spent reading Edgar Rice Burrough's science fiction.
But I am not hopeful.
Remember I saw "The Land that Time Forget" in Fresh Pond back in 1974...I got time invested in this mishaugas.

Well if it doesn't work, Taylor Kitsch and his pecs can probably revitalize the Tarzan Franchise, I hear Disney still owns that option.

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