Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs | Harryhausen’s Sinbad: Movies to comics to movies again [UPDATED]

Bluewater sent out a press release last week to announce that Morningside Entertainment has optioned the film rights to Bluewater’s Sinbad: Rogue of Mars comic from 2007. There are several interesting things about that.

According to the press release, Morningside has optioned the comic in order to adapt it into a feature film for 2012. Not a reboot, the movie is intended to be an extension of the Sinbad films that started with 1958’s The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and continued into the ‘70s with The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.

The release went on to quote Executive Producer Barry Schneer as saying that Rogue of Mars would be the first film in a new trilogy. “I’m thrilled to continue the amazing legacy my uncle, Charles Schneer began with 7th Voyage and to bring to the screen the Sinbad movie that he and Ray Harryhausen never got to make.”

Since Bluewater published Sinbad: Rogue of Mars as part of its Ray Harryhausen Presents line of comics, I started wondering how this fit together and who owned the rights to what. I assumed that Morningside already owned at least a portion of the rights to the Sinbad films. Since Rogue of Mars was based on those movies, why would Morningside need to option the story from a comic book company that had bought the license from them in the first place? What exactly was Morningside optioning? And how does Ray Harryhausen himself fit into all of this?

I contacted Bluewater’s Darren G Davis and asked him to help me put the pieces together. “It’s sad to say that Ray Harryhausen doesn’t own rights to the characters that he created,” Davis told me. “Sony controls a lot of the rights to the previous film library.”

He went on to clarify. “What people have to understand is that Harryhausen was the special effects person behind the films. He was instrumental and a huge part of them, but doesn’t own the rights. The film industry was very different back in the day. I am a huge Harryhausen fan and when I got to work with him it was a dream come true. Charles Schneer, who was the producer of the films, owned a stake in them, which now has gone to his nephew Barry Scheer, who is producing this film.”

As for the comic and the ideas in it, “We own the rights to it. It was part of the deal when we decided to move forward with Harryhausen and produce the comics.”

But wasn’t Harryhausen part of the creative process on Rogue of Mars? When the series was first announced, Davis talked about his “excitement toward developing the property with Harryhausen.”

Davis explained it to me, “We took the basic concept from an idea that was out there called Sinbad Goes to Mars from the ‘80s. They were going to produce it after Clash of the Titans, but it never got green lit. There was a script or treatment on it that we got from Harryhausen’s people, but we took it and went another direction with the story and concepts.

“I wish I could say that Harryhausen had a lot to do with this one, but his people just signed off on what we were doing. When we started this project Ray Harryhausen was in the midst of retiring. When we created the world, we definitely wanted to pay tribute to his world, giving new people an introduction to who Harryhausen is as well as giving Harryhausen fans something classic.”

I talked to Harryhausen’s people and they told me basically the same thing. Tony Dalton, the curator of Harryhausen’s collection and co-author of The Art of Ray Harryhausen said that “neither Ray Harryhausen nor The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation have been formally approached to participate in this project.” But he also added that he met with Schneer earlier and advised the producer that neither Ray nor the Foundation would desire to be involved.

So with Harryhausen out of the picture (so to speak) except for developing the core concept of Sinbad’s visiting Mars, it’s Bluewater’s take on that concept that Morningside is interested in. Davis specified that “they optioned the characters, story and design of the worlds” and added that Bluewater and Morningside have had a partnership for a couple of years now. This is just the first thing that’s come out of it.

That got me wondering about how faithful to the comic the new movie will be then. Especially since the film’s not being written by Greg Thompson, who wrote the original story. Instead, Morningside and Bluewater selected Logan’s Run: Last Day writer Paul Salamoff to write the screenplay. I talked to Salamoff and my first question was about how he got the assignment.

“I’ve been a screenwriter for many years and Darren hired me to write comics based on the strength of my screenwriting. As I continued to write comics for Bluewater we would also discuss doing film projects together. Because I’m primarily a genre writer and such a huge fan of genre material, when the Rogue of Mars project came up, Darren felt I was the right person for the job. I met with Barry Schneer and his development team and they responded to my writing and my ideas for Sinbad. The next week I was hired to write the screenplay.”

I was curious about his other credits, both in film and comics. “Currently I’m developing a number of films; one with the producers of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World called The Last Breath. It’s a horror movie that I wrote that I’m also attached to direct. I’m also writing a comedy called Population: Me for Unstoppable Entertainment in the UK. Noel Clarke is the producer. He’s the writer/director of Adulthood as well as a BAFTA award-winning actor (you may also know him as Mickey Smith on Doctor Who).

“In comics, I’m currently writing for Bluewater the next Logan’s Run series called Logan’s Run: Aftermath as well as more issues of Vincent Price Presents. I also have two graphic novels coming out later this year for other companies. Discord is a new twist on the Frankenstein legend with stunning artwork by Giuseppe D'Elia. The other is Stasis with artist Adrian Paladini. It’s in the vein of Aliens and The Thing.

“Sinbad is a good fit for me,” he added. “It’s 100% in my wheelhouse as a writer. I’ve been a fan of Sci-Fi, Horror, and Fantasy since I was a little kid and the Harryhausen films were a big part of it. So the good news is that the property is in safe hands.”

But what about Thompson’s story?

“Morningside had been developing Rogue of Mars for many years and they had very definite ideas of what they wanted Sinbad’s newest adventure to be like. They had developed the comic, but simultaneously also worked out a pretty amazing outline for a potential film. But they didn’t want me to be too influenced by either.

“I was hired because I’m an idea guy and bring a lot to the table with my knowledge of genre films. So I was just given broad strokes and told that the comic was the comic and was only to be used as a springboard for the film. They didn’t want me to be slavish to the comic or the outline, just certain concepts and design aspects.

“What’s great is that the storyline has been evolving into something really special because the story development has not been so rigid. They want my input and ideas and my take on the characters. I’ve actually already written the first draft of the script, which was well received by the producers. We’re now using my draft as a base to even further expand the story. We’re weaving back in some of their original ideas as well as new ideas that have evolved directly from my draft. It’s very exciting as a writer to have a development process like this. The end goal is to have something really special that not only will appeal to the legions of Sinbad fans that have been with the series since the ‘50s but also to a contemporary audience just discovering the characters.”

I asked him too about special effects restrictions. How much are budgetary concerns a limiting factor as he writes?

“Fortunately they have not restricted my imagination at all, just the opposite. [Morningside] wants to do this as a trilogy and they want it epic. Like Lord of the Rings epic! You can’t do this kind of scale on a small budget and from what I’ve been told these are going to be high-budget, tentpole films.

“In regards to special effects, we now are working in a time where virtually everything is possible. I worked in Special Make-Up FX for the first 14 years of my career and worked on over 40 films, so I have a really good base knowledge of what can be done on what budgets, but I also know that FX are only a tool that’s supposed to enhance the story, not dictate it.

“I feel that’s the mistake a lot of these big FX-driven movies make. They become more about spectacle than story and character. What makes these kinds of films truly work is having relatable characters that you care about and want to go on a journey with. That’s my number one goal with this. The FX will be top notch and we’re working on some amazing visuals (and creatures) that will have that ‘wow’ factor, but once again it will be in service of an exciting story.”

I asked Salamoff if he could tease the story any and he was happy to oblige. “Sinbad has had amazing adventures over the years, but nothing has prepared him for his latest voyage. On a mission for King Kassim, he unwittingly releases a Jinn trapped for millennia. He and his crew are soon transported to Mars where his actions are going to have dire consequences to the planet’s inhabitants, who are already burdened by an impending war over a recent discovery hidden for centuries beneath an ancient temple.”

With Harryhausen retired and uninterested in making more movies (or comics) based on his ideas, Morningside doesn’t have a choice about whether to move with or without him. I’d love to see more of his stamp on Rogue of Mars, but frankly I’m excited just by the possibility of a new Sinbad film, especially if it ends up getting the budget that Morningside wants it to have.

What do you think about this? How do you feel about continuing the Harryhausen films without Harryhausen? Does it matter that he’s not involved or is the concept cool enough on its own to make a good movie?

Ray Harryhausen photo from Stuart Crawford's Flickr photostream.

Update: Greg Thompson, whom I mentioned as the writer of the Sinbad: Rogue of Mars comic, wrote me to clarify his involvement with the project and to offer some additional commentary. Thanks, Greg!

Greg Thompson: I read your article on CBR regarding Sinbad: Rogue of Mars, and while I'm thrilled about the potential of the film and the release of the trade paperback, I did want to clarify a few points.

Morningside Ent. did not have anything to do with the development of the comic story on my end. I was given art for the first issue and developed the story from that. I had written the fourth and fifth issues of the series but I never delivered them to Bluewater, and they hired a different writer to finish the story with a “fourth issue” that will be included in the trade. I don't know how the story ends, but I'm very excited to read Ryan Burton's wrap-up!

I was asked by Morningside Ent. to write the screenplay for the film, and had a meeting with them at SDCC in 2007 to go over the outline they had. I made a few changes and started work on the script. After several starts and stops on the screenplay over the course of the next year and a half, I decided to bow out for personal reasons. Barry Schneer and the folks at Morningside were great throughout the process, and the legacy of Harryhausen's Sinbad films is in great hands.

As for Harryhausen's involvement, I was told that he and his people had approval on my scripts for the comics. Had I known Harryhausen was not involved, I probably would not have taken on the project, despite my love for the source material.

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