Ben Fritz, who covers the business of Hollywood for the Los Angeles Times, caught up with Larry Hama, the creator of the “G.I. Joe” commando team mythology, and put together this interesting Hero Complex report on “the real American hero” as a film property….
On Friday, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” opens and fanboys have some reason to be nervous. Though Aint-It-Cool’s Harry Knowles gave it a good review, Paramounthasn’t exactly embraced devotees of the toys and ’80s cartoon.
Fred Meyer, owner of the website JoeBattleLines.com, said he was one of several fan community leaders invited to a meeting by Paramount and Hasbro at a G.I. Joe fan convention two years ago to discuss what they wanted to see in the film.
“That was the last time we had any involvement,” he noted. “They’re not taking advantage of the fact that they have this free army of PR people out there.”
Perhaps more notably, Paramount didn’t bring the movie to Comic-Con International, even though there was a panel for Hasbro’s new toy line based on the movie. The movie’s producer was rather blunt when asked about the decision.
“You can never win with those guys,” Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, producer of both “Transformers” films and “G.I. Joe,” said of the San Diego convention. “They feel they’re the keepers of the fanboys flag and have a deep childhood association with many of these properties. And we know the hard-core fans are already coming to see the movie.”
As my story in The Times business section explained, Paramount has a different agenda with the new “G.I. Joe” film. It’s aggressively marketing the film to military, blue collar and red state audiences. In fact, the movie’s premiere on Friday wasn’t in Hollywood or New York, but at Andrews Air Force Base, the home of Air Force One.
All hope isn’t lost for old school G.I. Joe fans, however. The studio hired as a consultant a man who’s very familiar to them: Larry Hama, the writer of the comic books that originated the “Real American Hero” revival of the brand in the 1980s. Hama also wrote the file cards that came with the ’80s toy line and gave shape to the characters who populated the after-school cartoon and, in somewhat different form, the new movie.
I interviewed Hama for the story and, while we managed to fit only one quote in the piece, saved the best of the rest for Hero Complex readers.
BF: Tell me about the role you played in creating the G.I. Joe characters.
LH: I wrote the stuff. What they did was they sent me a design spec sheet before they even made the toy showing what the figure looked like. It would say something like “infantry guy” or “bazooka guy” on it. I would have to come up with who he was and what he did and how he fit in the universe. I came up with the idea of doing file cards because I was doing these dossiers for myself. I knew there would be so many characters down the pike and I needed a methodology to keep track of who was who. A guy at Hasbro saw these file cards and said we should put those on the back of the package. It became an industry standard.
BF: You started doing that because of your work on the comics, right? How did you start doing that?
LH: Doing a toy book at a big company like Marvel is like the ghetto. None of the A-list people wanted to soil their hands doing it. I was literally the last person they asked. I was having trouble getting writing work because I started out drawing. So if they were offering me Barbie, I would have done it. Once I got the gig I gave it my best shot, probably because I wasn’t the A-list guy shrugging it off. I ended up writing the entire run at Marvel.
BF: And you’ve done more since then at other companies, right?
LH: At Devil’s Due I did a line. I’m doing some of the IDW stuff. I have no idea how many issues I’ve written. I did 105 for Marvel, so probably close to 250 total.
BF: So how did you get involved in the film?
LH: Lorenzo Di Bonaventura contacted me and asked me to come on as a consultant.
BF: And what role did you play? Were there things that changed as a result of your input?
LH: There were a few things along the way.
I know the ins and outs of all this stuff having worked in development hell and other aspects of the business. I figured there are fights you win and fights where you don’t even try. I just picked the ones I thought were really important and stuck to my guns on them.
BF: What are some examples?
LH: I signed a [non-disclosure agreement] so I can’t really say. There is one I can talk about though: I insisted that Snake Eyes can’t speak. He was going to say something at the end. Marketing people think things like that really cool. I said, “Well no, you can’t have that happen. Don’t do that.” But they kept fiddling with it. “What if he just says one word?” Even fights like that can be difficult and long and protracted. I won that fight but who knows how it ended up? They were still doing revisions a month ago.”
BF: Who did you make your case to? Did you have to get aggressive at all?
LH: I spoke to Lorenzo, I was never combative. I just stated my case. I said I thought the fan base might find that really off-putting. You can mess with certain things, but certain core things you should not poke.
BF: When were you involved? How early?
LH: I was on board when pre-production started about two years ago. I was in L.A. to do a cameo on the first day of shooting.
BF: So have you seen the movie? What did you think? Do you think fans will like it?
LH: I saw a version about two and a half weeks ago [the interview was conducted July 17]. The day I saw it they were still re-shooting some stuff. The version I saw was 15-20 minutes shorter than a version I saw previously. Over 95% of the effects were done. I thought that last version was really tight and excited. I was very pleased. As for the fans, I think it’s the same thing that happened with “Transformers.” The fan base anticipates it’s going to suck. That’s what they did with “Transformers” right up until day it opened. I always tell the fans, “How can you be so anal retentive about continuity and a universe that was pretty much done on the fly as it went along?” If something didn’t work in the comics I just changed it. I created the universe and I’m OK with it.
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CREDITS: “G.I. Joe” film photo — Paramount. Photo of Sienna Miller and military personnel — Getty Images.