So this past weekend I went down to the San Diego Comic Con. Saw all the freaky-freaks, went to a really lame panel Q & A on Buffy the Vampire Slater, saw more freaky-freaks, looked at lots of really old and expensive comics and artwork, and bought a bootlegged video tape of the animated Gen13 movie.
I was pretty psyched about this. Gen13 is a pretty rad comic book. (Or I should say was a pretty rad comic book, but we'll deal more with that later.) The book centered around five kids who gain superpowers and are put together in a group by this kinda creepy but well meaning dude, and they pretty much use their powers for good and not evil. But where most comic books take themselves way too seriously, Gen13 didn't - somehow they always had a saterical and playful edge. They acted more like teenagers than superheros. One could say that their blatent disregard for the superhero standards and morays endeared them to their audience. Or maybe it was the semi-nekkid chicks and fart jokes. Whatever. Either way, the comic was rad.
So in the mid-to-late 1990s it sounded like a genius idea to make an animated movie. Adult animation (not that kind of "adult", ya perv!) was at its peak - both Batman and Superman had well done shows that were very popular. Now, I don't know about the inner workings of the deal, but to the best of my knowledge it went down something like this. Dean Valentine, one of the heads of Disney TV Animation and home video, bought the rights to make an animated (and I believe a live action, too) movie for Disney. They hired Kevin Altieri, a veteran of the Batman animated show, to direct. The animated show wasn't done in house at Disney, however. They assembled a random crew to do it.
And then Dean Valentine left Disney for UPN, and the movie kind of fell off the radar. Sure, making a PG (or even PG-13) animated movie sounds risky. But I knew there had to be more than an executive shuffling to do with it completely disappearing. I mean, it was supposed to come out in 1997 or 1998 - a full four or five years ago now. That's weird.
So we get to Saturday. I find a copy at a booth (where you could buy all of the Thundercats episodes on tape, or the Star Wars Holiday Special, or even the unaired pilot to Dawson's Creek. I kid you not.) I buy it. I go home. I watch it. I hate it.
The movie completely and utterly sucks. This is the worst animated program I've seen in the past ten years. I mean, it's worse than Hyperion and Miramax's "Tom Thumb and Thumbelina" (coming soon from Disney Home Video). It's horrible.
I really wish that the tape had been a really bad bootleg, a copy of a copy of a copy - jimmyjaked to hell with horrible sound. Then I could turn it off and not feel too bad. But it wasn't - so I watched.
The biggest problem was that the film captured none of the playful fun that the comic is known for. I laughed once, and that was at a lame Star Wars throwaway reference by two unnamed random soldiers. "Soldier A" and "Soldier B" should not upstage the main characters. It just doesn't happen.
Of course, by "main characters" I mean only three of the five main characters from the comic book that made it into the film. The other two ... gone. I have no idea why, either. Too much character footage? Couldn't find the right actors to do the voices?
Oh, wait ... that'd be a big "no". See, they didn't find the right actors to do the three main characters' voices, anyway. Alicia Witt was the main character Fairchild (well, her name really is "Caitlin Fairchild", but this movie was so contrived that even her college roommate called her by her last name, in fact, I'm not even sure if anyone ever in the film said "Caitlin" ...) Boy does Alicia Witt suck at voice acting. I've never really seen her in anything (Unless you count that old sitcom Cybil, and I for sure don't). Maybe she just sucks at acting ... period? I don't know, but she was so not right for this part ...
Then there's Flea, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He voiced Grunge, a/k/a Edward Chang (although again, don't think anyone ever called him "Edward Chang" ever.) Now, Flea's acted enough, remember Needles from the second two Back to the Futures? I don't think he was a horrible choice for Grunge. The direction, however, was God forsaken. I can only picture that they said, "Okay, Flea, now do that line twice as slow and twice as laboriously. Yeah, make him sound like a caveman. Good. Now, this time try a caveman who's only half thawed out." Thus Grunge came off slow and stupid and completely wrong.
E.G. Daily as Roxy was probably the best voice of the bunch. She didn't change it much from her Powerpuff Girls Buttercup voice, but it worked fine. It was a bit Lori Petty-ish, but that's the character.
Mark Hamill as Threshold was a waste. Wrong voice totally. As was John de Lancie (Que, from Star Trek) as Jack Lynch. Both are fine actors, in the right role. These were not the right roles.
Then there's the art. What can you say about the art? Sure, the comic book has gone from the super-stylized J. Scott Campbell hottie chicks to Mr. Post-Anime Adam Warren. The best comic artists, however, had that playful edge in there. Jim Lee's Gen13 was too realistic and rendered. He's a great artist, but the wrong choice. The comic lends itself to cartoony.
But not in the animated movie. Some character designs seem straight from the Batman universe, straight lines and boxy bodies, others are from an almost GI Joe world of semi-realism, still more are just completely something else. It's a mishmash - a complete mess. Everything is lost in the translation.
The animation itself is sub-par. Wooden characters with no fun camera angles equals really bad looking tv crap. Only the effects animation - explosions, bullets, lightening, was any good. But that does not save a movie.
Okay, at this point I'm going to pause and reflect for a minute. I'm being really harsh, I know. And the product I'm seeing IS a few years old. A key few years. Since then we've had the redesign of the animated Batman, the brand new Batman Beyond, the new Justice League show, as well as a host of Cartoon Network shows where style is king. Look at Powerpuff Girls, Time Squad, Samurai Jack ... the animation is limited but not lacking because the style is so rad. I feel that my Monday morning quarterbacking of the style is harsh and undeserved.
Nah. It sucks.
But the key loss is the story. If it was funny and cleverly written the rest of this would be passable. But it's not. The story follows Fairchild as she joins the Phoenix Project, or the Genesis Project (I swear that they call it two different things in there!). She does not have powers yet. She meets Roxy and Grunge, who don't have powers. In charge of the project are Matthew (a/k/a Threshold) and Ivana - who are the bad guys. Nobody has any doubt.
So for the first half or more of the movie we follow them being unfunny and uninteresting, then they get powers and try and escape. Some other things happen, too, but honestly nothing remotely interesting. Then there's a big fight at the end and the good guys win and decide to form this superhero group. That's it.
As for the adult aspect (again with the perv!) - with the more "grown-up" aspects - they say "shit" a half dozen times, there's some suggested nudity (albeit nothing like the comic book) and a couple of people get shot and bloody. Oh, and a dude's head explodes, but it's nowhere near cool enough. Haven't they seen any anime? They'll show you how a guy's head should explode. All of these little touches seem completely forced and added on. (Or easily removable, maybe?)
Overall it's a tremendous waste of these characters. Characters who, if you haven't read the book lately, don't exist anymore. In some of the best written, no ... in the best written books of the whole series, writer Adam Warren countered the book being cancelled by blowing up all five of the characters. But it's not lame or evil or out of jealousy. The story makes so much sense that it's scary. The second to last issue, #76, might be the best comic story ever. AND it features swear words, nudity, humor and style that the movie lacked.
So there's a darn good reason why the Gen13 animated movie has stayed locked up and hidden from the public. It sucks. Eventually someone will make an adequate, no, a great animated film from a comic book. Until then, however, we just have to wait.
Last Updated on: August 6, 2002
© 2002-2004 Joshua Paul Edwards
all rights reserved.
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