Fanboys to get cancer

March 31st, 2008

The power of the Internet: “Fanboys” will have cancer. That probably only makes sense to a few people, so allow me to explain.

“Fanboys” is a movie about a group of friends — all Star Wars nerds — in the year 1998. They decide to break into George Lucas’s compound and steal an early print of “The Phantom Menace.” It’s got Kristen Bell and Seth Rogen, as well as a who’s who of geek icons: Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, William Shatner and Ray Park.

It was also supposed to come out last year.

(I’ve twice written about “Fanboys” for the Potomac News and Manassas Journal Messenger — once in a story about the 30th anniversary of “Star Wars,” and again in a column about 2007 movies that I was anticipating).

Apparently Harvey Weinstein, who picked up the movie in 2005, wasn’t happy with, well, the entire plot. The original reason that the nerds wanted to get the early print was because one of them has terminal cancer and wanted to see it before he died (or one of their friends… you’ll have to bear with me here, because I haven’t actually seen the movie).

Terminal cancer, it seems, is not exactly an easy sell.

According to a story that ran Monday in The Hollywood Reporter, Weinstein and the filmmakers have been clashing for two years over the final cut of the film. The filmmakers want the cancer plot, to release the movie how they intended it: a testament to friendship, like “Stand By Me.” Weinstein wants it to be more of a straight-ahead comedy.

The Hollywood Reporter said the Weinstein Co. would release two versions on DVD (and is “exploring” two theatrical versions).

Weinstein is doing this not out of goodwill toward the artistic integrity of the filmmakers, but, according to the story,because it seems fans are organizing protests at “Superhero Movie,” which the company released this weekend.

“This is more about avoiding picket lines at ‘Superhero’ than it was about making a decision about the release of our movie,” “Fanboys” producer Kevin Mann told The Hollywood Reporter. “The original reason we wanted to get involved with this script was because it was a comedy with heart. In my opinion, when the cancer was taken out, the heart went with it.”

The Weinstein Co. received also more than 300,000 protest e-mails before making its announcement to release both versions. The Web site that presumably started the protest, Seeya.at/stopdarthweinstein, now proclaims “first victory against Darth Weinstein’s Empire!”

This, my friends, is the power of the Internet. If the Weinstein Co. got its hands on “Fanboys” 10 years ago, it would have released the cancer free version without complaint. Maybe a couple years after the original release on DVD, in, say, 2004, it’d release the “Director’s Cut” with the cancer. However, that’s not how movies like “Fanboys” are made or marketed anymore.

These movies — and I include anything in or around the “Fanboys” demographic (superhero, fantasy, action, adventure) — are just as much owned by the actual fans as they are the filmmakers. This is precisely why there was such a backlash against the re-released Star Wars movies (Han shoots first is practically gospel to the Star Wars set). This is precisely why director Jon Favreau sought advice from fans on the Internet on a MySpace.com page when he started work on the upcoming “Iron Man” flick (down to the minute detail of whether or not Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr., should have a goatee with his mustache).

Fans of these kinds of movies, from “Die Hard” to “Harry Potter,” take it personally when a director or a studio gets it wrong. Studios need the people on the Internet. They need people to talk about their movies, which turn into big opening week numbers — and beyond.

Before the Internet, this didn’t exist. Now, with nerds of every stripe available on message boards complaining about whether Ed Norton’s “Hulk” looks too cartoony or discussing what’s really happening on “Lost,” studios notice.

I hang out on JinxWorld.com, a comic book message board owned by Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis. It’s a great place to talk comics (when most of my real-life friends don’t care) and other nonsense. “The eyes and ears of the industry are watching” is a popular refrain from Bendis and other creators who post there. This means, on one hand, for people to behave themselves. But, on the other, it means that we, the passionate fans, are also the tastemakers. If enough people on JinxWorld.com and other message boards say they want, say, a new Dr. Strange comic, chances are Marvel is paying attention.

But, on the other hand, comic book nerds know the axiom about great power.

When Sam Raimi made “Spider-Man” he had a lot of input (mostly from professionals, but when we’re talking about Spider-Man, it’s a thin line from professional to fan). When he made “Spider-Man 2” he shut himself off from the world and made the movie he wanted to make.

By my estimation, it’s the best superhero movie yet.

Staff writer Josh Eiserike can be reached at 703-878-8072 or jeiserike@potomacnews.com.

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