Admittedly the film is not padded. While the filmmakers could have come up with something, anything to give the film some bulk, the scenes that are there all briskly move the action along. The deleted scenes on the DVD would have added nothing to the film aside from a few extra minutes.
The film seems a "Western Noir" version of 1999's WILD WILD WEST. The plots are similar-- a special government agent with ties to the Civil War is sent by President Grant to seek out a renegade ex-Confederate officer who now possesses a super-weapon that he'll use to kill Grant and conquer the US. And the hero is aided by a heroine who appears to be a "soiled dove" but whom can handle herself in a fight. At least JONAH HEX does a better job at explaining the title character's background.
The main difference the tone of this film. Where WILD WILD WEST was an action comedy, this is a very dark film. Jonah Hex is not a jokester and the few light comments he makes are in character and still very dark.
The acting is negligible. Megan Fox continues to show she looks great but can't act her way out of a paper bag. Malkovich is pretty much phoning in his performance as a generic terrorist leader. Fassbinder chews the scenery as his psychopathic Irish assassin. Lance Reddick (from FRINGE) plays a Noble Black Man. But Josh Brolin does a very good job with his title role. He plays Jonah Hex with a weariness and dedication that befits this character. He may seem to be underplaying here but in fact he's struck just the right tone.
The geographical sense of the film is pretty bizarre. Folks seem able to ride their horses fairly swiftly between points like the West, New Orleans, and Washington DC. Somewhow the villains are able to transport swiftly and unseen a multi-barreled cannon the size of an M1 Abrams tank. And Washington DC is now apparently on the southern shore of a bay.
Bad points? Robin Dunne, Robin Dunne, and Robin Dunne. He was at best phoning in his performance. Apparently no one taught him how to believably fire an arrow. The few times you see him fire an arrow, it is obvious the arrow only flew a dozen feet before dropping to the floor.
All in all, there was no reason to call this "Robin Hood" aside from the chance to skip over explaining who these various characters were. Friar Tuck for example shows up, talks to Robin and Marian a little, then gets killed. By calling him "Friar Tuck" the filmmakers spared themselves the five minutes or so of screen time they'd've needed to set him up as an original character.
But that did not stop studios from trying. And occasionally a network would begrudgingly cough up the money for a pilot in the form of a made-for-TV flick.
In this case, the guys behind the two bionic shows on ABC got NBC interested in their pitch for another Martin Caidin concept. Caidin was the leading "tech thriller" writer of the 60s and 70s. His NASA novel MAROONED (actually three novels) was a famous film. His gritty novel CYBORG was softened into the popular SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN. NBC probably asked for "something like the $6M Man but different." They got it.
Caidin again looked to cutting edge technology for his gimmick. NASA and the Pentagon had been working on "man-amplifiers", powered frameworks a user could wear and use to possess forklift-like strength. The chemical industry had developed "memory plastic", materials that could be deformed then spring back into shape when an electric current was supplied. So there was the concept-- a man-amplifier suit that used memory plastic joints to make it work.
Of course this is television so they needed a crisis to compel the hero to build the thing in the first place. In this case, the hero was a college professor who witnessed a crime. The local mobsters tried shutting him up by nearly killing him. Now paraplegic, the hero decided to combine his work with memory plastic with research by his colleagues to produce an armored plastic suit that can walk on its own. And of course, this being TV, he used the suit to get revenge on the mobsters. He even picked up the obligatory street-smart young assistant along the way. The idea looked good on paper. The only problem was, the best mid-70s SFX tech could come up with was plastic plate mail the wearer could barely move in.
NBC took a look at the pilot, let it air once, and quietly forgot about it. As did most of the viewers.
Martin Caidin just cashed his check and went on with his life. After all, he still had the royalties from the bionic shows coming in. A few years later, Caidin decided to recycle the basic ideas behind EXOMAN in his early-80s tech thriller MANFAC. Like CYBORG, this is a very serious, very adult novel that still holds up well. MANFAC also enabled Caidin to have his final say on some of the exaggerated powers of THE $6M MAN, especially that "running at 60 mph" trick (the suit's legs literally run out from under the wearer).
BIG JIM MCCLAIN is another film of this ilk. It was made in a time when a small but unfortunately powerful political and media cabal successfully convinced the public that Commie Spies were infiltrating everywhere. To stop them, all we needed to do was rip up the Constitution and set up a secret police to arrest these evil foreigners and their native-born Fellow Travellers. That we had just spent five years stopping a similar system in Germany never entered into most folks' minds.
But I digress....
Wayne and Arness star as agents of the secret police.... err, investigators for the House Un-American Activities Commission ferreting out a group of obviously intellectual and well-traveled Commies and Commie Dupes who use the Constitution to prevent their prosecution. That's pretty much sums up the film. The film is a sad recitation of various bugaboos held by the conservatives. The Commies are highly intelligent, well-educated, and philosophical, and possess a wide view of the relationship between nations and an even better understanding of the rights inherent in the Constitution. The Good Guys are common folk without any intellectual pretense, possess a strong nationalistic bias, and dislike the Constitution because it prevents their actions.
Hmm, sounds like the Bush Adminstration....
The film is ripe for revival. The same script performed now could be a riotous dark comedy. Maybe throw in a few catchy song and dance numbers.
The contestants were subjected to a variety of puzzles and challenges as they made their trek. For example, the team's directions might lead them to the center of a very tall, very picturesque stone viaduct. There they found four sets of repelling gear. They needed the gear to get to the bottom of the viaduct where four ATVs waited. But on the way down they had to find the ATVs' keys, which were hung halfway down the viaduct. As none of the keys were hung together, each contestant was forced to make the perilous-looking descent.
After a long day, the contestants would find a stash of supplies they could use to make dinner and shelter. What the contestants made of the supplies could vary widely. For example, when British and American teams were faced with dinner in the form of a joint of meat, the announcer described their actions thusly, "In proper British fashion, the British team decided to boil the meat to death. In typical American fashion, the y decided to have a barbecue." (The BBQ worked, the boiled meat was barely edible, by the way.) The narrator was a hoot to listen to as he alternated described and mocked the contestants' efforts. The narration for JUNKYARD WARS definitely copied this.
On the second day, the tasks increased in complexity until the contestants finally reached their goal. For example, in one episode the team had to use available parts to devise a "time bomb." One solution I recall was a leaking sandbag attached to a lever that somehow triggered the "bomb." The filming format was straight forward. One team of contestants participated at a time, accompanied by the film crew. That would occupy two days. Then the area would be reset for the second team's mission on the third and fourth days. Afterwards, the two team's footage was edited to give the illusion of a head-to-head competition. (The occasionally wildly different weather conditions were the giveaway.) Each half hour episode dealt with one day of the mission. The show aired in the US as a one-hour package, combining the two episodes that formed a competition. In the original run, the teams were strictly British. Later seasons added teams of expatriate Americans in order to give the series a wider appeal for the newly emerging American Cable market. (I watched this on the early ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT Channel.) Looking at the show now, one can see numerous shows that owe a creative debt to the NOW GET OUT OF THAT. JUNKYARD WARS owes its tinkering and puzzle solving aspects. CASTAWAY and SURVIVOR owes its outdoor roughing it aspects. FEAR FACTOR owes its outdoor stunts aspect. And of course ALL Reality Shows owe it the development of a omnipresent but invisibly off-camera production crew dutifully recording everything.
While it has been a quarter-century since the series aired, it has a timeless quality that makes me hope some dish programmer, desperate for series to fill their schedules, will revive it. Or at least air the original episodes.
Okay, that said, I'm willing to give this a shot. For starters, it's a pleasant evocation of the late-Silver Age, early-Bronze Age comics series THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD.
Although the series had started off as a generic adventure anthology, by the mid-60s the comic had settled on a format of Batman paired with a different guest each issue. (WORLDS FINEST was the monthly Batman-Superman team-up.) The stories were a good way to give a spotlight to lesser characters and to give Batman a different style of story. Robin almost never appeared in this series. Ironically this series was responsible for the revamping of Batman into the character we now know, when artist Neal Adams was able to make aesthetic changes through this series that he could not make in the main books DETECTIVE COMICS and BATMAN. When fan reaction preferred Adams' B&B look to that of the the other books, the other books finally gave in and we finally had the rise of "The Dark Knight."
The art style of the animated B&B is a pleasant surprise. It evokes the distinctive style of the great but under-appreciated RAMONA FRADON, the woman Darwyn Cooke copies, and the great but quirky DICK SPRANG, with aspects of Paul Dini's inimitable designs.
The storytelling is aimed at a younger and definitely non-cynical audience. I have no problem with that. This is a Batman who is well-established in his world, who is comfortable with his role, and is looking to expand his legacy by interacting with others. Depending on the status of the guest, the interaction can be that of mentor-student or that of equals.
In brief, this is a really good 1960s-era TV series crafted with modern budgets, skills, and sensibilities.
That said, THE ART OF LOVE has long been one of my "Favorite Films I Haven't Seen in a Long Long Time." The lack of video release is depressing. Hopefully Universal will start a cable movie channel dedicated to its own films, much like Fox Movie Channel (a great place to see long-forgotten flicks like PRUDENCE AND THE PILL).
George Clooney in E/R and ER? What a hoot!
Structurally it reminds me a lot of last year's SURFACE, the serial about scientific conspiracies and sea monsters. Both shows start with characters being introduced scattered across the globe. It also resembles LOST in the way characters are subtly interconnected. I won't list any right now for those who haven't seen it yet.
Okay, one exception-- there is a comic book, 9th WONDER, that might be important to the series. An image from it shows up in at least two of the characters' lives and next week see see another issue.
This is probably the best treatment since UNBREAKABLE of the idea of how superpowers might appear in a real world setting. The invulnerable cheerleader sees it as an annoyance to be suffered through. The precognitive painter and the woman with the independent reflection thinks they've gone insane. The one guy with a real understanding of his powers is such a passionate SciFi buff that everyone just thinks he's just having fannish fantasies.
Like SURFACE, the show is a rich production with location shooting in Japan, California, and NYC. This means it's expensive and is going to have to pull in some decent ratings to survive to a second season. But even if, like SURFACE, it only lives a single season, it looks to be a helluva ride.
Remember, SMALLVILLE as initially dismissed as a DAWSONS CREEK clone too and that one turned out pretty damn good.
In terms of comic book antecedents, Michael J. (BABYLON 5) Strazsinski's RISING STARS comes closest.