Heat Vision: What can you tell us about the genesis of the “Gaiking” movie?
Jules Urbach: It came out of our work with Fincher. We were talking about doing something for “Heavy Metal.”
At the time, it was Kevin Eastman and a few other guys that were going to do a bunch of shorts for him, and he said to me, “I can give you seven minutes if you come up with something cool.” And being such a huge fan of these properties, I had been touch with Toei for years. Going back to 2002, I’ve been asking them to the rights of “Captain Harlock.” And it turned out that the rights to “Gaiking” were more or less available.
We ended up taking “Gaiking” and just worked on it and worked on it, and it kept building and building.
And at some point, Toei said, “Wait a minute, you guys can do a whole movie now at this quality.” They backed us and then other people came on board and we were able to turn this into a pretty big film.
In France or Italy, this is bigger than Spider-Man. Toei understands this will do very well in Europe, where the cartoon is well-known. They approached us because they wanted somebody outside Japan to take a crack at this.
Our goal was to figure out a way that would be appealing to an American audience. And while there’s a lot of people who played with the toys, we are not counting on any of that. For most people, this will be completely new.
We wanted to introduce one robot and thought it should be the focus of the film. It’s like you want to introduce Superman before you introduce the Justice League, right?
The title is something that we’re still looking at. It’s in the mix. We are very aware of the possible limitations. I can’t speak for Toei, so I can’t speak how it will be used in the marketing of that film. We just want to use it wisely.
And we’re looking at 2012 as a potential release date, but it’s not set. It could be 2013.
The cartoon version of Gaiking concerned the adventures of a gifted Greek baseball pitcher as part of an international crew of men and women fighting the alien invading force of the Dark Horror Army. The program was a brilliant invention of the manga creator Go Nagai and just as fast and furious with action and explosions as his other creations such as UFO Robot Grendizer, Getter Robo and Mazinkaiser (Mazinger). There were other robotic vehicles housed inside of the roving fortress Kargosaur (all built on dinosaur designs), but the real action was to be had in Gaiking itself, a mad horned robot that took ages to assemble from various parts launched from the armored carrier.
As my generation ages, I have witnessed a vicious revival of cartoon and pop culture material from the late 1970’s and 80’s. It appears that as ideas dry up, the entertainment industry has decided to dredge the barrel of ideas for anything that could sell tickets. I don’t mean to sound too maudlin about this as it looks like some genuine care went into this project. The creators are looking to take advantage of the public acceptance of giant robot flicks like Transformers and develop a new kind of robot jock film series featuring the Shogun Warriors. If this works, it could rival the success of superhero movies.
Unfortunately, it will take a couple of years to get the project off the ground.
I have revisited my childhood this past year in a series of articles looking at Force Five and had a ball doing it. These cartoons imported and dubbed and repackaged as a weekly series by Jim Terry Productions are lots of fun and while cryptic and bizarre in their plots formed the backbone of a modern mythology. Not mythology on the Joseph Campbell manner of speaking but in the way that these giant robots are instantly recognizable icons of a generation, permeating the group consciousness in ways that only junk food can. It’s a powerful drug, more powerful than bottled lightning.