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There wasn't an unsurprised face in the house when it was revealed, via actor Nathan Fillion's Twitter account on Monday, that Joss Whedon had not only managed to make an entire movie whilst on Avengers duties, but he had managed to do it in complete secrecy. Just looking at the fan scrutiny given to his more high-profile job should tell you how difficult that really is in the internet age. Read our report here.
With the announcement that geek-god Joss Whedon has managed to make an entire film in secret, we take a look at his history with the movies...
While Joss Whedon is most known, quite rightly, for his contributions to television, graphic novels and web television, it means that many people aren't acquainted with his work in movies. True, it seems he's more comfortable on the small screen, where his particular brand of dialogue and creative ideas are met with more enthusiasm (see the original Buffy movie compared to eventual series), but the inevitable success of The Avengers next summer could well catapult his standing in film circles exponentially.
So how did he get such a high profile gig? Well, reputation. For while Whedon hasn't made huge waves in the film industry, it's been a worthwhile struggle to get here. So the question is, what has Joss Whedon ever done for the movies?
Made bad movies slightly better
Among fans of Whedon's televisual work, it's no secret that he loathed his early movie experiences, not least of all the apparent slaughter of his baby, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The film, made by 20th Century Fox and starring Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland and Luke Perry, was in no way a disaster looking back, but it's clear it wasn't what its creator had in mind for his heroine.
A little more successful were his writing duties on Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Waterworld, Alien Resurrection, Twister, and Speed, all of which posed their own creative challenges. He was the first writer on Atlantis but left to work with Disney, he changed some of the less appealing elements of Speed's characters, and then experienced 'seven weeks of hell' working on Waterworld. Graham Yest, credited writer for Speed, eventually admitted that most of the film's dialogue was Whedon's.
Whedon also wrote a script for the Bryan Singer X-Men movie, which was apparently rejected due to its 'quick-witted pop culture-referencing tone.' Just two of his lines were eventually left in the film. Similarly, most of Whedon's initial ideas for Alien: Resurrection were rejected right out of the bat, and his eventual script was one he was extremely unhappy with. He's since said of the film:
"It wasn't a question of doing everything differently, although they changed the ending; it was mostly a matter of doing everything wrong. They said the lines...mostly...but they said them all wrong. And they cast it wrong. And they designed it wrong. And they scored it wrong. They did everything wrong that they could possibly do. There's actually a fascinating lesson in filmmaking, because everything that they did reflects back to the script or looks like something from the script, and people assume that, if I hated it, then they’d changed the script...but it wasn’t so much that they’d changed the script; it’s that they just executed it in such a ghastly fashion as to render it almost unwatchable."
Helped bring us Toy Story
Everyone loves Toy Story, and it's cited among fans as one of the more commercially legitimate moments of Whedon's movie career. It cetainly has some of the writer's flavour, with Whedon immediately offering his thoughts on the buddy-movie aspects of the film, apparently shooting down the idea for it to become a musical alongside creator John Lasseter.
He also wanted Barbie in the film, a character that would eventually feature in the second and third instalments, but licensing issues with Hasbro stopped it before it started. Whedon was eventually nominated alongside his co-writers for an Oscar in best screenwriting, making it the first animated movie to be included in the category. Although it did not win, the film did go on to have success at the Annie awards.
Took Serenity to the big screen
Much has been written about Firefly's early cancellation, and it's hard to believe there's anyone that doesn't know the story by now. Eventually, Universal acquired the rights from Fox and greenlit a big screen version of the space western, thus continuing the story Whedon had planned out.
Regarding the film's plot, Whedon based it on his future plans for the show, while being careful not to alienate potential new fans from the standalone story. All of the original cast members returned, as by this point he had established a reputation for working with the same actors more than once (many Firefly players feature in Much Ado About Nothing), and fans were ecstatic with the results.
But alas, even though the film was a tight space-western not seen to this extent since Star Wars, and Whedon managed to bring the film in for 40% of the budget a space movie usually cost, Serenity wasn't the commercial success everyone had hoped.
Even without sequels and piles of cash to show for their efforts, Serenity was a triumph of fan power and word-of-mouth. Who knows, with the trend these days for properties to make the transition from film to television and back again, Firefly and Serenity was probably just ahead of its time.
Picked his team wisely
As mentioned above, Whedon likes to work with the same people again and again. So faithful is he to those he loves to work with, his Wikipedia page contains a chart of how many times he's included actors, directors and writers in various projects over the years.
His 'stealth' Shakespeare project includes Amy Acker (Angel, Dollhouse, Cabin in the Woods) and Alexis Denisof (Buffy, Angel, Dollhouse) in the leads, as well as Reed Diamond (Dollhouse), Nathan Fillion (Buffy, Firefly, Serenity, Dr. Horrible), Clark Gregg (Avengers), Ashley Johnson (Dollhouse), Fran Kranz (Dollhouse, Cabin in the Woods), Tom Lenk (Buffy, Angel, Cabin in the Woods) and Sean Maher (Firefly, Serenity).
He also worked with Christina Hendricks and Jeremy Renner at the beginning of their careers, and he cast the latter as Hawkeye in his upcoming Avengers movie, alongside Enver Gjokaj (Dollhouse). A friend who includes you in one of the most high-profile movies of all time is about the best friend you can have, in my opinion.
Marti Noxon, who's been making moves in film with I Am Number Four and Fright Night is also a Whedon-alumni, working with him on Buffy and Angel.
Denounced the Buffy the Vampire Slayer reboot
In 2009, it was announced that there could be a remake of the original Buffy movie, with the involvement of none of the original team, cast, or Whedon himself. It's thought it will forsake the legacy of the television series, preferring to focus on the origin story the 1992 film messed up in the first place.
At the time, this announcement was so out of the blue and unbelievable that Marti Noxon mused that it could have been a statement designed to get Whedon on board, with the threat of new hands on his beloved heroine presumed to frighten him into taking part. Alas, no, as the planned remake will most likely reach us sometime in 2012 without his blessing.
For the most part, Whedon has maintained a dignified silence in the wake of the news, a commendable move from a usually hot-headed and protective creator. He did say this, however:
'This is a sad, sad reflection on our times, when people must feed off the carcasses of beloved stories from their youths -- just because they can't think of an original idea of their own, like I did with my Avengers idea that I made up myself.'
Made the best superhero movie ever (hopefully...)
So, who's excited for the Avengers? As the main inspiration for this feature, the news that upstart Joss Whedon would be taking care of such as volatile and beloved project brought a mixture of delight and confusion to fans of the characters and comic books. Delight from some corners just made others even more confused.
Who was this guy? He may be familiar to fanboys (and girls) across the globe, but mainstream recognition and success had eluded him for a long time. The glow of his success on Toy Story had faded and had just left a long list of cancelled TV shows and unmade Wonder Woman ideas in his wake.
But not many people were worried, and everything we've seen so far has been extremely promising. If done right, The Avengers could very well be the best superhero movie ever made, or at least the most ambitious. If done wrong, it's likely that no one will ever forgive Whedon. Let's hope for the former.
Proved that you can still be secretive in movie-making