- Chris Claremont, the legendary comic-book writer behind the classic X-Men storyline, "The Dark Phoenix Saga," talked to Business Insider about the story’s movie adaptations in 2006’s "X-Men: The Last Stand" and this year’s "Dark Phoenix."
- "The biggest challenge is that comics are a continuous medium," Claremont said.
- Claremont said "Dark Phoenix" director Simon Kinberg wanted to divide it into two movies, but "did the very best work possible within a whole bunch of contexts that were totally out of his control."
- Claremont said he still wants to see the story brought to life again, ideally as a TV miniseries now that Disney owns the X-Men film rights.
- "As a writer, I can think of a half dozen ways we could do it," he said. "But I’m not the boss of a multibillion-dollar company."
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"The Dark Phoenix Saga" is a classic X-Men comic-book storyline, but it’s experienced some rocky journeys to movie theaters.
2006’s "X-Men: The Last Stand" first brought the story from the page to the big screen, with Jean Grey (then played by Famke Janssen) losing control of her mutant powers and joining the villainous Magneto in waging war against a mutant cure. This year, "Dark Phoenix" took another swing at the story, with a new cast (Sophie Turner took on the role of Grey) and director, and more of a focus on the alien "Phoenix force."
Both iterations came with their share of challenges.
"The biggest challenge is that comics are a continuous medium," comic-book writer Chris Claremont, who cocreated the famous source material with artist John Byrne, told Business Insider during an interview ahead of the release of "Dark Phoenix" on digital (September 3) and Blu-Ray (September 17).
"The Last Stand," the third movie in the original "X-Men" trilogy, performed well at the box office, but was a critical misfire. "Dark Phoenix," which hit theaters in June, was both a critical and box-office flop. It grossed $252 million worldwide and cost $200 million to make (before marketing costs).
The entire comic-book saga unfolded over more than a dozen issues of "Uncanny X-Men" in the late 1970s and 1980, which means it can be challenging to adapt it for a two-hour movie. Deadline reported in June that "Dark Phoenix" was originally planned as two movies, but the studio Fox scrapped those plans, and director Simon Kinberg — who had been a longtime franchise producer and writer — rewrote the script to accommodate.
"Simon wanted to do it as two films," Claremont confirmed. "One to make the audience fall in love with Jean and the other to break their hearts. But to do it in an hour and 50 minutes is a challenge. To his credit, despite a lot of outside interference from companies that will remain nameless, he pretty much got away with it."
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A representative from Disney (which owns Fox now) did not reply to Business Insider’s request for comment.
Despite production issues, Claremont is still fond of "Dark Phoenix."
"As the cocreator of the source material, and as a colleague, I felt that Simon did the very best work possible within a whole bunch of contexts that were totally out of his control," Claremont said. "It was a good film. It was way better than ‘X-Men: The Last Stand.’"
"The Last Stand" came with its own behind-the-scenes drama.
Even after "X2: X-Men United," which teased the Dark Phoenix storyline in the final shot, Claremont said that he asked director Bryan Singer, "How are you going to make this less than two films?"
Singer, who directed 2000’s "X-Men" and its 2003 sequel, "X2," never even turned it into one film. He left the third "X-Men" movie to take on Warner Bros.’ "Superman Returns" in 2006.
Claremont blamed Singer’s departure on a "long negotiation, if you want to use that word, between him and Fox. Neither side was prepared to give."
"He got a better offer to do Superman, which is something he apparently wanted to do forever," Claremont said. "And everything sort of cascaded from there … [‘The Last Stand’] lost two directors [Singer and Matthew Vaughn, who later directed 2011’s ‘X-Men: First Class.’] They brought in Brett Ratner. He shot it in lickity-split time. But Simon [Kinberg, who also cowrote ‘The Last Stand’] and the other writers weren’t allowed to change anything."
Neither representatives for Singer nor Fox/Disney responded to a request for comment.
Claremont has his own regrets. He said that Janssen once asked him if he was "going to write me a really great Dark Phoenix."
"I missed that boat," he lamented. "This is something she said to me when I was still an executive at Marvel. Unfortunately, soon after that, I left that position and all the realities changed. But that’s often the way it is in Hollywood."
But even though his essential "X-Men" story has been adapted twice already, he’d still like to see it again — just in a different format.
"Ideally, I’d like to see it as a TV miniseries," Claremont said. "Technology has advanced where that’s the equivalent of a film, and it gives the audience time to fall in love with Jean and root for her, and if done right, have them sitting on the edge of their seats in suspense. As a writer, I can think of a half dozen ways we could do it. But I’m not the boss of a multibillion-dollar company."
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