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A long road to the big screen for 'The Green Hornet'

By Henry Hanks, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "The Green Hornet" ran into a lot of problems over nearly 20 years
  • Once the movie got going, it had a tough time breaking through to fans
  • The cast and January release date made audiences nervous
  • Reviews from test screenings have helped it get more positive buzz

(CNN) -- "Another challenge for the Green Hornet," the announcer for the 1966 television series always began.

That would certainly describe the nearly 20-year effort to bring the famous character from the early days of radio (and some less-than-memorable comic book adaptations) to theaters this weekend.

Actors from George Clooney to Jake Gyllenhaal to Mark Wahlberg were attached to the project at various times since the mid-1990s, and it was in development at two different movie studios before finally landing at Columbia Pictures, with Seth Rogen starring and co-writing the script.

The studio has aggressively marketed the film, about a masked crime fighter, to the geek set. The Green Hornettes -- three green-clad young women often accompanied by a replica of the movie's iconic car, the Black Beauty -- were at both the San Diego and New York Comic-Cons.

Despite the sleek car and "booth babes," the movie seemed to have a difficult time getting attention.

"I think 'Green Hornet' was flying right in the middle of the radar," said Steven Weintraub, editor-in-chief for Collider.com. "People were aware of it but no one was saying, 'Oh my God, I have to see 'Green Hornet.' "

'The Green Hornet' rides again

"I knew I wanted to see it, but it wasn't one of the top comic-based films of 2011 that I was excited for," said Ken Murray, Boston-based film critic for Examiner.com.

Aside from the project's long time in what is known as "development hell," what other factors contributed to this lack of enthusiasm, or even hostile response at times, from fans?

1. The green who?

The audience for your average Seth Rogen movie probably wasn't born when "The Green Hornet" was last a part of mainstream culture -- that short-lived 1960s TV series.

"Honestly, the only thing I truly knew about it was that it introduced Bruce Lee to the U.S., and that it was a radio hit," said Murray. "I knew he was a long-lost relative of the Lone Ranger."

Still, the target audience's lack of familiarity with the character seems to be a reason why Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg felt it would be ripe for reinvention.

"We really were just trying to play with the general expectations of these (superhero) movies, but not subvert it so much, because people do like these movies," Rogen told CNN in July.

2. Seth Rogen as an action hero?

"When there is little or no information on a project, people are always looking for stuff to write about," said Weintraub. "This movie was an easy target, because who thinks of Seth Rogen as an action star?"

Indeed, there have been some unlikely actors cast as heroes in the past (see Michael Keaton as Batman and Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man), but Seth Rogen, who often plays offbeat characters with less-than-superhero qualities, may be the most unusual casting of all.

"I think people did not like the idea of an actor known for comedy movies taking the mantle of a very popular hero," said Johnathan Smith, junior editor at Comicbookmovie.com. "Then the trailers arrived, and hardcore fans of the character and Rogen-haters were put off by the constant jokes made by Rogen every time he was seen."

3. That January release date

The movie's release date was originally going to be in summer 2010, then during the holiday season and finally moved to January 14. These sorts of moves are traditionally seen as a bad sign (few blockbuster films come out in January).

However, there was a good reason for the move, according to the film's director, Michel Gondry.

"We always wanted it to be in 3-D," Gondry told CNN in July. "Seth kept asking the studio to make it 3-D, and finally they accepted. The conversion was a complicated process, and we gave it all the attention we could. That's why we postponed the release date."

4. Superhero action comedies don't have the best reputation

From the 1966 campy film version of the "Batman" TV series to George Hamilton hamming it up in "Zorro, the Gay Blade" to, well, 1997's often-silly "Batman and Robin," action comedies with superheroes have a notorious reputation. (Animated fare such as "The Incredibles" is an exception to the rule.)

So when it became apparent from the trailer that that's where Rogen's version of "The Green Hornet" was going, some fans were nervous.

Ceejay, a commenter on ComicBookMovie.com, said, "The Green Hornet was NEVER a comedy. I have no interest seeing them spoof the show that is part of the Bruce Lee legacy."

One wonders how fans would have reacted to the planned Kevin Smith version of "The Green Hornet," which eventually took comic book form, complete with many of his trademark wisecracks.

5. Director with an indie sensibility

Critically acclaimed director Gondry stepped in to replace action star/director Stephen Chow, who was originally going to direct Rogen and Goldberg's script.

Three words can cause an uproar among die-hard fans: Ang Lee's "Hulk."

iReport: "Green Hornet" the ultimate bromance?

Despite all these reservations from fans, a funny thing happened: A test screening took place toward the end of 2010 and reviews were mostly positive, though some, like Cinema Blend, called it "inconsistent."

Weintraub was one of those who saw it early: "I hoped it would be good, and walked out of the theater surprised at how much I liked it."

"Overall I thought it was pretty good," said Murray, who was impressed with the chemistry between Rogen and his Kato, Jay Chou, who comes with the knowledge and fighting skills the Hornet originally lacks.

Smith agreed, and even looked forward to a possible sequel. This online buzz may have been a factor in strong interest in the movie among teen boys, according to the Hollywood Reporter in December.

The Reporter said there was a strong desire among people to see the film, unusually strong for a movie not released during the summer or the holidays.

Users on ComicBookMovie.com also voted, with about 54% saying they were more likely to see the movie than they were previously, versus 17% saying they were less likely to see it.

Will all this pan out in the Hornet's favor when the box office tallies are added up? We'll see when he rides onto the big screen this weekend.

 
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