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The Week Ahead

Shazam! You're a super-screenwriter

July 23, 2007|Geoff Boucher

What superhero screenwriter will you not see at Comic-Con this year?

That would be John August, who is toiling on the first draft of "Shazam!," the New Line Cinema film expected to bring Captain Marvel to the screen in one of the next few summers. "I've never been to Comic-Con," he says. "I'm sure I will be going down the road. I hear it's pretty intense, pretty massive."

Massive and intense is exactly right. The pop culture convention gets underway in San Diego in earnest Thursday, and don't be surprised to find weekend sessions at capacity.

The fans who show up take their beloved heroes pretty seriously, as August is already learning. He's familiar to genre fans for his work with director Tim Burton ("Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "Corpse Bride" and "Big Fish"), but some Captain Marvel fans are unhappy with him already, thanks to his blog comments about the classic 1940s comics: "What you quickly realize is that old-time comic books were awkwardly written, crudely drawn, and bewilderingly inconsistent with their rules."

Some fans of the venerable hero are also alarmed by the choice of director: Peter Segal brought the world "The Longest Yard" and "Naked Gun 33 1/3 : The Final Insult."

Though mum on details, August revealed a lot about his hopes for a project that New Line expects to make a franchise. He's looking for a movie that will be funny and lighthearted but respectful of the classic elements of the comics: A boy named Billy Batson meets a wizard and is told that when he utters the word "shazam," a bolt of magic lightning will transform him into an adult hero.

August didn't discuss casting because it's far too early, but Jake Gyllenhaal has been mentioned and the IMDB website lists the Rock as "in talks" for the role. IMDB also cites as possible Brandon Molale, who is a dead ringer for Marvel. He may not have major name recognition, but he did appear in "The Longest Yard," so Segal knows him.

Of course, any Captain Marvel movie's great challenge is answering one question: If you were a little kid who could turn into an all-powerful adult, why change back?

August's answer: "That's absolutely a key part of the movie. Billy doesn't want to turn back. And a lot of the movie hinges upon that and Billy's relationship with his best friend and that disparity. They are two teen friends, and then suddenly one of them is 30 and a hero. So it creates tension. You know, as a screenwriter, that's the thing, to take what seems to be a problem and make it a key element of the story. That's one of the emotional cores of this story. So to me it's a great problem to have."

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-- Geoff Boucher

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