MY TAKE: FantasticRealm Film Series Trivia

January 4, 2024 by Sandy Lerebours

Jim Carl, the Carolina Theatre’s Senior Director of Film, shares his favorite trivia about films in the FantasticRealm Film Series series. 

Universal Pictures originally planned for Charlton Heston to star in this picture, but he was unavailable due to being contractually obligated to appear in a supporting role in “Beneath the Planet of the Apes.” All of the computers in this film were real in 1970, and not just big boxes with flashing lights. Control Data Corporation agreed to supply $4.8 million worth of computer equipment, free of charge, in exchange for product placement.  Since they used real computers, the Universal sound stage underwent extensive modifications, including gas heaters, dehumidifiers, and a climate control system to keep air at an even temperature. Colossus became a box office and critical hit. In 1980, however, the film ranked second in Cinefantastique’s list of the top films of the decade, after “The Exorcist.”


“Castle of Cagliostro” marked Hayao Miyazaki’s debut as a theatrical movie director, but he was also a writer, a designer, and a storyboardist on the film. Budgeted at $2.3 million dollars (equivalent to $9.5 million in 2024), this was the most expensive Japanese anime motion picture ever made up until 1979. The film served as a major influence on animators and directors worldwide, such as Pixar director John Lasseter, and several Disney films, including titles that influenced the Disney Renaissance.


After the box office disaster of 1987’s “Masters of the Universe,” all the major studios passed on this film, afraid to make another picture based on a toy line. The film was financed by New Line Pictures, which was at that time a low-budget indie studio. The turtle costumes used state-of-the-art animatronics to make the face masks expressive. This was one of Jim Henson’s last projects before his death. Most of the filming took place in 1989 in Wilmington, North Carolina with a couple of location shoots in New York City to capture famous landmarks, such as the World Trade Center, Times Square, and the Empire State Building. “TMNT” was a box office smash, grossing $202 million on a budget of $13.5 million. It became the highest-grossing independent film up to that time in 1990 and the ninth highest-grossing film worldwide of the year.


This picture began as an original script called “Bug Hunt on Outpost 7” and was not based whatsoever on the 1959 novel by Robert A. Heinlein. It was not until similarities were noted between the two works that studio executives purchased the rights to Heinlein’s novel and changed the film’s name to” Starship Troopers.” Nearly half of the film’s $110 million budget was committed to the extensive CGI and practical effects required to create the Arachnid creatures. A box office disappointment on its release, “Starship Troopers” would later be critically re-evaluated, and is now considered a cult classic and a prescient satire of fascism and authoritarian governance that has grown in relevancy.


TriStar Pictures hired director John Badham for this project after his box office success with 1983’s “Wargames” and “Blue Thunder,” as he was heavily familiar with the technology of the early 1980s. The studio insisted on casting Steve Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy in the lead roles, despite Badham’s objections that they were “too likable” for the parts. The sequence where Number 5 watches “Saturday Night Fever” (and imitates John Travolta’s dance moves) was an in-joke: “Saturday Night Fever” and “Short Circuit” are both directed by Badham. The film became an unexpected sleeper hit during the summer of 1986, grossing more than $100 million worldwide on a budget of $15 million. It became the top home video rental of 1987.


Director Alex Proyas was influenced by film noir of the 1940s while writing “Dark City.” He also cited “The Twilight Zone” as another conscious inspiration. “The Matrix” — which was released one year after “Dark City” — re-used many of this film’s sets. Critics later compared the two films and noted the similarities in cinematography, atmosphere, and plot. Budgeted at $27 million, this film was a box office flop, grossing just $27.2 million worldwide.  At that time in 1998, “Titanic” was still the #1 film at the worldwide box office. Concerned that audiences would not understand the picture, the studio asked Proyas to add a voice-over to the introduction. It is one of the many things removed from the Director’s Cut of the film which is screening at FantasticRealm.


Just as George Lucas wrote “Star Wars” after losing the rights to “Flash Gordon,” John Boorman wrote “Zardoz” after studios rejected the budget for his adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.” No studio wanted to make “Zardoz,” but Boorman eventually bamboozled an executive at 20th Century Fox to finance the picture for $1.5 million dollars. Burt Reynolds was originally hired for the lead but got sick and dropped out.  Sean Connery accepted the part because he had just finished the James Bond series and wasn’t getting any other offers. Audiences and critics in 1974 were baffled by “Zardoz.” The film grossed just $1.8 million and disappeared from theaters within weeks due to bad word-of-mouth. In later years, it would be proclaimed a cult classic.


After 1989’s “Batman” became the fifth-highest-grossing movie of all time, a sequel was considered inevitable.  Warner Brothers wanted Tim Burton back as director, but he was not interested in a sequel. He agreed to return only if given complete artistic control and was permitted to replace key Batman crew with his own frequent collaborators, specifically cinematographer, production designer, and FX artists. Parents were horrified by the sequel’s darker tone and violent, sexual themes which led to a backlash against marketing partners – such as McDonald’s – for promoting the film to young children. “Batman Returns” earned $266.8 million worldwide, failing to replicate the $411.6 million of “Batman.” Burton was replaced as director for the third installment, and to this day, Warner Brothers has never officially declared the film’s budget, speculated to be between $50-$80 million.


“Death Becomes Her” was a technologically complex film to make and represents a major leap forward in the use of CGI in motion pictures. It was also the first film where computer-generated skin texture was used. The digital advancements pioneered here would be incorporated into ILM’s next project, “Jurassic Park,” released only a year later. The two films also share cinematographer Dean Cundey and production designer Rick Carter. Meryl Streep disliked working on a project so focused on special effects, saying: “I think it’s tedious. Whatever concentration you can apply to that kind of comedy is just shredded. You stand there like a piece of machinery—they should get machinery to do it.” Despite mixed reviews, “Death” became a box office hit, grossing $149 million worldwide on a $55 million budget. It won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.


In the 1970s and early 1980s, most Canadian films were 100% financed by a Canadian tax subsidy.  Cronenberg submitted a treatment for “Scanners” and was shocked to receive $4.1 million dollars.  However, the subsidy would be revoked if the film was not completed within one year of receiving the money, so Cronenberg began shooting “Scanners” in 1979 without a script and only his ideas. Cronenberg later stated that “Scanners” would be the most challenging film to complete of his career. It took nine months to edit the tremendous footage into a movie that makes sense. “Scanners” bombed in Canada but opened at #1 in the US. Released on just 387 screens, the film grossed $14.2 million and became Cronenberg’s first film to be number one at the box office.


After producing “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “The China Syndrome,” Michael Douglas convinced Columbia Pictures to purchase this original script and settled on being its executive producer. Everyone involved grew concerned when the storyline of “E.T.” was deemed too similar to “Starman,” so Director John Carpenter opted to focus on the road-trip elements of the story rather than sci-fi elements. Released on the same weekend as “Dune” and one week before “2010: The Year We Make Contact,” “Starman” was a box office disappointment, grossing just $28.7 million on a $24 million budget. Jeff Bridges received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, which would be the only nomination ever given to a John Carpenter film. He lost to F. Murray Abraham in “Amadeus.”


The concept of “Treasure Island in Space” had been pitched to Disney since 1985, but the studio rejected the idea because Paramount Pictures was planning to make a “Star Trek” sequel with a similar plot. The “Star Trek” idea was later abandoned. Budgeted at $140 million, it was the most expensive traditionally animated film ever made up to that date. “Treasure Planet” holds the distinction of being “the first major studio feature” to be released in regular and IMAX theaters simultaneously. Grossing just $109.6 million worldwide, “Treasure Planet” became one of the most expensive box office disasters in film history. It is now widely regarded as a cult classic among Millennials and Generation Z.

Tickets to the FantasticRealm Film Series at the Carolina Theatre are available at the box office and online. Passes are available at the box office ($100 for the 10-Pass and $50 for the 5-Pass).