Hollywood! Adapt This: SAMURAI JACK

     March 24, 2013


Visionary animator Genndy Tartakovsky has been a creative force behind such popular series as The Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory and Star Wars: Clone Wars.  Last fall, Tartakovsky also made a successful foray into animated feature films with the box office-and-family-friendly horror hit, Hotel Transylvania.  With his pedigree of small-screen series and recent experience with a full-length animated production, it seems the time is ripe for a conclusion to one of Tartakovsky’s most unique and iconic creations.  Hit the jump to find out where it stands.  Hollywood! Adapt this: Samurai Jack.

samurai-jack-vs-akuWhat It’s About: 

Running for a total of 52 episodes over four seasons from 2001 to 2004, Samurai Jack was an animated action adventure series that ran on Cartoon Network.  It followed the exploits of the titular samurai who wandered a dystopian future ruled by the powerful shape-shifting demon, Aku.  Voiced by Phil LaMarr, Jack is introduced to viewers as the young son of a Japanese Emperor in feudal times.  When their land is attacked by the resurgent Aku (voiced by the late Mako), Jack’s father attempts to defend against the menace with the help of a magical katana, but is kidnapped by Aku before he can wield it.  Jack is then whisked away to safety by his mother and sent on a journey around the world where he trains in all sorts of martial arts and is exposed to various cultures.  When he finally comes of age, he returns home to wield his father’s blade against Aku…and that’s where the story gets (more) interesting.

Tartakovsky’s creation is beautiful in its own right as an homage to samurai films, art and legends, but it takes on an originality all its own by folding in both mythology from other civilizations and elements of science fiction.  When Jack (which is not his real name, but rather a nickname) is about to deal the deathblow to Aku, the demon traps him in a time portal and sends him far into the distant future.  Aku’s theory is that he should have amassed enough power and influence by then to be able to defeat the samurai easily.  Jack is then transported into an unrecognizable world full of industrial nightmares, alien beings and evidence of Aku’s control at every turn.  Each episode centers on him overcoming a particular challenge in order to find a way back through time to defeat the demon once and for all.

samurai-jack-scotsmanHow Could / Why Should It Be Adapted?

As if the visionary storytelling, unparalleled aesthetics or worldwide accessibility of Samurai Jack weren’t enough to encourage a feature-film adaptation, the fact that the series ended before its story was concluded is enough to keep the rabid fan base interested in that very possibility.  The movie has been in the works as far back as 2002 when the show was still producing new episodes, but New Line Cinema apparently lost interest because The Powerpuff Girls feature didn’t live up to expectations.  Since then, Samurai Jack has been trapped in development hell: 2007 saw Federator Films attempt to take on an adaptation, followed by 2009’s announcement that Bad Robot would partner with Warner Bros. along to distribute.  The story apparently remained in pre-production stasis until the current date, with a 2012  update from Tartakovsky saying:

“I’ve been trying so hard every year, and the one amazing thing about Jack is that I did it in 2001, you know, and it still survived. There’s something about it that’s connected with people. And I want it, it’s number 1 on my list, and now Bob Osher, the President (of Digital Production at Sony Picture Entertainment), is like ‘Hey, let’s talk about Jack. Let’s see what we can do.’ And I go, ‘You’re going to do a 2D feature animated movie?’ and he’s like, ‘Yeah. Maybe. Let’s do some research and let’s see.’ So it’s not dead for sure by any means, and it’s still on the top of my list, and I’m trying as hard as I can.”

I’m sure fans appreciate his level of effort, but this is a film that needs to be made sooner than later.  Not only is it aesthetically gorgeous and totally unique in today’s world of animation that seems to push ever forward in the quest to achieve photo-realism, but it’s an incredibly rich bit of storytelling that deserves to have a proper conclusion.  There are hints at what that conclusion could look like scattered throughout the series’ episodes (a glimpse into the future shows a much older Jack battling Aku), so we know that Tartakovsky has an endpoint in mind.  It’s just a matter of getting there.

samurai-jack-cartoon-networkThe Final Word:

So this is one of those films that just seems like it’s like pulling teeth to get made for some reason.  Tartakovsky still seems interested, which is the main thing.  There is apparently some studio support behind it, but not enough to push it through the door.  After the success of Hotel Transylvania, Tartakovsky has shown that he has the chops to make bank on a feature film as well as the ability to put his signature stamp on it.  I can only imagine what he’d do with a feature-length Samurai Jack.  Of course, the passing of Mako would need to be addressed as Aku would feature heavily into the conclusion, but Greg Baldwin, who studied under the late actor, has filled in for Mako’s roles in the past and could certainly do the same going forward.  What seems to be the biggest sticking point is either the studio confidence to go forward or the schedule of Tartakovsky himself.  Perhaps this is another case for Kickstarter in which fans could front a portion of the production costs in exchange for a promised DVD/VOD conclusion to the much-beloved series.  What do you think, would you kick in some funds just to get a satisfactory conclusion to Samurai Jack?  Let us know in the comments below!

Be sure to tune in to Hollywood! Adapt This next weekend when we take on an obscure Australian fantasy/sci-fi series from the mid-90s that dwelt in parallel worlds and involved a helluva lot of static electricity.  In the meantime, check out a Samurai Jack making-of featurette below:

samurai jack

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