Brian's Fantasy Draft: The Manhattan Projects: Tarantino, Malkovich, Feynman

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(Editor's Note: The following is part of The First Cosmic Book News Fantasy Hollywood Draft; keyword being "fantasy")

2023

 

Sticking for my love of creator owned indy comic IPs, my Fantasy draft was built to take on Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra's comic book from Image, The Manhattan Projects. Although only three issues into the series, each story is thick with narrative, character development, action and intrigue. All the makings for a 'smart' summer blockbuster.  

You all know that the Manhattan Project was the US government effort to build the first atomic bomb. But, this world is not ours, but one re-invented by Hickman.  The subtile 's' at the end sends this in a whole new direction. This is a dark alt-history/sci-fi story set in the 1940's.  The Manhattan Projects not only build the first bomb, but work on artificial intelligence, pan-dimensional space, mythological weapons brought to reality and other "impossible machines of expansion." The possibilities are limitless, and the story to date is one not to miss.

That's the high level premise, but with such a grand story filled with some of the biggest minds in history taking on some of the biggest projects in alt-history...what ensemble cast could pull these impossible characters off? Who can lead them? Read on Cosmic Book Men...read on.

Fantasy Draft & Casting Breakdown

Quentin Tarantino (Director) - #5 Overall Pick - #1 Personal Pick

1927 Picking a director for this adaptation was the most difficult. After going round and round, I landed on Quentin Tarantino for the following 3 reasons.

(1) Has the ability to make great actors greater by having them move out of their comfort zone. The actors I will discuss shortly are all for the most part veteran's. Some are playing roles they easily fit into, but some are not. Thus, as he does frequently, QT can re-invent them and for the newer few...push them to places they didn't think they could go.

(2) Master of ultra-violence. There is a sequence in this series where Japanese robot Samurai delivered via a ballistic pan-dimensional-Zen-gateway powered by Death Buddhists (yeah...you read that right) attack the facility and a huge battle ensues. Tarantino, being a master and student of Martial Arts films, has the ability to make this fight like no other and make his Kill Bill fight scene look like a Wiggles tickle fight. Robert Oppenheimer's ultra-violent mood swings are also tailor made for QT.

(3)  QT has a track record of applying a nihilistic philosophy and tone to his movies:

Nihilism ( /ˈnaɪ.ɨlɪzəm/ or /ˈniː.ɨlɪzəm/; from the Latin nihil, nothing) is the philosophical doctrine suggesting the negation of one or more putatively meaningful aspects of life. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value.[1] Moral nihilists assert that morality does not inherently exist, and that any established moral values are abstractly contrived.

This story is about a group of men whom operate above all societal laws and morals. They know the consequences of their actions, yet they push forth...balancing their genius with their insanity. Potentially to hide their grief. There isn't a better director for this philosophical sub-theme, period.

John Malkovich as Joseph Oppenheimer - #10 Overall Pick - #2 Personal Pick

"Now, I am become Death.  Destroyer of Worlds" - Robert Oppenheimer quoting a Hindu scripture from the Bhagavad Gita

1929 Joseph Oppenheimer — father of the atomic bomb, but in this version, he's crazy with multiple personalities. Infinite personalities that range from the subdued soft spoken genius to borderline antichrist. Only one actor came to mind for this role, John Malkovich. His range is perfect for this role, and I'm not asking him to work outside of his wheelhouse on this role. I'm asking him to put EVERYTHING from his ENTIRE wheelhouse into this role because they all have a place. Mix in the aforementioned Tarantino ultraviolence and you have a disturbingly unforgettable character.

Jim Parsons as Richard Feynman - #19 Overall Pick - #3 Personal Pick

"For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled." - Richard Feynman

1930 In the comic book, Feynman appears to be the sanity that brings the rest of the members together. As I will discuss in the story section below, he will also be the stories narrator and we will see much of the story from his perspective. For this role I needed a strong leading man with a distinctive voice that could bridge this story together. Originally slated for Robert Pattison before EIC Matt swiped him early (curse you!), I had to quickly regroup for backups. I ran down my list..Affleck? Dicaprio? Nope. Jim Parson's from the Big Bang Theory.  I truly think of him as one of Hollywood's potential future superstars and already established as an actor that can play a genius. His boyish naivety combined with his aspergers-like delivery are key to this role. Being the youngest of the geniuses he will need to portray confidence when needed and can fall back on his accidental comedy he's known for. Perfect for the scene when he's unwillingly thrown into Nazi Germany from a plane to retrieve Von Braun. And that cold stare of his - that looks right through you - because he sees the world differently is spot on for Feynman. His voice is distinctive and has the dynamic range for the narration also, and for some reason I really think my next pick will hit it off with him, take him under his wing and elevate his abilities to another level.

Anthony Hopkins as FDR and the voice of the FDR:AI - #24 Overall Pick - #4 Personal Pick  

"I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made." - FDR

1931 FDR has a minor part in the first few issues of the comics. We only really see him die and then reborn into a human supercomputer AI. I think this role is expanded in the movie as we can cover more of the genesis of the Manhattan Projects that involve FDR. I wasn't sure initially who to pick for this role, but when I stumbled across the pictures of Hopkins as Hitchcock, I knew he was perfect. Throw on some glasses and it's spot on. Post mortem when the Projects turn him into the Human/supercomputer AI and they flip the 'on switch' for the first time, who wouldn't get chills down their spine hearing that eerie but brilliant voice of Hopkins slowly echoing one of the comics epic moments in the quote, "The only thing we have to fear is..... ourselves." Just a moment before the first bomb is dropped on Japan.....boom!

 

John Goodman as General Leslie Groves - #33 Overall Pick - #5 Personal Pick    

"It's all about ass, isn't it. You kick it or you lick it. That what it's all about." - General Leslie Groves

1932

Three pages into issue #1 of the comic John Goodman's voice kept creeping into my head as the voice of General Leslie Groves. This boisterous acting style is perfect for this 'Good 'Ol Boy' role as well as his ability to quick turn on the 'Don't F^&(K with me persona', when needed.  His already established power struggle with his Community co-star I chose for Harry Truman...only makes this more glorious.

Leonard Nemoy as Enrico Fermi - #38 Overall Pick - #6 Personal Pick

“It is no good to try to stop knowledge from going forward. Ignorance is never better than knowledge.” - Enrico Fermi

1933 Cold...calculating...alien...pointy ears...this was no brainer. This is also a pick where I think Tarantino can truly re-invent an actor. Turning Nemoy into the creepy, subdued sociopathic second father of the atomic bomb would be a high point for QT. And seeing Nemoy has a spot on look for the comic's Fermi, the choice was only logical.

 

Sean Penn as Wernher Von Braun - #47 Overall Pick - #7 Personal Pick

"I have learned to use the word "impossible" with the greatest caution". - Wernher Von Braun 

1934 Choosing an actor to play a genius Nazi rocket scientist with a robotic arm requires a very strong character actor with a lot of depth. I finally landed Sean Penn for this role as he has the look I was going for as well as the skills as a character actor to pull this off. He's also been proven to be able to carry himself as a badass, and for this edgy role, he may steal the show. I can hear Tarantino now during the press junkets: "Come on dude..it's Mother F*&)*&n Sean Penn....playing a Nazi....with a robot arm!"

 

Robin Williams as Harry Dahglian - #52 Overall Pick - #8 Personal Pick

"Oops..." - the imagined Harry Dahglian

1935 Harry Daghlian, accident prone physicist whom irradiated himself. In real world history he died in 26 days, in this version he's essentially an immortal irradiated skeleton. I wanted this role to be extremely dark, but seeing that this has the potential to pretty much be a CG character with no bottom jaw, the voice actor needed to be very engaging and dynamic. Enter Robin Williams. A proven voice actor and one of America's  Hollywood sweethearts for decades, but I'm not looking for that Robin Williams. He's played some dark roles in the past (One Hour Photo, Insomnia) but I want darker...much darker. This is where I see Tarantino shaping him into something he's never been before. The only levity in this character I would want to see is when he pokes fun at himself over the accident. Making the character even sadder as he mentally covers up the accident that made him a walking hell on earth....bringing hell to earth with his research.

Bill Murray as Albert Einstein - Supplemental Pick

"I do not believe in immortality of the individual, and I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it." - Albert Einstein

1937 Einstein in portrayed in this story as a very quiet character thus far. He's a man of few words...and many drinks. Facial expressions and sarcastic comic relief between bits of genius is key. I like Bill Murray for this role. His comedic track record and off beat delivery are perfect for Einstein. The audience already knowing that he's probably the smartest of the entire bunch only makes this more brilliantly ironic.

Jim Rash as Harry Truman - Supplemental Pick

Well, I wouldn't say that I was in the great class, but I had a great time while I was trying to be great." - Harry Truman

1938 This worlds version of Harry Truman is by no means a true leader, he is simply a pawn to the shadow government established by the FDR: AI. He's not to be taken serious, but he thinks so. General Groves has zero respect for him and makes sure he knows it. Jim Rash is an up in comer in the TV Show Community, and it's that character I want as Harry Truman.  A false leader with no real power.   The established conflict on Community between

1968

 Goodman and Rash's characters (Dean and Head of the Plumbing School) was my inspiration for this character, and I think it's perfect for this portrayal of this paper thin leader. Truman's debut in the comic in a ridiculous costume fits the inspiration well also.

 

Foundations & Story

The first challenge with this choice of IP was that there are only three issues of the comic out to date, thus the need to expand the storyline a bit, potentially explore some of the topics in detail, and to also take some personal liberties on my interpretation and the potentials of where I think this is, or could, be going. This adaptation is going to be a firm R rating, the subject matter, violence and overall dark tone really don't fit into anything else.

From a foundational perspective, I look to keep the following items as mechanics throughout the adaptation:

  • 1)  Start at the end to get to the beginning. I imagine this movie opening with video footage showing the bombing and unbelievable aftermath of the dropping of the worlds first atomic bomb. Nothing should be held back, the tone must be set.
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  • 2)  Narrative...one of the great things of the comic series are the short and simple quotes from Feynman's journal that divide the stanzas of the story. I envision this turned into an on-going narrative throughout the movie by Feynman's actor starting with that first bomb drop, continuing throughout the movie during transitions, as well as heavily leveraged as we introduce this unique group of genius's to the story.
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  • 3)  Character Development is key...each of these far out personalities require a firm back story. As they are introduced, the narrative would be used to 'flashback' to their origins.
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  • 4)  This is a 1940's sci-fi period piece. The art and costume design should stay partially true to the period, but also take on a sci-fi flare that is mildly campy.  This is of course could change with alternate history, and I did mention other "impossible machines of expansion," didn't I?

I see the story loosely taking the following shape:

  • - Intro with the bomb dropping and then immediately starting at the beginning telling the story of the genesis of the Manhattan projects with a heavy presence of FDR and General Groves.
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  • - Recruitment: The recruitment of each of the core members is a story unto itself. As Groves' assembles this team, we should by the time of their joining, understand their motives, levels of sanity and what they bring to the table. This is heavily narrated by Feynman.
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  • - Creation: Core focus on the building of the nuclear weapons is the big part of the story, but there is no reason we can't see some of the other projects in action as part of the dialogue. Which also leaves possibilities for future movie hints...something the fanboys always love. This should also highlight the interactions between all the main scientists, the arguments, the genius...the madness.
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  • - Espionage throughout: As part of the espionage and spy games of rival nations play a key role. Especially the crazy Japanese robot attack I mentioned above. Russia did a lot of spying on the real projects, and although this is a dark movie, some offbeat comedic moments are always fun to keep the humanity intact. Imagine a short cut where General Groves is on the crapper, smoking a cigar and talking to FDR. We see a Russian spy dressed as a scientist walking into the restroom unknowing that Groves knows who he is. He passes Groves stall, the door flies open and BANG.....shot dead right from the crapper. FDR asks what that was. Groves responds, "Just wiping my ass." That pretty much sums up Groves.
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  • - Climax with the bomb drop. FDR dies, Truman is instated as a puppet, the shadow government is put in place...the bomb is dropped. The end.

1971 I see this as a Part 1 of 3, and thus I need the obligatory setup post-credits, so.....fade in....pan up to a desk...in the background a news report of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is playing....we finally pan up to a name tag...on it...Igor Vasilyevich Kurchatov (Played by Robert Patrick - Supplemental Pick), father of the  Russian nuclear bomb program,....he's on the phone listening and only utters one sentence (in Russian) before the fade out.... "Yes sir, I will not fail." <Hard cut to black>

 

Well that's my vision.... it's what the images and the voices in my head are saying. I'd go see this on the big screen...would you?

 

1941

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