In Hollywood “high concept” means that you can fit the plot synopsis of a movie on the back of a matchbox . . .

So how does this one grab you: in Runaways a bunch of teenagers discover that their parents are in fact secretly super-villains. Needless to say, the teens set out to stop them . . .

It should come as no surprise that Marvel, who is making their own movies nowadays instead of entrusting their properties to Hollywood, wants to turn their Runaways comic into a feature film with a release date slated for 2012.

The latest Internet rumors have it that Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist director Peter Sollett beat out Joss Whedon (Buffy) to direct this Marvel Studios movie. No stars have been announced as yet. Brian K. Vaughn (who created the comic along with Adrian Alphona back in 2002) has drafted a screenplay.

Things are going quite well for this thirtysomething writer. Not only is Vaughn writing for the hit Lost television series, but Hollywood is also very interested in his critically acclaimed Y: The Last Man comic book about the aftermath of a mysterious disease that kills off all the men on the planet except for one guy (Transformers star Shia LaBeouf was attached to it at one stage). 

Runaways boasts the sort of high concept that makes Hollywood execs go just gaga. One can just imagine it being the sort of light-hearted comedy starring Tim Allen that Disney would release over the December holidays, something in the vein of Sky High. Now don’t take us wrong: we kinda enjoyed Sky High – the Kurt Russell comedy about a high school for superheroes. Or at least we did while watching it. Afterwards it faded from the memory pretty quick, but hey, we’ve done worse!

"In Runaways a bunch of teenagers discover that their parents are in fact secretly super-villains!"

The only problem is that Vaughn’s comic is nothing like Sky High. This is actually good news for readers, but bad news for Hollywood suits. Vaughn’s comic is a bit on the dark side and one can imagine Vaughn’s screenplay (no matter how it turns out) to probably undergo several major rewrites before execs would be happy with it.

In his foreword Vaughn acknowledges that his tale is a bit dark, and argues that in the age of Harry Potter it shouldn’t be a problem really. Not for teenaged readers, no. But for Hollywood suits who would want a safe family flick, definitely.

To recap: each year a group of friends come together for a weekend long get-together. Each year they drag their impossibly cool teenaged kids along for the weekend. (The youngest kid in the group is twelve. Most of them are fifteen.) We have a disaffected Lisa Simpson kid, a Goth kid, a wrong-side-of-the-tracks kid, a typical “Valley Girl”, a brainy kid and the twelve-year-old. This weekend however things go wrong as they decide to spy on their parents and discover that, yes, their parents are in fact super villains.

And not just your garden variety “let’s rob a bank” villains either. Nope, each year they ritually sacrifice a young girl – usually a prostitute who won’t be missed – to an ancient race of giants.

The giant creatures have existed since time immemorial and wants things to back to being like they were before all the pesky humans popped up all over the place. Yup, they want to wipe all of humanity and our teenaged heroes’ parents are helping them do this. You of course have to ask what’s in for them: it would seem that six of the twelve adults will be granted immortal life by the giant creatures after completing their task. Not exactly our idea of a good deal, but anyway . . .

See what we mean by dark? Somehow we can’t see any ritualistic human sacrifice going down in any Tim Allen comedy. After learning the truth about their parents the kids become runaways, hiding out in a cave while plotting against their parents. Soon the kids also come to blows with their parents, an aspect which sits somewhat uncomfortable with this reader.

Sure, tell me which teenager doesn’t believe that his or her parents are actually evil? But actually coming to blows with them? What must be kept in mind is that the kids’ parents aren’t actually bad parents.

Part of the joke is just what normal respectable bourgeois types they are on the surface. Just how easily the kids turn against their parents in Runaways never really convinces on any emotional level. Hey, they may be ritualistic murderers, but they are still your family, right?

Chances are Hollywood money men would probably feel the same way about whole “kids vs. their own parents” thing.

For something like Runaways to work as a movie, the material should be feather light. Bring any dark elements into it and you get an uneven mishmash like Will Smith’s Hancock. Come on! This is after all the sort of thing in which a pudgy fifteen-year-old girl has her own pet Velociraptor!

Runaways boasts a killer concept, but the source material needs some reworking if Hollywood wants it to be the next Men in Black. Don’t get us wrong: despite some of Runaways’ faults, we still enjoyed reading it.

Some of the dialogue was quite sharp (and should be kept in any movie adaptation) and we dug some of the unexpected visual conceits. We just however can’t see Runaways being turned into a successful movie, both creatively and financially, if the material isn’t given a substantial rewrite. There is a good movie in there somewhere. The trick will be just to find the right tone to settle on. It needn’t be Zoom 2, but it shouldn’t be Hancock 2 either . . .



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