Ten Famous Science Fiction Properties That Would Make Great VFX Movies — Part 4 ‘The Airtight Garage’

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This is a series of posts discussing ten existing science fiction properties (from literature, animation, games and comics) that could serve as the basis for ground-breaking live-action VFX films and television shows. This time: Jean “Moebius” Giraud’s 1976 graphic novel
The Airtight Garage.

For an explanation of the choices for this list, see the first entry.

Number 7 of 10: The Airtight Garage (US title, comic, 1976), aka Le Garage Hermétique de Jerry Cornelius, Le Garage Hermétique de Lewis Carnelian

In the Before Time, in the Long Long ago, in the late 1970s and 1980s, some movie execs decided it might be a good idea to make a few big-budget effects-heavy comic book movies. So we had two classic films based on DC Comics characters. The first was Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman, a hammy cheese-fest that nonetheless managed to charm the audience, largely via Gene Hackman’s movie-saving charisma and Christopher Reeve’s unshakable determination to play a ridiculous character as seriously as possible. On the other hand, the producers spent literally one-third of the $60 million budget to hire Marlon Brando in a cameo; and Margo Kidder gave a performance as Lois Lane that should have tipped off any competent psychiatrist that she was suffering from bipolar disorder and needed help.

The other was Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, the first superhero film ever to capture the comic book fanboy’s love for the source material (in this case the uncredited Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller (1986), but that’s a fanboy rant for another blog post). Burton, following Miller’s lead, showed mainstream audiences that comic books can be dark, intellectual, weird, artistic and funny. And Jack Nicholson was a thespian ruminant, chewing the scenery and then chewing it again.

Over time, Hollywood gave us films of all the superheroes the mainstream public, unfamiliar with comic books, would surely recognize; after a steadily declining series of Superman and Batman films, we had Marvel’s Spider-Man and The Hulk. Then the studios churned out films based on properties familiar to comic book fans but new to the general public; The X-Men, Iron Man, Hellboy, Blade, and The Fantastic Four amongst the box office successes; Howard the Duck, Judge Dredd, Mystery Men, The Punisher, Catwoman, Elektra, and Daredevil amongst the rest.

The next phase – comic book movies that weren’t about superheroes. Some were still science fiction or fantasy – 300, 30 Days of Night, Constantine, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Others took place in the real world — Art School Confidential, From Hell, Ghost World, A History of Violence. But now the comic book world was completely wide open to film and TV adaptation – stories didn’t have to feature Warren Ellis’ “underwear perverts.”

This was good news, because those comic book titles that are the most visually striking are usually not hero titles. Of course there have been great artists working in that medium, from Jack Kirby and Will Eisner back in caveman times to… I dunno, I stopped regularly reading superhero comics when they brought Jean Grey back from the dead in 1986. Yes, I am a grumpy old man. I like J. Scott Campbell, Kevin O’Neill and Howard Chaykin, off the top of my head.

For this series I have chosen an artist who has never worked in the traditional hero genre (except once, briefly), but made his name drawing Western serials in France. His art has influenced generations of artists and production designers, but has never been used as the basis for an entire film.

Jean Giraud became a working artist at age 18, in Paris in 1956. His most famous Western comic book, Blueberry, ran from 1962 to 1974 and earned Giraud his face on a French postage stamp. But he is best known in America for his science fiction and fantasy stories and art, done under the pen name “Moebius.”

In 1974, Moebius and three others founded the seminal adult comics magazine Métal Hurlant; an American version was launched in 1977 called Heavy Metal, which is accidentally displayed in bookstores’ music sections to this day.

One segment of the 1981 Canadian animated anthology film Heavy Metal, containing stories from the magazine, was “Taarna,” inspired by Moebius’ “Arzach” fantasy stories; but the art style was not based on his. (This is the segment parodied in the 2008 South Park episode “Major Boobage.”)

He contributed to several feature film projects. The most notable were Alejandro Jodorowsky’s aborted 1976 project to bring Frank Herbert’s novel Dune to the screen as a ten-hour feature, with Moebius and Alien artist HR Giger doing original production art; and Luc Besson’s 1997 The Fifth Element, perhaps the only live action film in which Moebius’ elements (the Mondoshawan ships, the Flying Noodle Boat) appear recognizably as he designed them. Other films on which Moebius worked: Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982, uncredited), Tron (1982), Masters of the Universe (1987), Willow (1988) and The Abyss (1989).

His most famous creation is a bizarre, stream-of-consciousness science-fantasy graphic novel originally called Le Garage Hermétique de Jerry Cornelius, released in the US as The Airtight Garage by Marvel under the Epic Comics imprint. The Airtight Garage was written, drawn and colored by Moebius, four pages at a time, as a game with himself to introduce irreconcilable plot strands in each segment, and then reconcile them later. As a result, the “story” does not exist as such, at least not until the final 15 pages, which were drawn all at once to bring the tale to a conclusion that parodies superhero comics and leaves the reader with more questions than answers.

In rough outline, the Hermetic Garage of the title is a large asteroid containing a much larger artificial world on the inside (“hermetic” in this case is used to mean both “airtight” and “esoteric”). The Garage was created by Major Grubert, an immortal human from Earth who is locked in ceaseless battle against another immortal, Lewis Carnelian. Eventually, these mortal enemies must join forces to prevent the destruction of the Hermetic Garage by an evil alien known as The Bakalite.

Nearly every panel of the comic contains characters, images, references, jokes and invented words that hint at entire worlds, civilizations and conspiracies just beyond the frame’s edge. Hardly anything is explained, not even the backgrounds or motivations of the two main antagonists.

An animated feature adaptation of The Airtight Garage, to be produced by legendary Japanese filmmaker Kurosawa Akira (!!!) and directed by Otomo Katsuhiro of Akira (1988) fame, fell through in the mid-1990s.

So why on Earth would you use The Airtight Garage as the basis for a big-budget, live action VFX film? Three reasons.

First, the non sequitur storyline provides a blank slate for the filmmakers, who are free to fill in the blanks however they wish; or, a la JJ Abrams, just leave the blanks blank. The Airtight Garage provides a firm skeleton on which to hang a dramatic sci-fi high adventure with a good dollop of comedy.

Second, The Airtight Garage is a cult classic with a large fan base. In 1999 the Metreon shopping mall in San Francisco opened with an Airtight Garage-themed attraction, which was hugely popular until the mall was shut down in 2007 (probably a Bakalite trick!).

And third, Moebius’ artwork is beautiful, original, and unique. Many artists and filmmakers are inspired by him, but no one has produced an entire feature film that takes place in a Moebius universe. At one time, his vision could only have been realized through traditional animation, whether one was the director of The Seven Samurai or not. But with modern VFX, that has changed.

The mind-bending, multidimensional layout of the three levels of the Hermetic Garage; its vast alien vistas and retro-futuristic architecture; Grubert’s trusty starship, the Ciguri; the Star Billiard, a colossal green humanoid robot that the Ciguri crew uses as an exploratory vehicle; the bizarre lifeforms of the Garage, such as the pink riding animals called Melvils – all of these could come to life.

And not only would Moebius’ actual drawings provide inspiration for artists – I think that the incomplete nature of The Airtight Garage would give CG and VFX professionals an unprecedented world-building opportunity.

Jean Giraud is 72 years old, and hopefully has many years ahead of him, thanks to French cuisine and Socialized medicine. But it would be nice to finally produce an Airtight Garage adaptation that he would be alive to enjoy.

Previous: Wings of Honnêamise (anime, 1987); Erma Felna EDF (comic, 1983-2005); Appleseed (comic, 1985-89)

Next: Warhammer 40,000 game franchise (1987-present)

See a set of The Airtight Garage art on Flickr.

The 20 Sexiest Sci-Fi Babes Part 2

Originally posted 11/26/06 on Furinkan High School Kendo Club.

Be sure to read part one.

Max Guevera10. Max Guevera (Dark Angel 2000-02)

I could make all kinds of inappropriate jokes about a girl with spliced-in cat DNA, but I’ll restrain myself.

I don’t have to tell you that Max, aka Government Experiment X5-452, was hot – she was played by Jessica Alba, who takes hot to a new level not possible under the standard laws of physics. (Hey, I know! Let’s cast her as Invisible Girl!) But the show was kind of centered on Max being sexy, as well as kicking ass. Sort of like a futuristic, Seattle-based Abercrombie & Fitch ad.

Maybe Max would go out with me if I could score her some tryptophan. (Wait, the tryptophan prevents her from going into heat? Never mind.)

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Lana Lang9. Lana Lang (Smallville 2001-Present)

Yeah yeah, you’re with Clark, you’re not with Clark, you’re with him, you’re not, with, not, with, not, then you find out he’s Superboy, you die, come back, and Lex gets you pregnant. It’s too much drama, Lana. Especially since he’s just gonna move to Metropolis and fall for Lois.

You’ve got that Chinese-Dutch thing working for you, Lana. You’re gorgeous. Work it. Find yourself a real human male, not some Aryan übermensch from space.

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Rose Tyler8. Rose Tyler (Doctor Who 2005-07)

One day she’s a poor London shopgirl living in a council flat with her overbearing mother and shiftless boyfriend; the next, she’s a time-traveling Universe-saving inter-galactic superheroine (and a very, very Bad Wolf). How does a girl pull it off? By batting her beautiful eyes at any Time Lord who wanders by, of course.

Rose is smart, funny, vivacious, and in love with The Doctor, although the two of them never want to admit it. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s played by Billie Piper, the British Britney Spears.

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Theora Jones7. Theora Jones (Max Headroom 1985, 1987-88)

The United Kingdom takes four of the top twenty (and an honorary fifth for Trillian? She was British in the books).

As Edison Carter’s brainy and beautiful controller/sidekick/partner/love interest, Theora Jones was guardian angel to Network XXIII’s star reporter. If you were a geek in the 1980s, then Theora Jones was your ideal woman.

As Max Headroom would say, “I-I-I-I-I-I wouldn’t kick her out of bed for eating crack-crack-crackers!”

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Kaylee Frye6. Kaylee Frye (Firefly 2002, Serenity 2005)

“Goin’ on a year now I ain’t had nothin’ twixt my nethers weren’t run on batteries!” You know, Kaywinnit Lee, if’n that tree stump of a doctor ain’t gonna help y’all out in that respect, I reckon’ I might be willing ta fill in there.

Little Kaylee is as much the heart of Serenity as the ship’s photon-reaction drive. But the plucky, homily-spouting cutie is apparently a wildcat in the sack as well. She’s the one ship’s engineer with whom I’d like to get trapped on an island. Sorry, Scotty.

Kara 5. Kara Thrace (Battlestar Galactica 2003-Present)

They said a woman couldn’t be a cigar-chompin’, bar-brawlin’, whiskey-chuggin’ hotshot Viper pilot. Well, by “they” I mean Dirk Benedict. Dirk, you have officially had your ass handed to you.

In a stellar ensemble cast, Katee Sackhoff’s Kara Thrace is first among equals. It’s not just that she’s incredibly sexy – she shares screen time with Boomer, Six and Xena the Warrior Princess. Kara kicks ass and takes names in every way the original Starbuck did – PLUS she’s clever, bitter, loving, conflicted, and secretly paints pictures. She’s neither the stereotypical kick-ass superheroine, nor the stereotypical kick-ass superheroine who is secretly fragile. She’s the kick ass superheroine who is secretly fragile, but will never let that fragility take her down. Not ever.

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Seven of Nine4. Seven of Nine (Star Trek: Voyager 1995-2001)

Who would Annika Hansen have been if she hadn’t been assimilated by The Borg at the age of six? A big fat nobody, that’s who! Well, maybe not big and fat – on a typical Federation diet, she would have been at least Jeri Ryan-hot. But she would never have been Seven of Nine-hot! There’s nothing like a skin-tight gray jumpsuit and a metal eyebrow to turn a guy’s crank.

Sure, Seven was emotionally unavailable, but that was just because of her alien upbringing. Also, if your only choices were the “men” of Voyager, you might choose chastity as well. Yikes. No wonder she only hung out with the Doctor.

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Jean Grey3. Jean Grey (X-Men films 2000-2006)

First let’s get something straight. The real Jean Grey committed suicide in The Uncanny X-Men #137 in 1980. Every issue since then with “Jean Grey” in it is a PACK OF LIES.

That said, Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey in the X-Men films is its own, separate character, and that character is amazing. Call it the superheroine who is openly, obviously, heart-breakingly fragile. You just want to run over to her and wrap your arms around her, even if it means, a la Brett “Let’s destroy the franchise” Ratner, she’ll disperse you into millions of colored CGI chunklets. If there’s another X-Men movie, let’s hope this time they do bring Jean Grey back from the dead.

Oops, that was a spoiler. If you haven’t seen Last Stand, don’t read that last sentence.

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Sharon 2. Sharon Valeri (Battlestar Galactica 2003-Present)

Grace Park plays three characters on BSG.

There’s Athena, who the producers call Sharon and fans call Caprica-Boomer. She’s Helo’s wife, and mother of the Cylon Miracle Baby. She lives on Galactica.

Then there’s the one the producers call Boomer and fans call Galactica-Boomer. She was in love with the Chief, shot Adama, and teamed up with Caprica-Six to “save” humanity. Now she lives on a base star.

Finally, there’s Number 8, which is all the other thousands of Sharons, who always call Athena a traitor.

And I am in love with all of them. Even the ones that would kill me.

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Leeloo Dallas multi-pass!1. Leeloo (The Fifth Element 1997)

The perfect woman, the Supreme Being. That’s Milla Jovovich. No, sorry, I mean Leeloo, a.k.a. Leeloo Minai Lekatariba-Laminai-Tchaii Ekbat De Sebat, a.k.a. The Fifth Element.

Is it the orange dreads? The pale blue-green eyes? The perfect body? The Gaultier outfits? The adorable accent? The martial arts? The saving the Earth from the Ultimate Evil?

Out of all the science-fiction female ass-kicking secretly-fragile alien super-powered hotties, Leeloo is the ultimate. The perfect prototype. The geek’s ideal mate. Sigh. Too bad she doesn’t exist.

Be sure to read part one.