Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Way We Weren't: Arnold Schwarzenegger as Sgt. Rock

When you go to as many conventions as I do, you start to look for certain things.  For me, there's nothing better than digging through a tub of old pins and buttons or finding a postcard with art or photos from one of your favorite movies.  In this case, it's San Diego Comic-Con 2012 and one bad ass booth gave me two pop culture nuggets.

The first was a white button with simple text in red, I Come In Peace from Vision International.  You know, I Come In Peace?  The late 1980's sci-fi-action thriller starring Dolph Lundgren as a cop who takes on a mullet haired alien who shoots up victims full of heroin then knife-spikes their brains to extract endorphins to sell on his planet?  Remember?  The alien says, "I come in peace" and Dolph retorts, "Go in pieces, asshole" then explodes the shit out of him?  ... Oh you might know it as Dark Angel instead.

Number two was from a movie that only exists in Hollywood offices and maybe a few peoples dreams; the Joel Silver produced, World War II action-adventure flick Sgt. Rock starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  I had enjoyed Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert's Sgt. Rock comics and grew up watching Arnold movies so to see a piece of promotional swag from an almost produced movie was "very interesting (throws up hand with Van Damme improv flourish)".  Put this on the shelf of "what ifs" along with the 80's Joel Silver/Terry Gilliam adaptation of Watchmen (with Arnold as Dr. Manhattan), the lesser realized Daredevil adaptation starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and the 90's James Cameron directed X-Men starring Michael Biehn as Cyclops, JCVD as Gambit, Dolph as Colossus and Ed Harris as Magneto (oh wait, that was my and Wizard magazine's version of a non-existent movie).

Apparently this Sgt. Rock bad boy almost happened.  As in, got canceled a few weeks before shooting, almost. In May of 1988, Warner Brothers and Arnold announced a September start.  A script was ready, promo buttons were handed out at conventions, Arnold had done costume fittings and director John McTiernan was in Europe scouting locations.  Sgt. Rock comics were seen on screen in the duo's 1987 classic Predator as the books were on the Mexican set for research.  But here we are twenty some years later with no Sgt. Rock VHS or Laserdisc or DVD or 25th anniversary Blu-Ray on our shelves.  Twenty-five years later, Joel Silver is still trying to bring Sgt. Rock to the big screen.

Who knows what happened, movies get made or not made for a variety of reasons.  Some understandable (budget, star power) and others not so explainable (hey, we gotta fill a release slate!).  We do know that Arnold would have been coming off soldier roles nearly back to back in Commando and Predator to much acclaim and box office muscle but action/buddy comedy Red Heat did not set the world on fire upon release in June of 1988.  It's reasonable to think that the studio got cold feet at the prospect of Arnold cooling with action fans.  Or maybe the King of Kings was tired of  running around shooting bad guys with a machine gun.  The Oak went a completely different direction and ended up making Twins, the flick that showed he was funny and a great actor (he played a virgin for crying out loud, if that's not Oscar worthy I don't know what is).

I got my eyes on a draft from that period (I'd love to read more versions) and remember not being overly enthused about it.  Rock's heritage had been changed to German-American to accommodate the Austrian star, effectively eliminating the character's American everyman quality.  I believe he's a steel worker from Pittsburgh in the comics.  Among the panels and dialog balloons, Rock is quiet and serious, taking care of soldiers so green they're "straight from the mint" and is allergic to medals.  His men are always in on the fight, no matter how dire the situation.

At that time, Arnold was larger than life, a superhero without the costume.  Would he be believable as the no-nonsense leader in an unglamorous world?  More than that, I recall the story being fairly tame and unexciting.  A lot of tumbling rocks and an injured Rock walking around Europe.  At one point he comes across an all black unit of soldiers and all I could think was that this was to be a Carl Weathers cameo to harken back to their great chemistry and manly handshake in Predator.

Maybe it's for the best to keep those rosy images in our dreams where they can't be tarnished.

EDIT:  Thanks to a terrific interview with screenwriter Steven E. de Souza, we can put this baby to rest.  Apparently, Arnold took a cue from Clint Eastwood and bought some property in Idaho, wishing to make a film nearby and utilize local crew.  It was said Sgt. Rock would film in and around The Oak's new digs.  While being fitted for his costume, someone mentioned Yugoslavia and a shocked Arnold called a meeting with the producer, director and executives.  As location scouts had already been dispatched to Europe, Arnold wanted it in his contract that he would not leave the continental United States to make the film.  After the meeting, Arnold and McTiernan left the project and since he wasn't sued, de Souza figures it was in his contract and Warner Brothers were going back on their word.  No dice, baby.

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