Scott Davis reviews Joss Whedon: Geek King of the Universe by Amy Pascale…
Over the last two decades (give or take) Joss Whedon has gone from script “puncher-upper” through developing his own films and television shows, to the pronounced G”eek of the Universe”, the title of the biography by Amy Pascale. Taking a look at Whedon’s whole career, the ups, downs, successes and heartbreaks, this is certainly an expansive look, as Pascale delves deep through his early days through to his new life in the Marvel Universe. At a whopping 400 pages, it certainly looks like a long slog, but Pascale’s book is a great read, insightful, witty and informative, as well as being fascinating and absorbing.
Throughout the book, there are many great stories about all the projects that Whedon has left his stamp on, all of which are suitably, and comprehensively covered here. It’s great to read about Whedon’s early work evolving into the fine output he has had in the twenty of thirty years since. Reading about his early Super-8 films like Tombstone, a cross between George Romero and The Terminator, to his junior-year project A Night Alone, which went up against an early Michael Bay film in a student films presentation in 1986. It was obvious, even back then, that Whedon had much to say in the medium.
After he graduated, Whedon began writing some spec scripts for TV, culminating in his Tom Arnold-approved work on Roseanne, for which he four episodes, as well as the short lived Parenthood TV adaptation of the Steve Martin/Ron Howard film, where he wrote three. It was on his “frustrated” downtime on Roseanne that Buffy the Vampire Slayer, his passion project, started to come to fruition. 20th Century Fox eventually bought the rights to the film version, but the fractured production of the film left Whedon angry, at both the final version and the influence of Donald Sutherland, who ultimately was the reason that Whedon was driven from set. Thankfully, the studio saw faith with the project, and the TV version ran on Fox for seven years, alongside its Angel spin-off, which ran for five.
There are also some fascinating tales about Whedon’s “uncredited” work on some of Hollywood’s biggest projects. From his work on Speed, for which he got into a huge battle with the Writers Guild of America about (because of percentages concerning dialogue and plot, Whedon exercised – an early poster does have his name intact), to his arguably highest-profile works pre-Avengers on Toy Story, for which his gained an Oscar nom for Best Original Screenplay, to Alien: Resurrection, which Whedon ultimately hated (“It was the final crappy humiliation of my crappy film career”). It’s a wonder when reading that Whedon ever wanted to make a film again, but his talent and ability to write compelling yet realistic stories is why he is in such high regard today.
But he was always at home on television, and despite most of his shows being cancelled or simply running their course, Whedon has had a major impact on television in particular. His work on Firefly, Buffy and to a lesser extent Dollhouse helped influence shows like Alias and Lost, to current shows such as Falling Skies, Orphan Black and even Arrow to certain points. Perhaps overreaching, but Whedon’ s influence, even slight, still burns bright in many corners of many different works.
Of course, these days Whedon is the big dog over at Marvel. He wrote many comic-books for Marvel over the years, and once their film universe began to take shape (and money), it was no contest as to who should oversee their huge culmination project, The Avengers. Buzz was huge when Whedon was announced, and many fans were even more excited than they had been. In fact, after his first meeting with Marvel h ead Kevin Feige, Whedon read the script by Zak Penn (The Incredible Hulk) and told them “You need to pretend this draft never happened”. The rest, as they say is history, all $1,518,594,910 of it.
There are many more accounts and recollections that could be mentioned here, but they are best left for your enjoyment. Pascale has certainly done her homework, and has produced a great book, and it’s rare that film/TV autobiographies are this enjoyable. But just like much of Whedon’s work, it’s smart, funny and cool, and should definitely grace any geeks bedside table.