The ongoing romance between Hollywood and comic books seems like it's still in the hot-and-heavy, can't-keep-its-hands-off-each-other stage of the relationship. Monday's edition of Variety contained the latest engagement announcement – Rob Liefeld's original Image Comics series Youngblood has been optioned for big-screen treatment, to be directed by Brett Ratner – he of Rush Hour and X-Men: The Last Stand fame.The property was optioned by Ratner and the Indian production company Reliance Big Entertainment Variety was light on additional details, so Newsarama checked in with Rob Liefeld for any additional information he could share, and share he did… According to the creator/artist/sometimes-publisher and now Hollywood producer, writers have been hired and are busy at work on the screenplay, and that Reliance is prepared to budget the film up to $150 million dollars, but there is also a chance that a studio could be added to the mix to co-finance later down the line "after all the development has been done." Liefeld told us Reliance and Ratner want to get the project off the ground "asap", and mentioned a 2012 release date as "optimal". Liefeld also told us that Ratner's Conan project (which the Hollywood Reporter reported last fall he was an "negotiations" to direct) is behind Youngblood in the director's pecking order and a deal for that other film was not even finalized as of a few weeks ago. As for the genesis of this deal, Liefeld explained Ratner came to the project armed with Reliance. "Brett's films have made over $1 billion dollars domestically. He seeks more creative control over his movies and Reliance provides him that option. They have a gajillion dollars to finance movies and have sought out partners to make movies with. A number of studios have sought out Brett as a director, as well as Youngblood with Brett. He is in high, high demand." As to Liefeld's personal involvement? "I've been intimately involved from the beginning," he explained. "My pitch was derived from a Youngblood screenplay I wrote. Last winter we got the ball rolling, this spring we auditioned writers, and this summer we hammered out the script. I haven't been able to speak about this for months but we've been moving this movie along for the last 12 months. As a producer on the film, Brett has asked me to stay very involved and we talk about Youngblood all the time." And what's that dynamic like? After all, through appearances on show's like HBO's Hollywood-insidey series Entourage, Ratner has cultivated an image as something of a Hollywood "player"… "I love Brett. He's a blast," said Liefeld. "He's a force of nature, extremely charismatic and smart. "Yes, he's obviously very successful and enjoying his success but not at the expense of his craft. He has the most high tech film library I've eve seen. He has a gigantic like 100 inch HD screen that also serves as a hard drive for thousands of films that he can call up in a flash. It's stunning. We talk films all the time; he loves movies and the language of film. He's very young and has only been doing this for a decade, and he is eager to keep expanding his success in all platforms - film, TV, music, and games." So then why Youngblood, which he described to Variety as a "personal passion project"? "He digs the take," was the simple answer. "A billion dollar-funded strike force with unlimited resources functioning as super-cops in an ultra-violent world and the media covering their every move told from the point of view of their latest and most reluctant recruit, Shaft. What's not to love? This movie hasn't been told onscreen yet. The screenwriters took the story and are doing great work under Brett's direction so far." Liefeld said the film will provide unique visual opportunities for Ratner, differentiating it from other genre films, describing ,"Camera housings on weapons, guns, bows, entire tactical forces with satellite camera feeds and angles everywhere guiding the team, it's going to be wild. "All of Brett's films look and are shot differently. Rush Hour doesn't look or feel anything like Red Dragon, which looks and feels different from X-3, which he had very little if any input on," [editor's note: Ratner took over that in-late development project when original director Matthew Vaughn exited late]. "But he is really involved in creating Youngblood's world. I told him it was tonally closest to Verhooven's original Robocop, and we jumped from there."
Since the subject cam up, we asked Liefeld what he thought of X-Men: The Last Stand?"I've made no bones about it, dating back to opening weekend over on my message boards," he replied. "I stated I loved it back then, I love it now. I thought the direction was outstanding especially given that Brett signed on in order to salvage the film and make the date for Fox after they removed Matthew Vaughn. The script was long finished and locked when they added Brett who was able to pull it all together wonderfully. Visually it's easily my favorite of the X-Men films." Getting back to Youngblood, its creator said this is actually the first time the property has been in development for the big screen. "I never attempted to sell it because I hadn't found the right partner," he said. "Paramount tried to buy it in the early 90's. The guys who do all the Tom Clancy films wanted to make it, Mace Neufeld Productions, but after meeting with them and realizing that all anyone equated comic book films with were the [Tim] Burton Batman films, I took a pass. "Marvel more than anyone has taught the industry how to respect, manage, and make powerful comic book films. Marvel's success has blazed the trail through Hollywood and the fact that they are taking back their properties from the majors, like Hulk and Luke Cage, and making their own films now is significant. "The time was right to go forward with this for the first time. I've been waiting and protecting this property for a long time." Because he described the project as being in development for such a long time, when asked he acknowledged the recent reimagining of the original concept by writer Joe Casey for the Youngblood Hardcover collection and subsequent new Image series is playing just a small role in the property's big-screen development. "I'd love to give the current team credit for sparking interest, but we were in negotiations way before the new series shipped," he answered. "It certainly has provided some great new material that we may use for the film. The Youngblood movie is a little darker and harsher, and much bigger in scope with the original cast. Cybernet, the cybernetic terror organization is the key antagonist in the film." Knowing a good segue when we hear it, Liefeld reiterated the story is told from the point-of-view of Jeff Terrell – a.k.a. Shaft, and the current script also features Hard, Chapel, Twilight, Sentinel, Big Brother, Psilence, Link, Vogue, and more. "Youngblood is set in the world that is right around the corner," Liefeld described in his best Hollywood "pitch"-speak. "Think Robocop. Hi-tech, fast moving, an elite strike force has been formed to combat heightened crime driven by designer genetic drugs and technology. The Youngblood team is the best of the best, equipped with the best technology and tactical support, their profile worldwide has skyrocketed and they are a global phenomenon. Politics and bureaucrats stand in the way of the team's mission to thwart Cybernet a program with ties to Youngblood's origins." "Other than that, he concluded, "I can't say anything." Related:Rob Liefeld Goes Back to the Future for Youngblood 10-Page Preview - Youngblood Hardcover