John Carpenter on his ‘Big Trouble’ comic sequel and not watching his films

John Carpenter poses with a Michael Myers "Halloween" mask sign while signing copies of his first comic book, "Asylum," at Golden Apple Comics on October 27, 2013. Credit: Getty Images
John Carpenter poses with a Michael Myers “Halloween” mask sign while signing copies of his first comic book, “Asylum,” at Golden Apple Comics on October 27, 2013.
Credit: Getty Images

“What’s wrong with these people?” John Carpenter says when he’s told Netflix Instant runs “Big Trouble in Little China,” his 1986 martial arts fantasy action-comedy starring Kurt Russell, in the wrong aspect ratio. Luckily, the film is treated better elsewhere. Long one of the most popular out of the many cult favorites made by the filmmaker, it’s been given a sequel, at least in the form of a new comic book of the same name, which Carpenter co-wrote with Eric Powell (“The Goon”). Carpenter will also be in Philadelphia for this weekend’s Awesome Fest, which will run a retrospective of his storied work along with a Q&A.

Has it been strange doing “Big Trouble in Little China” as a comic book and not as a film?

No. It’s still a script. Eric Powell does most of the work and I say, “Oh, good job, guys!” I’m consulting on it, talking about various issues, what to do in certain places, that kind of thing.

Kurt Russell’s performance is so key to the character he’s playing. It must be odd to write for him without Russell saying the lines.

His performance is definitely a big deal. But it wasn’t weird. I understand his character. I get him. So does Eric Powell. He can speak in his voice.

Could you imagine this being a movie?

I’ve learned something in the movie business: You never saw never about anything. Never. So who knows? I don’t know.

You’re closely identified with horror and action and thrillers. But your favorite films tend to be Westerns.

What I wanted to do when I got into the movie business was make Westerns. But Westerns were dead. That was not possible for me. But hey, I’m happy with what happened. I had a dream when I was eight-years-old: I wanted to be a movie director. And my dream came true. A lot of people don’t get to say that.

Kurt Russell played the wise-cracking, John Wayne-ish hero of the 1986 film "Big Trouble in Little China." Credit: Getty Images
Kurt Russell played the wise-cracking, John Wayne-ish hero of the 1986 film “Big Trouble in Little China.”
Credit: Getty Images

It’s interesting that your only straight-up Hawks remake — “The Thing” — is probably the least Hawks-ian of your films, in terms of how no one gets along.

It’s also a movie of its time. Hawks’ picture was very much of the time. 1982 was a different time in the country. Trust was a big issue. The ’80s were not a great time for trust.

“They Live” is even bluntly critical of the era. And its critique of materialism and class chasms are perhaps even more relevant today.

The ’80s never ended. They just kept going and going and going. They’re still with us today. The same issues are rumbling around. We haven’t learned anything. We never will.

Originally you envisioned “Halloween” as a series that kept switching villains. What baddies did you have in mind?

I didn’t have them ready to go. I thought there wasn’t much story [with Michael Myers] left. Boy, was I wrong. We made “Halloween III” [with a different villain], but it was not a hit at the box office. Everyone got mad. So I didn’t do it anymore.

Kurt Russell played the King in John Carpenter's 1979 TV movie "Elvis." Credit: Getty Images
Kurt Russell played the King in John Carpenter’s 1979 TV movie “Elvis.”
Credit: Getty Images

Very occasionally you’ve made something that wasn’t strictly a genre picture. How did the guy who had just made “Halloween” get chosen to make the 1979 TV movie “Elvis,” with Kurt Russell?

Every TV director in town turned down “Elvis.” They thought it was going to be a sham, a piece of crap. I was their last resort. They thought, “This guy knows music, maybe he can do it.”

And besides, Elvis had played a character named “Dr. John Carpenter” in the film “Change of Habit.”

It was one of his fake names he used to travel under.

You’ve scored a lot of your films. Was music also one of your first passions?

I grew up with it. My dad was a music teacher. He had a PhD from Eastern School of Music and was a virtuoso violinist. My dad made the mistake of trying to teach me the violin at the age of eight. Unfortunately I had no talent.

Why did you gravitate towards electronic music?

It was something I could master. It was a keyboard instrument, and I could play keyboard. And you sound big with one person playing.

Your scores seem to be really influential on today’s electronic pop music.

I guess. I don’t know. I just try to mind my own business and not get into trouble.

You took a break after 2001’s “Ghosts of Mars,” but you came back for a couple episodes of “Masters of Horror” and 2010’s “The Ward.” How did it feel coming back to directing?

It felt good. It was a fun project to work on. It was different for me. It was an all-girl cast, which is great. It was just an assignment. Look, I’m an old man, okay? I’m 66. I’m enjoying myself. I just enjoy watching the NBA Finals and sitting and relaxing and playing video games.

What do you play?

I don’t really love role-playing games, but I play almost anything else. First-person shooter, are you kidding? Nothing better. The last great game that came out was “Borderlands 2.” It was an unbelievable game. I love the “Assassins Creed” series. It’s a different art form [than film]. I don’t think it’s comparable. Video games are young. They’re still growing and finding their voices. But I do think they’re an art form.

Did you like the game that was made of “The Thing”?

It was all right. I was a character in it. I got killed.

Filmmaker John Carpenter is seen here while making 1982's "The Thing." Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Filmmaker John Carpenter is seen here while making 1982′s “The Thing.”
Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

You once said that 35mm Panavision was the ideal look for movies. What do you think of digital?

I worked on it a little bit, not a whole lot. It’s the future. There’s nothing you can do about it now. Embrace it, I guess.

William Friedkin recently said that digital filmmaking fixes the conceptual problems of film: the scratches, the hair, the deterioration, the bad framing in theaters.

That’s absolutely true. The problem with digital is it degrades very quickly. So unless you preserve it you’re going to lose it. I’m not sure the studios are preserving them.

Which films of yours do you gravitate more towards these days?

I never watch my own movies. Never. I sit and watch them and go, “What was I thinking? What is wrong with me? Why did I do that?” I’m too critical. I never want to see them again.

You participated in the 1992 Sight and Sound poll for the greatest movies ever, in which you put on a lot of Hawks and Ford and Welles. Would you change that?

I can’t remember all that I put on there. But I think I’d have to put “Vertigo” back up there at the top. It’s brilliant.

Not everyone likes “Vertigo.”

F— ’em.

John Capenter: A Conversation with the Master of Horror
The Awesome Fest at Wizard World
Saturday, June 21, 4 p.m.
Pennsylvania Convention Center, Room 108

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge


Newest java joint in bastion of hipness is…

Little may represent the change the neighborhood is undergoing right now like the arrival of the first Starbucks. The chain which is ubiquitous in Manhattan, opened a Williamsburg store at…


Black and white are the new orange at…

By Brendan O'Brien(Reuters) - Black and white are the new orange in a Michigan county where the sheriff has made a wardrobe change for jail…


Traps set after reports of giant snake on…

New Jersey animal control workers have set traps to snare a reported 20-foot-long serpent slithering through the waters of Lake Hopatcong.


NYPD: Stroller carrying 2-year-old rolls onto Queens subway…

A 2-year-old girl in a stroller rolled onto subway tracks in Queens on Monday morning, police said.


‘The Leftovers’ recap: Season 1, Episode 4, ‘B.J.…

Last week’s episode of “The Leftovers” was apparently a fluke, because this week’s episode returns to focusing on the Garveys and it is so boring.…


Interview: Luc Besson says 'Lucy' is very different…

Filmmaker Luc Besson talks about his new film "Lucy," how it's different than "Limitless" and his crazy first conversation with Egyptian actor Amr Waked.


Weezer releases first new song since 2010

Weezer releases "Back to the Shack," their first new song in almost six years.


Benedict Cumberbatch plays a different kind of genius…

The man known worldwide for his portrayal of London's eccentric private detective Sherlock Holmes is trading his Belstaff coat for tweed this fall. Benedict Cumberbatch…


'Vicktory dogs' travel road to rehabilitation seven years…

Of the dozens of dogs groomed by Bad Newz Kennels, 48 were rescued and 22 of the pit bull terriers have emerged at Best Friends Animal Society.


Yankees looking at trade for Cliff Lee, according…

Yankees looking at trade for Cliff Lee, according to report


Giants lineman Chris Snee to retire: Reports

The Giants report to training camp on Tuesday, but Chris Snee may not be there when they do.


Carmelo Anthony talks about his charity work in…

As he is used to doing every year, NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony is going to visit Puerto Rico to do work for his foundation.


RocketSkates let users roll with a motor

Los Angeles company Acton has raised funds on Kickstarter to roll out a nifty alternative – motor-powered "RocketSkates."


Knicks star Carmelo Anthony becomes a tech entrepreneur

He's been an All-Star, an Olympian, and a celebrity spokesperson. Now NBA player Carmelo Anthony is adding the position "tech entrepreneur" to his resume. Along…


Ulises 1 is the world's first singing satellite

A group of artists and engineers in Mexico have unveiled Ulises 1, the world's first opera-singing satellite.


Wallscape on a budget

Skip the wallpaper and ombre an accent wall instead.