The return of Indonesian superhero movies

The return of Indonesian superhero movies
From left to right: Indonesian superheroes Garuda, Volt and Valentine.

JAKARTA - Gundala Putra Petir was not the only feature-length Indonesian live-action superhero movie when it was released in 1981 - but it marked the heyday of the genre.

Since the release of the film, whose English-language title translates as Gundala, Son of Thunder, there has been no memorable home-grown superhero movie, although there were several TV series over the last decade.

However, after the box-office successes of Hollywood films such as Batman Begins, Captain America and The Avengers, local filmmakers are set to bring several superheroes from Nusantara to the screen.

The first film expected to break the decades-long drought is Garuda Superhero, a movie that its makers say will go heavy on the computer-generated imagery (CGI). The film is slated to premiere in December.

Producer Dhoni Ramadhan of PUTAAR Productions said it was important to provide Indonesian kids with superheroes close to home with whom they could connect.

"Since Gundala, Indonesian children have not had a local superhero. They are more familiar with Hollywood heroes. We want to create a local icon for them," Dhoni said.

With an increasing number of Indonesians starting to forge careers as animators and CGI engineers in Hollywood, Dhoni said it was time for an original superhero movie made entirely by Indonesians.

Skylar Comics co-founder and co-creator Marcelino Lefrandt echoed Dhoni.

"The success of Hollywood superheroes should not dampen our creativity," Marcelino said.

"We need superhero action set in places like Jakarta and Surabaya, and with characters working with the National Police, for example, instead of the NYPD."

Two Skylar Comics characters, Volt and Valentine, are also set to be brought to life, with a release for the Valentine movie slated for next year and production on the Volt movie to start around the same time.

Gundala Putra Petir will also be remade, with a release date set for sometime in 2016. Media mogul Erick Thohir, the executive producer of the movie, said it was time for a change.

"I hope with the revival of Gundala Putra Petir, other Indonesian superheroes will also be awakened. Through this movie, we want to make a positive contribution to Indonesian cinema," said Erick, who will produce the film with Mahaka Pictures, Bumi Langit Studio and Brown Entertainment.

Gundala, based on the eponymous comic by Hasmi published in 1969, was among the few local superhero movies released in the 1970s and 1980s.

Western influences were still visible in films of the period. Rama Superman Indonesia, for example, was heavily influenced by the iconic Kryptonian, although it was released in 1974 - four years before Christopher Reeves' first Superman movie.

Darna Ajaib also featured a heroine in the same vein of Wonder Woman when it was released in 1980.

The superhero theme has also been mixed with other genres, as seen in the 1982 sci-fi action movie Gadis Bionik (Bionic Girl), which featured sex bomb Eva Arnaz, and the 1981 sci-fi action comedy Manusia 6 Juta Dollar (Six-Million-Dollar Man) by comic trio Warkop DKI - both of which were lifted from well-known American TV series.

There were also epic martial-art movies rooted in Indonesia's rich culture and traditions, with heroes bearing names like Si Buta Dari Gua Hantu (The Blind Man from the Ghost Cave), Satria Madangkara, Jaka Sembung, Jaka Tingkir and Wiro Sableng.

Senior journalist and cultural observer Arswendo Atmowiloto said Indonesian superheroes were a huge genre and were big business in the comic world.

"But, somehow, whenever people want to translate them onto the screen, they rarely succeed," Arswendo said.

"I hope this time is different."

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