Before Peter M. Lenkov wrote for hit television series such as 24, CSI: NY and Hawaii Five-0, he cut his procedural teeth on the series of graphic novels known as “R.I.P.D.”
First published in 2003, Lenkov’s popular four-issue series tells the raucous story of a police force comprising officers who are on their second tour of duty with the Rest In Peace Department. This team has the ability to traverse the real world and the netherworld to keep demons at bay and ensure that the balance of life and death—and the inherent safety of humanity—remains a guarantee.
Since Dark Horse Comics founder Mike Richardson first heard Lenkov’s pitch for this story about two rogue cops working on the other other side of the law in the late ’90s, Richardson has had an eye on adapting the otherworldly “R.I.P.D.” series of comics for the big screen.
During his tenure at Dark Horse, Richardson has led his team to translate some of their most popular graphic novels into hit films such as The Mask, Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army.
The producer knows that the endeavor of selecting the right time to adapt unique properties for the big screen is a strategic one. Richardson remarks: “As a publisher, you’re always looking for great publishing material. We try to recognize that potential, which is what happened with ‘R.I.P.D.’ Keeping mindful that his company traverses two mediums, Richardson adds:
“It’s hard to be precious with the graphic novel when you’re talking about translating it to a screenplay. They have different requirements and elements that require a director who is able to extrapolate that something special to make a great film.”
Over the course of the past decade, several different treatments of the material were floated around Dark Horse, and some scripts came close to being made. But it was when R.I.P.D. executive producer Ori Marmur, a production executive at veteran producer Neal H. Moritz’s Original Film, saw Lenkov’s graphic novel during a visit to Richardson’s offices that the project kicked into high gear.
Fortuitously, Marmur—quite taken by the concept of the graphic novel in front of him—was having lunch with filmmaker David Dobkin and asked Richardson if he could show Dobkin “R.I.P.D.” to get the writer/director’s thoughts on the material. Dobkin called Richardson after reading the comic and advised that he loved the book and was interested in developing it into a film. In fact, he came onto R.I.P.D. and did a great deal of work on the story before the project took on a new direction.
Ultimately, it was the writing team of Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi—working from a story in which they share credit with Dobkin—who jump-started a version of the screenplay that Richardson and Moritz would feel was ready for the big screen. Richardson explains the next stage of development: “Phil and Matt were working on another Dark Horse project when we pitched them the idea of creating a screenplay for R.I.P.D. that expanded upon David’s terrific work. They liked the material and switched over from the earlier project to this one. We were lucky to get them.”
The richness of the premise and intricate world creation excited Moritz as much as it did Richardson. He notes: “On the conceptual level, the idea of the R.I.P.D. was a unique one about a police department whose sole task is to find the dead living amongst us and bring them back to the other side to face judgment. On another level, it hearkens back to my favorite buddy-cop films like 48 Hours and Lethal Weapon. There is this fantastic dynamic between these two guys. What we set out to do was make a buddy-cop movie that had great action, but at the same time we wanted to ensure that there are big stakes and the cinematic scope of a summer film.”
From the start, the screenwriting team’s goal was to retain the salient elements of the graphic novels while exploring the rapport between two wholly disparate guys—a newly dead modern-day police officer and his gunslinger counterpart from the Old West—and how they learn to work with one another. This interplay became the standout aspect of the script. Says Hay: “We wanted to maintain that inspirational nugget of the comic book. It’s morphed into this landscape that fits the best of what we’ve been thinking about over the last few years.”
Adds writing partner Manfredi: “But it always comes back to this buddy-cop movie that we wanted to tell of a newly dead officer and his veteran partner.”
The movie adaptation of R.I.P.D stars Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds as two cops dispatched by the otherworldly Rest In Peace Department to protect and serve the living from an increasingly destructive array of souls who refuse to move peacefully to the other side.
Veteran sheriff Roy Pulsifer (Bridges) has spent his career with the legendary police force known as R.I.P.D. tracking monstrous spirits who are cleverly disguised as ordinary people. His mission? To arrest and bring to justice a special brand of criminals trying to escape final judgment by hiding among the unsuspecting on Earth.
Once the wise-cracking Roy is assigned former rising-star detective Nick Walker (Reynolds) as his junior officer, the new partners have to turn grudging respect into top-notch teamwork. When they uncover a plot that could end life as we know it, two of R.I.P.D.’s finest must miraculously restore the cosmic balance…or watch the tunnel to the afterlife begin sending angry souls the very wrong way.
“RIPD” opens August 21, 2013 in theaters nationwide is released and distributed by United International Pictures through Solar Entertainment Corporation.