Despite the tendency of superhero movies to reboot, to have differing TV versions, and to generally play fast and loose with the notion of canon, the notion of what is officially authorized is foremost in the minds of fans and of comic book creators alike.
Sure, there may be literally dozens of authorized versions of Batman and Spider-Man (how old is Bruce Wayne exactly? Peter Parker?), but we have a clear notion in our head of which versions “count,” and which ones are little more than fan fiction. The rule seems to be thus: If it is published by a major corporation that owns the rights to the character, then it is canonical. If a movie is made, then it is canonical.
Of course, trek out to Turkey, and that rule is happily and gloriously violated… on a regular basis.
Turkey, as is well-known by cult film enthusiasts, has historically a hotbed of blatant copyright violation. Turkish filmmakers, for a glorious period from the 1960s through the early 1980s, managed to make their own unauthorized pop versions of popular American films, free from copyright permission, licensing, or — in some cases — a basic knowledge of the thing they were ripping off.
Turkish Rip-Offs have become a glorious cottage industry and fully functional subgenre unto themselves, and the resourceful cult film aficionado has likely seen numerous Turkish renditions of their favorite blockbusters. I personally have seen TURKISH RAMBO on the big screen, and once rented a bootleg copy of TURKISH WIZARD OF OZ. It goes without saying that any copy you acquire in the U.S. is certainly a bootleg.
Also available to the enterprising hunter: TURKISH STAR WARS, TURKISH E.T., the other TURKISH E.T… and, of course, the crown jewel in the Turkish Rip-Off crown: the 1973 classic 3 DEV ADAM or 3 GIANT MEN.
This is the notorious Turkish rip-off wherein Marvel superhero Captain America and Mexican folk legend Santo team up to fight an evil Spider-Man. Yes, it’s real. Yes, it’s glorious. And, yes, thanks to the way the internet operates, you can watch the damn thing for free on YouTube:
Made in 1973 by a director named T. Fikret Uçak (about whom I have found no information), 3 DEV ADAM is 78 glorious minutes of cheap, pale, amazing reinterpretations of characters you may love, but pushed through a bizarro parallel-world lens of misunderstanding, broad liberties, and creative license. It plays like a fan film made by someone who only had these characters described to him by a third party who didn’t speak the language very well. In Turkey, Santo was perhaps well-known (Santo was, after all, one of the most popular heroes on the planet), so the filmmakers’ use of him was the most accurate to the Mexican version (in the film, he’s played by Yavuz Selekman), but the widely-accepted versions of Spider-Man and Captain America (Aytekin Akkaya) were perhaps less well-known.
The story is a mess: Spider-Man is an evil crime lord who appears to be running a counterfeiting ring, and who openly murders people. There also seem to be several people dressed as Spider-Man, either as co-ringleaders, or as decoys. It’s never really made clear. Captain America is on vacation with his girlfriend Julia when he runs afoul of one of the evil Spider-Men. Santo, meanwhile, infiltrates a wrestling school that stands as a front to one of the counterfeiting operations. The story only meanders from there. Needless to say, we’ll witness Captain American and Santo murdering Spider-Man a few times before the film is finished.
3 DEV ADAM plays like a dream — like you’ve peered into the mind of a madman where some things are familiar, but the whole of the thing is baffling and perplexing. The washed-out condition of most prints of 3 DEV ADAM only adds to that. After a while, it begins to feel like a surrealist experiment.
Of course, the thing that causes 3 DEV ADAM to be so odd in our minds is our preconceived notions of what constitutes as canon, and what counts as fan fiction. We know that these figures are unauthorized, and that they don’t count as the “real” versions of the characters, but the brazen use of them — including their semi-accurate costumes — is so bold that our minds immediately see something that we accept as canon. We see Spider-Man feeding a woman’s face into an outboard motor, and our childhood memories of the character are oddly changed for a small moment. There is a glorious, nightmarish, cognitive dissonance at play; 3 DEV ADAM forces your mind into a bizarre world of confused hilarity.
But even if you’re not a fan of weird unauthorized camp, there is something even more fundamental at work in 3 DEV ADAM: there is the sense of childhood play about it. As a kid, one can perhaps remember a time when characters like Santo, Captain America, and Spider-Man were even more dear to us. And we got down on our hands and knees with friends to play with toys on the floor, making up new adventures for our superhero friends as we went along. There is nothing but playful sincerity to that childhood playtime — and that sincerity is on display in 3 DEV ADAM. By ignoring canon and authority, the filmmakers are doing what we have all done: made up new adventures for familiar friends.
In that regard, there is something refreshingly direct about 3 DEV ADAM. This is what an adventure film should feel like: The fevered fantasy of a 6-year-old. something primal and childish and honest. Who cares about mythology, when childhood authenticity can so easily trump it?
There is a bold, fresh sense of fun to 3 DEV ADAM missing from even the most earnest of superhero movies; I get more from 3 DEV ADAM than I do from something like, say, BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, or even CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR.
Watch it. You can watch it right now if you like. Experience the weirdness, the boldness, and the wonderment.