Sunday, May 29, 2005

Scathed

So I made it back safely. Having successfully penetrated the tourist crowd, aided in no small part by my "tourist fatigues" of a Patriots T-shirt, Sox cap, sandals, and visible cellulite, I was able to conduct much successful reconaissance of the area know only as "The Mall". Yes, I waltzed unarmed directly into the shadow of the Washington Phallus and have since made it back to tell about it. Whenever I looked around at the Washington strain of tourists, I often felt compelled to Hindenberg (that is, scream out "Oh, the Humanity!") at the overwhelming visage of hairy stomachs, bad mustaches, and mullets. And that was just the women. Yet despite these incrediblely adverse circumstances, I was still able to conduct field operations with the Resident Female. Securely hidden in the shade, sitting on a bench, we played many tourist-watching games, including (but not limited to): Deformed or Just Ugly, Name That Gender, and Sisters or Lesbians. Needless to say, a good time was had by all.

Also, on a side note, I saw a buddhist monk stuck in traffic. Weaving through the gridlock situated in the crosswalk, I look at a rather clean-shaven asian head of one of the drivers and noticed he was also wearing one of those orange robes. Needless to say, I was shocked that Honda Accords from the early 90s appear to be the official car of self-immolating monks everywhere.

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Also, I was disappointed today to see that Bill Simmons has once again read my mind and thwarted my plans for blog entry. You see, I was going to write about the recent rash of remakes that have plagued hollywood, specifically the times when remakes should or should not be made. However, my boy Billy jumped on the idea before I could, and were I to write on the subject now I would seem like some kind of idea-vulturing hack, the kind of mindless writer that has no place writing columns on the internet unless it is in a blog. Oh, right. Anyway, rest assured that I had been thinking about this stuff for a while (most notably with Dawn of the Dead), and I am not pilfering ideas from Simmons, and in fact he is retroactively stealing them from me. So here we go with my philosophy of Remakes:

Remaking classics is a no-no. Seldmon are remakes in general better than their originals, and often they fail because they either borrow too much from the original or they don't enough to seperate themselves from the first one, and usually they manage to accomplish both attrocities in the same movie. For example, my own list of movies that are better than their originals is a short one, that would include probably only The Thing, The Fly, The Ring, and possibly Ocean's Eleven. A few years ago, I might even have thrown Omega Man out there, but I recently rewatched both it and The Last Man on Earth, and I'll take Vincent Price over Charlton Heston.

Anyway, the three clear-cut movies (The Fly, The Thing, and The Ring) have two things in common: they were each horror movies and the originals sucked (well, Ringu was actually okay, but it is hard to be creepy in sub-titles; also, there were still a few cringe-worthy points in Japanese versions that they eliminated/refined in The Ring). So what this seems to indicate to me is that these three movies took bad movies that had good potential in terms of plot, and just executed them better; that they all were horror movies is just a function of the horror genre in genral: few of the plots are given enough budget to be successful. So, really, the only movies that should be remade are the ones that had potential but flopped.

As to remaking successful movies, I find there is always some sort of stronger counter-argument. Remaking a classic, only with adding original elements to the story, seems to rob the original of the character that made it so successful; if it worked before, why did you change it? Essentially, the two options for remaking a movie is copying the scenes shot for shot, or rewriting them and making them "newer". In the former, why even bother? You aren't adding anything to the original by mimicking it, as you have implicitly set the ceiling of potential as the original scene itself; the movie can never be any better than the first, and is usually much worse. In the latter scenario, you risk both upsetting the purists who loved the original while also risking the loss of the elements that made the first one successful. Either tactic, mimick or retool, seems to cap the level of accomplishment of the film to the original, and is pretty much assuring it won't hit it.

Another reason that seems to lead to remakes is the better technology of the modern era. Special effects are much better and more realistic these days. Some directors think that using new special effects on the old movies will somehow make them better. Yet, I would argue that 1) great movies were not great because of their groundbreaking (at the time) special effects, but rather the special effects were a treat that added to an otherwise good story and 2) if the effects are so much more realistic and better, don't they deserve their own script to showcase them? For an example of 1), rewatch the first Matrix. The fights scenes themselves were not nearly as long as in the next two, and the story incorporated a plethora of philosophical elements and references (Plato's cave, christian religion, eastern philosophies, Alice in Wonderland, etc). The second two Matrixes (Matrices?) seemed to have about five minutes of self-referential and incoherent talk interspersed with 20-minute fight scenes. I realize these weren't remakes, but the point stands. The Matrix was an intriguing and thoughtful movie that just happened to have new and brilliant special effects; the second two movies were video games and visuals with an annoying plot that cropped up here or there (which is where point #2 comes in). Also, did anyone think the redone special effects to Star Wars episodes 4-6 worked? Or that the new scenes were anything but incredibly distracting? I didn't think so. Basically, if new special effects are the reason to redo a movie, then spend the extra $100K to write a script for it.

I realize that there is a reason so many remakes are coming out, just like I understand why there are so many sequels. There is a ton of money in it. Sequels and remakes have two advantages in terms of product: bigger actors are usually vain enough that they get excited to reprise a popular role from Hollywood's past, and the movie will have a built-in audience already who will see it. If you liked the first one, it is very tempting to go see the second edition or installment. I understand this, and Hollywood doesn't like to risk money on a project that may not make its money back. So we aren't likely to stop seeing Texas Chainsaw Massacres, Dawn of The Deads, The Longest Yards, or Bad News Bears in the near future. It is just unfortunate that the groundbreaking movies of the past are getting corporatized and rehashed in a dumbed-down form over and over. That is why I think we should all go hunt down Michael Bay and castrate him before he gets his hands on The Highlander, The Maltese Falcon, or Debbie Does Dallas.

And look, I have no problem with using similar plots. "Inspired by" or "Based on" is not a problem for me. But re-using the title both shackles the creative process when it comes to changes and also cheapens both it and the original. I mean, just about every successful story of any movie/play/novel is inspired in some way or another from some previous work. However, paying homage to something and running in a new or better direction is very different from a remake. It takes the best part of the remake, the inspiration and the ability to sample the succesful elements of the past, and then is able to drop the restrictions and associations of being faithful to the last movie. All it requires is a tiny bit of originality, which is why I find it frustrating that we only get sequels and remakes.

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Two last thoughts on the specific remakes of Dawn of the Dead and the Fly. Was I the only one who thought it ironic that a movie from the 70s about the empty and mindless nature of consumerism was remade to capitalize on the resurgance of the horror genre, and had a ridiculous number of product placement advertizing in it? The only upside is that George Romero was finally able to get funding to make his fourth zombie movie. As for the Fly, there is a new one being made; so we have a remake of a remake of the original to contend with now. Great.

2 Comments:

At 12:44 PM, May 31, 2005, Anonymous G-money Dorfsmith said...

FYI: Debbie Does Dallas 2000 exists, and is much better than the original.

 
At 2:20 PM, May 31, 2005, Blogger Fletcher Austin McGuffin said...

Yes, but it wasn't by Michael Bay. That was the critical element. He is like an anti-Midas, in that everything he touches turns to crap. Of course, the Midas metaphor seems to ignores the moral of that particular story, but whatever. Michael Bay sucks.

 

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