Wednesday, August 13, 2008

He'll probably be in...in the Zen Room! (with a little bit of the Thunder)

NOTE: Please don't yell at me about Tropic Thunder's "retard" debacle. While I understand where the advocates are coming from, this is a satire about shallow actors one of whom, the action star, was hoping to be taken seriously as an actor and get one of those little golden statues by playing a mentally handicapped character. Flagrant use of the word "retard" illustrates the shallowness. They don't refer to each other as "retard," either.

Think of it this way: a white character is playing a black character, a crazy-ass Scientologist is playing a foul-mouthed Jewish studio head, one character starts detoxing and about to go into the motherlode, the head of the Flaming Dragon heroin syndicate is a child, and Stiller's character is attacked by yet another child.

This isn't a message movie.

Anyway, I was going to post about Tropic Thunder and how funny it is (it really is) and how awesome Robert Downey Jr. is (he really is) and how miscast yet strangely perfect Ben Stiller was (he really was), but I've decided to divert your attention instead to a problem that has been plaguing Hollywood for a long time now.

Remakes.

We're so inundated with remakes (and 'American versions') that even I can hardly keep count -- Death Race, Mirrors, and Quarantine are but three coming out before the end of the year, not to mention Friday the 13, A Nightmare on Elm Street, My Bloody Valentine (this time in 3D!), The Birds, Sisters, A Tale of Two Sisters, Bangkok Dangerous, and so many more...too many more. However, I think Hollywood has finally reached its breaking point.

MTV has announced that it plans on remaking The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Say what you will about the quality of the original film, it's a landmark piece that has opened the minds of the world's youth and kept small art house theatres in business when they would otherwise be trounced by the big chains. Like some of us here on planet earth, it was made out of passion and fire, a need to do something different and freaky and fun! And it's been bringing that light to millions of people every Friday and Saturday night since 1975.

Rumours have abounded for years about remakes, but this is the first one I've taken even somewhat seriously and that's because of MTV's involvement. Where MTV was once groundbreaking and provocative, and actually showed music videos (you know, MTV stands for MUSIC TELEVISION), it's now just a tired relic full of 'reality' shows. As it's drained the life out of so many teens, I'm afraid they'll drain any spark of life from Rocky Horror.

Thanks to Wil Wheaton's post, where he shared his first time with Rocky Horror, I bear a link to a petition that may not put a stop to the madness, let's be reasonable here, but may get the attention of some of the Viacom bigwigs.

I was twelve or thirteen when I finally saw Rocky Horror. I'd wanted to for a while. I'd first heard of it when I was much younger; my mom had a copy of the movie soundtrack on vinyl (I still have it, though I doubt it's playable now) and I loved the cover. As I grew up and became familiar with Tim Curry through Clue, Annie, and Legend, and Susan Sarandon through Thelma & Louise, I found out that they were both in this one flick. And with big, thick, blood red lips the video box, how could one go wrong?

I rented the 15th anniversary edition of the video from the store where I'd work years later and popped it into my VCR. From the opening chords of "Science Fiction Double Feature" I was hooked and when it was over, I rewound it and immediately watched it again. For years afterward, I would have my own Rocky Horror night, popping it in the VCR and dancing and singing along. Magenta was my favourite character, but I memorized everyone's lines.

Fast forward a few years, and I'm 21 or 22. I track down a cast an hour north of me, call up some friends, and the lot of us went to see the shadow cast Interchangeable Parts at the Beach Theatre in St. Petersburg, Florida. My sister, who isn't my sister but might as well be and HATES Rocky Horror, came with us, mostly because she loves me, but I think she wanted to see what kind of de-flowering I'd have to go through. You see, you're a virgin in Rocky Horror if you've never seen the show in the theatre. It doesn't matter how many times you watch it on tape or disc. I knew that going in and still allowed my deflowering in spite of the fact that I really like wearing clothes.

That night, all of the female virgins had to take off their shirts and run up and down the aisles screaming "I LOVE CHEESE!"

Did I mention that I really like wearing clothes? No? Well, I do. I don't like buying clothes and, really, the most thought I put into my ensemble for the day is saved for my t-shirt choice of "Zombies? Or Stevie Nicks?" But wearing them? Much love. For me to disrobe, even the tiniest bit, is usually unthinkable. Usually.

They let me keep my unbuttoned button-up shirt on, but it flapped mightily as I ran up and down the aisle, bare-chested save for a lacey bra, screaming the phrase that will be forever burned into my memory...and I wouldn't give it up for anything. Later that night, as I recited every bit of dialogue in time with the movie and even better than their Frank, the director of the shadow cast asked me to join up. I had to decline, though...the theatre was an hour away and I didn't have a car. I still don't. These boots were made for walkin', after all.

I highly doubt that a remake would have the same kind of magic that even the 33 year old original still holds, the kind of magic that makes people do things they wouldn't normally do, say things they wouldn't normally say, and have the kind of fun they wouldn't normally have. I just hope it's not too late.

edit to add: I had a problem posting this last night and I didn't realize until just now that the links I'd put in didn't work...so I've redone them.

14 comments:

Marvin the Martian said...

I heard the chief of the Special Olympics bitching about "Tropic Thunder" on NPR (not that I normally admit to listening to NPR - they lie all the time). But the Special Olympics guy sounded . . . retarded. A complete moron with way too much time on his hands, grasping at a fleeting chance to be "famous" by bitching about a movie that I'm sure contains a lot more intellectualism than his pedantic "it's hate speech" argument. Retard.

TRHPS is okay - not my favorite cult classic, but I'll never forget one callback toward the end, directed at the guy in the wheelchair - "Shoot the cripple, they take the best parking spaces!" I loved that. Appropriately offensive to Special Olympics folks.

NoelCT said...

I'm one of the few people that doesn't see remakes as a bad thing.

If this new version makes it through, regardless of whether it's a failure or a success, it does nothing to hurt the original. People will still celebrate it, memorize all the lines, and gather for theatrical escapades.

The worst case scenario is that the remake is an absolute flop that's quickly forgotten as people clutch ever tighter to the original.

The best case scenario is that the remake builds a fanbase of its own, some of whom cross over with the old fans, some of whom are completely new. Maybe they'll even start up their own theatrical event. Hell, even merge their's with the original to make a double-feature night no one will soon forget.

Either way, the original will still be there to be celebrated by all those that love it.

How is this a bad thing?

Lori said...

NoelCT:

Remakes, even good ones like the American version of Ring (strangely, I liked it,) tend to linger in the memory and sully the original in certain respects.

There's also the unfortunate side effect of burial. Some originals get buried so that no one except the alert know there was one. For example: there are two movies coming out soon, Mirrors and Quarantine. They're both based on foreign movies; Mirrors is from a Korean film called Into the Mirror and Quarantine comes from a Spanish film called [rec]. Into the Mirror is not available here and [rec] won't be available until well after Quarantine comes out, if at all. If it's a hipper cast with music more along the lines of what those darned kids these days listen to, God help us, I can see Fox burying the original especially in an effort to make more cash. If there's no option except to see the new one, people won't know any better...

And, there's the effect of if a remake is bad, one won't watch the original for fear that it was bad, too. No Reservations (the Catherine Zeta-Jones movie) was a remake of Mostly Martha, a German film. It wasn't very good. My mom wanted to see the original before watching the American version. I decided to watch with her...we both only made it about fifteen minutes in.

Finally, because fandom (any fandom, really) is crazy like this, there's the inevitable in-fighting that will happen between old school and new school with very little reconciliation between them.

The only time I've ever not had a problem with new fans is with Rocky Horror. A remake would change that.

Lori said...

Marvin:

Yeah, I read an article the guy wrote on MSNBC or CNN, one of those (lately, I go to the AP wire for news...fewer adverts, less filtering, less spoiled heiresses and overrated teen pop stars.) I get where he's coming from, I really do, but he doesn't seem to grasp the concept of satire. Ah well. More power to him, though, for using his constitutional rights.

Rocky Horror and the callbacks are so wonderfully chock-a-block full of decidedly unPC sentiments...you gotta love it!

NoelCT said...

I get what you're saying, Lori. It is a shame that many foreign films don't get the same exposure to American audiences as their remakes, but we're talking ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. It's not a film that's tough to find, nor is the fanbase few and far between. Nothing short of a comic book worthy retcon of the universe will take the experience away from those who love it and who will continue to introduced fresh meat for generations to come.

Another upcoming case in point, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. It's a classic, one of Robert Wise's finest, and definitely tops the flying saucer flicks of the period. But it is very much a film of it's time. I'm thrilled to see someone stripping it down to its basics and reinterpreting it for a new generation. Keanu aside.

I think there's only 2 reasons to do a remake:

a) You can do it better.
b) You can do it different.

The problem with most American remakes of foreign films is that they avoid either of these options, instead merely reshooting the film for a different audience. Though some are still quite good, it's a sign of how lazy American audiences have become that they avoid films they have to read. You can't entirely blame the studios. There have most certainly been attempts over the years to release foreign films, some with good advertising, but people just don't go to see them.

Lori said...

NoelCT:

There's a perfect case in point. Who, other than a few sci-film fans, want to see the original when there's a special effects powerhouse like that coming out starring Neo and 'that girl from the first Hulk movie'? And what about War of the Worlds? Spielberg's version was poo and I didn't hear anything about folks lining up for the original at the video stores.

I've seen so few remakes do the original justice, much less be better. I willingly admit that I love the Dawn of the Dead remake, but I have to love it as its own movie. If I try to love it as part of Romero's Cycle, it drives me absolutely nuts because it forsakes the psychology and themes of the original for action. I won't even bother with the Day of the Dead travesties...

There are some remakes that interest me, such as Hellraiser. The original was great and deviated reasonably from the book. Where in the world they could possibly take it is what I'd like to know.

And there have been some where my interest should have stayed unsated, such as the terrible terrible terrible remake of The Fog. Nice poster, okay trailer, terrible movie. Terrible, bad, awful. I won't even mention, beyond this mention anyway, Gus van Sant's pointless shot-for-shot Psycho remake.

I guess my main complaint is that a lot of these remakes seem to miss the point of what the original said. I Am Legend was the third time Hollywood tried to adapt Richard Matheson's novella and it, like its bretheren, didn't Get It, though The Last Man on Earth came somewhat close. That is one movie I'd like to remake myself just so it would be faithful to the book.

NoelCT said...

I don't want to pick a fight with you, Lori, so please don't interpret this as such. I'm perfectly accepting of the fact that different people have different opinions and if we have to agree to disagree, so be it. Let me just get these last little bits out. I'd be happy to keep discussing it further, but this is your blog, so I'll only continue if directly invited by you to do so.

I don't look forward to the remake of DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL because of some new razzle-dazzle effects, but because I think it has a wonderful story at it's core that can easily be reapplied to each generation. For all I know, it could suck, but the people making it seem to have some genuine passion for the project, so I'll wait and see.

WAR OF THE WORLDS really has created a sharp love it/hate it divide, hasn't it? I personally liked it, mainly because it went back to the novel where the hero isn't a scientist or soldier directly involved in the battle, but an everyman who needs to cross a horrific battlefield to reach his family.

No, WOTW didn't make a huge impact on purchases of the original. So? While that version had some sharp direction and impressive effects, the script and acting are pure hokum and cheese. DTESS still holds up as a darn good movie, but many of the Cold War themes no longer apply. For the moment, at least. We'll have to see how this whole thing with Georgia turns out.

I'm sorry you have to separate the new DAWN OF THE DEAD from the rest of the pack. Just because they weren't lingered upon, I found most of the themes from the original to still be present. More importantly, to me at least, it had some new stuff to bring to the table.

FOG was bad, yes. Absolutely terrible. Which is surprising since Carpenter and Hill were actually involved. HELLRAISER will be interesting.

You hit the nail on the head with I AM LEGEND. It made a chain of bad decisions on it's way to the screen, not the least of which was the involvement of Akiva Goldsman. I think THE LAST MAN ON EARTH mostly worked because Matheson himself wrote the script. He changed his credit because he thought the director did a crappy job. Still, it does have one of my favorite performances from Price.

Lori said...

NoelCT:

I don't want you to think I'm picking a fight; I'm sorry if I've come across that way. I'm just enjoying the discussion!

I've simply never seen the need for remakes and it's becoming frustrating as a writer and filmmaker to see so many of them especially when they, in my opinion granted, fail to live up to the source material. I feel the same way about the majority of musical remakes, too.

I didn't know until I saw the movie Talk to Me that the song "Tainted Love" was actually from the 60s. I always thought it was Soft Cell's song and I'd hate to see that sort of thing happen to the original films. They may be cheesy or campy or goofy, but there's a certain magic to them that I feel remakes normally can't capture or they try and fumble. Ah well.

NoelCT said...

Sorry, I didn't mean to imply I thought you were picking a fight. Just wanted to make sure you didn't think I was. I tend to ramble on and on about issues, but it's meant as nothing more than healthy discussion.

I think something often overlooked in a discussion like this is nostalgia, that cloud of familiarity that often shields us from the faults of films we grew up with. I absolutely loved the original WAR OF THE WORLDS. It was colorful, exciting, dynamic. Then I read the book and started having doubts. Then I read the original shooting script and realized just how terribly written it was with hackneyed dialogue, sloppy plotting, and cardboard characters. While it made me appreciate Byron Haskin's direction even more for still pulling off a watchable movie, it increased my eagerness for a director to return to the source material and give us something new. While I was pleased to hear about Spielberg's involvement, I was a little bummed that they decided not to explore the period setting. We've seen modern alien invasion films, but what about late-Victorian! Still, I like that they did go back and bring in the basic structure and underlying themes while putting a fresh vision on the material.

Sorry, not to keep going on about WOTW, but this raises an interesting question: When is a remake a remake, and when is it a separate adaptation of shared source material? Yes, Spielberg did slip in a few homages to the original with the design of the Tripods and some sound effects, but it really does stand as it's own separate adaptation.

So, if we stop doing remakes, must we also stop new adaptations? New presentations of Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Bible stories, etc.?

I'm sorry, I just don't buy the philosophy of "Once is enough." What if that one time (back to WOTW) just doesn't do the source material proper justice? What if it had a great core concept that could be taken in some new directions? What it it had a really nifty idea, but didn't completely pull it off? Must we place limitations on creators' abilities to go back and offer a new perspective on a classic tale?

Yes, as you've pointed out, the older ones are inevitably left behind, but such is the truth with any old material. WIZARD OF OZ aside, how many films from the 30s do you know of that are widely viewed by the populace on a regular basis? I can't name another. But as with every generation, while the majority move on to new things, there will always be those who dig back and preserve art, literature, and films of the past. That's just the human way.

Speaking of which, I'm still waiting for a 'remake' of WIZARD OF OZ. It's a fun film, but it massacres the original book.

Lori said...

NoelCT:

Sorry. Had to go to work before I could respond. :D

Someone DID make a faithful adaptation of the book of The War of the Worlds. I saw an hour of the three hour long "rough cut" version, but the director went back and recut it. Hopefully, it'll be better...

That's a very good point, remake versus new adaptation. Let's take Dune for example. Originally, Dune was going to be made by Alejandro Jodorowsky and holy God, he would have murdered it if what little I've read about his version is to be believed. (Salvador Dali as Emperor Shaddam IV? Orson Welles as Baron Harkonnen?! Okay, that might've worked...)

Eventually, David Lynch came along and while the theatrical version of his movie leaves a few moderately important things out (Paul's fight with Jamis and its aftermath, for example), I find it to be a pretty good (but definitely not faithful) adaptation of the first novel. Please note that I am one of the few Dune fans who stands behind this movie. I'm also one of the few Lynch fans who loves this movie. Tra la la.

Then the Sci-Fi channel came along and decided that they wanted to make a mini-series that was decidedly more faithful to the novel. It was faithful in places where Lynch's wasn't (the stillsuits specifically), but they were so anxious to get away from Lynch's version that they forgot to be faithful in other ways, such as the name of the spice as it was referred to in the book and the description of the inside of the Atreides house in Arakeen.

Now, Peter Berg has mentioned an interest in making another Dune, specifically remaking Lynch's Dune, but as a new adaptation. Confusing. If I were more confident in him as a director, I might be intrigued in seeing his version of one of my favourite books / movies, even after the (in my opinion) failure of the two Sci-Fi Channel mini-series (they also made Children of Dune which was Dune Messiah and Children of Dune put together.) We'll see, I guess.

I suppose that I can support adaptations because it's bringing the story from one medium, a book, into another medium, film. Books were our first movies after all. Remakes tend to play Telephone with the original story.

NoelCT said...

I hadn't heard of that version of WAR OF THE WORLDS. I'll check it out.

You raise a good point about adaptations vs. remakes and I guess it shows a bit of hypocrisy in terms of my expectations. With an adaptation, I look for something that's reasonably faithful to the original. With a remake, I look for something that offers a new spin, a new take on the original.

It's a bizarre mindset and I'm not sure how to rationalize it.

With DUNE, you raised a good point. The SciFi version was trying so hard to avoid the same path Lynch already tread that they sometimes missed the point. I'm really curious to see what's done with the new version, especially since I hear Berg's involvement is up in the air due to the lukewarm response of HANCOCK.

I really hope they make 2 movies. It's just too much for one. Plus, the original book was nicely serialized in 2 parts.

And I have to say, while Jodorowsky's DUNE would have torn up the material, trod on it, pissed on it, fed it to the dog, then pieced it back together with a new shade of paint, I'm actually willing to overlook his changes in face of the fact that it would have been an unforgettable viewing experience. The Moebius storyboards are stunning.

Lori said...

NoelCT:

Hancock was a great idea that didn't come off so well in execution. I'd like to see the cut that was given to test audiences, before Berg went back and refilmed scenes and reedited it.

You have to be a strong director to tackle Dune, not just talent-wise, but also in terms of will. I don't know if Peter Berg has enough of either to do it, but I'll fork over my two hours (or four if they do two flicks) out of curiosity. I think he should read Ed Naha's The Making of Dune...

NoelCT said...

I haven't seen it yet, but everyone else seems to be in agreement with you when it comes to HANCOCK. I just have to wonder how much control Berg had on the project with the heavyweight Hollywood team of Will Smith and Akiva Goldsman (who did rewrite the final script) breathing down his neck. I think Alex Proyas is a fantastic director and look how I, ROBOT turned out.

Have you read the original script?

- -

The guy who wrote CHUD 2: BUD THE CHUD, wrote a book on the making of DUNE? I'll have to check it out.

Lori said...

I never read I, Robot (I write more than I read and since I write a lot, I read relatively little...bad bad bad habit...), but I liked parts of the movie. I haven't followed Alex Proyas' career as such, but I love The Crow and Dark City (especially Dark City...wow...). He's got a new one coming out soon called Knowing. I'm slightly allergic to Nicholas Cage, but I'll check it out...and the original screenplay. So far, way different...

The Making of book is pretty insightful. Kind of boring in places, but insightful none the less.