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On 'remakes', and five suggestions...

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On 'remakes', and five suggestions... Empty On 'remakes', and five suggestions...

Post by Admin on Mon Feb 14, 2011 12:00 pm

Sunday, February 13, 2011

As the second adaptation of Graham Greene’s 1938 novel, Rowan Joffe’s debut feature Brighton Rock has been labelled a ‘remake’, of the Boulting Brothers’ 1947 film starring Richard Attenborough. The label might be unfair in some respects: Joffe himself claims to be adapting from the source material more than anything else, and in doing so, he has made efforts to make the film his own, not least in updating its setting to the 1960s so that its story unfolds against the backdrop of the Mods and Rockers clashes. In the most glaring respect, though, the label isn’t unfair: Joffe retains the ending of the earlier film, which was itself famously unfaithful.

Whatever of this discussion, though – you can read my further thoughts on the film here – what I’d like to present here are a few films that, like the earlier Brighton Rock and its newer version, accommodate or even invite a re-envisioning, an update, or as crude industry standard puts it, a ‘remake’ (‘reboot’ is a tosh term for the endless self-enabling cycles of comic book franchises currently in the perpetual works).

Too frequently these days, the remake is of a classic: a film already known for being so fine-tuned and complete. The result is that the newer version falls prey – often rightfully so – to critically unfavourable comparison. Neil LaBute’s 2006 The Wicker Man is a good example, an ‘Americanised’ version of Robin Hardy’s 1973 horror whose ‘best’ moments cannot be watched on YouTube without hilarity. More often, the ‘remake’ seems to be a product of commercial cash-in, by the studios if not the directors making them: think of the ‘fan-homage’ franchise remakes of Halloween, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Friday 13th.

Other films seem too singular to be open to a re-interpretation. You can’t really imagine a direct ‘remake’ of Welles’s Citizen Kane, or films like Scorsese’s GoodFellas or Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage or Greenaway’s A Zed and Two Noughts… Touch wood.

My point is, though, that as with Brighton Rock and the new Coen Brothers film True Grit, as well as Simon West’s recent ‘update’ of Michael Winner’s 1972 The Mechanic starring Jason Statham, some film ‘remakes’ aren’t immediately obvious in their appeal. In short, for whatever reason, some films invite a re-interpretation if not outright improvement. And here are five films that I’d like to suggest for an ‘update’ of sorts:

Prime Cut (1972), directed by Michael Ritchie, is a competent, taut genre piece starring Lee Marvin and Gene Hackman and a young Sissy Spacek; something of a minor masterpiece, its action unfolds over the course of three days, and yet it has that rambling casualness that seemed to run through many of the fine American films of the period. Ritchie’s film is visually appealing but with some revision the sly, sleazy humour could make for a dark, menacing film. I’d offer directorial responsibilities to Debra Granik, whose excellent Winter’s Bone reminded me at points of Ritchie’s film; perhaps it would merit a shift in focus, from Marvin’s character to Spacek’s…?

Punishment Park (1971), by Peter Watkins, is a faux documentary of political activists meeting their fate without fair trial. No doubt seriously intended and still very interesting, it seems dated and quite obvious now, almost undone by its own unsympathetic 'characters'; all of its activists are anti-establishment hippy stereotypes whose own anger ultimately gets the better of them. A film of this sort, with this material, demands re-interpretation given the current climate, in which democracy and truth are being hounded every day in the interests of a ruling political elite. Director… Steven Soderbergh?

Scanners (1981), pictured above, is David Cronenberg’s classic body-horror whose ‘cult’ status might help to veil how badly it’s dated, not least of all Stephen Lack’s wooden leading performance. Whatever, though, its initial concept, of ‘telepathic’ humans recruited to be corporate spies, remains an inviting and serious allegory today, and ias such is in much need of an update. Of course, Cronenberg himself would have to direct, though we'll happily indulge his current projects in the meantime.

Broken Blossoms, or the Yellow Man and the Girl (1919), by D. W. Griffith, was itself a kind of variation of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1915 film The Cheat, and is an example of American cinema’s early fascination with Orientalism. Its issues, of social prejudice and the confusions that stem from it, are still pressing today, but Griffith’s once innovative techniques give the work a preachiness today that demands a more subtle take. Suggested director: Todd Haynes, whose cine-literate skills in adapting Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows (1955) for his own Far From Heaven (2002) should be suitably tested in re-interpreting a silent film.

Passport to Pimlico (1949), the Ealing Studios film directed by Henry Cornelius, gained topical significance upon its release: as a film about a patch of London legally declared foreign soil, and as a comedy that follows that surreal gag with strict ‘what-if’ logic, it echoed the Berlin blockade, which was happening during filming, and recalled how quickly a 'state' with its own rules is isolated by the 'states' surrounding it. The film is charming but often clumsy, and in the right hands it could be fine-tuned a welcome Ealing throwback that brings new fans to those films: my vote is for Edgar Wright, and I’ll happily cast Pegg and Frost and co. too.

These might happen, these might never happen. But I’ve suggested mine; now, what are yours?
Posted by Michael Pattison at 3:37 PM

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On 'remakes', and five suggestions... Empty Re: On 'remakes', and five suggestions...

Post by Admin on Wed Apr 20, 2011 6:03 pm

Is anyone else suffering from origin story fatigue?

Simon Brew

Isn’t it a waste of an opportunity to spend another couple of hours telling us a slightly different version of a story we’ve already been told?

Why do big movie franchises seem intent on repeatedly telling the story of a character’s genesis? With Superman, Tomb Raider, X-Men and more following that path, we take a look…

Published on Apr 18, 2011

I learned a valuable lesson while watching Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. Fearing another retread of the story of Batman’s genesis, what I actually got was something that made the revisiting of the origin story make sense. A new filmmaker, who had a collection of stories to tell, wanted to define Batman correctly for his stories, and so went back to the very beginning. Batman Begins proves that, when narrative genuinely demands it, revisiting the genesis of a character is not always a bad thing.

The problem, though, is it usually is a bad thing. And that, more often than not, the genesis approach is taken for business, rather than creative, reasons.

It’s understandable when a character has been off screen for a period of time that you might want to take the opportunity to go back to the start. Or, in the case of Batman Begins, when you’ve followed something that it’s best to concrete over (yup, that’d be Batman & Robin).

But I suspect I’m not alone in wondering why, for instance, The Amazing Spider-Man feels the need to go right back to the beginning again. After all, the first Spider-Man movie is only 9 years old, and the last one arrived in 2007: do we need to go back to the very beginning when the franchise has been away for less than a decade? Isn’t it a waste of an opportunity to spend another couple of hours telling us a slightly different version of a story we’ve already been told?

It’s entirely possible, of course, that The Amazing Spider-Man will turn out to be something quite special. Director Marc Webb is the man who spun us the terrific (500) Days Of Summer, and Andrew Garfield’s acting chops were stamped all over The Social Network (it remains scandalous that he didn’t get a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination). But I’d still far rather they’d told a different story.

Likewise, Superman. Christoper Nolan and David S Goyer reckoned they’d cracked a thus-far untold story on the big screen for Superman, and found a way to bring the character back. But in doing so, we’re back, it seems, to the very start.

Again, Nolan has pedigree here (and there’s an argument that Superman’s genesis tale hasn’t been told on the big screen since the 70s), but one of the things I most admired about Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns is that it took a chance. It didn’t go back and see Krypton blowing up, and Superman arriving on Earth for the first time. But the Zack Snyder-directed reboot? All signs are pointing to that being the way forward.

It’s frustrating, because it seems that studios are looking to start re-telling their stories from the beginning when they want to take a fresh direction with their franchises, as if it’s the only logical path out there. Yet it isn’t. Look at comic books. Look how different writers and artists can take different approaches with the same characters.

Look how they don’t rely on Bruce Wayne seeing the death of his parents, or a spider biting Peter Parker. They assume that we’re not totally alien to the characters, and even if we are, they figure that it’s really not too hard to catch up.

So why can’t movie makers go the same way? Because the frustration is that, in most cases, the origin film becomes an extended trailer for the one that follows.

Bryan Singer’s original X-Men film I didn’t particularly warm to, as it had to spend quite a lot of time setting up all the pieces for the sequel. The sequel, conversely, I loved. Really loved. Because there was an assumption of some foreknowledge of the characters, and more effort was putting in doing something with them, rather than covering their individual journeys (a pity, then, that Fox spun Wolverine out into his own franchise, and chose to tell his story right from the start).

I don’t have a pathological hatred of the origin story. It’s an appropriate story tool, and inevitably it deepens the characters concerned when we know more about their past, and what made them who they are. It’s just the feeling that it’s the only way to go for studios in particular, when it blatantly isn’t. Heck, last year’s Robin Hood would have stood a far better chance of working had it allowed Russell Crowe to properly become the title character for more than a short period of time.

There are different paths out there. I’ve said it before, and no doubt I’ll bore you with it again, but the story I’d love a superhero movie to tackle properly, and I don’t think this will happen anytime soon, is what happens at the end of a hero’s life. Or at least at the other end of it,

It might be predictable to cite Frank Miller’s astonishing The Dark Knight Returns, but it’s a fascinating, brilliant piece of work, that explores a comic book hero long after their power has waned. That’s the story I’d love to see, but it involves casting an actor as a superhero who isn’t under 35. That, I fear, will not happen, when a PG-13 rating and an $80m opening weekend is the current benchmark that studios are aiming for.

On the upside, there are pockets of resistance. Kick-Ass was independently funded, and proved that you can do a quality superhero movie on a more limited budget than you might expect (helping director Matthew Vaughn land the X-Men: First Class gig which is, yep, an origin story of sorts. Although one I’ve got high hopes for). Kick-Ass was an origin story, certainly, but it showed that you don’t have to play by studio rules to make a movie of its ilk. Hopefully, more filmmakers will pick up the mantle.

Furthermore, while the takings of Watchmen are often sneered at, that was a distinctly adult comic book movie that still managed to bring in $185m at the global box office, and still have a DVD and Blu-ray shelf life. Studios, therefore, shouldn’t necessarily balk at doing something that goes off the strict flow chart they seem to be following.

Still, where major films are concerned, the thinking remains simplistic. Cut the risks. Broaden the audience by making sure everyone knows the characters. Bring people in right from the start and assume they know nothing.

Thus, when Marvel had a second chance of telling the story of Hulk, it blew it on another origin story. The next Tomb Raider film is reported to be going the same way (although if it follows the path trodden by Casino Royale, it may get away with it). And there are questions being asked of the plans to reboot Fantastic Four and Daredevil, too.

I can’t be the only one suffering from origin story fatigue right now, though, and I do hope that someone with sufficient power musters up a modicum of courage to hunt down a different way of doing things. After all, there are so many different approaches to every character out there. It just seems a shame to be so keen to tell the opening chapters of a character’s story time and time again, without allowing us to peek forward at what else might be out there…

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