A new “Splash.”

So…

I read over on Tor.com that Disney is proceeding with remaking yet another 80s movie remake, this time the victim being “Splash.”  The original featured two veteran actors – Tom Hanks and Darryl Hannah – when they were extremely young and fresh-faced.  It was a cute love story with moments of humor, especially as provided by John Candy, as Hanks’s lecherous older brother, and Eugene Levy, as a kooky scientist determined to prove the existence of mermaids.

I read this and kind of thought, “Meh.  Okay.”

There was a lot of controversy this summer over the remake of the classic, “Ghostbusters.”  I was annoyed – more so at the idea of a remake than the gender swap-out of the cast.  I am in the camp that there are some movies you just don’t mess with, because the originals are classics and you don’t muck with classics.  If I was leery before, director Paul Feig’s various comments, labeling anyone who criticized the decision to remake the film as basement-dwelling trolls – and worse – turned me against it completely.

And I wasn’t the only one, apparently.  As the site The Numbers reports here, the film has cleared about $158M at the end of July, just a bit more than it’s production budget of $144M.  Advertising and promotion still have to be recouped.  I put most of this on Feig, for striking out and alienating potential audience members.  But anyway….

So, a remake of “Splash.”  In this case, it will be the male as the merman, and the girl as the cynical, world-worn human who gets their life uplifted by a little interspecies romance.  Part of me wanted to say, “They are just using any excuse to make a gender statement, with the swap.”  After all, this is Disney, the overseer of Marvel Comics, which has pretty much fucked up their entire comic line in the interest of some diversity quest.

But after that reaction, I went.  “Meh.  It’s Splash.  Who cares?”  And I think that is the crux of the argument.

We only care about the things that are important to us.  In this case, I am a fan of 80s movies.  I’m sure it is mostly nostalgia, as seeing those again catapults me back to the days of being a teenager.  But even then, there are only certain ones that matter.  For example:

  • They remade Footloose.  As a stand-alone movie, I thought it was awful.  I mean, how can you have Footloose without Kevin Bacon?  But I was never really upset about…more of a head shake at the foolishness.
  • They are trying to remake Dirty Dancing.  Per above, without Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, it seems a waste of time.  But I was never a big fan of the movie, so whatever.
  • They remade Poltergeist.  Blarg.  Again, just a bad movie, without half the terror of the original.  But again, whatever.

Then there are these:

  • Red Dawn.  Seriously, what the fuck, Hollywood?  If you didn’t grow up in the Cold War, if you didn’t remember the original airing of The Day After, then yeah the original Red Dawn wouldn’t mean much to you.  But North Korea?  Are you serious?  Fail.  And by the way, nice job pussing out and not making the bad guys Chinese, so you could distribute the movie there.
  • Total Recall.  The remake was a half-baked abortion that never should have seen the light of day.  While neither were particularly faithful to Phillip K Dick’s original story, I thought the original was more faithful.  It not only captured the feel better (by invoking Mars and  interplanetary conspiracy) but had better chemistry between the cast members.  The remake was stilted and – surprise – relied too much on special effects.
  • Nightmare on Elm Street.  No, just … no.  Not scary, not interesting, not original.

As I compare the two lists, I see that the second set were movies I genuinely loved and appreciated when I was a kid.  The others, not nearly as much.  As I said, I think we care a lot more about the near and dear to our heart.  And I think Ghostbusters has a lot more “Near-and-dear” fans than Splash does.

Did someone come with the gender swap because they wanted to make a point?  Maybe.  Are they looking to objectify men in exchange for all the objectification women endure – you know, give ’em a taste of their own medicine?  Maybe.  Do they have a fresh and original spin on the old material?  Maybe.  Don’t care, to all three.  It’s just not important to me.

If anything, I am offended that Hollywood seems to be so intellectually-bankrupt that they can’t make anything original any more.  What comes out, these days?  Remakes, adaptations (comics and otherwise), Pixar/Dreamworks kid stuff … and that’s about it.  There are a few writers and directors, like Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarentino still doing original work but they are exceptions.  Hollywood need to find its creative mojo again.

I hear they remaking The Magnificent Seven and I am nervous.

(Muse:  You know the original Magnificent Seven was itself a remake, right?)

Yes, and even though Seven Samurai was a great movie in its own right, the two are separate enough to not draw direct comparison.  You know, I actually liked the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair better than the original.  How will Magnificent Seven go?

We’ll see.

But a kiss can be even deadlier… if you mean it.

So….

Tonight, SyFy channel had a handful of the old Batman movies on.  Not the 60s versions but the Tim Burton / Joel Schumacher ones from the 90s.  And I sat here watching them, I realized how titanically bad Batman and Robin is as it puked all over my screen.  I mean, I knew it was bad, but I don't remember it being 200-car-pileup bad.  This is back when George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman were at the height of their careers and for some reason, they chose to participate in this half-baked abortion of a film.  It was also the last meaningful vehicle in which Alicia Silverstone had any starring role and effectively terminated what had been a budding career.  We all know Christopher Nolan resurrected the franchise a decade later with his Christian Bale-led Batman series (peaking in The Dark Knight) but this one really left a sour taste in many mouths.

But the other thing I realized how much of a superior film Batman Returns really is.  In fact, it is the best Batman movie that's been made.

I know the fanboys and general movie going audience is gaga over The Dark Knight, and with good reason.  It's a great movie, with a good acting and a well-paced plot.  But as a comic book movie, it's not quite as good as Batman Returns.

One, the more I watch these movies, the more I am convinced Michael Keaton was a better Batman than Christian Bale.  Keaton came across as more self-assured.  Bale's Batman was totally shaped by Alfred, Rachel Dawes, and Ras Al-Ghul.  He never felt like his own man, and his weakness was all about following conflicting guidance from his mentors.  Keaton's Batman exuded quiet confidence in himself; his doubts all came from questioning his place in the world at large and dealing, head-on, with the demons between his split existence.  To me, it was more compelling.

Two, while Heath Ledger's Joker was a villain par excellence and was a truly awesome film performance, he – like Jack Nicholson's Joker in the earlier film – really overshadowed the hero in the movie.  That may have something to do with the Joker, as he is widely regarded as the single best villain in the comic book world.  On the other hand, Danny Devito's Penguin took the character away from the film viewer's memories of Burgess Meredith and his dapper, tuxedo-wearing jewelry robber, and turned it into a creepy, lecherous child murderer.  Unlike the Joker, the Penguin was unquestionably the antagonist in the movie.  He was fiendish and, at times, pitiable, but there was no doubt:  the Penguin was bad.  He never won over overtook the title character with the audience.

Three, Batman Returns had the perfect female foil.  Never cared for Katie Holmes.  Maggie Gyllenhaal did a better turn as Rachel Dawes (and is better looking) but the character always had an air of smug self-righteousness that made me dislike her.  I mentioned Uma Thurman.  She had absolutely nothing to work with as Poison Ivy; stilted dialogue and lousy costumes.  Nicole Kidman and Kim Bassinger had little to do in their roles, save look pretty and be rescued.  But Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman really shone.  She played the role to the hilt:  a broken woman with a single-minded obsession with revenge against those who had wronged her.  Her rapid mood swings and tortured ramblings as Selina Kyle only added to the character's depth.  Frankly Anne Hathaway's attempt at Catwoman was a hollow imitation.  And no, it did not hurt that Pfeiffer was stunningly beautiful and wore the leather suit like a second skin.  Meow, indeed!

Fourth, the plot was perfect.  It was a blend between the whimsical nature of the comic and the more-serious, darker Batman stories of later times (first popularized by the comic The Dark Knight Returns).  All of the devices and henchmen used by the Penguin follow a circus theme but it was almost satirical, mocking the silly origin of such decoration when employed by murderers.  While the Penguin's plot to take revenge on Gotham City was over the top, it did not have the Rube Goldberg quality of the Joker's chaos plots in Dark Knight; from a feasibility standpoint, the Penguin's plot was probably more realistic (up until he employed the army of penguins with rockets on their backs).  The political and business corruption as represented by secondary villain Max Schreck was a foil to Bruce Wayne as much as the Penguin and Catwoman were a foil to Batman – and both plotlines converged perfectly at the movie's climax.  And of all seven Batman movies (four in the 90s, and three Nolan films), Batman Returns shares with Dark Knight the honor of being the only movies that do not end on a high note.  Life ain't always fair, especially in comics, so that was refreshing to see a bittersweet ending.

Last, the dialogue.  Much is made of the great lines in The Dark Knight, but truthfully, most of them belonged to the secondary characters:  Joker, Alfred, Rachel, Jim Gordon, or Lucius Fox.  In Batman Returns, the best lines occur directly between Batman/Wayne and another character, making the main character a participant (not a recipient) to the most effective lines in the show.  The twisted mistletoe and kiss lines (as in the post title), which are reversed by Wayne and Kyle at opportune moments, were fantastic.

Not a popular opinion, I understand, but I just think Batman Returns is the superior film.  If I have to model one of these movies to write a thriller that escalates and keeps the audience guessing the outcome, I might model Dark Knight.  If I really wanted to write a movie with superior characters and a more realistic plot, I'd have to go with da Penguin movie.

As always, your mileage may vary.

We’re Gonna Get You

So ….

The re-make of The Evil Dead opens tomorrow.  For those who don't know, it is something of a cult classic in horror movie-dom.  The movie concerns five friends trapped in the woods after one of them (the awesomely studly Bruce Campbell, in his earliest lead role) accidentally releases ancient demons.  From the trailer, the remake looks to follow the same basic story arc, but with more gore – though, by 1981 standards, the original was unbelievably gory.

I am of two minds about the remakes.  Every once in a while, a remake meets or exceeds the original.  I still think The Magnificent Seven is a better overall film than Seven Samurai.  But most of the time, remakes simply fail to capture the spirit and charm of the first one.  I hope this one is the former, because I would hate to see the legacy tainted.

Anyway, here's the relatively-calm trailer (the green-band, or approved for all audiences).  If you have a strong stomach, you can watch the unrated (the red-band) trailer here instead, but I hope you're not easily shocked or offended.

Anyway, I'll go check this out at some point.

Media Drift

So ….

In the last few months, I read a lot of spec fiction.  I also watched a lot of movies based on spec fiction, including movie adaptations of books I read.  When you translate media in that fashion, there is always some drift from the thrust of the story.  In some ways I think it's okay; in others, my cynical mind assumes the worst.  Allow me to elaborate.

(Muse:  Oh this should be good.)

Quiet, you!

Like I said, some migrations hold up better than others.  I have not seen Hunger Games all the way through but from the parts I have seen, it is a faithful translation.  300 was almost a frame-by-frame reshoot of the comic.  Other movies add in extra material, scenes, or even characters; the recent Hobbit movie did this and it did not really affect the integrity of the story, save for reducing the film to a glacial pace.

I've heard some complaints about movies like Clash of the Titans, that have dicked with classical Greek mythology.  That doesn't bother me, since mythology, per se, isn't owned by anyone and is subject to interpretation.  The main elements of the tale are there, even if it is  a hybrid of the tales of Perseus and Bellerophon.  Besides, what harm can it do?  Today's society is so ignorant of the classical world that it's not like this will ever hold them back from something.  It's dead knowledge.

(Muse:  Cynic.)

Oh just wait, this is where it gets fun, because here is where I have the problem.

There is a certain money-grubbing element in the entertainment industry that is quick to latch onto a success story and try to siphon from it, leech-like, for its own gain.  In this case, I would be thinking of the upcoming World War Z movie.  From what I can see from the previews, it is not even remotely related to the "source" material.  It's Brad Pitt in a zombie apocalypse movie – maybe with decent action, effects, and a soundtrack.  Perhaps I would even pay to go see it.  But it does not appear to resemble the book at all. In the book, the narrator was a reporter, who gathered stories after the crisis was over.  Pitt's character is in the midst of the action.  Fast zombies versus slow zombies.  And on.  So why call it World War Z, if not in an effort to cash in on the success of the book?  If they had called "Zombie Movie #85" would it generate as much buzz?  (Actually that self-parodying title might have, a la Zombieland.)  I see a very cynical effort behind that, rather than letting the movie rise or fall on its own merits, someone along the way tried to predispose it for success.  That leaves me with a sour taste.

So where is the line drawn?  What differentiates between a little poetic license and an abomination of an adaptation?  I dunno.  That's what makes this a fascinating subject, as it is always up for debate-slash-reinterpretation.  I doubt it's a linear distinction for anyone, but probably more of a matrix:  a combination of personal resistance to the idea and a strong affinity for whatever source material is being lifted.  Is this even worthy of discussion?

Any thoughts?

An Unexpected Review

So ….

Even in my desert oubliette, we still get a little bit of culture over here – and in this case, "culture" would refer to being able to see new releases at the same time as in the States.  So I was able to take in "The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey" this last week.  Bottom line?  If I had to throw a "tl;dr" tag on this one, I would say that if you were devotee of Lord of the Rings, you would probably enjoy this one too.  If not, you might get bored.

I'll start with the negatives.  For one, it was waaay too long – and I say this as someone who still respects and honors Tolkien as the Godfather of the genre.  Peter Jackson took the 1200 pages of the Lord of the Rings series and stretched it to about 11 hours, in the extended versions.  The Hobbit is only 300 pages and at the rate of the first film, is on track for around nine hours of viewing time.  Naturally, this results in new material having to be added to fill in between gaps in the book.  I don't think a filmmaker has to be a slave to the source material and I don't mind new interpretations – but adding material for the purpose of drawing it out seems pointless.  Just tell the story.  Highlight for spoiler:  the scene with the stone giants was the absolute worst offender, having no impact on the film, other than to slow the pacing and show off special-effects wizardry.  It could have come out and saved eight minutes, without any harm.

And with all that screen time, the characters come across as cardboard-ish.  There are thirteen dwarves; even before the movie, I could have named all twelve (pause while you collect yourself from the revelation that I am a nerd).  But by watching the movie, you really don't get to know them very well.  Thorin, the leader and king in exile, is sketched out better than most but spends most of the film in a perpetual grumpy state.  He doesn't quite chew the scenery but close.  Just not enough time was devoted to character development.

Now having said all that, I will note a few positives.  The cinematography was unbelievable.  The Hobbit looks even better than the Lord of the Rings series; the vistas of New Zealand are absolutely breathtaking and the CGI effects blend flawlessly.  The goblin-infested mines in the Misty Mountains, the expanses of the Shire, Rivendell, the interior shots of Erebor (the Lonely Mountain) were all visually appealing.  The musical score was another success, and well-metered:  it was low-key at the right times and epic when needed.  I also have to say I enjoyed seeing the old actors from LotR return.  Ian McKellen (Gandalf) has noticeably aged and appears more withered than before – but Cate Blanchett (Galadriel) is, if anything, even more beautiful and regal than in the previous movies and does not appear to have aged a day.   And on whole, I enjoyed the translation of the musical numbers from the novel.  The singing dwarves added much-needed moments of levity to an otherwise bleak and depressing film.  The action was interspersed with exposition and chatting at the right intervals, so it paced fairly well.  I give the whole thing a B.

There are two more Hobbit movies scheduled:  The Desolation of Smaug (2013) and There and Back Again (2014).  At the end of the day, I think the three movies could have been compressed into two.  Despite that, I'll probably still be in line to see them both, and end up with them on DVD.

Just 'cause.

Daily Update #25

Wow, been six months since I did one of these.

– I finished writing a short story about a druidic woman fighting with demons who live in asteroids.  If it sounds odd, it was – er, is.  Over at Fantasy Writers (see links to the left), they have a writing contest and while I haven't entered in a long time, I still watch the prompts to see if anything speaks to me.  I read a prompt a few months back and this idea germinated.  Well, just like New Coke, it sounded better on paper than it worked out in reality.  Much better.

– I did manage to log about 1K words on Pilgrimage today.  That is the first substantial work I've done it in months.  But it felt good to get back in the swing of things.

– The good news is that my non-fiction novel project – my 365-day journal of my time here – is proceeding nicely.  I have yet to miss a day, which is good; I figured I would have bagged the whole project by now.  But 126 days and counting.

– I got a rejection the other day and I realize that with that rejection, for the first time in literally five years, I have none of my writing submitted.  Nothing, not a single story.  Another casualty of being away from home, I guess.

– Saw Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter at the little local theater the other day.  After reading the book and seeing the hype, I guess I was a little disappointed.  I figured for more but what can you do?  We were supposed to watch The Hunger Games but we couldn't get the film to work.  I did get to see Avengers, though, and that totally rocked, so the summer is hardly a loss, movie-wise.

That's about it, dear readers.  Hopefully, I will be back with more tales of intrepidity and dastardly writing very soon.