Thursday, March 29, 2007

Living in the Age of the Remake and Genre Saturation: Solutions for Modern Cinema by David L. Blackwood

(pictured: Assault on Precinct 13 = bullshit)

The state of the movie industry has never been so weak. As you are probably aware, we are living in the age of the remake. Creativity and inventiveness are stagnating in favour of a tendency to churn out remakes by the dozen. The Italian Job, Get Carter, Assault on Precinct 13, The Amityville Horror, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Wicker Man, to name a few fairly recent ones that shouldn’t ever have been made. Why can’t people think of good new concepts anymore? I think of like a dozen a day. Why can’t I work in Hollywood? They seem bent on cutting corners at any cost. If something looks like it’ll make money they will jump on a bandwagon, regardless of if there are 15 other films like it being released that week. For every Lord of the Rings, there’s an Eragon or a Chronicles of Narnia, and for every X-men there’s a Fantastic Four or Ghost Rider. Despite the fact these are “new” films, I place them alongside remakes in their sheer lack of inventiveness. Every title I have mentioned of course, comes from a book or a comic, which does sort of negate any creativity on the part of the director, because obviously you don’t want to mess with it or the fans will go banjax. And nobody wants that. The movie industry exploits geeks with quick fixes – hastily put together assembly line movies based on “what the fans want” ie the whims of a totally insane public. I honestly believe that every time some foolish housebound nerd says online “WOULDN’T AN ANTMAN MOVIE BE TOTALLY AWESOME LOOOOOL” there’s some Satanist producer there with a clipboard and pen going “hmmm, Antman, you say?” To top it off, they seem to reviving franchises that have been dead for years in order to squeeze some money out of people’s nostalgia – at 65 Harrison Ford should not be playing Indy. They should let it go. Likewise at 61, Stallone should give up on the Rocky franchise. Their lack of inventiveness knows no bounds. It reminds me of a Calvin and Hobbes strip in which Calvin, designing a snowman purposely builds it to be as pedestrian-looking as possible, remarking that “people don’t want anything new, they just want more of what they already know they like”.
Why should I pay my hard-earned cash-money to go and see some shitty Hollywood remake of a Japanese horror film, in which the horror is invariably provided by a “scary” unkempt ghost child. Or indeed watch a carelessly constructed movie-version of some third-tier Marvel comics character hopelessly miscast and devoid of any of the depth that made you love the comic in the first place?

The last movie I saw in the theatre was Ghost Rider, which to be fair I didn’t have very high expectations of. And I wasn’t disappointed. Nick Cage plays Nick Cage who accidentally sells his soul to Mephistopheles, played by Peter Fonda - who is without a doubt the most overtly obvious devil since Robert De Niro played Louis Cyphre in Angel Heart - and is forced to become Old Nick’s bounty hunter and face off against four demons led by a bullshit version of Blackheart who in no way resembles the one seen in the comics. The whole thing is put together in a rather shoddy fashion, with only minimal attentions paid to plot. The four elemental demons Ghost Rider faces go out like pussies (The air demon he blows away with a fan made of chains, the earth demon he also kills with a chain, and the water demon he kills I think by boiling him with the hot fire on his head. I’m not sure) and the whole thing is resolved so quickly you wouldn’t believe. Ghost Rider’s motives are also unexplained, he seems to just power around town on his flaming motorcycle committing random acts of cruelty. Despite the fact that this was a terrible movie, I can’t honestly say though that I wasn’t entertained – most of the enjoyment and indeed humour came from my disbelief that I was watching something so retarded. Also starring Eva Mendes’s bosoms. I am really, really glad that I was never a regular reader of Ghost Rider though, otherwise I’d surely be feeling pretty jipped right now. The next title this director is supposed to be massacring is Preacher. God save us.

That’s another thing. The two most awaited comic book movies in history, Watchmen and Preacher, are being handled by people who I don’t really believe are up to the job. The dude who did the Dawn of the Dead remake and 300 is doing Watchmen – while DOTD version 2.0 was reasonable I haven’t seen 300 yet so couldn’t possibly judge. Please, please, please, don’t destroy this for me, I’ve been waiting for this movie since the 80s. Likewise Preacher, is being handled by the schmoe responsible for both Ghost Rider and Daredevil. Not a lot of faith there then. I heard actually that Preacher was going to be a TV series on ABC, which strikes me as a much better way to do it than as a movie, because it has a very definite plot progression, over the course of 9 volumes. There are no standalone episodes that could easily be made into an hour and a half movie. There could be a trilogy, but it would all depend on the strength of the first movie, which could end up being a massive dud anyway. If they make one movie, they’ll have to cut tons of stuff out and end up destroying the plot, ruining the characters, and crushing the dreams of fanboys everywhere. One day I swear we’ll take no more.

While the genre movie seems to be alive and unwell, one has to wonder whatever happened to other genres. Like when was the last time you saw a good cop movie? The formula is simple – take two mismatched cops, usually from different ethnic, educational, and class backgrounds, with differing personality types, put them in a car together and watch the race humour, vague homosexual overtones, bad driving, gunplay, maltreatment of women and poorly-conceived plot take over. For instance I watched 48 Hours last night. How good is that movie? Nick Nolte as a racist, sexist, drunkard cop forced to escort racist, sexist, mouthy convict Eddie Murphy around town in search of a cop-killer and bag of stolen ducats. The terrible things that Nolte is able to say in that movie and still somehow retain our sympathy is mind-blowing. He kicks off the day by taking a swig of rotgut, emotionally torturing his girlfriend for a while before busting in on someone else’s case and causing the deaths of two detectives. Nolte doesn’t care - he has lost his gun and wants it back. He enlists the help of Murphy, who he racially abuses at every turn and the two engage in a madcap two-day rampage of morally sketchy law enforcement, which culminates - of course - in the shooting rather than arrest of the suspects. Nobody cares about this. This is how cops operate in movies. They shoot roughly twice as many people as they arrest, if they even bother to arrest anyone at all. I can't recall. Indeed, Nolte and Murphy cause so much trouble that on two occasions beat cops try to stop them but are sent packing because Nolte outranks them. He can literally do anything he pleases. On one occasion Nolte drunkenly attacks Murphy and the two ruthlessly batter each other for a while until the cops intervene. Is this good police work? Murphy uses almost any opportunity he can to cruise for pros and at one point attempts to seduce two lesbians whose house they have broken into. How are they even allowed on the streets? They should both be locked up. My favourite scene is where Murphy hassles a gang of shitkickers at a barn dance proclaiming that he doesn’t like white people and he hates rednecks. Then he beats them up and vandalises the joint. They can’t do anything about it, because he is with the cops. How is this legal? I can’t believe it. Why is there even a barn dance happening in the middle of San Francisco? In the end of course, Murphy and Nolte settle their differences and become allies, like in every cop movie. Nolte agrees to stop being racist and, as a peace offering, buys Murphy a prostitute. Pure popcorn, but you have to love the cop genre. They just don’t do movies like that anymore. Movies like Lethal Weapon, Red Heat, Tango and Cash, or even Turner and Hooch and Stop or My Mom Will Shoot. The only recent one I can think of is Starsky & Hutch, and that’s a remake of a 70’s TV show. Of course there is always Hot Fuzz...

The action movie in general is dying a death. It was killed by the Matrix, bullet time and wire work. Now every single action movie that is released has the protagonist pirouetting around on strings in slow motion to a nu-metal soundtrack while dodging slow bullets. It’s like when that movie - glorious though it was – came out everybody dropped several IQ points. Also its influence has permeated and ruined other genres. For instance, the vampire movie.

Vampire movies have stank for a long time, I think maybe the last good one was John Carpenter’s Vampires, preceded by Interview With The Vampire and before that Near Dark and Lost Boys. When did vampire and gay man in big black coat become synonymous? Seriously? If you want to look at bad vampire movies, take a look at Queen of the Damned, perhaps the worst movie ever. A bunch of fruity looking, twatty vampires, one of whom has obvious man-boobs (fair enough, the vampires in the book were slightly gay, but in the book that was acceptable because they didn’t fly around kung-fu fighting one another at lightspeed) a terrible cast, a rotten nu-metal soundtrack, and the single poorest script ever shat into creation. And for another example, let’s take Underworld – that has the distinction of being both a bad vampire movie and a bad werewolf movie. Lots of big black coats in that, yes sir. To top it off, I’m not exactly what the difference between the vampires and the werewolves are in that movie is. The vampires are gaybo-looking European male-model types, while the werewolves are gaybo-looking European male-model types too. The only thing I can think of is that the latter group generally sport beards.

Well what improvements could be made? Apart from a decent buddy-cop movie, something else I’d like to see a lot more of is “versus” movies, like Freddy Versus Jason and Alien Versus Predator. While FvJ offered exactly what was expected – sexually promiscuous teenagers being slaughtered, dream-murder, machete-hackings and a final battle in which the horrors fillet one another with their blades – AvP was, I felt, a huge disappointment. The studio could have made Aliens 5, which was going to be directed by James Cameron and written by Ridley Scott (or maybe they other way around) but instead chose to make AvP, directed by some pot-smoking teenager who has only directed the abominable Resident Evil and thought it would be “rad” to have a face-hugger jumping in slow motion while Slipknot played and the camera panned round dramatically. Good choice, 20th Century Fox. A pairing I’d quite like to see would be Robocop Versus Terminator, like in the classic videogame, or even in a stirring break from tradition, Robocop & Terminator, where the pair are forced to collaborate to fight crime in Delta City. That would be something to observe. Probably it would follow the same rough plot as 48 Hours, Robocop would bust Terminator out of jail because he needs him to fight - I don’t know - the Cylons, or something.

It’s a sorry state of affairs really. At the end of the day we just have to remember that it is an industry, and these are the kind of things that make money nowadays. Your average cinemagoer hardly ever knows he is watching a remake, just like he has never read the comic on which the movie he is watching is based. This allows the directors to do a half-assed job because while the fans do dictate what gets made, it’s the popcorn munching masses that bring the box office count up, and they must be appeased. Well-meaning folks who really do want to make a good movie that true fans will enjoy find themselves pandering to a disinterested and generally desensitised audience with a high tolerance for shit. So this is all the fault of you, the viewer. Good night.


Jeremy said...

To be fair Rocky Balboa, wasn't that bad - at least a significant improvement on Rocky V, which anyone must agree should never have been made.
Whilst on the topic of movies that should never have been made - the last incarnation of the Hulk was worse than any of the *one off* TV movies produced in the 80's. Also the upcoming Transformers movie, has already disappointed me, and I have only seen the trailer.
Let's just hope that The Simpsons Movie doesn't ruin that show too.

Blackwood said...

I'm in denial about Transformers. We shall not speak of it.

Kaki said...

love this post. makes me angry, grrr, but makes me grateful for those sweet, quiet, original, amazing movies: little miss sunshine, best in show, eternal sunshine...for me, though, the 80's and early 90's were the golden age of cinema.