Sunday, June 10, 2007

Forget Judge Wapner...

Who needs stuffy old judges when you can check out... THE POP CULTURE SUPREME COURT. More exciting than People's Court. More relevant than Law & Order. It's nine pop culture bloggers making decisions on major pop culture topics. No more will people have to scratch their heads and wonder, "Hm... I wonder if reality television really should supercede scripted television?" For we will finally answer those questions, and stand as the ultimate decision-makers.

Okay, not really, but hey, we figured it was a fun way to bring the blogosphere together to hash out topics, start conversations, and discuss our ways to decisions on things that we find interesting. This is the court people go to when the Entertainment section of the paper is far more interesting to them than the Business pages.

I am one of the nine justices, I'm extremely proud to say. The blog was the brainchild of Matthew Caverhill, who runs the blog, "Culture Kills... Wait, I Mean Cutlery." He sought out the best, brightest, and funniest bloggers he could find, and then added me, because he only had eight. ;) The other bloggers featured run the following awesome blogs, and I urge everyone to check them out. Daily.

Apropos of Something

Electronic Cerebrectomy



No Smoking in the Skull Cave

Popped Culture (run by one of my fave people)

Semaj's Blog Your Blog

For our first ruling, we were each given the question: Should there be a moratorium on movie remakes? I went into the question thinking I would answer 'yes.' The idea of a remake of a film coming out about 15 years after the original makes my blood boil, but after looking at the evidence, I realized that time doesn't make remakes any better or worse, and my ruling was no. I wasn't alone; 5 other justices ruled no, and 3 ruled yes. I was very flattered that my ruling was chosen as the one to represent the majority, but when I read the yes ruling, written by Becca, it almost made me want to change my ruling, it was so good. :)

Check out the Pop Culture Supreme Court site here, and I'll reprint my ruling below. Feel free to agree or disagree, and I'd love to see what y'all think about Matt's baby. It's been fun, and hey, it's fun to think my parents have always been excited about my brother being the lawyer of the family... well check out Big Sis being a supreme court justice. Woohoo! ;)

To propose there should be a moratorium on movie remakes would suggest that the problem with movie remakes is not leaving enough time between the original and the remake. But timing is not the issue — a movie remake can be successful, depending on the remake director’s respect of the original film, understanding of the concepts and themes behind it, willingness to put his or her own spin on it, and a possible involvement with the people who made the original. I’ve considered four categories of film and chosen a good remake and a bad one (in my opinion) to show that timing really has nothing to do with how good or bad a remake is going to be.

I should preface this by saying that generally I hate remakes, and therefore I’ve never seen many of these movies, but I’m going by critical reaction as opposed to mine. I believe most movie remakes are unnecessary, though there have been a few excellent exceptions. (And the same goes for television; while most American versions of British shows are terrible, The Office remains one shining example of one that worked. And Battlestar Galactica, a remake of a 1978 short-lived series, is one of the best things on television.) But for the most part, choosing film remakes that I hated was easy; choosing good ones was a lot more difficult.

The idea behind most sci-fi film remakes is usually that the special effects are now better than they were before, so it will necessarily make the movie better. (See George Lucas’s original Star Wars and his updated versions in the 90s to see how that idea can be total crap.)

Didn’t work:
Planet of the Apes (1968), with its bad costumes, campy premise, and overacting, is nonetheless a sci-fi classic. Its impact on popular culture is immeasurable, and that twist ending is one of the greatest climaxes in cinema. (It’s no surprise that Rod Serling played such a big role in it.) So why do a second version of it? For his 2001 version, Tim Burton knew that fans would know the twist, so it’s not like he could shock us with it. He knew how revered it was, spawning sequels, action figures, and a cult following rivaling that of Star Trek, so he couldn’t be looking to shed light on a previously overlooked movie. Burton simply had the ego to think he could do it again, and do it better. And he was wrong. The twist at the end was completely different, yet very much the same, and I still remember the moans of “oh COME ON” that came from the audience when that ending happened.

War of the Worlds (1953 & 2005), on the other hand, took a movie that was similarly revered, but rather archaic, and made it new. The special effects were spectacular, the psychological horror and suspense were thrilling, and the story was engaging. Of course, it had a typical Spielberg ending, but hey, the guy can NOT do endings (see A.I. for the perfect example of an atrocious ending that killed a brilliant movie). While I have not actually seen the original, most of the reviews at the time said Spielberg’s version trumped it by a long shot.

Foreign remakes are common, and are a special category because they’re usually different interpretations of the same film, and can often be quite successful. Plus, for most of the mainstream audiences going to films, they don’t want to make that effort to read subtitles, so a Hollywood actor will translate it for them.

City of Angels (1998), starring Nicholas Cage, was a remake of Wim Wenders’ genius Wings of Desire (1987), a gorgeous film with the idea of everyone having angels (albeit morose and depressing ones) on our shoulders. Cage, as usual, overacted his way through it, it watered down the premise, and of course, it lacked that long scene in the bar at the end of the Wenders film where the angel has a very long monologue about life and death and everything in between.

That’s why:
The Ring (2002) was one of the most successful horror films of all time. Based on the similarly successful Japanese film Ringu (1998), The Ring was terrifying for its suspense and psychological mindfraks. Little easter eggs were stuck throughout the film, such as a single frame of film of a ring that flashed during an otherwise boring scene, and the imagery was enough to give nightmares to even the most diehard horror fan. This is another film where I haven’t seen the original, but many friends of mine did and said it wasn’t nearly as frightening as the U.S. remake.

Comedy remakes are usually done to showcase the talents of a single actor. Someone who has made their name in comedy — often physical comedy — thinks they can take on some of the great films, and they’re usually doomed to a lot of finger-pointing and derision.

This is a comedy?:
The Pink Panther (2006) was just baffling. A remake of the Peter Sellers gem A Shot in the Dark (1964), which is one of the funniest films of all time (disagree with me on that... I dare you), it was one of those trailers that when you first saw it in the theatre, your jaw dropped in shock and horror. Steve Martin… what has happened to you?! You used to be awesome, and you haven’t lost it — Bowfinger is one of my favourite films EVER — but then you have the balls to go and think you can top Sellers’ performance? Are you kidding me?! I’m THRILLED to say I didn’t see this one.

The Nutty Professor (1996 & 1962) was originally a Jerry Lewis film (barf) and while it was immensely popular, Eddie Murphy’s remake was funnier. I know this is one several people might disagree with me on, but I thought it was funny, and Murphy made it his own by coming up with the idea of playing most of the roles. Of course, he should have stopped there, but the guy has no filter in his brain, so now we’re subjected to disasters like Norbit. But I like to think of him as the OTHER guy in Bowfinger… The movie was not only funny, but it had Jerry Lewis on board collaborating, so the remake showed respect to the original while still making it seem like its own.

Classics are remade just because producers believe “kids nowadays” won’t watch a black and white film. They could be right, but it’s the classic remakes that tend to get people’s undershorts in a tight bunch. There are very few exceptions to the awfulness and unnecessary nature of these films, but one is a standout.

Psycho (1998 & 1960). I don’t really need to say much here. Gus Van Sant — the ego to end all egos — filmed this movie shot for shot, right down to the second. Scenes were timed and reshot if they went a millisecond over Hitchcock’s original. In other words, it was remade only as an exercise in technical proficiency, and comes off that way. I’ve only seen part of it, and had to shut it off in disgust. Shame on Vince Vaughn for agreeing to this garbage.

Cape Fear (1991 & 1962), on the other hand, is a lesson in brilliant filmmaking. The movie stands on its own, is riveting, and Robert De Niro turns in one of the performances of his career. It’s very much like the original, and many scenes are almost exactly the same, but Scorsese had an immense love of the original, and wanted to pay homage while making it his own. He rarely wavers from what the original movie did. Where Psycho comes off as a lesson in futility, Cape Fear — which used even the same music as the original film — somehow made audiences just want to see the original to compare it. Was Max Cady as creepy and perverted in the original as he was here? Was the tension the same, or has it been modernized? It took a special kind of director to pull that one off, and Scorsese managed it.

What does all of this show? Cape Fear had 29 years between films; Psycho had 38 — Van Sant waited longer, and the wait did him no good.

The Nutty Professor took 34 years to get to a remake; The Pink Panther took 42. Again, Murphy’s version came out sooner, but was better.

City of Angels had only 11 years between the original and the remake, where The Ring had a mere 4.

Only in the first instance does the idea of a moratorium hold weight: it took Spielberg 52 years to improve on the classic, where Burton waited only 33. Perhaps when it comes to sci-fi, waiting slightly longer really does make the movie better, since the goal simply seems to be improving on the technology of the first one. That said, if someone remade The Matrix 50 years from now, there’s no way they could improve on it, new technology or no.

Therefore, in the end, I believe a moratorium would have no impact on improving remakes. Bad remakes usually come down to large egos involved, whereas good remakes are ones where the new movies respect and refer back to the originals. A ban on egos would be a hard one to pull off, because if I were a bettin’ woman, I would have said Murphy’s movie would have been terrible based on what we know about him, but it wasn’t. But the timing between the original and the remake would have no impact.

My ruling is no.


Colleen/redeem147 said...

Hey, don't knock my Nick :) Well, my other Nick, not to be confused with Brendon.

I loved Wings of Desire and City of Angels. How unusual that the German one had the happy ending.

In the early days of cinema, remakes were the norm. Some include The Virginian (multiple versions), Tarzan, The Wizard of Oz ... actually, it's a long list.

There are some movies I'd rather never see remade. Citizen Kane, Casablanca (though there was a TV series) and The Maltese Falcon, to name a few.

I would like a moratorium on bad remakes. Okay, bad movies in general. But again, if you look at the history of cinema, there's a lot of those.

And I think anyone (unless you're the most ardent Peter Sellers fan) would agree that the new version of Casino Royale is far superior.

I did like the original War of the Worlds with Gene Barry and they're really not that much alike. Or that much like the book.

Which is another point. Are two films based on the same book necessarily remakes?

Kristin said...

What I would like to see are remakes of movies that were bad (but with a good premise) remade and all the problems fixed. There are plenty of them around....

Nikki Stafford said...

What was interesting to me in this exercise is that I think I interpreted the question differently than the others. A moratorium could mean a complete suspension of remakes, or it could mean a waiting period. So I took it to mean, should there be a minimum amount of time between an original and the remake, and I argued that that really doesn't have much to do with it, despite many people thinking so. Others took the question as, "Should there be remakes?"

Jonathan said...

But but but . . . you're the Supreme Court?! If the 9 of you cannot collectively understand the question, then who will?!

By the way, should there be any consideration given to porn remakes of movies, where they alter the title and change the film's story so that it is almost entirely about sex? Here are some films for your consideration:

10. Forrest Hump
9. Pulp Friction
8. Romancing the Bone
7. Snow White and the Seven Sailors
6. Saving Ryan's Privates
5. Buffy the Vampire Layer
4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Dildoes
3. Rambone
2. Monty's Python and the Holey Girl
1. E-Three: The Extra Testicle


MC said...

Congrats on writing the majority position Nikki.

And Jonathan, interpretation is half the battle in pop culture law ;)

Jeremy Barker said...

Now Jon, don't be making trouble for your sis just because you're jealous. Am I to presume you have viewed all of the titles and can verify they are remakes and not just wonderful porn puns?