Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hollywood and the Great Regurgitation

While stumping, politicians regurgitate the same litany of soundbites. Comedians recycle the same jokes in the same manner that Poison still plays “Talk Dirty To Me” at every concert; thirty years after they wrote that substandard and patently ridiculous song.

Why? Because good ideas are hard to come by. So until you come up with something better, you stick with what works. And if all else fails, grab someone else’s idea, rewrite it, repackage it and release it into the world anew. Hollywood has become a big fan of ‘all else failing.’

Remakes have been a dominant force, if not a syndrome, in the last decade. It’s getting worse too…though occasionally better. My initial intent was to slam the remake trend currently gripping the movie industry. And as one of the blogosphere’s top-ranked curmudgeons, this would be easy enough. But it would also be unfair and limited in its cinematic scope. Because sometimes, even in an industry as homogenized and nutless as Hollywood, they actually do it bigger and better the second time around.

Let’s start with Transformers. Michael Bay, love him or hate him, has taken an obscure 80s cartoon about transforming alien robots and turned it into one of the world’s most lucrative franchises. How? Easy. Just take ginormous CGI-generated robots that blow up a lot of shit while a few utilitarian homo sapiens spurt mildly amusing zingers. Throw in a quasi-hunky pseudo-douche named Shia and top it off with a vapid Megan Fox’s perky tits and glossy lips and voila…you’ve got a blockbuster.

A similar equation was employed with The A-Team but to less successful effect. Blow up a lot of shit? Check. Utilitarian homo sapien zingers? Check. Both the hunk and douche quotas were filled by a wonderful Sharlto Copley in the role of Murdock and by a shirtless Bradley Cooper who had me, even as a lifelong heterosexual, re-examining my aversions to penises and back hair.

Hollywood is a perpetually hungry beast that must be fed and sometimes fed the same meal repeatedly. Take The Hulk for example. Ang Lee did such an atrocious job that merely three years later, The Incredible Hulk was already in pre-production. Both grossed roughly of $250 million and both were underwhelming.

Sometimes though, Hollywood prefers to take a salisbury steak TV dinner and repackage it as a spamburger. The Karate Kid of 1984 was delectably terrible; one of those movies that you couldn't help but love at the time but one that has not aged very gracefully. Ralph Macchio was an unprecedented cheesedick. Miyagi rocked as did the soundtrack. Johnny and his Kobra Kai posse made karate both cool and menacing and yes, the crane kick finale was uplifting as hell. So how does one re-make what truly was a staple of 80s Americana?

Well, you’ve got to tweak the variables. Like a Montague to a Capulet, Macchio and Shue were star-crossed lovers. Jersey met Hollywood, sparks flew, emotions ran high, they played mini-golf and fell in love. But in a remake, you’ve got to up the ante. So turn the Jersey schmuck into a black kid and send him to Japan where he falls in love with a Japanese violinist. Gag, yawn, drift into narcoleptic slumber. But don’t hate it too much because it’s starring Will Smith’s offspring…which considerably minimizes the Macchio cheese-dick factor. And properly marketing a non-cheese-dick-laden reboot is enough to create a success, which the film actually was.

The horror genre has seen its three biggest breadwinners made over for the new millennium. Freddy, Jason and Michael Meyers have all had their turn and admittedly, none of their reincarnations were particularly awful. But none of them were particularly good either. And in the world of remakes, mediocrity is usually profitable and always justifies a sequel. Yes, the bar is that low. So crawl into the depths with the rest of us and enjoy the panoramic views and excremental odors that the gutter has to offer. 

Superhero films are perhaps the most successful of the reboots and the bar is consistently being raised, which is refreshing. Spiderman started the trend. Tobey Macquire created a sensitive, sympathetic superdweeb and Sam Raimi did a great job of taking the superhero and turning it into a multi-billion dollar enterprise. And it was so profitable, that only several years after its last incarnation, they are starting from scratch once again with yet another reboot on the horizon.

But the beacon of this trend that all cinefiles should follow is Christopher Nolan. He has elevated a genre, which is not an easy task. Nolan has taken the superhuman and made it empathetically human, presenting the superheroic while translating it into a heroic language that even the unheroic everyman can understand; in the process extracting remarkable performances and painting them with a visual palette never tapped by auteurs of this genre.

There is no end in sight to the industry-wide desire to resurrect and revamp. No matter how many times they mutilate past perfections like they have done with The Pink Panther franchise, they will continue doing so. In the coming years we can expect remakes of Back to the Future, Red Dawn, Robocop, Police Academy and, yes I’m serious about this, Short Circuit. If nothing else, maybe this onslaught will resurrect the hibernating  career of Steve Guttenberg.

Most of these films will suck, some will suffice and a few will actually succeed. Such is the trajectory of the cinematic orbit in which we are all helplessly adrift. It is as ubiquitous as blood and silicone tits in a horror movie. It is as unnecessary as a remake of Bangkok Dangerous. And it is as unavoidable as a piss-drunk LiLo plowing a Volkswagon into a playground in the middle of recess while filming Herbie 2: Relapsed and Reloaded. Until tomorrow provides better or at least respectable ideas, yesterday’s will just have to do. And maybe this isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe Steve Guttenberg does deserve a second chance. And even if he doesn’t deserve one, I think he needs one. Watch the video below and you will have no choice but to agree.

Article first published as Hollywood and the Great Regurgitation on Technorati.