Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Entertaining My Inner Child

We went to see Star Trek this weekend and during the trailers, Kris leaned over to me and said, "It's like they're replaying my childhood!" Many of the Summer blockbusters do have a familiar ring . . . Terminator, Transformers, Star Trek, Land of the Lost, etc. All they need now is a live action "Masters of the Universe" flick (which I'm sure is probably in the works even as I type this) and we'll be transported back to the awesomeness of the early 80s!

This brings up the question, however, where is the orginality in movies? Why are there so many remakes . . . from horror flicks to retro throwbacks? I hear the disdain from my friends when yet another shoddy rehash of a horror movie pops up on the Coming Attractions and I myself am guilty of rolling my eyes and exclaiming, "Why can't someone come up with an original idea?" The thing is, though, many of our beloved childhood/adolescent films have been inspired by previous ideas. My favorite Disney films come from children's literature and fairy tales. The "Transformers" cartoon series (the originator of the Transformers films) is actually a Japanese cartoon from the 70s that Americans appropriated for their own use (ditto "Sailor Moon").

It's not so much the originality that should be called into question, but the quality. Filmmakers should be examining the original film and saying, "Is my version going to be as good as the original? What do I have to bring to the table? Will the newer version resonate like the original did?" Instead of slapping together a poorly written script, casting a few big(ish) name actors to draw in crowds, and loading the film with CGI special effects, shouldn't they be concentrating on the things that made the first film, TV show, or book so memorable and effective?

For instance, the reason why Watchmen was so effective, in my opinion, was because the filmmakers genuinely sought to honor the spirit, message, and appearance of the comic book. Now, that's not to say there weren't flaws (the over-abundant visuals of Dr. Manhattan and the ridiculous and unrealistic sex scene between Nite Owl and Silk Spectre II, just to name two), but the heart and soul of the original source was there. The parts were carefully cast (with the exception of Malin Akerman) and the story, for the most part was intact. I know die-hard Watchmen comic fans might not agree, but I felt that the separation 0f The Black Freighter as its own entity and the exclusion of the Ozymandias-created giant squid made the film more accessible to those who had not previously read the book and subsequently made more Watchmen fans. The film was a good example of how filmmakers can take an idea from another medium and adapt it for the screen without losing what made the original great.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Don't Look Now . . . Good Advice?

Don't Look Now (1973)

Directed by Nicolas Roeg

Starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie

So, apparently you can feel meh about Don't Look Now. It seems like the kind of movie that arty film buffs think you should like, but it doesn't quite deliver.

After the accidental drowning death of their young daughter, Christine, John and Laura Baxter travel to Venice for a "working vacation" as John restores an old Venetian church. While there, Laura meets two sisters who claim they see Christine's presence trying to contact the couple. Laura becomes obsessed with finding out more, but John is skeptical. In the periphery, a serial killer is murdering young women all around Venice. John repeatedly sees a small figure in a red raincoat who reminds him of his deceased daughter. As he pursues the figure, he begins to question his wife's sanity and that of his own.

The cinematography is beautiful in that ethereal 70s way (a la The Omen and Rosemary's Baby), especially the opening scene. Roeg juxtaposes the two Baxter children playing outside with the interior scene of their parents working on individual projects and chatting. He plays with motifs throughout the movie, including the color red, breaking glass, and doubles. The film was shot on location in Venice, which means the backdrop is gorgeous and mood enhancing. There's a slow buildup of suspense that you don't find in many modern movies. All of the elements are there for a wonderful thriller, but the true scare never comes.

The film's flaws overshadow it's good points. There's an unneeded, ridiculously long sex scene (the director's reasoning was to balance out the constant bickering between husband and wife through the rest of the movie, but I'm not buying it). The buildup of suspense is far too slow and never reaches a climax. The ultimate flaw, however, is the ending. It's bizarre (and not in a good way) and it leaves you with an unfinished, unsatisfying "huh?" feeling.

I think this is a great experience for film students, but it's definitely not for mainstream horror fans. For those that want to know the ending without watching the movie, check out Bravo's "100 Scariest Horror Movie Moments" (Don't Look Now is 22) and watch classic horror films like The Omen, Rosemary's Baby, and The Wicker Man instead.