Monday, April 2, 2012

Things I Don't Hate on Principle: Michael Bay and Remakes

There’s a lot of things and people in the film industry right now that it’s become somewhat chic to hate.  For many of them, there’s strong and valid reasons to hate them. However, I’d like to post in defense of a few things.

First up, Michael Bay.  People—especially those in the SF/F fan community—love to hate Michael Bay.  Yet, his movies make millions upon millions of dollars and to my mind the hatred of him seems unreasoning. I’m going to go out on a limb that will likely place me at odds with the rest of the geek community and say I actually dig Michael Bay.  Unlike many, when I hear he’s attached to a film, especially a licensed project, my first reaction is usually “thank God.” I’ll admit to some (pretty serious) trepidation about his altering of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to be aliens rather than earthly mutants, but in the end I think raging about it because the word “mutant” is in the title is foolish, and it doesn’t mean that the film is going to suck. Indeed, if you are a fan of the original comic, you’ll recall that the turtles were mutated in the first place…by alien goo from T.C.R.I. – the Techno-Cosmic Research Institute, which was operated by the Utroms, who were stranded on Earth and seeking a way to get home. What if, in Bay’s script, the Turtles come from a species of mutant turtles that were harvested by the Utroms for experimental purposes?  This would preserve their status as mutants and maintain some faithfulness to the original idea behind them.  Of course, since there’s not even a finalized script for this flick yet, the “alien” thing could’ve been an off-the-cuff remark by Bay that won’t even see the light of day.

In any case, I think Bay did a great job with the Transformers franchise—the second one was the weakest of the three, but I didn’t even hate that.  His remakes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street were, in my mind, quite good, and far superior to Rob Zombie’s hack-job abortion of a Halloween remake.  Yes, I’m aware he didn’t direct those three, but he was directly involved and is often thought of as responsible for the creative direction of those remakes. If nothing else, Bay knows how to make a huge blockbuster that is a lot of fun to watch, and isn’t that, in the end, what movies are for? To be fun to watch? We spend far too much time these days looking for some sort of reason to pick films apart: there’s not enough character development, the plot isn’t as deep as War and Peace. It’s not faithful enough to the source material.  I think a lot of the time people need to just shut off their brains, suck down some popcorn, and enjoy what’s going on in the larger-than-life spectacle on screen. I have defended such films as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Van Helsing, and the Star Wars prequels on this exact argument: so what if the dialogue was bad? They were fun to watch if you weren’t looking for something wrong with them.

This brings me to the next hated trend in Hollywood: the reboot/remake trend.

I’m not even going to try to defend this as a trend: it’s tired, played out, and irritating.  Not everything needs to be remade, especially given how bad some of these remakes are.  The aforementioned Rob Zombie remake of Halloween is a prime example of a piss-poor remake - it strips Michael Myers of all of his fear-factor by spending an hour showing us how the poor kid was abused by his father who also raped his mother, and driven to madness and psychosis was something for which Zombie should be punched. I don’t want to feel bad for Michael Myers.  I don’t want to understand his psyche.  The entire point of Michael Myers was that there is no psyche to understand.  He is evil.  Pure, unadulterated, unstoppable evil.  Loomis says it in the original: “I met this six year old child with this blind pale emotionless face and the blackest eyes. The devil's eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply...evil.”

On another angle, some of these reboots are completely unnecessary: the new Amazing Spider-Man is a prime example.  While I am forced to grudgingly admit that the flick looks like it’s going to be really good (and I like that they’re going back to the mechanical web shooters), there was no reason to reboot the series this soon. Because Raimi, Maguire, and Dunst walked away is fairly meaningless in the long run. They could very easily have re-cast the main roles and moved forward with the continuity. There’s no reason they couldn’t have done the Curt Connors/Lizard story or Peter’s parents as government spies storylines without re-telling the kid’s entire back story.

So yes, it’s high time Hollywood started taking a risk on new ideas again and stopped playing it safe.  However, one can see why they would be loathe to do so in today’s market. Movies are getting ever more expensive to make as well as to see and it certainly doesn’t help that a lot of the new ideas that are being made simply bomb at the box office.  This, however, all-too-often goes right back to the studios’ fear of new ideas. They sabotage themselves by failing to really market fresh movies—my earlier blog that discussed predicting movie failure through trailers is an example of this. Studios sink a budget (often, but not always, a fairly small one) into a new idea for a movie. The movie gets made, and someone decides it’s not worth marketing, so they put out a slap-dash trailer which advertises the film’s title and release date at the top of the screen throughout the entire two minutes in hopes that people will notice it—unfortunately, what people notice is that these trailers look cheap and they don’t bother to see the movies. Since no other marketing budget is proffered, the film sinks like a stone. It’s self-sabotage at its best. Granted, some of these movies are pretty bad, but not all: that John Carter had absolutely no marketing at all aside from those bad trailers was criminal. If ever a film was ripe for a McDonald’s Happy Meal promotion, a toy line, and every other form of marketing you can think of for a sci-fi epic, it was that one.  So Hollywood fails itself by poorly marketed self-sabotage, then points its finger at its own failures and says, “See? This is why we stick with safe properties.”

That being said, some remakes are actually quite good, and the inspiration for this blog was seeing the trailer for the new Total Recall. I admit, I’m really looking forward to this. Many have said “Arnold did it better,” and I’m afraid I have to disagree with that statement just on principle. It’s not as though Schwarzenegger is a remotely good actor. He plays himself in everything.  The cast in the new flick, which includes Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, and Colin Farrell, is pretty top-notch.  I’m really looking forward to this film as I’m a fan of Colin Farrell and, well, I’ll go to see almost any movie that includes Kate kicking ass. I’m shallow that way (and fortunately, so is my wife). As I said earlier, Bay’s reworking of the Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre were in my opinion quite good.  I enjoyed Universal’s remake of The Wolf Man as well, except for the obligatory and gratuitous werewolf-on-werewolf battle at the end.  And to tell the truth, if Hollywood is going to remake movies, I’d rather see them go back farther than the 80’s.  Grab some old Hammer horror films and give them a big-budget treatment.  Hell, remake The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and give it a full-on Lovecraftian twist. That’d be pretty cool.  And for the love of God, everything old doesn’t need to be redone with camp. I’m really hoping the trailers we’re seeing for Dark Shadows are misleading as far as the level of slapstick that Burton has put into it (though as an avowed hater of Tim Burton I don’t have high hopes). What they’ve done with the 21 Jump Street movie makes me sick to my stomach. One of the more underrated big screen treatments of a classic property over the past ten years, in my not-so-humble opinion, was the treatment of Miami Vice, which I thought was pretty awesome.  I also thought that the A-Team movie was pretty top-notch, faithful to the source material, just right for the over-the-top action, the humor appropriate without being farcical, and the characters well-translated.  

In short, if you take a classic property seriously, you can do a good big-screen treatment of it. Any screenwriter who says, “when dealing with a licensed property, I generally scan the book really quick, then throw it away because I don’t want to be distracted by what the writer originally wanted,” shouldn’t be allowed to adapt properties. Ever. While you need to make changes to a print or even classic screen project to translate it for the modern movie audience, being openly dismissive of the original is a bad position from which to start.  I forget who it was who I read recently said that—I think it was the guy who is adapting Catching Fire for the screen (and thankfully, he was mandated to stick to the text in this case), but I remember it pissed me off.

Anyway, I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent. My point is, don’t hate remakes instantly just because they’re remakes.  Yes, the trend is irritating, but many of these remakes are really quite good and well-worth seeing.  I just believe in judging a film on its own merits, and not comparing it to what came before (except where obvious comparisons are invited for review purposes). It is possible to both compare a movie to its source, and judge it on its own merits. John Carter, for example, was woefully unfaithful to the original book, but was a brilliant science fantasy epic in its own right, and stuck to the mythology of Barsoom pretty well.


  1. Some remakes are good, but most should never had been made.

    The remake of Psycho is a prime example of something that never should have been made.

    The new Star Trek though surprised me with how good it was.

  2. I loved the Nightmare on Elm Street remake, and I was nervous about it because I love the original so much. I am one of those people who aren’t generally fans of remakes, but I usually give them a try if for no other reason besides morbid curiosity.

    I actually did like Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween. I know I for one still felt no sympathy for him even given his background, seeing as most abused children don’t turn into psychotic killers. :) Not that that kid didn't get a raw deal and all, but wow. Don't kill everyone because you got the shaft. Maybe it’s my liking to know what makes people tick in general, but I thought it was interesting.

    As far as things like dialogue being bad, the plot not being deep, and etc… maybe it’s just some people don’t find themselves able to have fun watching movies with certain things like those. Who finds what fun? I’m all about brain candy and don’t need intellectual stimulation in a movie necessarily (or any other form of entertainment), but sometimes I’m like “wow, I can’t believe they got that stupidity made”. Also it depends on my mood (sometimes I NEED stupid movies that can be found hidden on On Demand, for example), whether or not I paid full price to see it, and what my expectations were before I went to see it (one of the reasons I don’t read reviews or go out of my way to watch trailers very much).

    Anyway, enough rambling for now. I’m digging your blog, just fyi. :)