Friday, July 10, 2015

Maybe They Should Reboot Hollywood

I love movies. L-O-V-E love movies. Schlepping to a theater, handing over my money, and taking a seat in a darkened cavern to take in a two-hour-or-so-long story is a lifelong ritual I have indulged in practically all my life. I worship at the house of cinema, pretty much. For me movies can be a great source of inspiration, a gateway into another world, or simply a short-term means of escape from reality. Movies have proven, over last 100 years and change, to be artistic achievements in their own right. At the very least, movies are profound documents of humanity's ever-evolving existence, be on a global, galactic or inter-personal scale. Add to this, movies are simply incredibly fun and emotionally stirring to watch.

But lately, the sliding standards of modern movie making has left me feeling a bit depressed. Over the last decade, Hollywood, in an effort to maximize profits and stave-off competition for eyeballs and impending obsolescence, has given the movie-goer a raft of mediocre faire to ingest. Groundbreaking and thought-provoking film achievements have given way to shoddy, mass-produced mediocrity. And two of the main culprits for this movie-going malaise can be rested squarely on the shoulders of the dearth of Tinseltown's twin bottom line,  number-crunching gambits de jour: the reboot and the remake.

It's not as if Hollywood hasn't remade great films from the past over the decades. The legendary film noir The Postman Always Rings Twice was treated to an overtly-sexualized remake starring Jack Nicolson and Jessica Lange during  that genre's resurgence in the 1970's. King Kong has been remade several times over with varying degrees of success. And then there is Gus Van Sant's perplexing shot-for-shot remake of Psycho.

But it wasn't until the last decade or so that Hollywood really ramped-up the remakes and the reboots with blind gusto. Not a day goes by now that one doesn't hear about the latest reworking and re-imagining of once great-to-marginally-good films. Just the other day, I read online about a potential remake in the works for Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. Haven't Hitch's movies and memory - the sequels to Psycho and the aforementioned Van Sant remake - suffered enough indignity already?

In the last several years alone, audiences have bore witness to Hollywood mining their memories of film-going experiences in the form of updated versions of such 1980's titles like Total Recall, Red Dawn and RoboCop. Upcoming reboots include GhostbustersPoint Break and a supposedly planned live action version of the masterful and legendary Citizen Kane of Japanese anime, Akira.

No line seems uncross-able to Hollywood. I wouldn't be surprised if there is indeed a Citizen Kane reboot in the works; the catalytic Rosebud now being a motorcycle or flash drive or a potentially world-destroying McGuffin.

Slap-dash a new coat of computer generated special effects, cast aesthetically pleasing "talent," and tune the script to our dour contemporary world view, and voilĂ ! Wash-down that shoveled-in handful of popcorn with a river of Coke from your big gulp, movie goer, and just be dazzled by state of the art 'splosions! Who needs to be engaged by what they're seeing on the screen, anyway? Shut off your brain and let these movies just happen to you!

It's not as if your average, every day movie attendee isn't just as much to blame for this deluge of reboots and remakes as Hollywood is. They are handing over their hard-earned cash to watch this disposable schlock, after all. And when not planted in seats, they are taking to YouTube's comments section, pontificating on who Hollywood should cast in the remake of the "vintage" movie trailer they're watching (stop motion special effects they can't tolerate, but continually recasting different actors in the same roll time and time again or fakey-fake CGI passes the smell test?)

But what's missing in these countless reboots and remakes is the heart of movie making; the heart of why stories need to be told in the first place. The original movies had what these re-imaginings never will. They left an impact with the viewer and gave them memorable moments, scenes and lines of dialog that meant something. Movies actually had an impact, of one sort or another. These things resonated with the audience.

With these remakes and reboots, those moments of wonder, awe and imagination are wiped away, and all we're left with is the new, slick digital facsimile of another generation's nostalgia. There's is only a meager, tangential connection with to those classics of yore, and no tangibly emotional impact. Watching these remakes is akin to eating cotton candy for Thanksgiving dinner; tasty, perhaps, but not substantive.

And there's the rub: by retreading the memories and nostalgia of previous generations - and their initial movie-going experiences - Hollywood has robbed this (and future) generations of their own movie-going experiences or impacting memories. Iconic moments and lines of dialog have been distilled into tossed-off lifeless line readings and emotion-dulling call-backs, rendered listlessly in an effort to recall better, more imaginative times. It's almost as if (I dare say) that these titles are being recycled not because of the initial impact they made on audiences, but rather to cash-in on the vague memory of these movies instead.

At present, there is a new Terminator movie in the theaters. Panned by critics and audiences alike as simply marginal at best, the latest installment (the fifth sequel to be exact) of the dystopian man-versus-machine franchise is less a sequel, and more a reimagining of sorts. James Cameron, the creator and original director of both The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day has gone on record as being dazzled by this film, somehow. All those things you loved and remember about his previous Terminator films, he says, are referenced in this film. No mention is made of the original moments Terminator: Genisys provides on its own, besides a ruined surprise twist. No, the crux of this film relies on those moments you remember in the better films from the past.

It's like a pair of great sneakers someone else wore. They've put in a new pair of shiny, state-of-the-art laces, and now it's your turn to wear 'em!

Look, these original movies were (and very much still are) pretty damned great. Perhaps a bit dated and scruffy-looking, but entertaining nonetheless. Groundbreaking and highly enjoyable movies will live on long after these cash-grab remakes are forgotten about and relegated to "embarrassing curiosity" status if ever uncovered again in the future. The emotional impact of these previous films cannot be replicated; only copied. And given Hollywood's track record at doing so, rather poorly and shallowly, at that.

I will admit, sometimes a property, if re-imagined correctly with enough attention and reverence to the details and inertia of the project and character, can prove to be a success (Batman, Mad Max and James Bond, for example). But for the most part, these cinematic facelift projects are groan-inducing trivialities. Need I mention the charming and lovable Chris Pratt wedged into a discussed remake of the Indiana Jones franchise?

Perhaps the worst part is that we, the audience, are missing out on potentially great, undiscovered movies from visionary and daring filmmakers and screenwriters. Truly groundbreaking stories or an age old tale retold with imagination, invention and splendor. But then you begin to wonder if Hollywood hasn't been in this remake tailspin too long when producing original, yet abysmally executed properties such as Jupiter Ascending, John Carter or A Winter's Tale. Even when they try, it seems, Hollywood fails.

Look, Hollywood, I have a novel idea for you. You're sitting on a slate of previously-made horrible films with great premises. Take the theatrical bomb that was Waterworld for example. Sure it was a flop, but the idea was there. It's a dystopian tale of struggle, adversity and pee-drinking. Slap on some new CGI, cast a few CW face masks, throw mounds of money at  Orci and Kurtzman to write a script hinging on a bad guy whose master plan hinges on getting caught, and there you go. Polish turds like this into gold, instead of the other way around. Hey, it worked for Judge Dredd.

In all seriousness, though, I want movie moments again. I want to be wowed by a story. I want to leave the theater satisfied, and to later recount what I've seen on-screen to friends, family and co-workers. I don't want to see the seams of CGI cartoonery taking the place of real emotion. I don't want to watch disposable pretty faces mouth breathing through their lines. And I don't want to reminisce about the movie I just witnessed only to discover the voluminous plot holes and narratives that, when you really think about them, make no sense at all.  I want a good story, characters I can believe in and subtlety in computer animated special effects (if they are even needed at all).

But above all, Hollywood, I want you to leave your accomplishments alone. Let these movies remain classics. And if you really feel the need to trot them back out again, restore the original prints and release them back into theaters. Movies are escapism, sure. But they can also tell some of the best tales imaginable. We can see, hear and feel them all at once. That's the power - the  magic - this medium possesses. Instead of re-telling the same (sometimes great) stories, perhaps concentrate on telling us something new; something bold; something original.

I mean, God knows we don't need to see, say, Anton Yelchin and Liam Neeson in a remake of Back to the Future*. Now that would be truly depressing.

*Hollywood, please don't actually do this.