Remake Fever

WE AS A CULTURE ARE FASCINATED WITH REMAKES, BUT MAYBE WE SHOULDN’T BE.

It seems that a lot of cinema today is either a sequel, part of a wide cinematic franchise, or a remake/reboot/re-imagining of an existing property. The term “reboot” has become the go-to phrase for when studios want to remake an older film. In my opinion, the only thing that gets “rebooted” is a crashed computer, but that’s just me.

Remake fever is kicking into high gear again, with Disney remaking their old animated films as live action ones and remakes of male-driven films with female leads, and it has been announced that Ben Affleck won’t be returning as Batman in the next Batman film, which is sure to lead to a reboot of the character, again. But it’s not just films: TV series are going through this as well, with the recent remakes of Magnum PI, MacGyver and many others, as well as talk of a reboot of Lost, which has been off the air for fewer than ten years. It got me thinking about this fascination with remakes.

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Captain Marvel: Review

To fully review a movie like Captain Marvel you need to spoil some things.  It’s inevitable and necessary. For those of you who wish to go in as blind as I did, I’ll keep this first part spoiler free.  My version of spoiler free, which means ZERO plot and character details.

Anyone who has ever listened to my podcast or read any of my work knows I’m very critical of Marvel.  I feel that too many people grant them a pass on all their problems and grade on a curve. When movies like “Ant-Man and the Wasp” are getting 7s and 8s out of 10, I feel like I missed a round of kool-aid.  Not saying that it was a bad film at all; it was a blast. Was it Captain Marvel? Absolutely not. Captain Marvel is exactly the movie I wanted and avoids nearly all the pitfalls I was afraid of. I haven’t been this impressed with a Marvel outing since the first Avengers.

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Our Last Best Hope for Peace: Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Babylon 5

Television as a medium has become the place to tell long-running stories and translate novels into a visual medium, but it wasn’t always that way. For the majority of its life, television was the place for simple, self-contained episodes that were easy to jump into at any point without knowing what happened before. There were several shows that broke new ground in the way television works, but none so game-changing as Babylon 5, a creation from the mind of J. Michael Straczynski that would change in how audiences watched TV.

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Composers and the Movies that Don’t Deserve Them

THERE ARE SOME GREAT MOVIE SCORES OUT THERE ATTACHED TO SOME REAL DUDS.

I am a huge fan of Film, TV and Video Game scores; easily 90% of my music is made up of them. I have several composers that I will listen to no matter what they do, and I have even watched films based on the music they composed for them. What I have come to notice throughout all of this is that some films do not deserve the music composed for them.

When it comes to music in films it is usually the last thing that is done. The film is almost out of money and people are brought in to create incredible compositions to compliment the visual feast of what is on screen. That’s not always the case, however. Sometimes the music doesn’t compliment the visuals, but rather supersedes them because the visuals just aren’t that good to begin with. The music in a film can create emotional responses as well as physical. I remember sitting in the cinema watching Avengers: Infinity War and the moment where Thor arrived in Wakanda brought a huge smile to my face. A huge part of that excitement came from that bombastic orchestral score. I have listened to it numerous times but I will repeatedly listen to a track called “The Forge” which contains the moment that Thor arrived in Wakanda. When that music kicks in I feel like I can do anything. Music has a way of instilling these raw emotional responses and film music is charged with doing that whilst also complimenting the visuals.

Because of my love of film scores I take note of particular composers and seek out their work without ever having watched the film they are written for. Sometimes when I finally get around to watching the film it’s…well, to put it politely…not good. I’m left with a sense of disappointment, not because the film is bad, but because the music I listened to was far too good to be associated with the terrible film I just watched. And that, my friends, is disappointing.

A perfect example of this phenomenon was the 2012 feature remake of The Sweeney. Lorne Balfe composed the score and at the time I had only heard his Assassin’s Creed III score, which was spectacular. When I listened to the music from The Sweeney I was blown away by how good it was. The experience was intense, ratcheting up the tension before opening up and becoming a bombastic action score that to me rivaled some of the biggest names in Film Composition. It was so good that I thought the film would be worth watching. So, I did just that, for about 40 minutes. What an awful mess with terrible dialogue and acting. The only saving grace was the music but I didn’t have to watch the terrible film to listen to the incredible music. I went back to listening to the music and tried to forget about the terrible film it was associated with, and in my mind made up a much better one.

This was the first time I had thought about the quality of the music vs the quality of the film. In recent years, big budget blockbuster films have had incredible scores composed for them while the films themselves have been by the numbers summer VFX films. Hans Zimmer has a name as a big blockbuster composer and it’s interesting listening to the music he composes for big budget blockbusters compared to the stuff he composes for the more story-driven films. Films like Interstellar and more recently Blade Runner 2049 feel like they have more thought put into the music, whereas his action scores are, whilst exciting, very much by the numbers, much like the films they are written for.

Rawr.

The most recent example of a bad movie having a great film score was the 2017 reboot of The Mummy. Brian Tyler composed a unique and interesting score that mixed Middle Eastern instruments with traditional orchestra, all of which lead to a very original sound. Mixing the two cultures expertly in the music created something that was much better than the film it was supposed to accompany. What was also extraordinary about Tyler’s score was that for the most part it was a live orchestra which is becoming more of a rarity with the advances in music synthesizers and the need to cut costs wherever possible.

Terrible films aren’t going away any time soon, but at the very least their scores will be top notch. These composers who are putting in the work will go on to bigger and “hopefully” better things, almost like some kind of composer rite of passage. If they can compose amazing music for these terrible films, then imagine what they could do with something of a higher caliber. Without terrible films needing talented but unknown composers, people like Brian Tyler, Lorne Balfe and Ramin Djawadi may not have been able to build a portfolio of work that got them their well deserved A-List assignments.

Mystery Men (1999)

A LOOK BACK AT A DUMB, IRREVERENT SUPER HERO FILM THAT REMAINS MY FAVORITE.

Man, 1999 was such a vibrant year for film. You had movies like Being John Malkovich, The Matrix, 10 Things I Hate About You, Office Space, American Pie Fight Club, The Mummy, and even Kubrick’s last film Eyes Wide Shut. A veritable cinematic feast, if you will. I can’t think of another time period that such an impact on my taste, humor, and sensibilities.

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Cracking the Code of Video Game Adaptations

A LOOK AT FILM ADAPTATIONS OF VIDEO GAMES OVER THE YEARS TO SEE IF THERE’S ANY HOPE OF GETTING IT RIGHT.

Video games are all about audience participation; you have to take part in order for the game to progress. Part of why the medium is so successful is that the player is in control. Hollywood has tried to cash in on this phenomenon for years, with each movie or television show never quite capturing the magic of moving those animated pixels and polygons with the controller. With the release of content like Black Mirror Bandersnatch, and Minecraft Story Mode for the kids, the technology has allowed the viewer a greater degree of control, but is it enough? Has Hollywood cracked the code?

If you look at the history of video game adaptations none of them have been particularly successful, with quality ranging from mediocre to downright repulsive. The first of these adaptations was an animated TV show based on Pac-Man. The series lasted for 44 episodes over 2 seasons before being cancelled. The cartoon had little to do with the video game, which makes sense because it didn’t have much of a story to begin with. As time went on more and more animated adaptions of video games came out including a Super Mario cartoon, a Zelda cartoon, and even two Sonic the Hedgehog cartoons.

Hey, it’s Mario Mario and Luigi Mario!

The first feature film adaptation of a video game was Super Mario Bros, which released on the May 28th, 1993 and was both a critical and financial bomb. Despite some interesting visuals the film was a mess, with a ridiculous story, wooden acting, and CGI that was bad even for 1993. To make matters worse, it didn’t even look or feel like the video game it is supposedly based on. It’s like they took Demolition Man, Total Recall, Back to the Future Part II and Jurassic Park, put them all in a cheap blender and slapped whatever mush came out onto the screen. In the years that followed more video game adaptions would be released and each time they would do poorly from both critics and the box office. Some would turn a small profit whilst others would take huge losses. This was the case until 2001 with the release of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

Tomb Raider revolutionized the video games industry. The first game was not only one of the earliest action adventure games to be produced using 3D graphics but it also had a plot and cinematic cutscenes. The protagonist was a smart, strong, and independent woman. This was a huge step not just for video games but for entertainment in general, so a movie adaptation was never too far off. They cast Angelina Jolie in the titular role, a move that turned her into the action star we know and love. Critics praised her performance but were less-than-impressed with the dull plot and the much too stylized action set pieces. Despite the poor critical response, the first Tomb Raider film made enough of a profit to produce a sequel; however, it wasn’t anywhere near as successful as the first film. It under-performed at the box office and even though the studio was interested in a third film in the series, Angelina Jolie was not. The next adaptation of Tomb Raider would not come out for another 15 years.

The problem with the Tomb Raider films was that they weren’t enough like the video games to please the die hard fans of the series and didn’t have enough action to satisfy an action-hungry audience. That would change with the release of the first Resident Evil movie in 2002, which would go on to become one of the most successful video game adaptations, spanning six films in total. Part of its charm was that it tried to weave in references to the games in creative ways. This was the first video game adaptation to try and capture a similar cinematography to the games they were based on. However, even with the little nods and attempts to replicate the look of the video games the film still didn’t quite capture the essence of the games. In the end it just felt like a flashy B-Movie. While that could have worked to the film’s advantage, the clunky dialogue and the lack of character development didn’t really help it.

Around this time, House of the Dead and Alone in the Dark emerged to ride the wave of Resident Evil’s success. Both of these films were directed by Uwe Boll, a man who would become synonymous with bad video game adaptations. Over five years he would direct seven video game adaptions, all of which would be negatively received by critics and audiences alike. Between 2003 and 2008 he directed 50% of all video game adaptions, none of which would make it past 10% on Rotten Tomatoes. They would all be financial failures. How he continued to get funding for these films was through a loophole in German tax laws, which has since been closed. He commented that at the time if you invested in a movie in Germany you got 50% back from the German Government. The films he pumped out had very little to do with the video games they were based on. He mainly used the games’ titles to generate interest, then did his own thing with the material.

Other films released during this five-year period included Hitman, Silent Hill, Doom, and Max Payne. None of the films did particularly well, nor were they well received by the fans of the video games they were based on. Whereas Hitman the game was all about stealth and precision kills, the film was produced as a flashy action romp. Combined with some miscast roles, a dull storyline, and blatant pandering, the film was practically stealth-killed on arrival. The 2005 Doom film was a particularly bad offender, having the film switch to a first-person perspective in the last act. The filmmakers had attempted to capture the feeling of the video game, but the problem was that watching a first-person shooter wasn’t nearly as exciting as playing one.

In the following years more and more video game adaptions would be released, most of them either sequels or remakes of existing films, and with the exception of the Resident Evil films each would perform worse than the originals financially. New adaptations failed to find an audience, one of the most egregious being the adaptation of the popular Tekken fighting game. It didn’t even make $1 million at the box office, and was one of the few films to achieve the 0% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Surprisingly, the adaptation of Prince of Persia did well at the box office. It was praised for its action, humor, and solid performances, although the casting of a Caucasian Jake Gyllenhaal as a Persian gained a fair degree of backlash.

The number of video game adaptions started to drop off; however, there were still further attempts find the next big hit. Each time the producers would state that their video game adaptation was “going to be different” and that it would succeed where the others failed. These promises started to attract A-list talent including Michael Fassbender, Dominic Cooper, Duncan Jones, Dwayne Johnson and Marion Cotillard. Despite talent interest, no one could prevail against this video game adaption curse.

There’s been talk of adapting Mass Effect, The Last of Us and Metal Gear Solid to film, but the truth is that not a single one of these adaptations would work. Mass Effect’s biggest appeal is that the experience is customized to your personal tastes. Who do you get smoochy with on the Normandy? Choice is yours! Are you better buds with Ashley or Kaiden? Again, you get to choose.

The problem with adapting a video game to film is that in doing so you immediately remove the most fun aspect of the medium: the ability to control the actions of the main character. The audience is no longer an active participant but a passive bystander to the action. The stories also get severely compressed in the adaptation to film, which means much of the character and world-building that players enjoy takes a back seat or gets dropped entirely, and it’s those elements that are foundational to the experience. The Last of Us in particular plays out like an 18-hour movie. I doubt you could cut it down to 10 hours let alone 2 hours without sacrificing much of what makes it pack the punch that it does.

Given the current rise of streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc. maybe these video game adaptations should bypass the big screen altogether and let their stories breathe in a much more flexible and customizable format.

Having said that I still think that video games will never truly make a successful leap from the console (or PC) to live action because there is no interactivity in the experience of watching a film or TV series. While they recently attempted this with Black Mirror Bandersnatch, it was still limited in the amount of interactivity available. For me video games will always be a separate entity to film due to how much more interaction they have as an entertainment medium, and because of this I cannot foresee any video game adaptation ever making for a good film. I would love nothing more than to be proven wrong, but based on the last 26 years I won’t hold my breath.

A dimension of sound, sight and mind: The legacy of The Twilight Zone

A DEEP DIVE INTO THE SERIES THAT WOULD PUSH THE BOUNDARIES OF TELEVISION AND INSPIRE COUNTLESS PEOPLE

You unlock this article with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension – a dimension of sixty years of a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just started reading an article about The Twilight Zone.

OK, so I’m not Rod Serling, but this is an article all about The Twilight Zone. A television series that would not only push the boundaries of television, but would go on to inspire writers, directors, actors and many more for decades to come. It would also be parodied, remade, referenced and lauded for just as long and will continue to do so for many more years to come. Each episode was played out as a self-contained story, which allowed the writers a huge amount of freedom to tell whatever story they wanted to tell. Every week, viewers tuned in, not knowing if the show was going to be about aliens, monsters, witches, devils, ghosts or any number of supernatural and extra-terrestrial beings.

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From Bomb to Modern Classic: The Shawshank Redemption 25 years later

A LOOK AT A BOX OFFICE BOMB THAT WOULD BECOME A MODERN CLASSIC.

Stephen King is mostly known as a horror writer; however, he has ventured into other genres on numerous occasions, although mostly with shorter stories. He wrote an anthology of short stories that made up the collection Different Seasons. One of the stories in this collection was called “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption”, which writer and director Frank Darabont would option for $5,000 and turn into one of the most celebrated motion pictures of all time.

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Boondock Saints

A LOOK BACK AT A MOVIE THAT, WHILE FUN, DOESN’T QUITE HOLD UP.

Twenty years ago a little movie from reportedly douche bag director, Troy Duffy, hit the scene.  For years to come shitty posters have lined the walls of undergrad male’s dormitories, while they all scream about how great this movie was, and how you should see it, because only they have seen it, and they want to introduce you to its amazingness… If you listen to them, and sit down with a brew to watch the movie, you’ll be entertained, sure, but that’s about it.  I still don’t get what was so damned special about this movie, and I was TOTALLY caught in the storm of it. 

For my research, I’ll look the trailer.  Like the majority of you, I only ever saw the trailer on the DVD copy my mom bought me.  At the time, I thought it was awful.  It shows the whole movie!  It shows the best scenes!  It gives nearly everything away!  And to the 16 – 25 year old crowd this movie is singularly targeted for, this is horrible.  To everyone else, thank god the trailer shows as much as it does, or no one would ever watch it.  The movie is a hard sell to the most receptive crowd, so in my opinion, the trailer does its job.  This isn’t some religious propaganda movie, nor is it insulting religion, we get that.  This movie will have fun violence that is shot differently, we get that too.  The movie has a pretty good sense of humor, we kinda sorta get that.  All in all if this was a movie coming out today, and I saw this trailer I’d see it.  I’d wait for video, but I’d see it.

I realize I came across really negative on the movie… uh… I regret nothing. 

Also I still own the DVD.

That my mom bought for my birthday…

There & Back Again: The Weta Tour

SAM RECOUNTS HER TIME VISITING WETA STUDIOS IN NEW ZEALAND!

On December 26th, I got to visit Weta Studios on the Miramar Peninsula in Wellington, NZ, fulfilling an eighteen-year dream. Weta is four separate companies — Weta, Weta Digital, Pukeko Pictures, and Park Road Post. They also have physical studio space at Stone Street Studios. The front doors of the Weta Cave, the physical effects and prop house where Richard and Tania Taylor, along with Peter Jackson crafted the miniatures of Middle Earth, are guarded by Mr. Bilbo’s trolls. There’s a gift shop with a mini-museum, one of the only places where they have any major references to Peter Jackson’s early horror films. We got a snap of the Sumatran Rat Monkey.

Simian Raticus Rat Monkey Sumatra

The tour itself does not go through any workspaces, but it does include windows into their machine shop and armory. There are also artists working on their projects that take questions at the end. It’s far from the real experience of being in a studio space, but the tour guides and props they have on display are no less beautiful.

The second half of the tour found us at Pukeko Pictures, a production company responsible for the animated series Thunderbirds Are Go! Like the original Thunderbirds series from the 1960s, this family show used physical sets. However, instead of marionettes, the characters are all CGI animation. The sets themselves are more of what I had expected to see at the Weta cave — sets actually used for filming, and they were an absolute dream to view up close. Seeing the craftsmanship, ingenuity and creativity, not to mention the fascinating hybrid animation technique, really inspired me.

It has been eighteen years since I first watched Fellowship of the Ring — my first true movie obsession, the film that made me want to make films. In that time, I did go to film school, and I now work in animation, albeit in marketing, not production. It’s fascinating to take a step outside of that and see a movie studio through a fan lens. It made me realize what a big influence a movie can have on a person. As much as I wanted to see the nitty-gritty, the cubicles, the harried assistants and the ugly process of actually building a movie, it was refreshing to be reminded of the magic.

Thunderbirds set.

This week, back at my own desk, bogged down in the minutiae of one sheets and trailer release dates, I kept reminding myself to take a step back. While movies are my job and jobs feel tedious more often than not, what we do has the potential to connect with people. Whether it’s a favorite joke, a sweet character moment, or a movie like Fellowship that is such a big undertaking it inspires a person’s life choices, movies find their way into our hearts and minds. They connect us across oceans and continents, and we find ways to make sense of our own stories because a bunch of weirdos go to work every day to build something from nothing.

Weta was not necessarily the mind-blowing experience it would have been for me when I first watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but in some ways, it was more satisfying. It changed me yet again — from a jaded adult to one a little more inspired to take on her day.