This Season of Cinema Remakes is Strangely Familiar

This Season of Cinema Remakes is Strangely Familiar

As everyone surely knows, the summer months are the “blockbuster” season when it comes to cinema. Historically, most of the big popcorn movies are released in May, June, and July. This year is no exception. What is unique, versus recent years, are the number of remakes/sequels/revamps/etc. on the list. So far 2017 has welcomed the release of another comic book superhero with Wonder Woman, a revamp of The Mummy, the second Guardians of the Galaxy, the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean, like the tenth installment in the Alien franchise, the hundredth Fast and Furious flick, and a snappy revisit with King Arthur. In the coming weeks there will be new volumes of (I am not making this up) Transformers, Cars, Planet of the Apes, and Spiderman.

Make it stop!

I’m just kidding. Seriously, if a series is great or a revisionist concept is done well, I am happy to see more. While some people will shake their heads or refuse to give a remake a chance, I am open minded. In fact, I am always fascinated to see what the new director, screenwriters, actors, etc. manage to come up with. Kudos to JJ Abrams for the brilliant Star Trek reboot, for instance. The jury is still out on the new Star Wars franchise, although I am hopeful. Of the current and upcoming movies noted above, I am interested in a few and have already seen three.

In thinking upon the three I have seen, and the whole do-it-again theme of this summer, it dawned on me that what movie folk are doing is remarkably akin to what we do as writers of Jane Austen literary fiction. The three movies I saw each took a world and characters created by someone else, and either, 1) gave them a fresh, updated makeover, or 2) continued the story, or 3) twisted the tale in a unique way while preserving the essence. These three options, as well as the myriad other ways to spin something new out of something old, come with a host of difficulties. ALL of these difficulties are nearly identical to what writers of JAFF deal with. For today, I am going to discuss some of those difficulties and compare to writing our novels, while giving mini-reviews of the movies I have seen.

 

Wonder Woman

Click for IMDB page

Directed by Patty Jenkins (Monster) and starring Gal Gidot, Chris Pine, and David Thewlis, this is the first big screen adaptation for Wonder Woman EVER. Rather surprising, considering the superhero craze has been going on for some three decades now. Therefore, the players didn’t have to overcome the dreaded “second isn’t as good as the first” comparisons. One benefit, but I suspect the remaining hurdles were enough to fret over. For starters, the comic book fandom is a seriously fanatical crowd with firm opinions on every teeny detail. Sound like another fandom we know and love? Pleasing the purists is nigh on impossible, as many of us around here know all too well. Perhaps this is why they unveiled Gidot as Wonder Woman in last year’s Batman vs. Superman. With only 7 minutes of actual screen time, her “debut” was just enough to test the waters and whet appetites.

Second, with superheroes from both DC and Marvel comics the focus of movies numbering close to 50 since the 1980s, the charm is wearing a bit thin. Even with an untouched-big-screen superhero like Wonder Woman, avoiding the been-there/done-that trap had to be tricky. And then there is the gender issue to consider. Sure, Wonder Woman is very popular, and she is an Amazon goddess, and feminism is really cool now, but she is still a girl! Historically, kick-butt chicks haven’t done well carrying a movie solo to mega box office returns.

Lastly, despite the previous Wonder Woman incarnation being a cheesy TV show from the dinosaur years of 1975 to 1979, it has become a cult classic. Lynda Carter’s iconic portrayal of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman has earned her, and the character, a solid place in history. She truly was phenomenal in the role, perfect in every way. Who can come along and fill those boots? Sound familiar?

As of this past weekend, the second weekend since its release, Wonder Woman has grossed just under $300 million worldwide. That is a smash hit by anyone’s definition, and several records have already been set. Between money and the near universal top notch critic scores (8.2 per IMDB, 93% on Rotten Tomatoes), it is safe to say the gender issue was NOT a detriment and that the aforementioned hurdles were overcome.

My verdict? Wonder Woman is AWESOME! I loved every single minute. Gal Gidot is incredible as Wonder Woman. Her truly superb acting, physical prowess, and balance of intensity and vulnerability carried the movie. However, even the best actor needs all the elements necessary to create a stellar movie experience. Amazingly, a comic book story originating in the 1940s, based on ancient Greek mythology, and popularized in the 1970s was brilliantly updated into a movie set during World War I. Talk about a fresh makeover!

 

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

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Here we have a sequel, the fifth in the series. The original, The Curse of the Black Pearl, was inspired by the legendary Disneyland ride rather than a literary source, allowing for wide leeway in writing the story. I feel, as do most viewers, that the first movie was darned near flawless. One can’t imagine any of the Pirates movies without the outlandish Captain Jack Sparrow as invented by the superlative Johnny Depp, but as arguably became clear in the followup installments, a fabulous character only goes so far if the plot is lacking. As I noted in the last paragraph about Wonder Woman, all the elements must be there. The general consensus from both critics and viewers is that each Pirates movie was progressively worse, with none completely horrid (although On Stranger Tides teetered on the edge). I agree with this assessment. I enjoyed all of them, but mainly because of Depp and Geoffrey Rush, and the non-stop ridiculous adventure.

With the fourth sequel released in 2011 to so-so reviews and modest box office profit (comparatively), I wonder if the Disney film makers debated over continuing the series. Perhaps that is the reason behind the six-year gap. Or maybe they figured it was wise not to rush production, as they did with the others. Whatever the case, I am very glad they went ahead, but also very glad they wrote this installment as the “final” one. Hopefully they will keep to that promise, because this one wrapped the entire series up with a perfect bow.

As a writer of a sequel series, I comprehend the unique challenges. I am fortunate in that my sequel is about the lives of a family, which inherently means there is no “end”, and my readers don’t expect each book to follow a standard conflict/resolution, encapsulated story plot structure. On the other hand, I run the risk of the characters growing old and tired, literally as they age within the pages, but also in creating new, fresh, exciting adventures for them. Then there are the continuity issues, which become more challenging as the series goes on. Luckily for the Pirates writers, fans will probably overlook small mistakes, or even glaring plot holes, as long as the movie is entertaining. Writers of novels are not so fortunate!

Was Dead Men Tell No Tales an excellent, flawless movie? Not even close. Depp, while still fabulous, is getting older, and the character of Captain Sparrow isn’t fresh any more. To me, Depp/Sparrow seemed a bit tired, or maybe I have grown tired of him. Still, he is fun, no question of that! I also liked the story of Javier Bardem’s Captain Salazar, particularly as it related to the genesis of Captain Jack.

Were there plot issues? Yes, and probably more than I am aware of since I can barely remember the last movie. Truly, I could care less. I went in to the theater knowing it would not be perfect, but also confident I would be wildly entertained. I laughed, I was on the edge of my seat, I gasped, I was spooked, and I cried. Yep, the ending is a tearjerker, in several respects. All in all, a well done movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. Go see it!

 

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

click for IMDB page

The timeless legends of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, Merlin, and Camelot have received movie attention countless times. The first was in 1904, the American silent film Parsifal, one of a handful of movies created with Thomas Edison’s kinetophone device. In our more modern age of cinema (roughly the 1950s onward) Arthurian legend has been the inspiration for multiple major Hollywood releases in every type imaginable, including animated. For a comprehensive list, visit THIS WIKIPEDIA PAGE.

Hasn’t the story been told enough? Is it even possible to dream up something new? Are movie goers interested in this ancient legend?

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword faced the seemingly impossible challenge of answering those three questions, and many others, in a positive way. Furthermore, ALL of those challenges face JAFF writers, no matter whether we write a sequel, variation, or contemporary adaptation. As for the latest King Arthur, before I present the facts and give my opinion of the movie, I have to relate a bit of personal background.

I fell in love with Arthurian legend tales when I was very young. In fact, King Arthur, or more specifically Merlin via the novels written by Mary Stewart, was my initiation into the world of fantasy literature. This lead to reading The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings when I was 12, and then my life-long passion for the genre in books, and in cinema. Yet, before that, Camelot was my obsession. I read literally everything I could get my hands on, and while never a self-proclaimed expert on Arthurian legends, I was definitely a serious Arthurian buff! Let’s just say that there was a time when I could have scored big on Jeopardy if the topic was Arthurian.

Over the years that passion has waned, but the legends are still fondly remembered as my first love. What this means is that I, on the one hand, LOVE these legends and never tire of new movies about them. But, on the other hand, I tend to be a tad puristy about the story. This can, sometimes, interfere with the sheer enjoyment of a new adaptation. And let’s face it, with so many adaptations out there, anything new has to go farther afield or it is just a repeat.

All of that clarified, in my opinion, director and screenplay writer Guy Ritchie, scores a perfect 10 with Legend of the Sword. Of the three movies, this one is my absolute favorite by far. So much so that I have seen it twice, and could easily see it again. Now, is that, in all honesty, primarily because I adore King Arthur more than I do comic book superheroes? Yes. However, one must remember my uncontrollable prejudices as a purist. In this movie, for the first 10 minutes I was a bit peeved. I won’t say why and spoil the plot, but liberties were taken, shall we saw. I decided to let it go, flow with the movie, and therefore expected the rest of the story to be far, far removed from the standard legend. To my amazement, the bulk of the movie stayed very close to the legends and preserved the essence, but with unique twists in the tale. It was, I believe, a wonderful balance.

Furthermore, Guy Ritchie’s style of filming and telling a story, while quite different and not to everyone’s taste, worked brilliantly. Ritchie (Snatch, Sherlock Holmes) is known for edgy, flashy, quirky, humorous, and rapid-fire filming and dialogue. There is never a dull moment, yet not from end to end gory violence. In fact, the only blood splatter scene is not from a human, and the fighting scenes over all are quite tame, comparatively speaking. All of the characters were fabulously written and casted. Charlie Hunnam is an incredible Arthur, and Jude Law, Eric Bana, and Djimon Hounsou are always terrific.

In conclusion, for me this version of the Arthur legend ranks at the top of them all, or maybe just slightly below Excalibur. I believe it scored high on all points. Viewer reviews agree with me (7.3 on IMDB, 75% on Rotten Tomatoes). Tragically, based on the recent box office showing $135 million worldwide after a month, too many people listened to the lame critics (who except for rare occasions seem to hate all movies) rather than viewers of the movie. If you like fantasy films and/or King Arthur, trust me, ignore the critics and go see this movie!

Now I want to hear from you! If you’ve seen any of these movies, or any others this season, share your thoughts. How do you view remake movies as a whole? What other similarities are there between movies and JAFF novels?

 

 

17 Responses to This Season of Cinema Remakes is Strangely Familiar

  1. I’m sure you are going to expect this response from me, but I’ll give it anyway. 😉 I’m eager to see CARS 3. I loved the first movie, the second did not interest me, but this one looks to be EXCELLENT and headed back to the world of stock car racing that I so adore. <3

    • You wanna see CARS?!?!?!??!!! I’m flabbergasted! LOL!

      Actually, I agree with you. I loved the original Cars, but never saw the second one. Kids grow up and animated films fall off the must-see list. I recently spent several days catching up on several Disney princess movies. After all, we have grandkids so I better know the difference between an Elsa from Frozen dress and Rapunzel’s. 🙂

    • Oh, I love classic movies! I don’t have cable, so no TCM any more, but I still watch the oldies when they are on Netflix or Amazon. Still some of the best ever made, for sure. 🙂

  2. I’m not much of a movie watcher. I dislike theatres prodigiously and only watch movies at home. There are probably 12 or 15 that I actually sit through and enjoy (all of Austen and a few others LOL) but my hubby is a HUGE movie fan and that is what he and his pals do. They go see movies at the huge place that serves dinner and drinks while you watch. All three of these are on his radar, so I will share your reviews with him. He is a big big super hero fan so he is looking forward to WW and also to the Iron Man/Spider Man mashup (whatever it’s to be called). I have thoughts of seeing the Arthur one once it is on DVD because I enjoy the legends, so I’m taking your review to heart. LOL I would so much rather read…it’s just hard to make myself watch a movie. You’ll just have to forgive me Sharon dear. 😉

    • I understand completely, Stephanie. Luckily we have a nice theater here, very roomy and never too crowded, and with prices WAY lower than they were in California, the hubby and I can enjoy a night out at the cinema without it breaking the bank or our old bodies. LOL! That said, unless it is a really hot movie or something that will benefit from the big screen (like all three of these movies), I would much rather wait until it is on TV. Sitting in my recliner in my jammies is the best way to watch a movie, IMO.

      I’ll be buying King Arthur the second it is released, so we can compare notes then. 🙂

  3. I have to say that after all these years, my husband is still in love with Linda Carter. Yep, we watched every episode. I worried that they would mess it up but am so glad to hear it is such a success. I saw an interview where Linda Carter gave it her blessing and was so supportive. I rarely go to the cinema; however, I plan to buy the DVD as soon as it hits the stores. That way I can watch it as many times as I want. I saw several of the Pirate movies, but not the last few.

    I loved Guy Richie’s Sherlock Holmes and Jude Law was amazing… in fact, he’s amazing in whatever he does. I always look at the Special Features on DVDs. I watch the ‘How It Was Made’ first before I even watch the movie. I can observe the director and his/her mode of operation, how he/she interacts with cast and crew, what he/she was thinking as they tried to put words on paper onto the screen. I love movies.

    This was such an interesting post. Thanks for sharing the new movies with us and the connection of taking a story and continuing, adapting, re-imagining, and making variations just as we enjoy in our JAFF stories. Have a blessed day.

    • Lynda Carter is SO beautiful! I can fully understand your husband holding a torch. She remains a lovely, classy woman to this day. She embodied Wonder Woman, and filled those…. boots ahem quite well. LOL! Interestingly, one of the BIG debates (pardon the pun) over Gadot was her modest chestal area. WW in the comics is well-endowed, an aspect of the character that Carter naturally fulfilled, as well as being more voluptuous over all. Gal Gidot is lean and athletic. She is the real deal, however, being a trained combat fighter who served in the Israeli army! What she may lack in bosom size, she makes up for in every other way. From what I read, even the most die-hard comic book nerds are pleased with Gadot as WW.

      If you like Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes (I do too) then you will have no problem with King Arthur. As I noted in my reply to darcybennett, that seems to be the biggest criticism. I saw the filming style as an advantage. It set the movie apart from all the rest. Tough to do when King Arthur has been done so many times.

  4. Great reviews. I was wondering how King Arthur was and am glad to hear a fan of the legend enjoyed it. Out of the remakes/reboots you mentioned I have seen two: Wonder Woman and Guardians 2. I enjoyed both. I had low expectations of WW as I didn’t like Batman v. Superman so it was a pleasant surprise that it worked. I am so glad they set the action in WW1 as I think that was a good choice. I also liked G2 as I really enjoy the humor and camaraderie between the guardians.

    • In truth, in reading through the reviews of King Arthur (both critic and viewer) those who dislike it complain mostly about the filming style. So, if one does not like Guy Ritchie, or that edgy, quick flash style, then they will have trouble with this movie. Some people, IMO, want to be spoon fed and not have to actually THINK while watching a movie. That is fine, of course. I like easy going, slow pace movies too. Depends on my mood or what the movie is about. But I equally like to be challenged as a viewer. I love watching a director come up with something unique, and Ritchie is definitely unique! LOL!

      As I noted in my reply to Summer, I did see Guardians 2, but opted not to cover 4 movies (2 in the same genre) in this post. But, I loved it too! I can always pick a movie apart, if I really want to. I just choose to have fun, particularly when it comes to a popcorn flick. That is what it is all about, after all: FUN!

  5. Wow, great reviews! Thank you. I want to see all of those movies. My household isn’t very receptive to going to the movies. I used up my one in-theater movie chance of the summer on Guardians of the Galaxy, which I did enjoy (although ‘Come a Little Bit Closer’ has been stuck in my head ever since, and while I’ve always liked that song, I need to get something else playing in there). On the subject of remakes, though, it sort of behooves me to like them, doesn’t it? And I do. I even like Transformers. I used to watch the cartoon as a kid. I had the toys. I’m a sucker for action films with some humor in them, and I don’t care if it takes a remake to get that. Plus, there’s more time for more exciting action (or plot . . . but often remakes do seem to lack a little of that) when you already know the characters and the origin story. That said, I will admit that no movie I consider ‘one of the best ever’ is a remake. However, I haven’t seen Wonder Woman yet, though I don’t think that really counts as a remake, does it?

    • Oh my! Not movie people! How tragic! LOL! I am such a cinephile, and have been since I can remember. My mom owned a video rental store, back in the day when that was a brand new experience. It allowed me to watch SO many movies that one could not see in the pre-cable, rabbit ear antenna era. (Yes, I am THAT old!) I became a huge movie hound, and still am, although I am a bit pickier nowadays. “They just don’t make movies like they used to,” Sharon grumbles, channeling a crotchety blue-haired granny. (I’m not THAT old… yet!)

      I actually did see the second Guardians, but thought covering 4 movies would be a bit too much for one blog. Plus, one comic book movie in the mix was enough. LOL! I really enjoyed it, as much as the first, in large part, I confess, because I ADORE Chris Pratt.

      No, Wonder Woman isn’t a “remake” in the typical definition, I suppose. It is, IMO, in that it is another DC movie, and between DC and Marvel, let’s be honest, they all are about the same. Which is why WW felt fresher, to me. The whole back story is unique, with the possible exception of Thor, which is also a pagan god mythology. Anyway, WW falls generally into the remake/reinvention category.

      Thanks for your thoughts! And I do agree with you that my personal “one of the best ever movies” list include no pure remakes. I don’t think, anyway. Ha!

  6. I don’t go to the cinema now and have only seen the originals of some of those. However I am all for remakes. Without them we would never have had the 1995 P&P series or the 2005 film. I could never have been a fan of the previous versions and may never have been tempted by JAFF ??.
    I would love to see film or series versions of some of the Darcy and Elizabeth stories I have read and enjoyed.
    Thanks for this post Sharon

    • I totally agree! I think new visions of a story, such as in the novels of Jane Austen, enhance the tale. For this reason, among others, I’ve never understood the animosity toward the 2005 P&P. But that is for another discussion! LOL!

      Now, I will admit that there are certain classic movies that I cringe when I hear they are getting redone. But, I am still willing to have an open mind. Even if the new one isn’t better, in one’s opinion, it is still fun to see what the new actors bring to the roles. That sort of thing.

  7. The fifth pirats movie are on the top of my list of things to see. I loved the first three, have yet to see the forth. The challenge as it turns out, is to put down my books for a couple of hours…
    I easily forgive small plot gaps or an error here and there as long as I am entertained.
    The follow up in my dreams would be a sequal to P&P based on the Darcy Saga. That would be a blockbuster for sure.
    You actually had me worried there for a while that you were put off follow ups all together. I am voting for a sixth Darcy saga and perhaps a seventh, not to mention an eighth… 😉

    • Hello Elin! So glad you popped over and offered your thoughts!

      You are so sweet to say that about my Darcy Saga. 🙂 A movie would be incredible, I have to admit, although my reasons are undoubtedly more selfish. LOL! I do hope and plan to keep writing the Saga. I love these characters way too much, and think I can find a few more adventures for them to engage in. 😉

      I think most viewers of movies, and readers of books, are forgiving about errors as long as the overall product is satisfying. In a way there is an advantage to just letting loose of the tight strictures, as I suspect the Pirates movie writers often did. If people are half expecting ridiculousness and errors in story telling, then they won’t be disappointed, and may actually be happier if their poor expectations are exceeded!

Your thoughts are precious!