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.
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
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
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?