Friday, May 13, 2011

Film Yap: That Kinda Sounds Familiar

It’s the job of every fan of film to complain about the studio system at least five times a week. I mean they’re all evil and brainwashing us right? Now every year there are plenty of studio movies that are really great films, but that is becoming rarer every year. Instead there is this bizarre trend of making movies out of recognizable name brands and then working hard to annoying that audience.

A clear example is the new version of Arthur, which will come out this Friday. The original is one of my favorite films. It’s the story of a childish millionaire who spends most of his days drinking excessively and having fun. He is forced to marry a nice but boring woman or his family will cut him off of his fortune. Yet he falls in love with a waitress and doesn’t know what to do.

The remake is not a bad film. He is still an alcoholic but like the rest of the film he’s a Hollywood alcoholic. Meaning he drinks a lot of liquids, doesn’t seem realistically drunk, and will end up in AA a few times during the film. Yet in all of the ads and all of the trailers, it’s shied away that he’s an alcoholic. If you remade a film because you know there is already an audience for it, why make a film that audience doesn’t want to see.

The most ridiculous example has been from the Magic Kingdom. Disney announced it purchased the rights to make a Miss Marple movie. Miss Marple is, of course, the beloved Agatha Christie creation about an older English woman who solves mysteries. There have been plenty of stories told on PBS’s Mystery series and the books always remain in print because Christie still sells a lot of books.

So of course Disney cast Jennifer Garner to play Miss Marple.

I understand there is this phenomenon of recognition means the same as validity. Even if they don’t think it looks good, people are more likely to see a film like The Rite instead of the critically acclaimed The Illusionist because they’ve seen ads for one and not the other. I get this. So people will probably feel safer with a movie about a character or a product they already know. (Even if it’s Battleship apparently.)

That recognition is waning into absurdity. When you advertise a movie like Arthur as a character that doesn’t even seem like the original Arthur you’re basically advertising a new character. The fear of making a movie that isn’t based off a pre-existing material is something that is crippling studios. Yet that’s basically what they’re doing already. A young American Miss Marple is not Miss Marple. A plot-surrounding Battleship is not actually Battleship.

Audiences actually like original movies when they are good. Inception and The Hangover were both box office successes. We’re just now at a point where movies are too expensive to take chances on scripts. Studios are more willing to give a greenlight to something that has a “built-in audience” but never bothers to follow up with satisfying that audience because they think they are dumb and will see it anyway. It’s not about having them see it once. It should be about them seeing it again the next weekend. And telling their friends. Then buying the DVD. And buying every new upgrade of the DVD. And buying all of the toys. And going to conventions for it 40 years after the first film came out. You want to win over an audience? Make a movie that is good, not just a movie that kinda seems familiar.

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