It's hard being a modern Hollywood bigshot. Gone are those halcyon, frictionless days when you could do one good thing and coast on it forever. Now you have to actually work for a living, and it turns out that not all movie elites are cut out for that. Some slack off entirely, and never bother answering any of the questions their movies raise. But others go overboard in the opposite direction, wasting time and resources answering questions which few asked and nobody really needs answers to. For example ...
One of the more pressing concerns for today's movie reboot writers (and absolutely no one else) is the question "Exactly how did these iconic characters, whom audiences loved so much that I'm being paid to rehash them, come to be the way they are?"
Take Tim Burton's remake of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. Both the original movie and Roald Dahl's novel are simple, elegant tales: a very rich man traps a number of children in an industrial death maze of his own design, and picks them off one by one. It's a lot like Saw, but with bolder fashion choices. But Burton and his redoubtable battalion of Hollywood hacks had a vision: It's clear that Wonka has severe daddy issues, so why not dig into that?
Well, for starters, because nobody cares. But that never stopped Hollywood before. And so we wound up with a full 30 minutes of nothing but Wonka getting through some trust issues he developed as the result of his dad being Christopher Lee. You'd think that alone would explain it.
Similar thinking was behind Ron Howard's remake of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, which added some much-needed scenes of a small furry getting beaten.
It turns out that the Grinch used to live with the Whos, but they bullied him for being a weird green thing. He had a crush on a cute girl Who, cut himself shaving, and fled the town in embarrassment, which is the normal reaction to that sort of thing. There's an important lesson here, if not the one they intended: The Whos are the real assholes, so don't feel too bad for them.
Haven't you always wondered what happened to Belle's mom in Beauty And The Beast? And don't you want to know why they live in a small town? No? You never once asked those questions? Ever? Well, Disney has answers anyway. You will take them, and you will like them.
In the recent live-action adaptation, Belle places her hand on a magical book which can show her anywhere in time or space she desires to see, and she foolishly wishes to return to "the Paris of [her] childhood." Instead of nostalgic visions of croissants and brothels, she's greeted by a bunch of doctors wearing plague masks and her mother in the final throes of the disease. Her mother begs her father to take Belle away to the small town which she will grow up to musically deride, so that explains that. Originally, audiences presumably figured that they lived there because some people live in small towns, but now we know that it was because of a dying plague wish.
So that's ... helpful?
When asked why on Earth they would do this, a producer on the film said that they "wanted to be truthful to the period" ... in this movie about man-beasts and talking furniture.
The spinning top that may or may not fall at the end of Inception is a brilliant stroke of storytelling ... but the flip side of that is the endless debates among nerds who analyze it frame by frame. ( Sorry about that.) When the movie inevitably gets remade, the new ending will probably feature the top slamming down on the counter and then exploding, because the main goal of reboots appears to be removing any trace of ambiguity that made the original great.
1978's Dawn Of The Dead has one of the most haunting endings in a fairly haunted genre, with the last survivors taking off in a helicopter toward an uncertain future. It's part of what made the movie a classic. In the 2004 remake, the ending is essentially the same ... but then, interspersed with the credits, we see the characters reach an island, where they are immediately attacked by a horde of undead. All this time, we thought we wanted movies to make us feel genuine emotion, when what we really needed was two minutes of shaky-cammed close-ups of zombie gums.
Then there was Gus Van Sant's 1998 version of the classic Hitchcock film Psycho, which was nearly a shot-for-shot remake, with one major exception: a scene of Norman Bates jerking off. The original certainly implied that Bates was practicing his namesake, or at least psychologically getting off, but it's just so much more powerful when we can really see the goofy guy from Swingers yanking it.
If you insist on making a Star Wars prequel, lots of things are going to be connected. By virtue of the original films, Obi-Wan had to mentor Anakin Skywalker, Yoda had to show up to warn everybody about this dipshit, etc. But George Lucas just kept connecting the dots. R2-D2 and C-3PO couldn't be random bystanders drawn into a conflict -- Artoo had to be there from the beginning, and Threepio had to be built by Baby Vader. And let's not even talk about Boba Fett.
Of all the lessons Hollywood could have taken from the Star Wars prequels -- chief of them being "don't do this" -- the one that stuck appears to be that everything must be connected somehow, even if it doesn't make sense. Why else do we have suddenly have a James Bond who is foster brother to Ernst Blofeld?
And why did Sam Raimi give us a Wizard of Oz who banged Dorothy's mom? Hopefully we'll never find out.
Remake screenwriters love to fuck up the original film's ending. For example, the original ending of The Wicker Man is unforgettable: Sergeant Howie screams prayers as he burns to death inside a giant wicker statue while the pagan townspeople dance and sing around it, gleefully assured of a bountiful harvest. It is terrifying, surreal, and absolutely haunting.
Then Nicholas Cage comes along, doing what he does best, which is soundly wrecking the shit out of the place. Now we finally get to see what happens after the iconic moment. As though anybody needed that. In a tacked-on scene, six months later, we see Cage's ex-fiancee and "Sister Honey" in a bar trying to lure in a new victim played by James Franco. As if you'd have to "lure" James Franco to a weird animal mask sex cult island.
The screenwriter for Dirty Dancing: Dance Harder also tacked on an ending following the famous dance scene. We now flash forward to see that Baby has grown up to become an author, and wrote a book about her time with Johnny. She's married and has a kid with some other random guy -- because Johnny is like the wind, out of your reach -- but she has gone to watch Johnny's "Dirty Dancing" play on Broadway. Because the writer has ironically painted themselves into a corner wherein any flirtation would mean Johnny was trying to wreck a family, the pair simply go their separate ways. In those few minutes of hackneyed dialogue, Johnny has been relegated to the annals of Manic Pixie Dream Boyhood, where he surely rules with an iron crotch.
Nathan Kamal lives in Oregon and writes there. He co-founded Asymmetry Fiction for all your fiction needs. Winslow thinks we should all give more to charities.
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