5 Terrible Movies That Would Make Great Musicals
Musicals are strange things. They can work and be beautifully inspiring like Les Miserables, or they can be absurd and ponderous like Les Miserables. I guess what I'm saying is musicals are tricky and not everyone's cup of tea, but just about everyone seems to love Little Shop of Horrors. It's a classic, and most of you probably know it was based on a super-low-budget '60s Roger Corman horror movie, featuring a young Jack Nicholson in his first role.
Here's ... who the hell is this weasel?
Why is the musical so great? Well, first, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken created a bunch of catchy tunes way before they went on to write all those Disney songs -- that's important. But it's more than that. I like a bunch of musicals, but they're inherently stupid. I mean, why is that dude singing? Wasn't he just talking? If you hang around with horrible theater people, they will tell you that in musicals, the songs come at the moment where the character's emotions transcend mere words. (Then they'll go back to saying terrible things about Nigel, who came to Miranda's party on Sunday and obnoxiously didn't bring enough sex for everyone.) Anyway, that's a great rule of thumb. And given that, it makes sense that big, dumb, over-the-top storylines lend themselves to the kind of emotions that bring forth songs. With Little Shop of Horrors as my inspiration, I chose some other B movies of years past that would make great musicals today.
The Island of Dr. Moreau
The Island of Dr. Moreau, the 1896 H.G. Wells story of a mad scientist who trains animals to become human, has been made into three movies. All are various degrees of silly, but at least the last one gave us this iconic image.
And you're greedy to want more.
In the book and the first movie, Dr. Moreau kind of just beat the hell out of the animals in the House of Pain until they straightened up and flew right. (Or trotted right. Or swung from a tree right. Get it? They're animals!) Anyway, a visitor to the island witnesses these perversions and gets caught up in the mix when the animals regress and revolt. Right off the bat, we've found a story right up there with Little Shop of Horrors' bloodsucking, sentient space plant. Island of Dr. Moreau is bold. There's just one problem with the story when it comes to making a credible film: It's stupid. It's really stupid. The later versions introduced ideas like genetic engineering, but y'know, at the end of the day, talking monkeys and lions are silly but somehow less silly if ... they're singing!
Yep, who doesn't like singing animals? Well, my mom for one. Animal personification gives her the chills, but just look at Broadway. Cats and Lion King are two of the biggest hits in theater.
AND PINK FLOYD SHOULD DO THE MUSIC
Some of you might be saying, "Why Pink Floyd?" Others asking, "Who is Pink Floyd?" And still more of you might be wondering, "Christ, Gladstone, just how old are you?" But Pink Floyd would be great, because aside from writing big anthemic music for a huge musical as they have with The Wall, they also have lyrical experience with the subject matter. First off, the Pink Floyd character of The Wall takes on grandiose, megalomaniacal proportions, just like Dr. Moreau, and lyricist Roger Waters is very comfortable writing in the "bad guy" voice as shown by songs like "In the Flesh" and "Don't Leave Me Now." But perhaps a better reason is their 1977 album Animals. The songs on that album are "Pigs on the Wing," parts I and II, and "Dogs," "Pigs," and "Sheep." Each animal portrays a different human characteristic. Dogs are corporate killers, pigs are the governing power elite, and sheep are the common people caught in their way. Animal personification just comes easy to some bands.
OK, let's get this out of the way. I love The Warriors. I've easily seen it 10 times. It's an iconic movie about gangland warfare in New York City and ... not a lot else. I'm not saying it sucks, but it's not the most impressive piece of cinema. Mostly, it's remembered because it really, really makes you want to be in a gang. Personally, I was partial to the Hi-Hats, which I have to confess were the lamest and gothiest of the gangs.
Because mimes are so bad ass.
The story follows the travails of the Warriors as they try to survive a hit after being framed for killing the most powerful warlord, Cyrus. And they do. Battle after battle, until they can bring down their framers and clear their name. A musical could be like a modern-day West Side Story, and the diverse bands could lend themselves to different musical styles. For example, one particular gang might be best suited to music in the style of The Cure.
Yes, the Hi-Hats again. Who else.
But we need the right man to pen the heart of the musical. And the man to write songs for the rough and tumble, dirty but true Warriors has to be ...
We're not talking the "Born in the U.S.A."/"Glory Days" Bruce. We're going back to the '70s. Back to the time when vagabonds came into existence to flee quickly!!! Wait, I mean when tramps were born to run. Springsteen has always found nobility in squalid corners. Whether it's "Born to Run" or "Thunder Road" or countless other songs, the Springsteen protagonist is often a gritty but good man who never says die. Isn't that precisely what the Warriors are?
Boy, this was a tough one, but I can't see how you can have an article about terrible movies without Waterworld being in there somewhere. Yes, Waterworld tells the post-apocalyptic story of a gilled mutant with webbed feet who builds a baseball field in his bathtub. Wait, mixing my Costners. I mean a mutant who helps some inhabitants of Waterworld find "Dryland" while enduring acting from Dennis Hopper so over-the-top that it would kill him a mere 18 years later.
Our lawyers remind us that a temporal association (especially one attenuated by 18 years) is not proof of actual causation.
Much like Little Shop of Horrors, Waterworld would make a good musical, mostly because it's so ridiculous you can't talk about it without laughing. Waterworld should not be taken seriously, and therefore the people to bring it to the stage are ...
FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS
In addition to writing the duo's own great songs, Bret McKenzie has also already worked in fluffy musicals, having written several of the songs in the recent Muppets movie. I believe in their ability to make an audience laugh about the adventures of a web-footed Costner splashing around for very little reason in a future world where all the ice caps have melted.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Benjamin Button tells a classic story. Boy meets girl, but boy is actually an old man aging backward who travels the world until he ends up a baby with his lover. Isn't that romantic/upsetting?
Is Benjamin Button a bad movie? Well, y'know, I think director David Fincher and stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett made the absolute best movie out a terrible, terrible idea. But we're not awarding points for effort. It's just something that would be better off if it didn't exist, like a puppy that can piss hydrochloric acid or Ghostbusters 3.
But Benjamin Button is precisely the kind of terrible idea that lends itself to song. Big dramatic love. Unusual circumstances. So much to work with. Who could write such beautiful love songs without fear of being absolutely ridiculous?
KATE BUSH COULD DO IT!
For those of you who don't know Kate Bush, I'm sorry. She's a bigger deal in the U.K. In America, she's mostly known for "Running Up That Hill" and that duet with Peter Gabriel, but she's just the best. Her first big hit was a song based on Wuthering Heights, so you know she's comfortable adapting heavy stuff. But she's also not afraid to tackle strange topics. Whether it's menstruation or computer isolation in a pre-Internet age, she'll sing about anything. Oh, and did I mention she has a love song told from the perspective of a nanny romantically in love with an infant?
I've spent most of my life wondering whether Tron is a good bad movie or a bad good movie. Much like Cracked's Felix Clay's ability to secure gainful employment, it's a mystery we may never solve. But we do know a few things about Tron. It's big and bright and incredibly stupid and fun. A computer programmer gets sucked into his own video game universe and must team up with the hero of his video game to win back power from Master Control. Whatever. That's not important. The plot? Not important. It was the '80s. The same decade where Andrew Lloyd Webber had a musical that looked a lot like Tron, called Starlight Express.
Picture these guys on roller skates. It was a lot like that.
I can picture dudes on skates with ribbons of color trailing behind them to create the iconic car race scene, but who should do the music? For my money, Tron is about a time in the '80s where everything was electric neon shiny and new. The music needs to have some high drama, as any play-for-the-stakes musical should, but it should also be disposable, synthetic, and fun. Lots of early-'80s bands fit that description, but one rises to the top.
Although Norwegian superstars, the band A-Ha are pretty much one-hit wonders in the U.S., but what a hit it was. "Take on Me" is everything that's horrible and wonderful about the early '80s at the same time. And look at their iconic video that kind of even has bad guys who look like they come from Tron.
It could work. Also, honorable mention to Alphaville as back-up choice.
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