But this kind of slow-building existential terror is almost impossible to do in visual form. Most of the movies that have attempted it, like Prometheus and Event Horizon, have ended up with characters who run around yelling about how bleak the universe is and how insane they're feeling, as if we can absorb cosmic terror through actors on screen telling us how scared they are. And that's actually the preferable option in a Lovecraft adaptation: Other films, like 1994's In the Mouth of Madness, simply skip past the cosmic-horror aspect altogether and act as if the whole point of Lovecraft's stories was "Hey, guys! Giant things with tentacles are scary!" Which I guess is technically right, but I don't think it was exactly what H.P. was going for.
Every picture in the Necronomicon is just this, apparently.
Anything That Worked Because of Past Limitations
Examples: Post-1980s Star Wars, Alien vs. Predator, Alien 3, The Hobbit Trilogy, Sherlock, King Kong, Superman Returns
We tend to believe that creativity flourishes in an atmosphere of openness and freedom. More options? More creativity! If a director makes a good movie with $10 million and a set made out of lumberyard scraps, this must mean that if we give him a bigger budget and technological improvements, he'll produce something even better. So many old movies were hampered by low budgets and shoddy special effects, and we have a duty to remake those movies. We have the technology.
Why It Doesn't Work:
Creative works don't always succeed because the person who made them had the most talent. Sometimes they succeed because of sheer, dumb luck. And sometimes that luck consists of a creator not being able to make movies the way he wanted to, whether it's because he was an unproven young artist or because he was born in a time before computer graphics allowed every one of his "genius" creations to come to life.
This is one reason that remakes of '80s monster movies are usually so terrible. It was so much harder to screw up monsters in the pre-CGI era: You didn't want people to laugh at your dumb puppets, so you kept them off the screen, where they stayed mysterious and scary. New versions show them off like they're product placement. Maybe we should paraphrase everyone's childhood mentor, Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, and ask ourselves: Just because technological advances mean we can show a monster, does that mean we should?
This guy was the Yoda of the '90s.
Then there's the censorship issue. Say what you will about restrictions on sex and violence in films, censoring movies did have at least one positive effect: It meant that writers and directors had to work harder to keep the audience's interest. This can be painfully obvious when it comes to female characters. Irene Adler, for example, was a complex, clever antagonist who outsmarted Sherlock Holmes in the 1891 story she appeared in. In the 2012 television adaptation, Irene has morphed into a one-dimensional seductress who first appears on screen in the nude and who flummoxes Sherlock with her boobies. And why not? A good chunk of the viewing audience is going to be satisfied with having a naked lady on the screen, so there's no need to waste energy giving her a personality.
"Your lines? Hell, I don't know. Just make some grunting noises or something."
Am I saying that I think we should fix this by banning all nudity in movies and use Iran's method of digitally editing in large objects to hide women's onscreen cleavage? Well ... yes, actually. That would be hilarious.
C. Coville is on Twitter here and Tumblr here.
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