Friday, August 13, 2010

Sequels, Prequels and Re-Makes

Ever since the New Testament, sequels have been problematical. (Right away I'm getting myself in trouble). However as testaments go, this was arguably the most successful …. based on the Amazon rankings.

I'm going to lump together the three categories because the lines among them are rather blurry to my fuzzy brain.

When it comes to movies, for the most part, they should have stopped while they were still ahead. How come I know that and you know that but the studios keep throwing money on the cutting room floor?

A re-make would be a bright idea if they got it wrong the first time. But Hollywood sees it otherwise. If a movie is a smash hit they do it again two decades later and generally fall on their face. When a ballplayer reaches such heights they retire his uniform. The studios would do well to just re-release the original. I suppose the impoverished imagination reverts back to the old cash cow and milks it dry.

One of the funniest films we've ever seen was The In-Laws. Peggy laughed so hard I was ready to administer CPR. Peter Falk and Alan Arkin played off each other to perfection. The re-make was doomed from the opening credits

We recently watched a new version of Charade with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Wouldn’t you think they’d know enough that these two are inimitable? At least in this case they changed the name to, The Truth About Charlie, perhaps so no one would notice the abysmal failure.

In all fairness, Sleepless in Seattle was a worthy makeover of An Affair To Remember just as You've Got Mail updated the original 1940 classic A Shop Around The Corner. As a sequel Godfather-2 was a superb follow-up to the superb original but the third ranks up there with one of the worst films in memory.

Sometimes they are able to re-invigorate the storyline along so it's a fit for today's audience. More often, in their zeal not to be dated, they fumble away the soul or spirit of the original. The difficulty they have in general is a basic misunderstanding of what makes a movie iconic. It's not the plot; or at least not just the plot. As a collaborative art form a film is the coming together of fresh dialog, imaginative direction, chemistry of the cast, lighting and editing….. and perhaps the music. Anyone one of these, under or overwrought, can destroy the project. It's an irreducible whole, greater than its parts.

If sequels answer the universal, and then what, prequels attempt a stab at the pre-narrative. The Saturday matinee serials stretched our limits of disbelief. I could have sworn that car went off the cliff last week and now here it is screeching to a stop. Or the bullet our hero took in the heart resulted in a mere flesh wound to the shoulder. The back-story became the illusion that kept the narrative alive. But does anyone really care what Casablanca's Ric did when he was eleven years old or even the day before he met Ingrid Bergman? They've always had Paris and that's enough for me.

In the thirties Hollywood made six sequels to the Thin Man, even if Dashiell Hammett never wrote any. Fortunately we didn't have to watch William Powell grow a middle-age paunch. Mickey Rooney lived outside of time, as Andy Hardy. He had a serious case of arrested development; he never grew up. Nor did the studios. They still can't resist the wonderment of the winning formula and they are likely to continue making sequels and re-makes until Spiderman-86 gets to be eensy-weensy and tangled in his own web, then finally washed away by the rain.

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