Recent high-profile remakes have come in an array of intriguing guises, be they sci-fis updated for modern audiences – The Thing (2011 & 1982), The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008 & 1951) – , linguistic crossovers – Silent House (2011 & 2010), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011 & 2009) – , 80s revival – Footloose (2011 & 1984), The Karate Kid (2010 & 1984) – , or, highest-profile of all, superhero reboots – Batman, Superman, Captain America, The Hulk, almost any superhero you choose to mention. While perhaps not strictly remakes, the superhero films which are everywhere right now pay direct homage to their predecessors just as straight remakes do. They will inevitably be set up to tell the whole story, but these 2nd generation (or in some cases 3rd or 4th) movies must inevitably tell a new story, from a new angle, for a new audience. So with the huge choice of remakes, reboots and expansions on offer these days, the ever more prescient question is: is it worth seeing the original first?

There are so many more remakes that I could name, but I won’t, and I think that hints to my own conclusion: No. As I write in this column about FIRST IMPRESSIONS, I am always circling around, trying to define the slightly ephemeral subject of the film as an abstract IMPRESSION in relation to our expectations. In other words, what we should or shouldn’t see makes little difference to the way we really feel about a film – we form our opinions based on superficial factors whether we like it or not.

For those interested, here are a couple of good links:

1 – Wikipedia’s ever-growing and ever-changing list of film remakes (nor exhaustive, I’d imagine)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_film_remakes

2 – ‘The Top 5 Rules for Movie Remakes’ at Screenrant.com, intended as a guide to deciding whether to remake a film or not.

http://screenrant.com/top-five-rules-for-movie-remakes-vic-964/?utm_source=zergnet.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=zergnet_25651

I will also be posting this guide into the ‘Guide’ section of this site, under Movie Remakes, because I like it.

Having watched Captain America yesterday it strikes me that, with the glut of comic book adaptations on our screens these days, a major question that has yet to really be addressed is: How faithful should these films be to the source material?

 

There is an undeniable pleasure in seeing what was static come to life – that which existed on the page animated in live action – but the comic book occupies its own place within media, and one must question the value in comparison. After all, no-one could deny that the film would offer something different – not necessarily better or worse, but entirely other. The film would raise innumerable questions in adapting its source material, be they syntactic, aesthetic, tonal or otherwise. Of course fully recreating the comic on screen would be at the most literal level impossible, and these questions would be raised in any adaptation.

The debates surrounding translation and adaptation can be long and (in my experience) a bit boring, so I will not bother to go any deeper into this, but a more salient source of debate for this blog would be: What do people want?

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) was very light entertainment, and revelled in its comic book origins, aspiring to offer no more or less than that for which the comic book genre is known. The baddies were bad and the goodies – in particular the titular hero – were very good, and no-one could be any doubt about that. Described generally by critics as ‘good-humoured and uncomplicated’ and ‘happily stupid’, the film set its sights on fun and for the most part it very much succeeded. I enjoyed it, and this is surely what other audiences will want above anything else.

But there are strange ideas that lurk behind superhero stories, sometimes explored by the source material and sometimes only alluded to. The themes of responsibility, human nature and overcoming demons are ever-present reminders in these stories that the idealisation of superheroes can be a very superficial way to perceive them. Inevitably, every superman has a kryptonyte. The films have their own decisions to make in how they manage the weight of expectation placed upon them, and for many, the solution is to deliver bright, colourful, fun adaptations complete with internal conflict (the various Batman adaptations), youthful hope (Spiderman), cynical humour (Iron Man, etc.) and outrageous camp (pretty much all of the above). Christopher Nolan’s Batman films have proved popular despite deviating from this trend of action-empathy balance, but one wonders how different a comic-book hero could look with an adaptation that willingly betrays its source material, or, more potently, how popular it could prove.

I heard a rumour that a popular Marvel comic book hero will soon be outed as gay, with the best money on Batman. It’s an exciting and intriguing idea and one I would personally welcome. It wouldn’t be so much a corruption of an original character as a license to play with that with which we are already familiar, to present alternatives. Imagine if Superman was depicted as racist, or Spiderman got  fat. With Captain America 2 due for release in 2014, it would be interesting to see something with a bit more ambition for the genre.

It’s what has become known as a ‘teaser trailer’, and it is certainly little more than that, but I felt that the new promotional snippet for Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2012) was worthy of a small mention.

Have a look: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi623223321/

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix have got to be among my favourite actors and so to see them together in a creepy but elegant setting is rather exciting, but the trailer – to coin a cliche – is more about what it is not than what it is. In the season of harbour-front review-ettes for films we won’t be watching until it is cold and rainy once more, a trailer will have to do something very clever with not very much to make an impression that lasts that long. This is especially so when you consider the slough of blockbusters which have already started flying at us like May bugs. In the case of The Master, the approach is less violent, and yet the threat is quietly powerful.

The teaser came to my attention in an article that described it as ‘visceral’, ‘haunting’ and ‘Kubrickian’, on top of ‘possibly the greatest trailer in years’. High praise – high enough that it will take some serious justification. It’s an interesting paradigm that a shorter, less revealing trailer should be so highly regarded and yet a common complaint against contemporary trailers is their tendency to reveal too much. My position remains the same: if it makes me want to see the film more, then the trailer has succeeded – no matter how much or little it reveals. In the spirit of this I will not describe the action of the trailer for The Master, except for to say that Joaquin Phoenix looks like a bad boy, but it’s not entirely clear how honest either he, his interviewer or the camera is being. Most mysterious of all is that title: The Master. Whether this refers to Phoenix, Hoffman or someone else is yet to be revealed, but sure enough it is an engaging kind of mystery. The mysterious approach is hardly a new one, and yet I have a feeling that it is somehow relevant, perhaps a harbinger of the film’s eminent question of power and control. In any case, it was enough for me.

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The trailer for ‘director of the Exorcist’ William Friedkin’s new movie Killer Joe (2012) looks very interesting and may well persuade me to write a film preview in time, but, as ever, I am also keen to look beyond the cool factor and ask questions about the choices made for the promotional campaign as a while. For all the promise conveyed in the trailer, the poster is something that caught my eye for all the wrong reasons.

The tagline says ‘A Totally Twisted Deep-Fried Texas Redneck Trailer Park Story’, and I suppose there is not too much wrong with that. It doesn’t give you the details but it gives you a hint of a general aesthetic or theme. The image, however much it may represent the words of the tagline, is far less useful. In fact, its only use seems to be to illustrate what is said above. But worse than the tautology is when the repetition is actually not all that clear. It’s like someone saying something unfunny, you politely raise your eyebrows in faint appreciation, then they mumble something else, and when you ask what they said, it was only the same thing again. Great.

I have spoken before about translating promotional campaigns for different cultures and markets, and this is a good example of a particularly US-centred campaign. In the UK I think the majority of people would know what a ‘redneck’ is, and that Matthew McConaughey is from the South, so the tagline would make sense. But the image below is strange and horrible, a tan-coloured, red-splattered messy abstract object. It may be a cultural thing, but before I had read the tagline I had no clue what it was. Except, perhaps it vaguely resembled the shape of the state of Texas? Surely that would make it relevant, but not something with which everyone outside of the US would necessarily be familiar. But then what could the strange colour and texture be? Hmm. Deep-fried… Oh that must be it. And blood, yes that makes sense too. So that explains each of the elements in the image – they playfully combine the words of the list of a tagline. I am not sure if it is meant to be amusing, but humour would seem entirely ill-fitted to the dangerous and visceral effect of the accompanying trailer.

Moreover, one must ask: why repeat the message included in the tagline and not try to add something new, or at least something that tells us a little more about the film than that it is a murder story set in the Southern US trailer park community? Oh sorry, it is also ‘totally twisted’, which sounds as much like an ice-cream as a crime movie. And ‘deep-fried’, which is an adjective I had assumed was reserved only for food. But there we have it: a deep-fried object in the shape of the state of Texas covered with blood – confusing, potentially alienating and impressively pointless.

A really interesting advertising campaign (this is my sort of thing these days) surrounding the UK launch of the latest trailer for Prometheus was implemented last week. Without wishing to participate in any advertising of my own – free of charge – the campaign surrounded an innovative app called Zeebox that allows you to connect your television viewing with social media and internet connectivity. Basically, as you watch something on TV the app brings up a list of friends watching the same thing, searchable ‘Zeetags’ and ways to connect which each. For people who tweet and wiki and chat at the same time as watching TV, it could be a pretty cool thing.

The promotion tied in with Channel 4, Twitter, Zeebox and the Prometheus UK trailer TV premiere. This is the explanation that was circulated online beforehand:

How the Campaign Will Work

1. An exclusive trailer for Prometheus will be shown on Sunday, April 29th, during the first ad break of Homeland on Channel 4 (9.11pm).

2. Viewers will be invited to share their thoughts about the film on Twitter using the hashtag #areyouseeingthis.

3. A selection of tweets will be broadcast during a special 40-second spot in the next ad break.

4. One of the users who tweets from within Zeebox adding the hashtag #zeebox will win a pair of tickets to the UK premiere of Prometheus. Zeebox will also be tying in a little self-promotion – 50 tickets to a pre-premiere screening of Prometheus will be given to users who tweet about the trailer from within Zeebox.

5. The winners will be announced live in Zeebox before the end of the show. The remainder of the campaign will run throughout May – whenever the Prometheus trailer is aired on TV, Zeebox will automatically recognise it and offer consumers more opportunities to win Prometheus tickets.

Interesting yes, but crucial to the whole thing was the consumers’ reaction to the trailer – it had to be good. A hashtag like #areyouseeingthis is a bit leading because it strongly indicates that that for which it will be used will also be worth seeing. This blog, within the myriad of others that discuss films, media and film trailers, is perfectly used to asking ‘Are you seeing this?’, or more precisely ‘Have you see this?’ The innovation of Zeebox and this campaign is that it encourages people to comment as it happens. Great from a marketing perspective, not so great for a critical perspective – I much preferred the original trailers to this new, pacey one which erodes any mystery or mood generated by the others. It’s an exciting trailer, but ‘Are you seeing this’? suggests I hadn’t seen it already. I’m still excited about the film, but I wish they wouldn’t tell me to be.

Following my post earlier about Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (somehow I think it sounds better to say the whole thing), I had to post about the posters for Funny Games U.S. (2007), featuring Naomi Watts. I really think she’s good and her performance in this film is fantastic, especially given how demanding a role it is. I also recently saw her in David Lynch’s crazy classic Mulholland Drive (2001), in which she gives such a diverse performance I really had to re-think the actress that I just took for another Hollywood blonde. In that film she starts off cloyingly sweet, descends into desperate and troubled, before completely changing and showing startling aggressive, sexy and calculating sides to her character (or should that be characters?).

You’ve got to say that these posters are incredible. Watts is gorgeous of course but they are really special posters that create memorable images. It is a strength of the film that the images bring you straight back to iconic moments on screen, but as stand alone images they work equally well to create an impression. She looks hopelessly desperate to an extent I have never seen in promotional prints before. But as I discussed in my previous post, perhaps ‘promotion’ was not exactly in Haneke’s plan. Either way, they are fantastic to look at.

If you haven’t seen Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997) or his own American remake Funny Games U.S. (2007) you might be surprised to know that the games in question are anything but funny, and while the films are gripping, provide very little in the way of what one would usually considered entertainment. It’s tricky when you get into defining words – I suppose they are entertaining in a way – but Haneke is actually very interested in our reactions to words and suppositions. Funny Games was designed as a critique of Western values and the use of violence in film, and, whether or not you believe the director achieved his aims, the work is certainly thought-provoking.

What prompted this post on the topic of Funny Games is the question of versions. In this case, Michael Haneke saw fit to remake his own film 10 years after it’s dramatic release in his native Austria, not to improve or adapt his original work, but to translate the same message as closely as possible to a new language and culture. America is seen across the world as the centre of Western values and culture and it makes perfect sense that Haneke should wish Americans to identify closely with its on-screen critique. From a practical perspective it is true that more Americans (and others for whom English is their first language) will be engaged by a film without subtitles, it strikes me as a curious statement of  determination that Haneke should want to undertake such a project; a scrupulous copy of a previous project, remade shot for shot, is preferred to a subtitled version. That said, whilst his lack of faith in subtitles is intriguing, the director’s lack of faith in the movie-going public, specifically the American movie-going public, is not, given the film’s subject matter.

You can see beneath just how similar the films are, with two corresponding shots placed alongside each other. Evidently, Haneke was content with his original film and saw no reason to change it. For me I have to say the effect is a powerful one, so I can understand the decision on that level, but I am unable to pass any judgement on the need for a translation without seeing the original. But this brings me to another fascinating question raised by Haneke’s films: Is there any point in me seeing the German-language version? The Austrian is known to have said that the film’s success would only be due to the audience misunderstanding it’s point, so my suspicion is that he wouldn’t care. The message of the film is deemed as more important than entertainment, more important than decency and more important than the preservation of films ‘en version originale’. So after all perhaps we are not meant to ask questions, or take an interest; Haneke’s intention is that we sit back and let him play his own games with us.

Prometheus (2012)

Due for release: 1st June 2012 (UK)

1. http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi78356505/ (Principal trailer)

2. http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi296263705/ (‘International trailer’)

3.http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi1119133977/ (Early trailer)

It’s not a usual practice of mine to post a few trailers, but this is a film – I will reveal from the start – that I am very excited about, and the different trailers do actually offer differing perspectives which are each worth a look. A subject for later discussion is the way that a trailer presents a film from a certain perspective, which may or may not be fairly representative of the final release. I would imagine we have all seen unimpressive trailers for reasonable films and vice versa, but this contrast is not of interest to this blog, rather it is the first stage, the initial impression a trailer creates that I study. In this case, we have one trailer (1) which seems to present an exciting alien encounter, and another (2, my favourite) which takes a more sedate, creepy angle, perhaps more befitting the Alien series to which it owes its origin, but not revealing this fact until late into the trailer (I’d argue the 1:55 mark). ‘The ‘director of Blade Runner/Gladiator’ appears reluctant to even mention Alien. In fact, Ridley Scott has refused to clarify exactly where his new film should fit in the chronology of the series he kicked off back in 1979, except to confirm that it does indeed occur ‘in the same universe’. The relationship between the two could prove very interesting, and there are hints that it is actually a subject of importance to the story.

In light of my recent posts about film franchises (see here and here) it seems necessary to talk about how the trailer itself relates to the original film. Alien’s slow build and sense of unknown fears are two elements that really stood out to me upon a recent viewing, and it is easy to forget what a patient and creepy film it is, when later incarnations were more focused on the monsters. Indeed, the mystery surrounding the plot of Prometheus calls to mind just how little of Alien actually included an alien. Instead, it was the alien landscape, the sheer strangeness of every visual in that film that delivered the nightmarish quality for which it is known. In the history of film tag-lines, few are as memorable or as effective as ‘In space no-one can hear you scream’, but Prometheus’ ‘The search for our beginning could lead to our end’ is a beguiling one. Nothing is as scary as the unknown, and Ridley Scott has clearly remembered this. Trailer 3 is actually just an early, cut-down version, but for me its use of darkness, screechy noises and rapid cuts of horrific scenes make it extremely effective and deserved a mention.

As for the film itself, it has a strong appeal given that Ridley Scott is once more in the director’s chair, and the impressive cast he has assembled: Guy Pearce, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba and – in what appears to be a significant central role – Noomi Rapace. In trailer 2 it is suggested that Rapace may be taking on a role similar to that of Sigourney Weaver in Alien, where at 1:44 she appears left alone, suffering from the recollection of horrors unseen. Is she the only one left alive? What have they been through? Noticeably, the film looks flashier and fancier than Alien, which was rather minimalist, but the whole style and aesthetic achieved is instantly recognisable. As are the questions of how to defend oneself from all that is alien. For all the mystery Scott has generated, he makes no secret of the film’s closeness to his previous work, yet the meaning of all of this is left for us to discover, and that is the way it should be. What is clear however is that the tension, the menace and the scale of these trailers combine to make a fantastic prospect.

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Following on from my post the other day about film franchises, I have been thinking about the Bond films recently. Clearly and famously they have taken a new direction since Pierce Brosnan was replaced by Daniel Craig in the title role, following the unpopular Die Another Day (2002). That was a jolly long time ago now and Craig has become Bond in the minds of many, but it is always a difficult thing to get your head around when there are multiple actors playing the same character across a franchise.

Craig’s Bond is tough, ripped and blonde – pretty much the first incarnation of the spy to represent any of these characteristics. In fact, he is hardly even a ‘spy’ any more, rather he is an ‘operative’. In Casino Royale (2006), Vesper tells us that he is former SAS, and one suspects that the harder image of James Bond that was formulated for the film is attempting to appeal to the public’s contemporary sympathy for the forces. This isn’t cynical in any way, it merely demonstrates how old-fashioned 007 had become.

And yet what is so appealing about the new Bonds is an understanding of what has been before. For anyone who has followed the series, the ironic references to ‘shaken not stirred’, bedding women, international travel and other familiar tropes bring a freshness to the latest films which was badly needed. Even the title of ‘Casino Royale’ immediately recalls sillier times, when David Niven was permitted to camp up the role, back in 1967. A good quote I picked out of the Daniel Craig version comes from a government official who says: ‘Foreign policy can’t be based on hunches and innuendos’ – something the film’s producers knew they had relied on in the past.

The same producers also felt it was necessary to abandon any chronological sense that their franchise may have developed when they brought in a new man. I think that this was a particularly innovative move, and one which caught people out a little bit. It is strange to think that we were introduced to a ‘new M’ in Goldeneye (1995), and yet here she is in 2002 inducting Bond to ‘double-O status’. This cannibalism must be unique to the Bond series, but it also provides a very rich opportunity for self-reflection and irony that is thoroughly modern, or should that be post-modern? Quantum of Solace (2008) was less successful than its predecessor but having watched them almost back to back this week, I think it deserved more credit than it received. However, free from the over-arching ‘Bond Begins’-style plot line, the next one could be a corker. After a big wait, Skyfall is due for release in October, and with big names attached, set your hopes to high.

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It might surprise you to learn that I had only my first taste of Twilight blood the other day. The only reason for this is that, despite the unavoidable hype, I was pretty sure that it was not intended for somebody like me and I would not get a lot from it. However, despite this, I do have a curiosity for all types of film and all films deserve a fair analysis I tend to think, so I tried to sit and watch without prejudice. The particular film was Breaking Dawn: Part 1. I have to admit to not watching the film from the start, and I have not seen the previous 2 films, but my watching of the film was merely circumstantial anyway. This put me in the interestingly rare position of being able to assess a film for its value as a stand-alone feature, outside of the franchise.

Firstly I will say that the Twilight franchise has seen so much promotion and devotion that I have hardly been able to avoid learning certain plot points. It is no real spoiler to reveal that she is a thin and mopey girl and they are the two handsome-but-in-totally-different-ways chaps vying for her attentions. One of them – floppy-haired ‘R-Patz’, as I must necessarily call him when in reference to these films – is a vampire from a vampire family, which presents a number of obstacles to a normative romance; the other – muscley Taylor Lautner, an otherwise negligible acting presence outside of these films – is a werewolf from a werewolf family. As far as I am concerned the question is less whether you are a member of ‘team Edward’ or ‘team Jacob’, and more whether you would bother getting involved with boys from either troublesome team. As someone without any preconceptions of what the characters would be like, Bella struck me as a girl incapable of making such logical and composed distinctions. In fact, her compliance with the painful and dangerous physical consequences of her choices caused me some real concern, especially with regard to a worrying subtext of domestic abuse. Anyway, there we are –  now she is in the mess, how will she find her way out? Apparently we will have to endure another ‘romantic’, feature-length montage of full moons and forests and indie pop tunes before we find out.

And on that note, here is what inspired the post:

http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi984588313/   

Yes it is something I have not seen before, but completely fitting of this blog: a ‘teaser trailer preview’. Due for release on 16th November, it remains 8 months away, but the anticipation for this final chapter in the story of those miserable romantics will already be feverish – and I’m not just saying that in response to the colour of R-Patz’s face. The success of the franchise has been huge, and I can imagine that the marketing will only get more and more intense in the lead up Breaking Dawn: Part 2.

I will give you a short review of the trailer-ette, although it has evidently not been made for critical assessment. Forests? Check. Kissing? Check. Drippy flour-face? Check. Tight t-shirted muscle-boy? Check. Bella, who we suppose must be *possible genuine spoiler alert* a vampire by now, can apparently run much faster than she used to, but every thing else about the trailer is designed to keep Twihards from killing themselves for want of patience and to reassure us that it will indeed be more of the same. There are two lines of dialogue in the 14 seconds to which we are privy: ‘I didn’t expect you to seem so you’ – same characters? check – and ‘We are the same temperature now’ – sexual fantasy fulfilment? Check. If it makes you happy to know you have the same body temperature as Robert Pattinson then you are in luck. Unfortunately you also have the same body temperature as me, and I can be a bit sweaty.