Saturday, February 25, 2006

Seaquakes and Reekquels

(This commentary originally appeared in Voices of Art magazine. - RR)

You’re tired of sequels and remakes – if you weren’t, you wouldn’t have picked up a quality mag like Voices of Art. If you enthusiastically play the whole sequels and remakes game, you’d likely be re-reading the Entertainment Weekly Summer Movie Preview issue that’s been sitting next to your toilet for the past four months. On second thought, those who embrace sequels and remakes have hygiene concerns, too, soooo…

This commentary inadvertently went straight to the crapper, which coincidentally is my point. Sequels and remakes. Remakes and sequels. You say those two words enough times, over and over, and you start coming up with terms like “seaquakes” and “reekquels” – both describe the oft-found content at your local multiplex.

Who stole the movies and will we ever get them back? Has the invention of digital filmmaking ushered in a new era of ones and zeros? Art seems reduced to strung together components, creating something “new and familiar”, by which I of course mean “old and tired.” Oddly, most of it’s still shot on film.

Hollywood has become blandly innovative in peddling such goods, as if they’re aware audiences can only be snookered for so long. The latest buzz phrases, “prequels” (thank you Mr. Lucas) and “reimaginings” (thank you Mr. Burton), inspire little hope. Of course there’s always the old tried and true standby: simply tacking the number 2 or 3 on to the latest installment of a franchise. Currently Steve Martin is shooting Cheaper by the Dozen 2. May I suggest killing off 6 of the kids in the first reel and titling it Cheaper by the Half-Dozen? Call ‘em whatever you like, either you’re making something new or you’re not.

Is it all lifeless, unimaginative fare? To be fair, no. But for every reekquel that works, there are probably nine seaquakes that suck. “Two out of three ain’t bad” makes sense, but one out of ten is laughable. Make the argument that the same could be said of movies in general? I’d argue back that even a lame original screenplay is a greater achievement than a passable exhumation of an old TV show. Why? Because it’s original and originality is the one department in which Hollywood’s clearly gone bankrupt. Without experimentation, the art form refuses to move forward; it becomes stagnant and dies.

Most disturbing is that there was a time when we turned to cinema to teach us something about ourselves. Morality was pondered, death was explored, and love was ripped apart. Remember when a pair of tits onscreen actually meant something!? The 3 or 4-month Oscar-bidding season aside (which itself is pretty whore-like), the kind of fare that made us think is virtually absent from multiplex screens the rest of the year. But you know where you can find it?

Your television. The so-called idiot box, which we once turned to for mindless thrills, is now the breeding ground for the real drama. Thanks to cablers like HBO, Showtime and FX, our great morality plays unfurl weekly, serialized on shows like The Shield, The Sopranos, Queer as Folk, Nip/Tuck, Huff, Deadwood and Six Feet Under. When Glenn Close agrees to do an entire season of a series that’s been on for three years, it’s time to pay attention. Prime rib is still available; you just gotta know which butcher has the best cut in town.

Vote with dollars and awareness, be it at the box office, the video store, Netflix or your DirectTV subscription. What you support is what you’ll get more of. Frustrated? Stand up and say “I’m bored as hell and I’m not gonna watch it anymore!”

Here’s a list of summer fare that illustrates, for better or worse, what I’m talking about: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, The Longest Yard, Batman Begins, Herbie: Fully Loaded, The Honeymooners, War of the Worlds, Bewitched, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, The Fantastic Four, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Bad News Bears and The Dukes of Hazzard. That, folks, is how your local theatre marquee reads.

The Good: Revenge of the Sith. The Lucas opera is a dazzling conclusion to a wholly unique sci-fi fantasy series. This film begged to be made and it isn’t without a fair amount of reservation that I proclaim it’s my favorite of all the Star Wars flicks (yes, nostalgia aside, even more poignant than The Empire Strikes Back.)

The Bad: Batman Begins. Bad in concept, even if abundant in content or masterful in execution. With four movies, the Adam West TV series (which itself spawned a theatrical film) and countless animated versions (one of which also played on the big screen – so wait a minute…that’s SIX movies!), Batman is a guy that logically needs no further theatrical examination. We get it: cape, cowl & karate - let’s move along.

The Ugly: Herbie: Fully Loaded. Another installment of the Love Bug is something I’d never considered coming into cinematic existence. Maybe you’ve seen it. I guaran-goddamn-tee you I haven’t. However, I may keep an eye out for the inevitable, similarly titled pornographic parody.

Now please, please, please - I beg of the Film Gods (or Studio Execs, whichever is more corporeal), don’t ever let anyone remake The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

All the above boldly proclaimed, any interested Hollywood bigwigs who may be reading, please contact me. I’m not above selling out. Fantastic idea for a Flying Nun movie! Paris Hilton is the Flying Nun. Sally Field is the Mother Superior (to lure fans of the series). The Plot: Incidental. Hilton’s Habit WILL blow up in the wind ala Marilyn Monroe – you need know nothing else. And Catholicism is HUGELY marketable right now. Even if it fails at the box office, it’ll be a gigantic rental. The kids are gonna love it. Fer sure, man.