Bad movie remakes are released every week, some worse than others. However, many of the worst blockbuster films start with bad ideas. There is no grandeur to be won from the beginning, no hope for elucidation, no originality of vision, new idea, or outlook that needs to be expounded upon. These bad movies are simply vehicles for star actors, producers, or studios to make a quick buck-filling the screen with a vapid, clichéd drivel for an opiated audience only too happy to escape reality briefly and relinquish any analysis to the critics. Other bad films start with good material and good ideas, but fail in the execution of their vision. These films sometimes fall so far from the mark that they often never get a chance at the Cineplex and escape into the obscurity of Walmart discount DVD bins and Netflix Instant Viewing. Yet other films attain the sublime, succeed on all levels, and haunt the dreams of visionary producers and directors for years. Eventually the rights are obtained and remake ideas are floated around the industry before final commitments are made and filming commences.
High & Low (Tengoku to jigoku)
Akira Kurosawa’s 1963 film falls into the sublime category. Perhaps no other genre is a better fit for the big screen than crime fiction. From the Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep to Chinatown and The Departed; crime fiction and detective stories enthrall audiences, excite critics, and can translate into large returns at the box office. Turning even the least likely material into a detective crime story is a sure-fire way to capture an audience. Just look at the last two winners of the Academy Award for Best Documentary: Man on Wire and The Cove. Tight rope walkers and dolphin slaughters don’t typically attract much attention on the big screen where violence and circus stunts are more expectation than surprise. But encapsulated within a detective story, these documentary topics kept audiences riveted, clenching their seat arms in both awe and alarm. Even though the crime detective genre is saturated with clichéd and formulaic films, some of the best films every decade still find room to push the boundaries within this category. High and Low is the perfect material for just such a genre bending adaptation. Rife with morality plays, criticisms of society, an interrogation of business ethics, and questions about the meaning of justice in the modern world; neither characters nor audience leave the film unscathed or on a sure footing. In the 1990s, Martin Scorsese chased after the rights and courted David Mamet to rewrite the screenplay. More recently Mike Nichols and Chris Rock were rumored to be considering an adaptation. While the subject material is almost tailor made for Scorsese and Mamet, Chris Rock’s acerbic wit and deft critique of contemporary culture could provide an interesting twist.
Breakfast of Champions
It is unclear what attracted Alan Rudolph to Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Breakfast of Champions. A former protégé of Robert Altman and assistant director on both The Long Goodbye and Nashville, Rudolph spent the majority of his career exploring sexual themes in films like Choose Me, Trouble in Mind, and The Moderns. Despite creative filming techniques and excessive attempts to make the novel’s characters both zany and larger than life, Rudolph’s Breakfast of Champions was a disaster. It is almost as if Altman, John Waters, Terry Gilliam, and maybe David Zucker got together and each ate a portion of Vonnegut’s book. A few days later they returned and pieced together a script out of their excrement. The original material is superb, it had a great cast, and the filming was interesting but the film was a tragedy of epic proportions. Breakfast of Champions is probably Vonnegut’s funniest novel. A worthy adaptation could still be made in the hands of a more sober wit such as Wes Anderson or the Coen Brothers. In order to make a zany adaptation like this work, it would need a more brilliant mind such as Terry Gilliam or Emir Kusturica at the helm.
The superhero brings both boom and bust to the box office. While the 2006 Superman Returns film was not nearly as disastrous to the superhero’s franchise as Clooney’s Batman and Robin was to the Batman franchise, it was not a runaway success. A bloated budget, a bloated storyline, and incredible studio expectations did not help; but the main problem was the character himself. Two and half hours of self introspection, a rehashed but not reinvented history, and cliché plot lines don’t make for a successful Superman movie. Perhaps no other superhero better emblemizes the ideals of contemporary American culture than Superman. He has changed dramatically from his creation in the 1930s, from a megalomaniac super villain into a clean cut and dapper savior from the Soviet menace. At every point he is reinvented to represent the current ideals of American culture. He has seemingly unlimited powers, save kryptonite, but does nothing to change the world. He does not solve the ills of society that create poverty and desperation, he fights crime. He does not destroy the Nazis or the Soviets, he protects the American way of life. He is a protector and a savior, but enforces his will and dominion over no man. He is not a philosopher. In Bryan Singer’s film, Superman seemed to be asking the audience who he is and what his purpose is in life. Nobody drops $12 on a ticket and $15 for popcorn to be asked such questions by a superhero. It is the job of the director and screenwriter to analyze contemporary culture and find out what people want. America and the world are in flux, the world struggles through the grips of a major recession, political boundaries are being tested, a civil war rages between fundamentalist and secular Islam, communication has exploded, cultural identity is changing. Superheroes help society remember what is virtuous and what is not-even if they themselves are not. Recently Christopher Nolan has been tied to the next Superman reboot. Not only did he achieve incredible success resurrecting the Batman franchise, he understands the role of the superhero in the changing contemporary culture. Superheroes are to America today what the Gods were to the plays of Democratic Greece-a barometer for understanding ourselves, our politics, and our culture. They are actors, not philosophers. Hopefully the next Superman reboot can deliver a more concise message.
Akira Kurosawa, Something Like An Autobiography, Vintage Books
Fiona, Chris Rock To Remake Akira Kurosawa’s High and Low!?, Filmofilia
Umberto Eco, The Myth of Superman, Diacritics