Suicide by Celluloid or; Slouching Towards Creative Oblivion

Posted: February 23, 2009 in Media
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Of adaptations and remakes and reboots and sequels.

Ghostbusters 3.

In a world where it seems like everyone is losing their jobs, where Republicans are concerned about the debt being left to future generations (and if that’s not a sign of the Apocalypse I don’t know what is) and there are still people claiming that global warming is a hoax, I want to talk about Ghostbusters 3.

The thing is, it’s precisely because western civilization is spontaneously combusting that’s it’s important we have this conversation. So, sit down, pull up a chair, close your yap and listen to your Grandpa Jules. He’s about to wax philosophically about the days of yore.

There is a great* episode of South Park that came out sometime around 2000 (I think) that was a spoof of that fabulous** Pauly Shore movie, Encino Man. The episode dealt with a man found frozen for four years who had no idea, once thawed, how to deal with contemporary popular culture. In short, he felt socially isolated because plaid wasn’t cool anymore and Ace of Base had largely been forgotten. I laughed my ass off at the misfortunes of 1996 Man because I completely understood what was being said; that we, as a generation, have the attention span of Tara Reid*** at a wine tasting. That anything new that might be considered remotely good will be forgotten faster than abstinence only sex education at a high school grad.

I laughed then, but I’m crying now. I’m crying because, while it was bad enough that the concept of “flash in the pan” became just the standard operating procedure for all things pop culture, I now genuinely fear that the very ability to create things that are NEW has been beaten out of our artistic elite. In the era of book adaptations, remakes, reboots, retools, rethinks, do-overs and utterly unnecessary sequels, where do the new things go to play? How can something without a built in audience hope to make any headway in a distribution landscape peppered with such artistic (autistic?) gems as Transformers 2, X-Men Origins-Wolverine, Star Trek 11 (1, 0, reboot?) G.I. Joe, The Watchmen, or Footloose: The Remake?

I know, you’ve heard this all before. Everyone with a laptop, a DVD player and a gut big enough to support beer on it has vented on this subject with exhortations of “worst remake ever!” or “I liked it but…”, where but is then followed by 4000 words on why the author didn’t, in fact, like it.

BUT…

1) Mine is the only opinion I care about.

AND

2) Nobody has really, to my satisfaction, addressed the real danger (yep, I said danger) that all of these phone-it-in “creative” projects pose to our legacy as a culture.

These asshats are trying to improve the past and, in the process, are systematically destroying it.

A few years back Stephen Spielberg dusted off that fantastic piece of sci-fi brilliance, E.T. and, in a fit of retroactive moralizing worthy of Tipper Gore, proceeded to digitally remove every gun in the flick and replace them with walkie-talkies before re-releasing the film on DVD. Ditto George Lucas with Star Wars and the fixing of special effects so that, “the films can be watched the way I always envisioned them.” James Bond has been rebooted sans cheezy gadgets and 2.5 sexual conquests per film. The Counting Crows are remaking Joni Mitchell songs. One of the highest ranked novels on last year’s best sellers list was a retelling of the Wizard of Oz from the perspective of the Cowardly Lion. Scientists are saying the earth is not, in fact, 10000 years old. Neo-Nazis are denying the holocaust ever took place… Well, you get the picture. The past is out; it’s cliched, it’s uncool, and goddamn it, we can make it better.

It’s almost as though, realizing that the career of the entertainment writer has become one of abject laziness and blatant plagiarism, the writers in question have pushed back with a resounding shout of, “But it’s so fucking old…and we really can do better now. Can’t we just show you? We’ll be ever so good. Please, please, please, please, please?”

The thing is, I’m genuinely looking forward to a movie version of Watchmen. I’m kind of curious to see what a J.J. Abrams version of Star Trek will look like. I’m loving the scenes that have been released from G.I.Joe the way an ex-priest would love tits. Fuck, I want to see Dan Ackroyd chasing a digitally perfected Slimer around a hotel again. God help me, I even loved Superman Returns.

BUT

Watchmen, to this day and even though it’s a comic book, remains on Time Magazine’s 100 best English novels of the 20th century list. Does anyone think that the movie adaptation will make anybody’s top 100 movies list? And haven’t we said all there is to say about Star Trek; even though space is big, you’ll always run into ships traveling on the same geographic plane as you, the good guys are communists, and teleportation doesn’t destroy the soul (Star Trek 3, bitches!) How will Ackroyd fit back into that ridiculous suit? And Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor? Well, I liked him better when his name was Gene Hackman.

What all of these remakes and 20-years-too-late sequels are doing, is telling us that the past doesn’t matter and it can always be rewritten and exploited for the purpose of milking the teat of the built in audience, aka the people who like to feel nostalgic every so often, aka, the people who once thrilled to see a man with a silly hat and a bullwhip take on the Nazi hordes.

Aka, all of us.

I’m not saying older is better, I’m not. But you can’t call it new if all you’re doing is digging up the skeletons of the past and raping them severely, trying desperately to squeeze out a few extra bucks because your muse abandoned you for someone slightly less whorish. It’s kind of like that girl who goes on a date with you, laughs at all of your jokes, introduces you to her parents and then, one day, decides she needs to change absolutely everything about you. You kind of want to scream, “Why the hell did you fuck me in the first place, you demented…” Sorry, wrong rant. The point is, when all you’re doing is replacing, you’re not actually creating anymore, you’re just invalidating what came before.

And yes, for those of you sitting there saying, “Hey asshole, do you really think you can do better?” Yes, yes I do.

Here’s the good old college try.

A man named simply Frustrated Unemployed Writer buys a gun and a plane ticket and flies to Hollywood. Upon his arrival he rounds up a group of very fat and lazy writers and producer types and holds them all hostage in a big hotel (maybe the set from Die Hard, the first one, you know, before John McClain become an immortal prick.) He then proceeds, at gunpoint, to make them write something wholly original (with of course the benefit and assistance of his fantastically endowed creative muscles). The end result, a movie cleverly titled, “Friday, the Nightmare of a Shopaholic Transforms,” fails (due to poor marketing on the part of the distributing studio, Fox) to connect with an audience. Two weeks later, Frustrated Unemployed Writer is found, burnt to a crisp, the only victim of a suspicious movie theater blaze. The authorities declare his death to be “suicide by celluloid.” Which, of course, becomes the title of the series of movies made about him. Of which there are 13.

Fuck, I should totally write that.

A civilization’s true record left to the ages is it’s art. Sadly, we live in a world where movies and television have almost wholly replaced literature, “actual” art, music, and theater. The people who write and produce said media are the ones who we have to trust with our cultural legacy; they are our Watchmen.

The question is, and yes I’m stealing an ending here, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”

Or, for those of you who benefited from a newer, and therefore better, education (which somehow didn’t include Latin):

Who watches the Watchmen?

See you at the movies.

*By great I’m not talking Citizen Cane great, it’s a fucking cartoon; just because it hits the occasional brilliant note of social commentary doesn’t make it art, and I’ll spank anyone who says different.

**Yup, I just called a Pauly Shore movie fabulous. I’m either a) gay (because of the use of the word fabulous) and have terrible taste or b) Brian you’re right, I am the Antichrist.

***For the sake of future generations who might unearth the hard copy of this post in the inevitable archaeological dig that my very famous future home will become, feel free to substitute any contemporary blond, vapid, frantically determined alcoholic starlet currently popular with your 11 year old daughters. No, don’t tell me they don’t exist anymore, the future of the human race clearly depends on drunk blonds.

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Comments
  1. You know, what makes me the most sad is that there was a time when I loved EVERY movie (sure I was 12, but so :D) now I’m tempted to walk out almost every time I’m at a theater. I may have to find a new hobby.

  2. askcherlock says:

    Sadly, you are correct about the lack of risk-taking in both films and literature. I keep waiting for Godot but he does not appear. Keep rant going. You may be the one with the key to creative processing.

  3. Jenn:Well since the last statistic I read on the subject said that something like 65% of adult Americans never buy a book again after high school, it’s not much of a shock that publishers are skittish about taking a risk on anything new. You’d think that filmmakers would be a bit more open minded, considering the size of their audience but…

  4. Jenn Thorson says:

    Movie studios and also book publishers just don’t want to take a chance on anything new– anything that doesn’t already have name recognition. I mean, did the first two Mission Impossibles even remotely have the spirit of the MI TV series? NO. The TV series was about a team, and this was about All Tom Cruise All The Time. They could have been a whole different spy movie under a whole different name. But they didn’t want to take a chance on that. It’s sad, really. It’s why publishers SAY they want something fresh and different. But they also want a guarantee that it’ll be on the NY Times list.Frustrating all around.

  5. haha so true. The new X-Files movie was so bad I cried. It was so painful to watch as I used to love that show 10+ YEARS AGO. FYI I took latin because I was smart and quit because I was sick of being smart.I loved that South Park episode and on your movie idea didn’t the “Simpson’s do it?” I hope you got that and in all seriousness I like the irony. I was the only person YEAR AFTER YEAR in school that could define irony how horrifying is that?Thank you for writing this all this crap is really making me ill.PS I’ve been ranting/terrified for years that we’ve just run out of original ideas. I have yet to be proved wrong (although if you make that movie I’ll retain some hope).

  6. Or Jesus giving a lecture on evolution at MIT =-X

  7. I would totally see that movie… hell i would even pay money for it…..

  8. I wanna see Joni Mitchell sing Counting Crows songs. It’s only fair.

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