Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Do-Over

One of the big advantages of theater over film is that until you die, a play really isn't ever finished. This is particularly demonstrated in Edward Albee revisiting his breakthrough play A Zoo Story by adding an introductory play, Homelife to create the full length Peter and Jerry. Technically, you can probably liken this to prequels like The Phantom Menace, but while A Zoo Story remains unchanged, the pairing is now a different experience.

Remakes have not been uncommon in film. It would seem that they started as soon as there was enough material to mine for a second time. But for the sake of this argument I wouldn't qualify them specifically as a do over, though in some regards that may in fact be true depending on the distance from the original premise. I'll come back to that after I establish what I would say is a cinematic do-over.

The first category is probably the clearest, in the Director's Cut. Prominent since Ridley Scott released a voice-overless Bladerunner, it has grown with the home DVD market, sometimes in the guise of 'extra footage' or 'unrated versions.' The latter two make the distinction harder to determine. Is it really a do over or is it just 'value added content' (ah, my time at Stanford wasn't wasted...) for the home market DVD? I think there are obvious ways to determine that, and it's time and involvement. The Lord of the Rings wouldn't be considered a do over, for example. First of all, the footage was added with release of the DVDs and didn't significantly change the character of the narrative. Layering in a deeper insinuation of Decker being a replicant as well as changing the tone of the film by subtracting the voice over. Compared to adding a scene where members of the fellowship negotiate with a Clive Barker character at the gates, it's clear to see the difference.

The other is a little harder to define, but is a more recent phenomenon. It applies specifically to franchise films. They've been around for a while themselves, from Hope and Crosby's Road to... movies to Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies. Franchises have been 'refreshed' from time to time, Adam West gave way to Micheal Keaton, Sherlock Holmes has been played by numerous actors, as has James Bond.

But in even with James Bond, the new actors haven't resulted in a full stop restart until Daniel Craig took the roll over in Casino Royale.

This kind of restart is increasingly common. Batman Begins, Casino Royale, and the upcoming J.J. Abrahms' Star Trek and the Edward Norton The Incredible Hulk. Even Diary of the Dead mentioned here earlier.

What separates a remake from a do over? Is Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes
a do over or a remake? It significantly changes the tone and character of the story. Burton dubbed it as a 're-imagining.' Likewise with Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this time billing it as more faithful to the original (despite Dahl writing the script to the Gene Wilder version). Or for that matter Mark Walberg's The Italian Job a do over of Micheal Caine's?

I think I have to argue that they are, even though there is a greater gulf of time between the original and the new version. While every remake contains the new perspective of the new artists involved and the perspective of the different time that it's made in, if the change is significant enough that it changes the basic premise of the original it would have to be considered a do over.

It's easy to be cynical about these franchise refreshers. Either the series had become cheesy, as with Batman, or threadbare, with James Bond. In order to keep the cash cow giving something drastic had to be done.

But with comics this isn't uncommon. Sixty issues in, Ghost Rider edited the origins, DC restarted its entire universe at one point. The John Travolta Punisher was a do over of the rather bland Dolph Lungren Punisher (and the Punisher will be played by the third actor in as many movies with the upcoming Punisher:War Zone).

But now, only five years after Ang Lee's, lets say ambitious The Hulk, the Hulk is getting a do over. The trailer takes pains to make its apologies to fans-Banner becomes the Hulk as a result of an accident, not an experiment from his dad, and he will go toe to toe with another big bad ass, not just fail to achieve the promise of that. (I'm still upset that the original movie set up a green hulk vs. purple hulk and instead just churned water...)

I don't necessarily think that it's a bad thing. It's hard to wrap something so clearly driven by market forces as 'artistic,' but why not? Regardless of the financial reasoning behind the decision, it's still new takes on old stories. Where Tim Burton's Batman was an exercise in set pieces and over the top villain performances, Christopher Nolan's Batman uses the villains to explore the darker aspects of the heroes personality. Daniel Craig's James Bond is an exploration of a man who has no family or social tie who takes killing so casually.

Plus, you know, it means I can hold out hope that I might get a better Ghost Rider...(I have to admit, I forgot my point...)


  1. Anonymous1:19 PM

    I have been really disappointed with all film versions of Batman, none has done the series justice IMHO. The recreation on the Bond series has been disappointing at best. I refused to view the Lord of the Rings on principle.

    Changes done in plays by the author I have never had a problem with. I think that theater is a more pure art than film. Too often the producers or studio will ruin a film. While it is possible for a producer to ruin a play it seems to happen less often

  2. I would argue that it happens just as if not more often in theater, you're just not as likely to see it unless you're in the town that the play is produced in or that particular tour of it.

    Ultimately I don't know that there is a 'purity' difference between theater and film, both have many people stirring the same pot, but since theater doesn't make the kind of money that film does they get to be slightly more full of themselves about it. But consider where theater does make money and I give you the stage adaptation of "Legally Blond."

  3. When someone starts talking about purity in art, I make sure I know where my wallet is, and I'm someone who works in what's often called the purest of the written arts, poetry. We don't sell out, not because we're pure, but because no one is buying.

    I like the concept of the do-over, and in some cases, I think the do-over can result in a better work of art, or at least an equal work of art. And then you have The Manchurian Candidate, which took out everything good about the original and burned it in a pile of dog feces.

  4. Thats certainly true, a do over is as prone to success and failure as any other endeavor. The Planet of the Apes is my big disappointment. Going in I thought, while I liked the original, you could only improve it.

    I was so, so wrong.