The Lion King, Star Wars, and Adaptation Fatigue

 

This teaser looks great right? I mean, it’s one of the most viewed movie trailers of all-time, and the film it promotes, this summer’s “live action” remake of The Lion King (1994) is going to make over a billion dollars.  Who wouldn’t be excited for it?

Me, for one.  It looks like a shot for shot remake of a perfectly good, existing film.  Check that, it looks like a shot for shot remake of one of the greatest, if not the greatest, animated films of all-time.  Disney says it isn’t, but they’re awfully cagey about it.

It’s one thing to re-imagine Dumbo (1941) or The Jungle Book (1967)  to better appeal to modern sensibilities.  I’m not 100% on board with that either, but at least there’s some redeeming artistic value in updating those stories.  Other than “Mickey needs money” (he doesn’t, by the way), I’m at a loss for the purpose of re-making a great movie just because there is new technology to play around with.

Yes, yes, perhaps I’m jumping to conclusions, and I shouldn’t be criticizing a movie that I haven’t seen.  Perhaps Jon Favreau has found a valuable new perspective on a classic film, and this summer’s remake will win multiple Oscars and be hailed as the second coming of Citizen Kane (1940).  I wouldn’t hold my breath, but it’s certainly possible.

That said, the problem I’m pointing out isn’t a new one – it’s a feature of all adaptations.  I mean, the Lion King is an adaptation of Hamlet, which itself is mash-up of Scandinavian and Roman legendary histories and perhaps even a lost play known to scholars as “Ur-Hamlet.”  Successful adaptations tell a stories from new perspectives, comment on previous versions, or re-imagine the stories to appeal to modern audiences.

That’s the difference between Maleficent (2014) and Beauty and the Beast (2017).  While Maleficent is not a great film, it at least tells the story of Sleeping Beauty (1959) from a new perspective.  Beauty and the Beast made a ton of money, but at the end of the day it’s little more than an inferior remake of the 1991 animated version.

While less true than it used to be, motion pictures are expensive to make.  Movies, to some extent, remain our most commercial art-form.  There are no university presses, community theater labs, or hobbyists – film studios have to make money in order to create more films.  One can’t blame Disney, therefore, for mining its existing catalogue for old material that can be repackaged using new technology in an ultimately lucrative endeavor.  Disney doesn’t exist to maintain the artistic integrity of the motion picture, it exists to make profit.  Beauty and the Beast (2017) made $1.2 billion, after all.

I’m picking on Disney, but re-boots, remakes, prequels, are way too abundant in modern Hollywood.  The commercial proposition is an easy one to understand – it’s lower risk to take an existing property and do something slightly different with it than it is to make something new popular.  At the same time, pumping out the same material over and over again has to have diminishing returns at some point for the audience.

Maybe this could be a “problem” that solves itself.  Take Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018), for example.  Ron Howard may have performed a minor miracle turning a dumpster fire of a production into a fine movie, but a fine movie it remains.  Other than the Clone Wars animated movie and the Ewok movies, it’s also the lowest grossing Star Wars film by a wide margin.  After decades of Extended Universe stories and the Sequel Trilogy, there just wasn’t an appetite for yet another tale about Han Solo, even a competently crafted one.

On the other hand, the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy also serves as the best example of why creating something new from an existing story is playing with fire.  The Force Awakens (2015) and The Last Jedi (2017) both made a ton of money and were lauded by critics and fans alike – well, most fans.  There was an extremely vocal group that absolutely hated one film, the other, or both for very different reasons.  The merits of Episodes 7 and 8 (of which there are many, by the way) aside, the Sequel Trilogy’s biggest flaw so far is that it is trying to continue the story from Return of the Jedi (1983) AND tell and entirely new story at the same time, which leaves both stories somewhat watered down.

I’m going all over the place in this article, but my central point remains that certain stories can’t really bear the weight of being adapted in a repetitive or overstretched manner.  What is there to do?  I would recommend telling new stories within the framework of the old stories, rather than overstretching existing plots and characters.  The Star Wars Sequel Trilogy partially succeeds at this so far, but Episode 9 has some heavy lifting to do in order to really stick the landing.

For the Lion King (2019)?  The success of the animated children’s series “The Lion Guard,” shows that there is interest in using the framework of the Lion King to tell new stories, so there are promising directions for Disney to go.  After all, Disney can only do a “live action” shot for shot remake once, right?

(c) 2019 D.G. McCabe

 

Movies by State – Florida

Gator
Photo Courtesy National Park Service

Florida.  Yes – that alligator lives in Everglades National Park (photo courtesy National Park Service).  And yes – I chose an alligator instead of an orange grove, beach, or theme park.  Why, you might ask?  Because Florida movies are kind of like alligators:

Gator are Exciting!

Gators are exciting to watch when they get going after an unfortunate bird.  So too are the many action movies and thrillers set in Florida.  Bad Boys (1995), Miami Vice (2006), Scarface (1983) and Body Heat (1981) are some examples, but even James Bond got into the action with 1964’s classic Goldfinger.

Gators are Alien!

Are gators space aliens?  No – but they are one of the most unique species on the planet.  In this circular, tangential, and only slightly accurate way, they are like the many science fiction movies set in Florida.  Armageddon (1998), Contact (1997), and Cocoon (1985) are some examples.

Gators are Sporty!

Well, there’s a notable college sports team called the Gators anyway.  Florida is home to a lot of sports films including Any Given Sunday (1999), 42 (2013), and Foxcatcher (2014).

Gators are Reclusive!

Much like Charles Foster Kane towards the end of his life – gators are mysterious and hard to find.  Citizen Kane (1941) often tops critics’ list as the top movie of all time.  It is certainly among the most influential.  A young Orson Welles invented several important editing techniques and film conventions that are still with us today.  Next time you are wondering where the idea came from to use news reports to tell back story – look no further.

Gators are Dumb!

On the opposite end of the movie spectrum from Citizen Kane are the numerous B movies, ill-conceived sequels, and gross out teen films set in the Sunshine State.  Porky’s (1981) and its unfortunate sequels,  American Idol cash-in From Justin to Kelly (2003), the so very unnecessary Revenge of the Nerds II (1987), Earnest Saves Christmas (1988), and Mystery Science Theater favorite Revenge of the Creature (1955) are set here.

Next time – The Southeast!

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe

2012 Sight and Sound Poll – Snap Judgments

First, I know I spend a lot of time writing about the “best” this and the “greatest” that.  I tried to avoid writing a reaction piece to this week’s Sight and Sound Poll, but since it’s only released every ten years I couldn’t resist.

As an overview, the Sight and Sound Poll has been conducted every ten years since 1952 and ranks what scholars, critics, directors, and other film experts consider the best movies of all time.  Unlike its American counterpart, the AFI 100, it ranks films from all of the world.  I’m not going to comment on all fifty selections, so I’ll stick to the top ten.

1. Vertigo (1958)

It’s hard for me to rank Vertigo as Hitchcock’s best film, much less the greatest film ever made.  Psycho (1960) and Rear Window (1954) are, in my mind, superior to Vertigo.  Still, as a technical achievement Vertigo is Hitchcock’s most successfully experimental film, his Persona (1966), so to speak.  Calling it the greatest film ever made though is still a tall order for me to accept.

2. Citizen Kane (1941)

Citizen Kane has been called the greatest film ever so many times that its selection as such is usually considered a given.  The problem with Citizen Kane though is that, while it is undoubtedly the most important American film, it is no one’s favorite film.  I think that latter fact finally caught up with it in this year’s poll.

3. Tokyo Story (1953)

Tokyo Story is Ozu’s masterpiece, and it is great to see Ozu being regarded so highly.  My only quarrel with this pick is that I can’t imagine how it gets picked over Persona as the greatest demonstration of raw emotion in cinema history.

4. The Rules of the Game (1939)

Renoir was brilliant, it’s true (so was his father, impressionist painter Pierre Auguste Renoir).  I’ll admit that I haven’t seen The Rules of the Game, but of the French movies I have seen it has a lot of convincing to do in order for me to agree that it is the pinnacle of French cinema.  I’m not saying it’s not possible, but I’m skeptical.

5. Sunrise: A Tale of Two Humans (1927)

This is where the Sight and Sound Poll loses me.  Yes, Roger Ebert and others have stated that film is about images primarily, and I agree, to a point – sound to me is so integral to modern film that silent film really needs its own category as an artform.  Still, the only Murnau film that I’ve seen is Nosferatu (1922), so I can’t really address the merits of this one.

6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Yes!  Finally a choice that I can’t nitpick.

7. The Searchers (1956)

See my above commentary on Vertigo.  The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940) are Ford’s best films in my opinion.  Still, The Searchers is a good choice if you’re going to pick one from Ford.

8. Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

I thought I knew a lot about movies, but today is the first I’ve heard of this film.  I can’t comment until I know more about it.

9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1927)

Once again, we really need a separate category for silent films.  Still, you can’t go wrong with Dreyer’s masterpiece.

10. 8 1/2 (1963)

No complaints here.

And those are my thoughts!

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe