Saturday, November 21, 2015

Disney, "Man from U.N.C.L.E." and adding your own twist to the story

Photo courtesy of Disney

“That’s not how I would do it.”

How many times has that thought crossed your mind? Whether it’s a movie you watched, a meal you ate, or a work project you’re involved in, we’ve all come across things we would have done differently if we were the ones in charge. No one’s tastes are the same, and it’s part of human nature to want things to match our own tastes instead of someone else’s.

But what if you actually got the chance to redo whatever it was? It’s rare that we get the opportunity to remake something according to our exact specifications, and even if we did we’d risk the same scrutiny we gave the original whatever it was. There’s also all the work it would take to create a new version of something that’s already been made. Would it be worth it, just to be able to experience a version that’s absolutely perfect for you?

Answering that question has made me take remakes a lot more seriously.

Because yes, there’s a certain element of marketing and cash grab when it comes to latching a movie to an already established property, but money is the ultimate goal of everything Hollywood does. There are also remakes that are flat-out terrible – the shot-for-shot remake of “Psycho” is one of the better-known examples – and ones that have hit their remake limit. (Please, Hollywood, give us like 15 years before the next “Spider-Man.” We need a break.)

But you know who else does a lot of remakes? Disney. The majority of their best-known movies, from “101 Dalmatians” to “The Little Mermaid” are simply their versions of stories someone else has already done. They just made their own tweaks – changing a depressing ending here, enriching an emotional relationship there – until they had a version of the story they liked. Even “The Lion King,” one of the most successful Disney movies ever, is just “Hamlet” re-told with talking lions instead of people. Speaking of “Hamlet,” even Shakespeare’s stories were mostly just revisions of stories that had already been written.

I’m not saying that the remakes Hollywood has given us in the last 10 years are anywhere near the level of Shakespeare or even classic Disney. But that doesn’t mean that the creators didn’t have a legitimate vision of their own for the material. When Guy Ritchie brought “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” to the screen, he shifted the focus from the spy hijinks to the banter and growing bond between the main characters. That was the part he was interested in, and didn’t feel the original had enough.

“The Transporter: Refueled” seems at first like a knockoff of every European action movie ever made, but the fact that the hero is trying to save his father is actually quite a twist for the genre. Historically, it’s the token female who gets to have a father involved in the movie, usually as a powerful figure that the daughter is being used as a pawn against.  The hero is usually involved to protect the helpless female, and if there’s no sex scene there will be at least one heated look.

But getting the hero involved because of his own family? Someone who isn’t female, or in a traditionally “protected” category such as a younger sibling, romantic partner or child? Having the emotional motivation not be romantic or sexual in the slightest? I don’t know if the movie will be any good – it’s not being screened for critics – but that’s still the kind of remake I can respect. 

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