Friday, May 17, 2013

Das Re-Boot!

Werth: Oh, Wise...

Wise: Yes, Werth?

Werth: I was just sitting here with my tri-corder and adhesive Spock ears thinking about all the re-boots that have been happening of late. 

Wise: There are a lot. Along with the hugely successful J.J. Abrams Star Trek franchise, there's Batman, Spider-Man, Superman—

Werth: The Alien quadrilogy got a new "beginning" with Prometheus—

Wise: Arthur got a new look care of Russell Brand—

Werth: And then there's the Psycho prequel on A&E.

Wise: Speaking of Hitchcock there's talk of a re-make of his 1940 classic Rebecca.

Werth: All these re-makes, re-boots and prequels make me wonder what Hollywood classic I would re-imagine if I ran the world.

Wise: The first film that pops into my mind is not a classic, but it is based on a classic fantasy series for teens. Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series combines Arthurian legend, mysterious villains, compelling (and distinctive) young heroes, and the supernatural to depict the eternal battle between the forces of Light and Dark. In a world where Harry Potter and The Hunger Games are smash hits in both the bookstore and the multiplex, Cooper's beloved series should prove irresistible to filmmakers. 
Unfortunately, that allure proved tempting to the wrong people resulting in the cinematic mishmash The Seeker (2007).

Werth: I want to name my first baby Mishmash.

Wise: Based on the second book in the series, the film follows Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig) an American teenager living in rural England who discovers that he is the latest in a long line of warriors destined to battle the forces of the Dark led by The Rider (Christopher Eccleston).  
Helping him in this quest is the mysterious butler from a nearby manor Merryman Lyon (Ian McShane) as well as the lady of the manor Miss Greythorne (Frances Conroy) who teach Will how to use his powers and instruct him in his mission to discover The Six Signs before the Dark forces can use them to destroy humanity.

Werth: Sounds like Downton Abbey meets Harry Potter. 

Wise: While film adaptations are necessarily different from the books upon which they are based, director David Cunningham and screenwriter John Hodge overlarded The Seeker with superfluous teen angst, distracting family dysfunction, gory action sequences, and even bastardized major plot points from Cooper's novels.  
They changed the hero's age, his nationality, and even shoehorned in a band of vikings when they found themselves unable to capture Cooper's foreboding tone. Fans of the books (and the author) cried foul and audiences not familiar with the series couldn't make sense of what they saw on the screen, and the lack of support from both corners made the film a flop. 
Which is a shame because the books still cry out for a more faithful adaption, perhaps directed by M. Night Shyamalan, who has a way with fantastical dread, or Alfonso Cuarón, who recognizes the mystical power of childhood. 
Returning to the books' late 1960's setting would also assist the portrayal of world at the cusp of good and evil, as would returning Will to his preteen age in the books instead of making him a moody teenager. Perhaps the best thing about The Seeker is that is provides a useful template for any future filmmaker of exactly what not to do.

Werth: Another template for what-not-to-do is cinematic stinker Barbarella (1968). Jane Fonda went against the light romantic comedy roles she was previously associated with to star as Barbarella, a sexy space agent who is on a mission to save the universe.

Wise: It couldn't be anymore ridiculous than Monster-in-Law.

Werth: Barbarella crash lands on an alien planet while looking for missing weapons developer Durand-Durand whose positronic ray could be used as a dreadful weapon to throw the whole universe back into a war-like state. As she hunts for the elusive scientist she is attacked by toothy dollies; has sex with a man in a fur suit; is saved by a blind, half-naked winged guy; has sex with the blind, 
half-naked winged guy; is attacked by a room full of cockatiels; has hand sex with a befuddled revolutuionary named Dildano; is sexually tortured by a musical organ—


Wise: I'm sensing a trend here.

Werth: Jane is very busy in this movie. Filmed by her then husband Roger Vadim, it seems plotted solely to give opportunities for Fonda to be naked and/or have her clothes torn off. Jane looks fantastic. But even her sexy, zero-gravity striptease can't keep this film from being pure spacejunk. The film is based on a French comic book which probably loses something in the translation.
The film takes the obvious road of spoofing the sci-fi genre instead of liberating it by more fully developing its female heroine. The polystyrene sets, the costumes that would make Cirque de Soleil cringe, and the pedantic dialogue are successful only as campy Sixties send-up.
Vadim misses the opportunity to make Barbarella a culture-clashing heroine who can save the universe with guile, sharp-shooting, and style instead of what amounts to a space-age bimbo who screws her way out of every predicament.

Wise: Just like you in the old days.

Werth: I think a smart director who can respect the genre while at the same time re-inventing it (Joss Whedon immediately comes to mind) would be perfect to re-boot Barbarella. Lord knows action/sci-fi flicks that require a lot of CGI are de rigeur these days.
You could get Emma Stone to play Barbarella, Channing Tatum to play winged hottie Pygar, Steve Carell as Dildano, and Jane Fonda could even appear as The Great Tyrant to lend some nostalgia to the proceedings. Trust me. Today's Hollywood couldn't do any worse than the molten canola oil villain Matmos that's in the original.

Wise: Careful, Werth. I think one of your Spock ears is coming unglued.


Werth: I'm getting over-heated. Would you hand me that bottle of spirit gum?

Wise: Tune in next week to see what sticks on Film Gab!

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