The Last Gasp of Originality

The recent news that Denzel Washington was cast as the lead in a remake of the classic western “The Magnificent Seven” has triggered an onslaught of anger among movie fans. Normally, angry rants are best reserved for finely-worded emails to executives, but this warrants an exception. Whether or not you are a fan of the 1960 film, everyone can agree that remakes of classics have gotten completely out of control. It’s time to leave well enough alone, and bring some originality to Tinsel town, even though originality seems like a dirty word these days.

The next few months will see an onslaught of remakes, re-do’s and sequels, everything from “Dumb and Dumber To” to a god-awful looking “re-imagining” of the Dracula story, “Dracula Untold.” “Untold” is a pretty bold claim for a story that has been done to death over a seventy-year span, from silent films to modern day. Was there really an audience for this? I think the only untold surprises left to be milked from the Dracula story are those awaiting the folks who actually crack open the original novel.

Coming up in December is “Annie,” a hearty stomp on the souls of those who have fond memories of Carol Burnett’s wonderfully sloshed Ms. Hannigan. While Jamie Foxx is an astute casting choice, and little Quvenzhané Wallis is adorable, this is so unnecessary that it hurts. Why not, say, cast these two talented people in an original screenplay? Because there’s not a guaranteed audience for a film based on an original screenplay, and execs are counting on Little Orphan Annie fans to come to the theater in droves and see a film that will not possibly live up to childhood memories of a classic.

Also in December is “Exodus: Gods and Kings.” With such an epic-sounding title, it may be easy to forget that this is a live-action reboot of “The Prince of Egypt.” While ancient history tales seem to be all the rage this year, what with “Noah,” and the non-Biblical “Pompeii” (shocker! The volcano blows!), the story of Moses seems a painfully obvious choice. The fact that the film loudly touts its use of “state of the art special effects” and 3D immersion probably means a big chunk of the audience will watch it just to point out that DeMille did it better in the fifties, using a big pool in the studio lot and a stick with some red dye coming out the end.  It’s not as though anyone will watch to see a big surprise ending.

Next year holds a slew of optioned remakes, including “Gremlins,” “Poltergeist,” and staggeringly, “Jumanji.” While none of these have confirmed casts or even tentative release dates, the thought of at least three “re-imaginings” of classic 80’s and 90’s movies is enough to make  anyone who remembers any one of these films fondly run screaming for the hills.

So for the “Seven”: while I can’t in good faith knock the fact that it is a remake (the 1960 film was itself an Americanized version of a fabulous Kurosawa movie), I can shake my head at the timing of it. For anyone who hasn’t seen the film, or only remembers bits and pieces, recall that at the time of its release, “The Magnificent Seven” was not only a classic western movie experience, but it also introduced some very original themes. At its heart, the movie is about the morality issue of living the life of a hired gunfighter: no family, no real friends, no place to call home. This was unheard of in 1960, when the good guys wore white and the bad guys wore black and everything (in a western film at least) was cut and dry. You can’t remake this film successfully without capturing this same theme, and audiences now wouldn’t understand how significant this idea was at the time, or how original. While I’m sure the filmmakers will present a pretty decent shoot em’ up movie, there won’t be a semblance of what made “The Magnificent Seven,” the classic that it is. For that reason, let us all bid a fond farewell to the very idea of an untouchable film. “Gone With the Wind” – you’re next.

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