Monday, March 22, 2010

The Case against Universal Monster remakes, Part Three

Well, I've been a bit busy, so I've had to put this on the back burner. But it gave me a chance to see a movie that backs my case against stars and Universal Monster remakes. Not that I needed any further evidence to support my thoughts, but judge for yourself.

How Star Power will Destroy Universal Monster Remakes

The story goes that, when casting ideas were tossed about for Tim Burton's Batman, someone got a picture of Jack Nicholson's face peering through a shattered bathroom door in The Shining. The picture was doctored to imitate the Joker's appearance, and this lead to Nicholson being cast for the role.

And he did a fine job. But such casting shows the downfall of star casting in Universal Monster remakes. And stars will be cast in any remake, as I believe this is the only way these movies will be able to get funded.

One might think, in this glut of remakes and reboots, that Universal Monster movies would automatically warrant a update. But these movies aren't the special effects driven vehicles like Star Trek or Transformers; nor can the monsters be played by a stuntman in a mask. The monsters have personalities, the characters have more depth and the stories are more plot driven. And without a massive special effects sequence or ten to hinge a trailer on, the studios will likely hire well known stars as a tease to bring people into the theater.

But this leads to a big problem, and Jack Nicholson is the perfect example of what can go wrong with this plan. While the casting worked, the audience was there to watch Jack Nicholson, not the Joker. He delivered on the role, but he never WAS the Joker.

Take a moment and ponder that thought. Jack Nicholson as the Joker was giving the same performance as he did in The Shining and would later in The Witches of Eastwick, Wolf, Mars Attacks and many other films. In fact, I think the last bit of acting Nicholson has done was in About Schmitd, where he didn't have his mania and trademark grin to fall back upon. Now, I'm not saying Nicholson is a one note actor, but when a film casts him to play a crazed character, he just puts on his Jack smile and runs with it.

Now, consider Heath Ledger's turn as the Joker. Unable to fall back on past roles, Ledger had to BECOME the Joker and, in my mind, gave a much better performance because he was forced to bring something fresh and new into his performance.

The same can be said for Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter in the current Alice in Wonderland. He's a great actor, but his current roles feel recycled. His Hatter is just a modified version of Captain Jack Sparrow, or Willie Wonka. After a while, his performance is rather boring to watch, because you've seen it before.

And that brings us to Anthony Hopkins in The Wolf Man. Yes, Hopkins is a great actor, but as the story progresses, his character becomes more like a shadow of Hannibal Lecter than a part of the film. Even Hugo Weaving falls victim to this, as I started thinking of his role as Agent Smith in The Matrix the moment the words "Mr. Talbot" left his lips.

And, if a star is cast for his past performances, the problem can manifest in the script, as a role might be tailored to allow the desired performance to shine. Original, interesting characters will be sacrificed to allow another star turn by whomever is hired.

Of course, the reverse could be true. Watching Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, one can not forget that the Monster is played by Robert DeNiro. Unlike Karloff, who rose to fame in the role, DeNiro was too recognizable in speech, mannerism and appearance to let the audience be absorbed in the performance. No matter what the quality of the script, a star turn can be a distraction in many ways.

So, Hollywood has three ways to kill any Universal Monster remake, and it's likely all will come into play (as in The Wolf Man). But the situation is not hopeless. In the last part of my series, I'll offer two solutions that might help bring back the Universal Monsters to the big screen.

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