April 24, 2009

Where's the Originality in Hollywood Film?

Hey, here’s a question… Is anyone in Hollywood doing anything original? When I take a look at the last six months worth of major studio releases, I have come back with the answer, “Not really.”

Let’s start by taking a look at the box office champs for the past two weeks, Fast and Furious and 17 Again, the recently released Race to Witch Mountain, Last House on the Left, Crank 2: High Voltage, and the upcoming Obsessed. Each one is simply a remake or retread of an earlier film.

In Fast and Furious, the stars of the original The Fast and The Furious (Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster) return to try and breathe new life into the tired franchise. I guess the three previous "Fast and Furious" movies (plus Redline) didn't sufficiently cover the world of illegal street racing.

17 Again stars Matthew Perry as a middle-aged schmoe who’s transformed into a teenage version of himself and then proceeds to attend the same high school as his kids. The film is just another in a long line of “body-switching”, “grown-up in a kid’s body”, “let’s have them go back to high school with their own kids” fantasy-comedies that include Freaky Friday (both the original version with Jodie Foster and the remake with Lindsay Lohan), Big, and the even more startlingly similar Like Father, Like Son (featuring Kirk Cameron and Dudley Moore as father and son who switch bodies) and Vice Versa (with Fred Savage and Judge Reinhold doing the same.) Oh, and by the way, in 1988, there was a movie starring George Burns, where he’s transformed into the body of his teenage grandson and then goes back to high school. That movie’s title?... 18 Again. Evidently, besides not caring to make a film with an original story, the producers of 17 Again were too lazy to even come up with a fresh title.

There’s more.

Race to Witch Mountain, features Dwayne (“The Rock”) Johnson in an updating of one of the more forgettable 70’s Disney flicks (what’s next, a new version of Gus, the field goal kicking mule?) while the new Last House on the Left tries to one-up Wes Craven’s suspense/horror classic.

In Crank 2, protagonist Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) returns, and this time instead of constantly having to keep his adrenaline level up (or else he’ll die), Chev has to keep his artificial heart electrically charged (or else… you guessed it, he’ll die.) Now we actually “got” the original Crank, loved its high concept premise (Speed but with a person instead of a bus) and we understood why it developed into something of a cult classic after its DVD release. And though it’s understandable why there would be a sequel, it doesn’t change the fact that the basic premise, plot devices, and action sequences in Crank 2 are too often scene for scene copies of the original.

This Friday we get Obsessed, which stars Ali Larter as a hot secretary who develops a “fatal attraction” towards her boss. I guess we’ll see it cause we liked 1993’s The Temp, starring Lara Flynn Boyle as a hot secretary who develops a… aww nevermind, you get it.

Even many of the most highly publicized upcoming summer movies –- Terminator Salvation, Star Trek, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Angels and Demons, Night at the Museum 2, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Ice Age 3, and X Men Origins: Wolverine -- represent nothing new.

Additionally, nowadays the vast majority of prestige pictures -- serious fare including the recent Oscar nominees Benjamin Button, Slumdog Millionaire, Revolutionary Road, The Reader, and Doubt, as well as the just released The Soloist -- are based on critically-acclaimed novels or other material.

So what’s my point? It seems that increasingly, Hollywood is growing more and more reluctant to make original films, opting instead for remakes, sequels, and movies based on books, toys or comic book characters.

I ask with exasperation -- Is no one writing directly for the screen anymore? Why don’t we see more original scripts reach the level of Juno, Little Miss Sunshine, and Crash (all Oscar winners for Best Original Screenplay)? Sadly, what seems to occur more often is that creative, edgy, imaginative screenplays are passed over in favor of what agents, movie executives, and other decision-makers consider more bankable properties. That’s why we get movie versions of popular books like Confessions of a Shopaholic and He’s Just Not That Into You, along with Hannah Montana movies, and endless installments in Tyler Perry’s Madea series. Unfortunately, it’s all just more of the same. The studios, and others holding the purse strings, would rather go over the same ground a second, third, or tenth time with something that is (or at one time was) proven, instead of taking a chance on something that’s fresh, funny or inventive. It’s a frustrating proposition for all the talented writers out there with inspired spec screenplays that aren’t getting produced, while scripts for a 20-years too late Land of the Lost movie and Final Destination: Death Trip 3D are quickly greenlighted.

Don’t get me wrong. I know there are still a lot of very good and original screenplays being produced these days. Interestingly, more and more, these stories are finding their way to HBO, Showtime, FX and other cable TV outlets. And while it seems that cable is becoming more edgy and willing to take chances on original material, Hollywood is becoming more and more risk averse. It’s a shame, because the industry is in desperate need of fresh ideas from new writers, and the big screen needs more pictures like last year’s In Bruges and Frozen River. And yes, it even needs more like I Love You Man, Sunshine Cleaners, and Hotel for Dogs, which, though they may not be great movies, at least get points for originality.

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