Thursday, March 20, 2014

For Those of You Complaining About "Remakes"

This has nothing to do with sports -- with the exception of two movies with a sports theme.

NBC is trying to bring back the miniseries. Their 1st project: A remake of Rosemary's Baby, with Zoe Saldana (born in Passaic, New Jersey, but grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens) in the 1968 Mia Farrow role.

Instead of the Dakota Arms Hotel -- already the home of Leonard Bernstein then, and soon to be the home of John Lennon and Yoko Ono -- it's going to take place in Paris. You can see the Eiffel Tower in the background in the promotional photo above.

Already, it's being ripped. Not because people fear it won't be any good, or that they don't think Saldana is up to it. (She is. She's almost as good as she is gorgeous.)

But people are upset that it's a remake, and not an original idea.

For those of you complaining about remakes:

Gene Roddenberry freely admitted that his original concept for Star Trek was a mix of "Hornblower in space" and "Wagon Train to the Stars."

George Lucas freely admitted that Star Wars (the first movie, 1977, a.k.a. "Episode IV: A New Hope") is his Americanization and launch into space of Akiro Kurosawa's film The Hidden Fortress. There's no Darth Vader equivalent in that film, but there is a headstrong princess who needs to be rescued from a "death star," and Toshiro Mifune essentially plays a combination of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo -- thus also predicting Mel Brooks' Spaceballs.

And without Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars probably would never have gotten the funding it needed for all those special effects, and it probably would have been as big a joke as Battle Beyond the Stars, the 1978 Buck Rogers series, or the 1980 version of Flash Gordon.

Battle Beyond the Stars is The Magnificent Seven in space. The Magnificent Seven was also originally a Kurosawa film, The Seven Samurai.

The classic 1990s TV series NYPD Blue and E/R would not have been possible without their obvious 1980s influences, Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere, respectively.

I love Castle. But did you notice? It's an ABC cop show, combining humor and drama, set in New York's 12th Precinct. (Which, like NYPD Blue's 15th, does not actually exist.) Sound familiar? Barney Miller did that 35 years earlier. Only without a hot lady detective (having Linda Lavin as Janice Wentworth for 5 episodes in the over the 1st 2 seasons doesn't count), and one of the detectives (Ron Glass as Ron Harris) was the writer. And the Castle characters' constant need for coffee, and Castle's gift to the precinct house of an espresso machine, has just got to be a reference to the oft-reviled coffee made by Barney Miller's Detective Nick Yemana (Jack Soo).

The great NCIS isn't original, either. It's a spinoff of JAG, which itself was, consciously or otherwise, an update of The Lieutenant, Gene Roddenberry's 1st TV series. While there's no previous series that I know of that really presages NCIS, it does have elements of Mission: Impossible -- and while the characters are hardly exactly alike, there is a little bit of Captain Barney Miller in Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, especially in the way he treats his team like family, however dysfunctional they are at times.

Quentin Tarantino makes some fun movies, but none of his work is original. Indeed, he admits it more freely than most. Even Uma Thurman's yellow tracksuit from Kill Bill was identical to one worn by Bruce Lee.

The Flintstones was the 1st TV show to rip off The Honeymooners, but it sure wasn't the last: There's been Good Times, Roc, The King of Queens, and many others. You could even argue that The Cosby Show was The Honeymooners, with the characters successful: The family is in Brooklyn; the husband is a well-paid professional who is full of himself, likes to argue, and needs to diet; the wife is also a well-paid professional, and always ends up getting the better of the husband. There's no need for a wacky neighbor: The kids fill that role.

And speaking of wacky neighbors, tell me that Cosmo Kramer of Seinfeld isn't Ed Norton of The Honeymooners with a lot more smarts -- but far less practicality. Just watch each of them barge into the apartment, uninvited, without knocking. (Okay, Kramer never wore a hat... )

When Mad About You premiered, it was nicknamed "Seinfeld for married people." The MAY character of waitress Ursula was played by Lisa Kudrow, and was made the twin sister of Kudrow's character Phoebe Buffay on Friends, which was essentially (at least, at the start) Seinfeld 10 years younger.

Full House had no mom in the house (like many single-dad series), but it did have an Uncle Jesse (like The Dukes of Hazzard) and an Uncle Joey (like Petticoat Junction had an Uncle Joe).

Girlfriends is an L.A. version of New York's Living Single -- right down to former Hill Street Blues cop Michael Warren playing the father of both the former's Joan Clayton and the latter's Khadijah James.

That '70s Show is an update of the 1950s-based series Happy Days -- right down to the fact that it's placed in Wisconsin, albeit in the suburbs, rather than in a suburban section of Milwaukee. And, let's face it, I'll take the greaser Fonz over the ginker Kelso any day. And there's no way Happy Days happens without an earlier Ron Howard vehicle, American Graffiti.

West Side Story is Romeo & Juliet in mid-20th Century New York. The Lion King is Hamlet with animals. 10 Things I Hate About You is The Taming of the Shrew for turn-of-the-21st Century teenagers. She's the Man did the same thing for Twelfth Night. O was Othello set in a high school basketball program (the 1st of the sports-themed movies I said I would mention). Forbidden Planet was a sci-fi version of The Tempest, which was adapted into a modern format by Paul Mazursky. And Shakespeare himself stole from lots of people.

How many TV shows and movies are based on the Bible? Cain & Abel became John Steinbeck's East of Eden, which then became the film that launched James Dean to fame. NBC's 2009 series Kings was a modern retelling of the story of King David, with the main character being "Captain David Shepherd." Sadly, it got canceled after one season, when he was still on the way up, but at least it had him become a hero by destroying the enemy's "Goliath tank."

The real David's son, King Solomon, and his love for the Queen of Sheba, has been turned into all kinds of legends of kings getting mixed up with the wrong woman, including King Arthur and Queen Guenivere. And Neo in The Matrix has been compared to Jesus -- although the idea of Keanu Reeves carrying that role strikes me as ridiculous.

Not that the Bible is completely original: Every religion has a Creation story, many have relatives fighting each other as part of it, there have been virgin births of heroes going back at least as far as ancient Egypt, and most religions have an end-times story (the Norse "Ragnarok," for instance).

Harry Potter is "the chosen one"? Does that make him "the Messiah"? Or "The One"? As a previous "chosen one," Darth Vader, might have said, "I find your lack of originality disturbing." And what is The Hunger Games' Katniss Everdeen but a female version of Harry, with arrows instead of magic? Or a distaff King Arthur, with arrows instead of a sword? Or a ladies' version of King David, with arrows instead of a sling?

And speaking of King Arthur, Bernard Malamud went out of his way to say that his baseball novel The Natural was based on the Arthurian legend. Roy Hobbs' team is called the Knights, the bat Wonderboy is the sword Excalibur, etc. The film version (the 2nd of the 2 sports-themed movies I mentioned at the beginning) removes Arthur's fall (a home run instead of a strikeout), but it does deepen the analogy.

House of Cards, which so many of you like, was based on a series of British films, with Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart. Like Kevin Spacey's Frank Underwood, the initials F.U. were chosen on purpose.

It was a trilogy of miniseries: In House of Cards, Urquhart (who also broke the fourth wall to address the audience) schemed his way to becoming Prime Minister, by forcing out a PM of his own party (in his case, Conservative) and the other contenders to replace him. In To Play the King, the Queen (obviously meant to be Elizabeth II) is dead, and in order to stop the new King (clearly meant to be Prince Charles) from meddling, the PM exposes his infidelities, and the King abdicates, resulting in "the young King" (William) taking the throne.

And in The Final Cut, it all comes crashing down on him, as he tries to beat Margaret Thatcher's record for longest time as PM in the modern era -- the day he breaks the record being the dedication of the Iron Bitch's statue. (Clearly, the films took place in the near future, although Thatcher, unlike Queen Elizabeth, has since died.) And his wife, who's also no prize, has him assassinated to protect his name. (Shades of Florence Harding.)

Batman is basically Zorro in a modern city: The foppish aristocrat is the pose, he wears a black costume, he has a cave underneath the big house to use as his base of operations, and he has a black vehicle (Zorro's horse Tornado became the Batmobile). Batcreator Bob Kane even wrote it into the origin story that the film the Waynes saw the night Bruce's parents were killed was The Mark of Zorro. And even Zorro wasn't original: The Scarlet Pimpernel preceded him by a century, Robin Hood (the Earl of Huntington in one version) by centuries more.

And Superman can be traced back to ancient Greece's Hercules, Jewish tradition's Golem, the Bible's Samson, and even Babylon's Gilgamesh, one of the oldest stories in Earth literature.

So don't tell me, "There are no original ideas." We know that already!

I'm not saying that any of these adaptations are bad simply because they're adaptations. I'm not even saying that any of them are bad.

I am saying you should judge remakes and adaptations on their own merit, without worrying that they've been done before.

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