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by L.B. Jeffries

21 Jul 2009

From Capcom, box art

From Capcom, box art

As the Film Industry continues to bank on remakes and converting popular stories into film, consumers are beginning to question their relationship with media that is essentially a remake of an old one that they have already seen. What makes a remake good or bad? This question becomes even more interesting once you apply it to video games because even the definition of the remaking process comes into question. A movie is remade by giving it a new script and a new visual look. A video game is remade by doing both of those things but also overhauling the interface and game design to fit modern sensibilities. Take a game like Metroid Prime, which is essentially Super Metroid except in 3-D. That statement applies to the aesthetics, but does it also apply to the game design and technology? It’s a totally different game. Core elements like types of weapons or old maneuvers like the double-jump remain; stuff that doesn’t work in 3-D like the Hyper Run ability are abandoned. The concept of remakes becomes murky for games because there are so many different elements to consider. If a developer just releases new content but no new game design elements, then it’s considered an expansion pack. If they change the game design but keep the same plot, it’s a patch. What is the point of even remaking a game when conceptually its sequels, expansions, and patches could all be considered the same thing?

From buymusichere.net, cover art

From buymusichere.net, cover art

With remakes it’s a question of what should be changed, why it should be changed, and then how to go about doing that. With music, most remakes are simply considered covers. An artist will take an old song and add their own unique take. There are the classic examples like Jimi Hendrix covering Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” but modern examples like Alanis Morissette’s cover of “My Humps,” the Gourds’ version of “Gin & Juice,” or a Youtube fan video of Modest Mouse’s “Baby Blue Sedan,” all set a single standard for a musical remake. You have to do something new with a familiar song that’s equally if not more appealing than the original. In some of those examples, the song was getting old and unfamiliar to the current generation. In others, it was simply a very different take on the material. Determining the quality of a musical remake is dependent on whether or not the new version brings something new to the table.

From hotmoviesale, box art

From hotmoviesale, box art

In film, the standard also factors use of new cinema technology like CGI. Films have never been a bastion for totally unique stories. Most early films were based on theater or literature. Remakes came into existence almost as soon as there was an excuse to start making them. Once sound could be added to film, Hollywood went back and turned numerous popular silent films into “talkies.” The arrival of color meant that the same classics would again need the same treatment. Often the scripts and actors would be different, but the core story and even title would remain the same. CGI and modern special effects bring about this need for changing the past once again, a remake of Jason and the Argonauts today can achieve the visuals that its script envisions much more readily than the original could. New technology allows a classic film to have a new visual appeal for today’s generation because it’s the way they’re used to films looking. With technology, the visual experience is constantly improving so that a new way of seeing a story is always being achieved.

From gog.com, banner of website

From gog.com, banner of website

In video games, these two dual standards of technology and newness can be seen in many popular remakes. Metroid: Zero Mission or the Resident Evil remake for the Gamecube do a good job of fulfilling both the importance of improving the visuals but also making sure that this makes the game new in its own way. They are graphically superior, deviate from the original game at certain points, and their designs have been overhauled to fit modern sensibilities. That’s the third element that a video game must contend with in a remake: the design itself. Zero Mission features a guide system for its map to make things easier and uses controls that differ from the original NES version to accommodate the Gameboy Advance. Resident Evil for the Gamecube improves its script, voice acting, and pacing to create a superior retelling of the original experience. A kombo article outlining their Top Ten Remakes argues similar merits. The Prince of Persia remake is basically the same game but with better graphics, time trials, and way points. Tomb Raider Anniversary has superior graphics, better movement controls, and yet recreates many of the old levels while adding new ones. All of the originals were good games in their time but our expectations for what video game experiences should be like has changed significantly since then. The thing about a video game is that unlike a classic film or song, certain portions of it age differently. No one is particularly keen on playing a game with archaic movement controls because developers have perfected moving in 3-D environments. It’s just a trial and error process to go from using a D-pad to get around in Tomb Raider to moving via dual-anlaog. Aesthetic or plot differences can make a video game remake necessary like a film or song, but they also have to factor in someone being unused to the design. It’s not just not thinking that they’re pretty enough that becomes an issue; it’s that younger audiences might not even understand how to play it.

From monsterlandtoys.com, movie poster

From monsterlandtoys.com, movie poster

Yet no matter what the medium that the remake is being created for, there is another factor that goes beyond just modernizing the presentation or giving a unique interpretation of an old tune. You have to offer something to fans already familiar with the old version. One of the best examples of someone whose work has been remade countless times over is William Shakespeare. The way those plays continue to stay relevant today is the fact that their scripts can remain the same but totally change by adjusting the context. An essay praising the culture of remakes mentions Orson Welles. Before he made Citizen Kane, he put on, “a 1936 Macbeth showing the absurdity of segregation by offering an all-black cast before a backdrop of Haitian voodoo; Julius Caesar reimagined in 1937 as a warning about the rise of fascism, the noble Romans clad in Mussolini-style military uniforms.” Welles gave a new twist on these plays because, by changing their context, the entire meaning becomes both relevant and more insightful to modern problems. A blog comparing failed film remakes makes the distinction between the Matthew Broderick version of Godzilla and the 1990s remake of The Brady Bunch. The Godzilla movie fails because it tries to be the 1970s version of Godzilla instead of just distilling the essence of it. The The Brady Bunch film succeeded because it offered something to the fans: the movie places the 1970’s values of that family in contrast to the 1990’s as a kind of touching satire. What distinguishes the good remake is that its new version still has something for people who are already familiar with it.

Depending on how cynical you want to be about this topic, it can be argued that everything is just a remake of some other story, game, or song. Gears of War is just Space Invaders in 3-D. The Star Trek remake is just The Iliad in space. Every advance that is celebrated in popular culture is a product of something original being built on top of something familiar. A remake is just being honest about its origins.

by G E Light

21 Jul 2009

Roky's Birthday Cake (7/15/09) Photo by G. E. Light

Roky’s Birthday Cake (7/15/09) Photo by G. E. Light

F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong. Nowhere was this more self-evident than the night of Wednesday July 15th at Antone’s in Austin Texas, around 10:30 pm when headliner and birthday boy Roky Erickson strode to the stage and burned through a pounding 90-minute set of rock and psychedelia, necessarily concluding with his first big hit: The 13th Floor Elevator’s “You’re Gonna Miss Me”:

Roky launches into

Roky launches into “You’re Gonna Miss Me” Photo by G.E. Light

by Omar Kholeif

21 Jul 2009

Nothing is as strangely disconcerting, or one might add, as oddly fulfilling as stepping into a movie theatre, only to see another audience also here to watch a film, who are staring right back at you. The resulting experiment, Shirin is a wonderful, post-modern take on the cinema. As the movie unfolds, it becomes clear that we aren’t here to watch a story in the traditional sense, but to take a look at ourselves, and to consider the palpable reactions that the film theatre can induce in an audience.

The entire film exists solely as a series of close-ups of over 100 Iranian women, who are sitting in a cinema, engrossed in an adaptation of the folk story of Khosrow & Shirin (a mystical 12th century romance about female self sacrifice). As the picture unfolds, we begin to study the faces of the audience members. We observe, the twiddling of thumbs, the furrowing of brows, the tentative smiles, and most importantly the insurmountable tears. By simply watching these female reactions, I found myself forming my own assumptions about the characters and their back-stories. I wanted to know why each and every one of these women reacted in the way she did. Were this woman scorned by their husbands? Oppressed by the government’s militant regime? Forced into hapless marriages?

Moreover, Western cinemagoers will be pleased to find the beautiful Juliette Binoche staring back at them, during intermittent points on the screen. Why is she living in Iran, one might ask? And as such, the curious questions continue keeping us far from boredom. Understandably some viewers will struggle to find the purpose in the cinematic release of this piece, but arguably, the whole point of Shirin is that it is broadcast in a movie theatre. Certainly, the story of Khosrow and Shirin, which is rife with passionate trysts, would probably never be produced in a conservative nation like Iran. As such, this motion picture’s existence presents the story in a subversive manner, while at the same time relaying a completely unique theatrical experience. Subtle, but assured in its approach, watching Shirin is like watching a series of fragmented dreams—each and every one from a separate life that is as beautiful, as it is poignant.

by tjmHolden

21 Jul 2009

Source: IMDBSource: IMDB


Okay, I admit. Bad title. Possibly even one of my all-time worsts. If I’d had more than three seconds to work it through, I might have come up with something better.

On the other hand, given that I haven’t had a lot of sleep . . . maybe not. The reason that I haven’t had much sleep is that I was up late last night. And I was up late last night because I was doing what always gets me in trouble: following my impulses.

The impulse that deprived me of my mental faculties is probably inferable from the entry title, and if not the title, then the pictures above.

Basically, what I did with my late night was watch the two incarnations of “Pelham 1-2-3”—the stellar 1974 version, and the widely-panned 2009 redo. Actually, I wouldn’t sharpen up the ole butcher knife over the latter, but, if comparison is going to be involved, there can be little doubt that the earlier version is a far superior product. I actually would encourage those of you who haven’t yet seen the Denzel Washington-John Travolta remake to do so—as long as you promise on the spirit of your evaporated last paycheck that at some point you’ll find a way to see the Walter Matthau-Robert Shaw (Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo, Jerry Stiller) original.

They really don’t make movies like that any more. And maybe if they studied more of them, they would realize they should.

 

by Bill Gibron

21 Jul 2009

We film critics hear it all the time - the endless creative mantra from the men behind the camera. “The studio made me trim it.” “The MPAA did most of the damage.” “Test groups didn’t like the (insert movie specific reference here) subplot, so it had to go.” “The ending didn’t ‘test’ well.” The need to edit, the contractually mandated rating (or running time), have long scuttled many an aesthetic aim. It’s almost as if - conspiracy theorists, listen up - a mediocre version of the movie is purposefully created for the mainstream so that the lowest common commercial denominator is fed and then forced aside.

Initially, the invention known as home video offered little solace. The VHS version of a film was supposed to be a full screen mimic of the theatrical experience - artistic compromises and all. Laserdisc promised more access to the “original” content, though it rarely had the opportunity to deliver. By the time that DVD was arriving, some studios saw a value in introducing the “extended” or “director’s” cut to their sell-through catalog. But it really took the new digital domain - and its even more complex cousin, Blu-ray - to pay true homage to the hard work of these marginalized moviemakers. In fact, today is seems like every new release is offered in both a theatrical and some manner of “unrated”, “uncensored”, or unabridged version.

Of course, some of these after-thought entries into the comprehensive collection ideal were fully anticipated. The ratings uproar over the first few Saw sequels caused director Darren Lynn Bousman to promise (and eventually provide) the true “blood and guts” vision of his horror titles. Indeed, almost every scary movie made is trimmed of some violent (or carnal) excess, only to see it restored later on. And then there is Watchmen, Zack Snyder’s brilliant adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ “unfilmable” graphic novel masterwork. Almost from the very beginning, the man behind the Dawn of the Dead remake and 300 alerted fans that he would have to eliminate some beloved material to make the movie version more ‘linear’. Some feared he would completely ruin the revered book.

They were dead wrong. As we learned back in March, Watchmen was and remains an epic masterpiece, a visually stunning tour de force that provided as much spectacle as subtext. In telling the story of a group of former masked avengers, it soared to unimaginable inventive heights. While you can read reviews and reactions to the theatrical version here (a good place to start, FYI), it’s clear that, after a disappointed performance at the box office, many wondered in the mandated cuts and missing material would make a difference. Now Warner Brothers is releasing the first of what will be two completely different edits of the film. While the “Ultimate Edition” won’t make it to stores until December, the first offering out of the box, featuring Snyder’s latest compilation, is nothing short of monumental.

Indeed, the new Director’s Cut, running 24 minutes longer than the theatrical release, is a revelation for both original fans of the film and those who thought the initial outing was, let’s say, less than impressive. Snyder adds dozens of new scenes, shots of original Nite Owl Hollis Mason getting his unjust final desserts, moments of sheer blood-shedding as Dr. Manhattan overruns Vietnam. The big blue God gets his relationship with Laurie Jupiter (aka Silk Specter II) expanded, while formerly forgotten characters like the News Vendor and the Comic Reader have been reintroduced - if barely - into the narrative. In all, many of the complaints leveled against the film have been addressed. It flows better, has more of a psychological and emotional bite, and really highlights the superhero deconstruction which made Moore’s literary interpretation of the genre a considered classic.

Some may feel cheated when they learn that separate projects previously released on digital - the animated Tales of the Black Freighter and Watchmen: The Motion Comic as well as the mock doc Under the Hood - aren’t present here. They are being reserved for the bigger, more impressive five disc set a few months from now. But for anyone who has a question as to whether or not to purchase this particular version of the film, the answer is a solid “yes”. Not only do you get one of the best films of 2009, a rarity in both content and creativity, but you walk into one of the most immersive, in-depth home video experiences ever…especially on Blu-ray.

There, the 2.40:1 image is stunningly recreated in pristine 1080p. The movie looks almost three dimensional in its crystal clarity. The sound is also amped up thanks to the lossless DTS HD Master 5.1 English audio mix. The overall technical experience is immersive, matching the Cineplex presentation facet-for-facet. But where fans will really rejoice is in the added content department. Warners has asked Snyder to take all the EPK material and making-of documentaries created for the film and incorporate them into a point-by-point feature known as “{Maximum Movie Mode”. With the noted director as our host and guide, we get three hours of video commentary and asides, picture in picture clips and tag-along Q&As with the cast, as well as a trivia timeline comparing the real world to the Watchmen universe.

It’s here where we learn the intricacies of the rough cut run through. Snyder explains why certain scenes were trimmed, offering insights into “creativity by committee” decisions and the implied needs of the audience. He also highlights little details often overlooked by first-time viewers and direct shout-outs to Moore and Gibbons. Elsewhere, the actors discuss their desire to stay true to their characters while bringing these complex beings to life, and the crew addressed concerns regarding the use of CGI, how Dr. Manhattan was created, and the decision to be less “realistic” with the recreation of famous faces within this parallel universe. Along with three excellent supplements on the second disc, we have reason enough to own this particular package.

But it’s Watchmen itself that needs one more additional push. While it failed to wholly deliver on its pre-determined blockbuster status, this is still a fantastic film. It has gravity and weight, the underlying horror of global thermal nuclear war reminding us that, at least back in the early ‘80s, we had more to fear than criminals and the masked men and women who chased after them. The looming threat, the notion of human extinction placed alongside the dying breed of vigilante’s gives the movie an edge and a somber subtext that hard to shake. With pitch perfect performances from everyone in the cast (especially the Oscar-worthy work of Jackie Earle Haley as the psychotic soul of the Watchmen, Rorschach), it’s up to Snyder to guide us through this well-woven web of intrigue, doubt, and deception -and he does so effortlessly.

In a clear case of “improving on perfection”, the new director’s cut of Watchmen takes an already stellar work and makes it even more powerful. Time will grant this astonishing effort the critical consensus it so richly requires. This is a film that submerges us into this world of disgruntled heroes, tired villains, weak-willed politicians, and the one unknown force that is driving them all toward Armageddon. It’s a dense ride, often needing, nay mandating more than one visit to figure out all the nuances. But those with the patience to work their way through the intricacies will be rewarded with something grand indeed. As well as Watchmen worked the first time around, this extended version is even better. It just goes to prove that, sometimes, a required revisit it well worth the wait.

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Call For Papers: Celebrating Star Trek's 50th Anniversary

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"To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the hit franchise, PopMatters seeks submissions about Star Trek, including: the TV series, from The Original Series (TOS) to the highly anticipated 2017 new installment; the films, both the originals and the J.J. Abrams reboot; and ancillary materials such as novelizations, comic books, videogames, etc.

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