It's All Too Much: Robert Zemeckis' Proposed 'Yellow Submarine' Remake

Honestly, who wouldn’t love to see Pepperland rendered in three high resolution dimensions? Wouldn’t it be great to see the unlimited imagination of the modern artistic freely unleashed within an ‘anything is possible’ paradigm?

Yellow Submarine

Director: George Dunning
Cast: Paul Angelis, John Clive, Dick Emery, Geoffrey Hughes, Lance Percival, Peter Batten
Studio: Apple Films
Year: 1968
UK Release Date: 1968-06-06
US Release Date: 1968-06-06

The purists are already up in arms. Less than 24 hours since it was announced that Robert Zemeckis was helming a motion capture 3D remake of the Beatles classic bit of animated psychedelia, Yellow Submarine, and you'd swear the State of New York was paroling Mark David Chapman (don't recognize the name? Go read something else!). Everyone, from film fans to protectors of the Fab Four sonic flame are arguing over the implied heresy of such an idea, complaining that technology and a "fresh" approach can't contribute anything to what is already a classic.

And for the most part, they are right. The original project, completed without the pop phenomenon's direct input (voices were impersonators, songs were leftovers along with some past classics), has remained a fixture of the artform, a post-modern Fantasia finding depth and meaning in the Lennon/McCartney songbook classicism. Dealing with the faraway kingdom of Pepperland and Old Fred's battle against the bad vibe aggression of the memorable Blue Meanies, there was something very twee, and quite terrific, about George Dunning's Peter Max-inspired effort. Now comes the threat of a Tinseltown treatment, the work of late '60s artisans sacrificed for a few gigs of RAM and a more photorealistic look.

Granted, it's not the worst idea ever conceived. One look at Zemeckis' attempts in the computer imaging arena would argue for the possibilities within such a project. Over the course of intriguing works like The Polar Express, Beowulf, and the upcoming Jim Carrey vehicle A Christmas Carol, the Back to the Future/Roger Rabbit auteur has come close to mimicking realism within a completely fabricated realm. Sure, the eyes still seem kind of dead and the facial motion reminds one of a trip to Disney's mechanical Hall of Presidents more than real movement, but as progress makes such advancements better - and more importantly, cheaper - and exercise like Yellow Submarine makes sense.

Honestly, who wouldn't love to see Pepperland rendered in three high resolution dimensions? Wouldn't it be great to see the unlimited imagination of the modern artistic freely unleashed within an 'anything is possible' paradigm? The original is indeed a phenomenal bit of cartooning contrasts - rotoscoping incorporated into free form visions of a dying Victorian landscape, unusual villains whose horrors seem slightly surreal and almost laughable, the attention to detail, the broad-based over-stylzed sections. Now take what technology does best and AMPLIFY that. Understand now? Zemeckis may sound like the wrong man to remake the group's already established status, but why not let his techniques take the material to new, heretofore unheard of heights?

Let's look at the facts - the Beatles themselves did little to foster the original project. They really didn't want to participate at all. They weren't sitting with the animators, lording over every creative and character design issue. Instead, they licensed their rights and image, allowed Dunning and his crew to take the material wherever they liked, tossed off a few tunes, and reaped the praise when the results were masterful. With the untimely passing of John in 1980, and George's death from cancer in 2001, it has been left to Paul, Ringo, Yoko, and Olivia to preserve the dynasty, and there will never be a chance to see the lads from Liverpool together again - except now. With the way in which Zemeckis makes his movies, this could be the Beatles "reunion" fans have long dreamt of.

Besides, where's the proposed bellyaches over the about to be released Fab Four version of Rock Band. Instead of complaining about taking a 2D cartoon into another advanced dimension, said protracted bile should be preserved for a video game that fakes musicianship for the sake of a false sense of artistic accomplishment. Indeed, what's more disrespectful to the genius of this seminal '60s group - taking their image and reinventing a fictional fable about peace, love, understanding, and ecology around it, or reducing their groundbreaking arrangements and pure songwriting genius into a series of joystick controls and button manipulations?

Still, one can see the point of the purists (the same ones who are probably working their voodoo curse magic on the makers of a certain console title as we speak). Everything about the Beatles legacy is important - from the early days of drugs and debauchery to their post-breakup bickering and lawsuits. They remain wholly unique in the annals of rock and roll, a distillation of what came before as a means of creating the blueprint for all that would come after. They delivered some of the greatest albums of all time, and when they failed (The Magical Mystery Tour TV special), they screwed up fabulously. They thought big (they once discussed making their own version of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings) and more often than not, produced. No other band can claim their influence and social import. To argue otherwise avoids several decades of actual history.

So retrofitting the adventures of a certain saffron submersible and its quick witted crew, to redesign the "Nowhere Man" himself, Jeremy Hilary Boob Ph.D into something more marketable and merchandisable does seem like part inspiration and part sacrilege. The group's catalog has long needed a remaster, so the upcoming digital upgrades are more welcome than worthless, and there's no suggestion about remaking A Hard Day's Night or Help! with some nonsensical no-talent like The Jonas Brothers or Fall Out Boy in the lead. Even with Rock Band relegating their brilliance to memorizable bits of hand/eye coordination, at least the music is being heard again. Indeed, if Yellow Submarine 2012 (currently planned to coincide with London's Summer Olympic Games) brings back unforgettable tunes like "It's All Too Much" and "Hey Bulldog", it might be worth it.

And there's the already produced "cinematic" opening for the above-referenced video game to consider. Done via traditional as well as CG-aided animation and covering most of the group's career, it's considered "epic", "operatic", and "stunning" even by those who would defend the mythos of the originals to the death. In fact, if done correctly, an updated Yellow Submarine could become another modern masterpiece in the band's lingering mystique. Remember the uproar over Anthology and the new 'song', "Free as a Bird"? A fantastic career spanning video changes many minds about its authenticity and place. So why couldn't something like this? What if Zemeckis is not planning a mere remake? What if he intends his Submarine as a way of marking the group's significance - a greatest hits, if you will, illustrated with eye popping visuals that play as an overview of everything they accomplished? Doesn't sound to bad now, does it?

In the meantime, be prepared for the backlash. It's the natural reaction when you shake your tiny fists at the gods. A few years ago it was 'cool' to dismiss The Beatles as nothing more than a teen idol boy band - an 'N Sync, if you will, with better combined creativity. Whenever anyone challenged such a narrow minded perception, the proposed youth coup would complain, citing the sourpuss's need to change with the changing times. Of course, all consensus being cyclical, we are back to defending our mop topped heroes like the counterculture icons they truly were.

If Rock Band is okay and new "stereo" mixes of their old Mono tracks are tolerable, a new Yellow Submarine doesn't seem so horrific. Then again, that's what they said about Julie Taymor's inconsistent musical utilizing the band's canon, Across the Universe. When you mess with the Beatles, you mess with history. Here's hoping Zemeckis understands that before putting the supercomputer to the ultimate super-group.

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White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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