Friday, August 21, 2009

"One land, one king!"

Here's a good example of something that makes clear that I'll never understand the mindset that governs the way Hollywood does business. Apparently Bryan Singer, who was reported last week as being attached to a new Battlestar Galactica reboot movie, is also near to being attached to a project to remake John Boorman's classic King Arthur film Excalibur:

Warner Bros. has closed a rights deal to remake the 1981 “Excalibur,” with Bryan Singer producing and developing the picture as a potential directing vehicle.

Deal comes as Singer gets serious about making the New Line-Legendary co-production “Jack the Giant Killer” his next directing effort, according to sources.

WB and Legendary Pictures have labored for months to pull together the rights to the film, which Singer will produce with Julie Yorn. Polly Johnsen, who was Polly Cohen when she was the WB exec who presided over the Singer-directed WB/Legendary collaboration “Superman Returns,” will also be a producer.

What catches me here isn't the notion of remaking Excalibur so much as this: according to this, Warner Bros. has spent months and, by obvious extension, lots of money to acquire the remake rights to Excalibur. But Excalibur was based on material that has been in the public domain literally for centuries! This is what I don't get. If Warner Bros. wanted to do a King Arthur movie, they could have simply hired a writer and said, "Write us a draft of a script based on the Arthurian legends." But Hollywood suits don't think like that, do they? They don't think in terms of getting a project done, they think in terms of properties to be acquired. Which means that where they could make any movie they want based on Le Morte d'Arthur, they'd much rather spend orders of magnitude more money to acquire rights to a thirty-year old movie.

The mind reels.

(And really, why remake Excalibur anyway? The original is really about as good an Arthurian movie as I think can probably be made, given the non-cinematic nature of the source material. If the suits are that keen on hopping on the filmed-fantasy bandwagon, there are lots of unmade properties out there. This makes no sense.)


jason said...

You're in the ballpark when you say the suits want to acquire properties, but I think the real problem is that they don't even think in terms of properties anymore but in terms of brands. Excalibur is a known brand, i.e., a name the audience -- even the non-fanboy audience -- already has some familiarity with, thanks to decades of seeing the box on the shelf at the video store or catching bits and pieces of the original on cable. Just like Star Trek or Battlestar or any of the other dozens of remakes that've come along in the last few years. And what the suits are doing by making new movies with those familiar titles is "extending the brand," like bringing out a new variety of Coke.

Have you noticed that, for the most part, they're only remaking properties from the '70s and '80s instead of reaching farther back into film history for things that are old enough to maybe legitimately be ripe for a revisit? That's because audiences are more likely to recall the titles of films from the last 30 years than they are from the last 50 or 60.

This is what you get when a semi-artistic industry comes to be dominated by marketing people instead of artist-craftsmen type people.

Incidentally, have you heard the Sean Connery flick Outland is now on the remake list as well? Sigh...

Brandon Rohwer said...

I can't speak to this specific franchise since I'm not familiar with Excalibur, but I think the previous commenter may be on to something with the idea that it's a branding thing. Of course, it baffles me altogether why they would want to make an medieval film altogether considering how poorly they've done in recent years (King Arthur and A Knight's Tale - beloved as it is - spring to mind).

Remakes in terms of larger franchises (or 'reboots' in this case) do make perfect sense in many cases. Star Trek, Batman, and James Bond were perfect examples of these - the franchises have been moneymakers for decades, but the most recent installments weren't terribly well-received critically or commercially, so in a way it makes sense to repackage them. Other cases (recent examples: Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and Death Race) just don't make sense to me. How are you going to improve on these films to warrant a remake? First, these are films that are great as is. Second, if you want to tell a story about a hostage system on the subway, why not make a new script? It's not like we have beloved characters like Kirk and Spock that are necessary to include.

Of course, these things are cyclical and I'm hoping the remake train is pulling into the station soon. And on the upside, we've still had some fresh faces and new ideas emerge this filmgoing year (I can think of District 9 and Moon as prime examples).

Doug said...

I'm putting on my cynical hat now. I see it as perhaps the hollywood writers couldn't come up with a good script in the first place, so with less effort (albeit more money) they will go after the rights of a movie, which is the corporate way of doing things. I think it is a fundamental flaw in hollywood, where's the creativity? Oh, let's just rehash movies! And the spiral downward continues. Now my cynical hat is off.