Shouting Fire in a Theater – Gangster Squad

A hail of automatic fire rips into a theater audience in Gangster Squad, eerily predicting the events in Aurora, Colorado.

I originally wrote this just as the tragedy in Aurora was first breaking out, but like many others I chose to delay publishing it out of respect for those effected. I felt it was important for the initial wave of emotion to wash over the nation before working against the tide. While my sympathy for the families involved will always be, now that we’ve had some time to reflect on the event we can begin a discussion on the various implications this tragedy will leave in its wake. I will be discussing one example.

What happened in Aurora was, by no use of hyperbole, horrific. As many have said before me, these were people who were taking part in a great American past time enjoying the company of their friends, families, and even strangers in a collective appreciation of both Nolan’s Batman series and film itself. It will sadly go down in history as one of those events that brings us to a halt. Now, in the aftershock of the event, Warner Bros. has found themselves in an incredibly uncomfortable position. Just before the premiere of the anticipated The Dark Knight Rises they ran a trailer for their upcoming star-studded period piece Gangster Squad, playing in theaters all across the nation, including Aurora.  The timing seemed perfect, what better movie to showcase your trailer? The timing, however, could not have been more wrong. The crux of the issue is that this true-life story features a climactic scene in which men fire Thompson submachine guns through a movie screen into a crowd of panicked movie-goers.  Immediately following the news of the tragedy WB pulled the trailer from all theaters and even across online sites such as Youtube. As of this posting the below listing was still live, if it remains so you can watch the offending scene at the 2:00 mark.

I fully understand WB’s position in pulling the trailer. It makes absolute perfect sense out of respect and also fear of negative backlash. Despite their best efforts to remove the trailer, however, it has become a roaring debate that has the studio contemplating not only removing the scene from future trailers but removing or at least minimizing the scene from the film itself. Again, I completely understand the reasons why they would consider this. They might appear heartless, disrespectful, perhaps even mocking despite it not being their original intent. My personal belief, however, is that the scene should be left untouched.

The simple fact is that this story was never written nor produced to make commentary on the shooting in Colorado. There was no way the filmmakers would know. All they wanted to accomplish was to tell a true story in an entertaining fashion. The scene, regardless of what has happened, is a powerful moment on its own even in the trailer. A lot of care has gone into creating the look and feel of that moment which is also critical to the story itself. To remove it or even reduce it would rob the scene of its emotional power. Some argue passionately that the scene is too offensive, that it brings up too many emotions of a wound that’s barely days old, but isn’t the whole point of the artform to elicit emotions from the viewer? If anything the scene has gained incredible weight that it might not have otherwise. We, the audience, tend to live in a very sheltered environment in which this kind of violence is foreign to the point of novelty. When we watch a film like Saving Private Ryan we can’t really sympathize with the action on the screen unless we have either been to war or been close to someone who had. While we can enjoy the rush of action it’s all done vicariously through the lens of the camera, we don’t feel the real terror of being in a gunfight. This is why some scenes of romance really warm our hearts and other scenes of sorrow make us cry, because you’re able to relate to these moments and form a stronger attachment. By simple logic, most of us were not in that theater nor in Aurora, Colorado, we can only imagine the terror that those unfortunate people went through. Despite not being there, however, the event still has affected us even if in just a small way. This is something that happened in our time, and has opened our eyes that maybe it could happen again in the same venue. That’s what makes this scene hit harder now, and I think that by diluting that fear that it’ll cause it will actually show disrespect for those no longer with us. While WB’s intentions are good, it would be sheltering us from pain, and downplaying the events that happened. This doesn’t even touch the amount of hard work that has gone into the film that will be for nothing.

Leaving this scene in a film does not mean that the filmmakers are bad people. They are simply telling a story, and sometimes those stories hit closer to home than we would like them to, but we accept that we will censor something just because it makes the audience uncomfortable then what is the point of this artform? We should embrace all emotions that film gives us, be it good or horrific.

Reboots: Stage Plays for the Silver Screen

Alas, poor cyberpunk movie! I knew it well.

There’s no such thing as originality in Hollywood, right? Film buffs will be quick to point out stories they feel stand out from the crowd but the reality is most movies coming out today are rehashes of stories already told. Decades, or even just years ago films that reused an idea tried their best to put their own slant on a familiar story. A classic example would be something like Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, which takes Shakespeare’s Macbeth but sets it in feudal Japan. Recently, however, it seems just about every movie hitting the box office is not just an adaptation on a book, comic, or television show but rather a recreation of a movie that already came out. Sometimes we see such a “reboot” happen before dust has had time to settle on the film being duplicated, such as the just released The Amazing Spider-Man which reboots the relatively fresh Spider-Man series featuring sequels going all the way until 2007. This doesn’t even touch the two Hulk movies in which Hollywood basically asked the audience for a mulligan.

When I saw the recent viral video for the upcoming reboot of Robocop I had the typical knee-jerk reactions: “It’s ruining my childhood”, “Why don’t they come up with something new”, “The original was fine as it was”. After about a day I finally settled down. I still have no hopes for the upcoming remake, mind you, nor am I holding my breath but I began to look at the problem with a different set of tinted glasses. I tried to think about why filmmakers would be interested in making films like Dredd or Total Recall, reasons beyond the Biz’ side of things such as “established audience” or “nostalgia value”. While pondering this I was overhearing two girls talk about some stage show. I didn’t pick up the name of the show, but the two seemed very adamant in comparing two different productions of the same show. In the world of stage, not only are stories reused, but the same exact copy of Hamlet or Death of a Salesman or even bloody Seussical have been recreated in entirely different ways by entirely different production groups.

Could the same thing be happening in Hollywood?

Is it possible that we’re moving into a strange new era where teams will take the same exact idea and make their own version of the story, just for the sake of making it their own? Not like it’s a new concept, I mean how many theatrical version of the same Shakespeare plays have been made over the century of film history? But the idea of examining a film such as Thelma & Louise and then going “I really like this story, here’s how I would do it” seems oddly foreign in a land where calls of plagiarism are slung almost daily.  While I prefer when a film tries to distance itself from the source material more than just doing the CGI effects differently or having a hotter actor or even just a different set of corporate ad placement, there is a shred of potential lying within this idea.

Film has grown a lot. In just the past five years we’ve seen a complete paradigm shift in how this medium is consumed by the masses. With so many movies coming out these days it seems almost to be natural evolution that we’ll be seeing more and more reboots of films of the past, as the library of films grow it becomes a much more desirable well to sample from. Sadly, most of these reboots, if history shows any precedence, will be met with at best a general sense of apathy from the general audience and at worst total resentment from the source material’s fanbase. The number of reboots that have exceeded the charm and praise of the original sources could likely be counted on one’s hands. The same thing has often been said, however, about films that are adaptations from books and yet it seems to be getting better; adaptations are really starting to stand on their own two legs and step out from the shadow of the book they’re based on. Some fans even demand Hollywood to make film adaptations of their favorite book or play! So maybe it’s just a matter of time until this industry starts to create films with the same level of discussion and comparison as stories told on stage.

 

Still not excited about Robocop.