Sequel Problems: The Spielberg/Cameron Conundrum
[Movie Maker Madness?]
Last year, when James Cameron announced he would be spending what would seem to be the rest of his career making Avatar sequels, I sighed. Yes, I enjoyed Avatar, and yes, I am curious to see what else he has to do in that very pretty world. However, I enjoyed everything else he did in his career, too—and it is safe to say I enjoyed it a lot more. So, yeah. I was a bit disappointed to learn he would be giving us only Avatar sequels for the rest of his directorial career. If he wanted to round out a trilogy, okay fine…but four more Avatar movies?!
What can you do though, right? I mean, what can you do besides go out and make the movies you want to see…
Similarly, when I recently heard Steven Spielberg was remaking West Side Story, I immediately thought, “Why? Why was he doing this? Why is he remaking a movie that is already a certifiable hit? Is it just so he can do it with a more diverse cast?” Don’t get me wrong—that is indeed admirable, but in the history of cinema, his version of West Side Story will only be a minor footnote to the original.
It’s the same way it would be if someone were to remake Jaws and give it better effects. Jaws doesn’t work because of the effectiveness of the shark, it works because…If I let myself finish that sentence, I won’t stop. Suffice to say, you all already know why Jaws works.
There’s no need for a remake of West Side Story—just like there was no need for a remake of Ben-Hur last year, and there’s no need for Spielberg to be the one helming that project. There is so much other stuff he could do. He talked about doing an adaptation of Daniel H. Wilson’s novel, Robopocalypse. He’s still attached to it, by the way, but now listed as producer. Also, Drew Goddard is handling the script, and – sigh – Michael Bay is directing. Does this not just sound like another Transformers-type movie to anyone else?
Michael Bay is another movie maker who can do interesting things when he challenges himself. I will defend Bad Boys, The Rock, and even Armageddon. With those first three movies, he really did establish himself as a bonafide talent. Then, came The Island, which had a great first half and then devolved into a mess. Next, came the Transformers movies, though during a break in those, Bay did Pain & Gain—a true story of movie that is about all the things it is railing against. It’s a smart, fun, crime movie, and it shows what Michael Bay can do when he pushes himself.
I would have seen Spielberg’s version of Robopocalypse, but I have no interest in Bay’s version.
Spielberg was even talking about an Indiana Jones 5, and even though I am not a fan of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I am hopeful he and Lucas learned some lessons about their missteps on the adventure; one of them being that Indy belongs in a practical effects kind of world.
This makes it sound like I want Spielberg to go back to the `80s and keep doing what he did when I was kid, and that is not true either. He did that with Ready Player One, and while that movie was fun in the moment, upon reflecting I found it empty and hollow. It’s exciting, sure, but the novel upon which it was based had a heart, and I wanted the movie to have a heart, too. (This leads me to Ernest Cline’s follow-up novel, Armada, which took everything that made RP1 great, and then did way too much of it. In one scene, the main character has three punchlines, all of which are a callback to an `80s action movie. The punchlines aren’t even from different movies—they’re all from the same, which makes me groan even more.)
So, no, I do not want Spielberg to keep doing what he did. A.I. is not my favorite, but I respect it. Ditto with Minority Report. Spielberg was trying new things in those movies. Furthermore, Munich takes a story about violence begetting violence and delivers us one of the most powerful displays of love when a wife practically invites her husband to use her body if it will help him exorcise his demons. That scene alone is worth the price of admission. It’s daring, it’s shocking, and to some, I am sure it is off-putting. However, that’s what you do when you’re a great filmmaker, and that’s the power of what your stories and images can do.
Catch Me If You Can spoke volumes about the way dads, even dads who aren’t there, can affect their children’s lives, especially the lives of their sons.
This leads to why I am bored with him doing West Side Story…It’s a safe bet. The Post may not have been his best, but it was something new.
West Side Story may be new for Spielberg in that he’s never made a musical (unless you count the opening of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which is why that opening is there), but it’s not a new story. It has a template to follow, and I am sure he will because he would be foolish not to do so, especially when that template worked so well—and Spielberg is not a fool.
I don’t have any suggestions for what I wish or think Spielberg should do instead, and even if I did, why should he listen to me? I just wish he wasn’t doing West Side Story.
I also wish Cameron would at least take a break between Avatar 3 and 4 to remind us of what else he could do.
Until next time,