After the rush of brilliant films released each winter in time for the January awards season, the spring months are left with slimmer pickings for the movie aficionado. This is why, for the past two weeks, I have found myself sitting in the dark as the latest butcherings of classic children’s stories flashed before my eyes in over-saturated colour. The films in question, the guilty parties, were the atrocity that is Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and the ‘it-wasn’t-that-bad-but-please-no-more’ Oz: The Great and Powerful. I’ve got to stick a disclaimer in here and say that it wasn’t my idea to watch either of these films. Anyway, I agreed to go along because the only alternative was re-watching Die Hard 5, and I’d rather smother my gonads in honey and jump into a bear pen than watch that whirlwind of diarrhoea again.
The trouble with this plethora of prequels, sequels and reimaging (Oz, Snow White and The Huntsman, The Hobbit, Jack The Giant Slayer et al) is that they can’t live up to the original films or source material, and are stuck in a strange no-man’s land between unashamedly catering for children, and aiming straight for the adult market. Here are ten reasons why this recent spate of fantasy adaptations just don’t compare to the originals.
1. THEY CAN’T DECIDE WHO THEIR AUDIENCE IS
Disney’s back catalogue is full of thoughtful, well-written animated features that are able to capture a child’s imagination whilst tipping a hat to the adults in the audience. This is why these films remain classics and you can re-visit them, long after you can no longer get away with paying P.G. prices at the cinema, and not be disappointed. The recent versions of these films can’t seem to decide whether they’re aimed at children or adults. Hansel and Gretel has a plot which wouldn’t confuse a five year-old, but tries its best to re-imagine Hansel and Gretel as Natural Born Killers style badassess, meaning the film satisfies neither audience.
2. THEY PROMISE TO TELL THE SAME STORIES, BUT ON AN EPIC SCALE
The trailer for Snow White and The Huntsman had it all: Armour-clad knights charging against countless ranks of enemies, catapults flinging great balls of fire towards castles, Kristen Stewart in full body armour, brandishing a sword. The message was clear: this film would be bloody and epic. Likewise the trailer for Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Done well, contextualising the stories we all know and love within a wider scope can add more depth to the story. Setting Frodo’s adventures against the conflicts of Middle Earth was a brilliant idea on Tolkien’s part and gave the whole story room to grow into a multi-faceted narrative. Unfortunately, the latest run of fantasy remakes have yet to pull this off, instead coming across bloated, yet empty.
3. THEY MISTAKE SWEARING AND CLEAVAGE FOR QUALITY
We’ve barely been introduced to the grown-up Hansel and Gretel when Gretel (in Gemma Arterton’s try-hard American accent) drawls out a big long, ‘Fuuuuuuck off’. Fuck off yourself, love. Parents will constantly tell you, ‘swearing isn’t cool’ and they’re wrong, but swearing for the sake of it, just to try and be ‘edgy’ is lazy writing. The same goes for unnecessary cleavage shots (Looking at you Red Riding Hood, and again, Gemma Arterton).
4. THEY OFTEN SEEM COBBLED TOGETHER
The problem with creating a prequel, sequel or even sidequel to a beloved film from everyone’s childhood is that we’re all aware of the intricacies of the plot. Therefore, it can be hard for these new films to do something surprising. No one watched Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood and went, ‘Oh, I wonder if the French will beat them at the end?’ Of course they bloody won’t, because: 1. The bad guys never win in films like this, and 2. All the main characters are still alive in all the films that are set after this one. All that the filmmakers can do is try and cobble together a decent story without ruining the premise of the original films. In some cases, this involves squeezing everything, including the kitchen sink and plate-throwing dwarfs into the film. (Shame on you, Peter Jackson).
5. THEY’VE BEEN DONE BEFORE, AND BETTER
Basically, these films are only being made to enable studios to milk the cash cow that bit longer. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the new films were any good, but they’re not and are (in every single case) far out-shone by the originals. Disney’s animatedAlicein Wonderland was a psychedelic odyssey that blew my mind as a seven year-old. The evil stepmother in Disney’s Snow White put me off apples for years. Johnny Depp with orange hair and Charlize Theron bathing in milk just made me wince with embarrassment for the saps who thought that was entertainment.
6. THEY RELY ON EXPLOSIONS OVER CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT
Maybe filmmakers think they don’t need to develop character as much if they’re adapting or expanding upon a film we all know and love. Maybe they think they can take the bare bones of a character and stick him or her into a new world of sickly colours (Oz), massive explosions (Hansel and Flippin’ Gretel) and 3D graphics (the cheapest of all filthy cheap gimmicks, with the ONE EXCEPTION of Avatar) and call it a movie. This is the equivalent of sticking make-up on a mannequin and being asked to spend an hour and a half of your life with it in a dark room. No thanks.
Above: A right royal punch-up in Disney's animated Robin Hood
7. THE PLOTS ARE PRIMARY SCHOOL GRADE STORIES
Again, the plots are weak. As I mentioned, it seems like the scriptwriters struggle to create a whole new story, but surely they can do better than these year-three level plots? ‘Oh this girl is a princess. This thing happens to her. She thinks she’s sorted it out. Oh no she hasn’t! Oh yes she has. The End.’ Most of these films are such a mess you’d think Damon Lindelof wrote the script. Surely it isn’t that hard to write a story that respects the audience and treats them as intelligent human beings, rather than spoon feeding them tripe?
8. THEY’RE JUST A PAYCHECK FOR UNINTERESTED ACTORS
I’m a big fan of James Franco. He’s great in Pineapple Express, Spiderman and City by the Sea. If you were inclined to induce vomit with your metaphors, you could say his performances were magical, but still, The Wizard of Oz, he ain’t. Even a Franco super-fan would struggle to be blown away by his performance in Oz, in which it seems like Franco is just playing Franco. Maybe he thought a fun, childish film would offset his auteuristic leanings; he may as well not have bothered for all of the energy he puts in to it.
9. ALL OF THE ACTORS ARE TOO PRETTY/FAMOUS
That’s not Robin Hood, that’s Russell Crowe. That’s not Red Riding Hood, that’s Amanda Seyfried, that’s not Snow White, that’s Bella Swan...etc. etc. Obviously getting a famous and popular actor to front your film will give it legs at the box office, but if they’re not able to disappear into the role, what’s the point? No one watchedAlicein Wonderland and thought the Mad Hatter was a great character, everyone thought Johnny Depp did a great job pretending to be the Mad Hatter. Compare this to Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight and the distinction is obvious. Heath was The Joker; Johnny was Johnny with a silly hat and contact lenses.
10. THERE’S JUST NO BLOODY NEED FOR THEM
Honestly, would anyone care if none of these films had ever been made? I gave The Hobbit the benefit of the doubt and will wait for the next two to come out before passing judgement, but really, nine hours of Lord of The Rings was enough. Audiences are in no danger of forgetting the stories of Hansel and Gretel or The Wizard of Oz, and it’s lazy of studios to keep churning out these cheap knock-offs. Superhero films have made tens of billions, so clearly studios want to start up a new craze that they can ride all the way to the bank. Please let’s not let these ‘reimaginings’ of childhood favourites be it, unless Chris Nolan wants to direct Beauty and The Beast. We know Christian Bale’s already got his growl down.