Friday, June 4, 2010

Brett Ratner Wants to Make an "Edgy" "Snow White"?

It never fails to amaze me how utterly tone-deaf some of the Hollywood idea men (and women) can be, ready and willing to seize on imaginary trends or completely misinterpret why certain projects performed better than others. After the surprise success of "Alice in Wonderland," currently sitting on a worldwide box office total of over one billion, it was expected that others would try to bottle the lightning with similar projects. News came in today from Deadline that a new 3D "Snow White" film is in the works with Relativity Media, with a script by Melisa Wallack and five producers already attached, including director Brett Ratner. I include a choice quote from Ratner below:

"This is not your grandfather's Snow White," Ratner said. "Melisa went back to the 500 year old folk tale and put in some of the things that were missing from Walt Disney's film. His dwarves were miners, and here they are robbers. There is also a dragon that was in the original folk tale. Walt made one of the great movies of all time, but ours is edgy and there is more comedy. The original, made for its time, was soft compared to what we're going to do."

Now I can think of several reasons why "Alice in Wonderland" found success. It was family friendly. It was female-friendly without being overtly so. It had very strong, colorful visuals thanks to the involvement of director Tim Burton, that were a welcome departure from recent spate of desaturated apocalypse actioneers. People were still impressed enough with the new 3D technology that they were willing to pay the additional ticket surcharge. Johnny Depp was headlining. There was no competition for the same audience for the majority of its run. None of these reasons have anything remotely to do with being "edgy" or hard, as opposed to "soft." In fact, I suspect a lot of the appeal of "Alice in Wonderland" was that it didn't aggressively modernize the story or render it more adult. The most common comparison at the time of its release was to Disney's "Narnia" adventure series.

Brett Ratner is best known for the "Rush Hour" films, and the less than well-received third installment of the "X-Men" franchise after Bryan Singer's departure. He's not a bad director, with "Red Dragon" and the adorable Mariah Carey "Touch My Body" music video under his belt, but he is seriously misreading the nascent trend here. The audience that came to see "Alice in Wonderland" has a different set of criteria that they're judging by, and trying to play to the usual teen-male action crowd is not going to cut it. "Edgy" is no longer a buzzword that conjures up warm, fuzzy feelings of financial triumph at the box office. Look at what happened to "Robin Hood," which decided to present a more realistic, gritty depiction of the legendary figure, and then couldn't attract an audience. Or the woes of R-rated comic-book films like "Kick-Ass" and "The Losers." They were plenty edgy, and it didn't do them much good.

Reboots and reimaginings can get away with changing a lot, but their fundamentals still need to be recognizable to the audience in order to capitalize on any nostalgia. "Wicked," despite totally upending the narrative of "The Wizard of Oz," wisely kept the iconography of the Judy Garland film for the Broadway musical, and felt like a visit with old friends. "Sherlock Holmes" did away with the main character's deerstalker and most of the tweed, but the period London environs and whodunit plot made up the difference. Now compare to "Robin Hood," which mostly followed Robin and his men fighting the French on horseback with swords and armor, rather than the traditional highway robbery in Sherwood Forest with bows and arrows. So while adding a dragon to the story of "Snow White" might be fun, we need a young heroine in peril and a wicked queen. And whether robbers or miners, there must be dwarfs. Seven of 'em.

I understand why Ratner is talking up the less pastoral, fairy-tale elements of the Snow White story. He needs to alleviate fears that a new film version would just be kiddie pablum, and as a director who's been mostly working in action pictures lately, this is the terminology that he's familiar with. But approaching this material like it's just another action film would be a mistake. Snow White has a lot of exciting elements that could be played up, and at least one version gave it a horror spin, but I'm not seeing it as a good fit for the kind of action-comedies that Ratner is known for. Inherently Snow White is a fantasy story with its dwarfs and poison apples, and if the producers are going for a big visual extravaganza, they're going to need someone with a very strong visual sense. I'm not sure Brett Ratner can cut it. If he limits himself to a producer role, he might think about passing the reins to someone like Alex Proyas or PJ Hogan, who both could really use a way out of director jail right now.

And Ratner should really stop putting down the Disney version. Everybody loves it, there was plenty of comedy (remember Dopey?), and many scenes are still positively terrifying.

And now for something completely different:

Via Patrick Goldstein's column today, we finally have the name of the culprit who insisted that the new "Karate Kid" remake with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan retain that title, despite "Kung Fu Kid" making far more sense in the context of the film's Chinese setting and use of Chinese martial arts - producer Jerry Weintraub. Sony apparently tried to change the title, but Weintraub nixed it for marketing reasons. Thanks to him, mere mention of the film now causes cultural cognitive dissonance, and suggests that the creators were either insensitive or just too dull to tell the difference between two countries who reeeeally don't like each other. Thanks Mr. Weintraub.

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