CineMathematics or CinemaThematics. Your choice

Thursday, September 27, 2007

In Defense of Halloween(2007)

The title is a bit of an exaggeration, as I haven't seen Halloween. I think this was a film doomed to the critics because of its very existence and place in history. This sort of group-think, especially when it comes to a remake like this, can be dangerous and limiting in our views on cinema.

First of all, we must properly define a remake. Recent talk about the "remake" of Halloween has got me thinking. Does the new version of Hairspray count as a remake, or is it a film adaptation of the stage adaptation of a film? If half the contents of the "remake" did not exist in the original, does it still count as a remake? If Batman Begins can count as a series reboot, then shouldn't Halloween? And wouldn't we rather have Rob Zombie's version, background story and all, than merely another generic slasher movie starring Michael Myers? Wouldn't that be the greater disservice to John Carpenter? Zombie at least tried to push the series in a new direction, something most directors wouldn't have done.

Speaking of Batman Begins and Halloween, I'd like to explore the idea of the backstory as plot device. In this piece over at Lazy Eye Theatre, Piper chides audiences who went to see Halloween, partly because of the presence of a backstory to attempt to explain Michael Myers' homocidal ways. Then shouldn't we chide all the people who went to see Batman Begins or Spiderman or even Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? All of them begin with backstories for their characters which help to properly explain the origins and psychology of their main characters. In fact, it is standard protocol for modern superhero movies to include a backstory for both the superpowers and the emotional character.

This is best exemplified by Batman Begins and Hulk, whose use of fear and father issues, respectively, became the main core themes of the films. I cannot speak personally of either Halloween, but I would be inclined to believe that Zombie would use something prevalent in Michael Myers' home life as an underlying theme. Feel free to tell me if I'm nowhere near the truth. However, I will probably need to see the evidence and draw my own conclusions.

As for the notion of Carpenter's Halloween being an "untouchable," a film that has attained classic status and should never be touched with a remake, I point the the 50s. Ninotchka and The Philadelphia Story were both remade as high profile musicals in the 50s, Silk Stockings and High Society, respectively. Both Ninotchka and The Philadelphia Story are film adaptations of a book and a play, but it hardly seems credible that the studios decided to return to the source material for the new films. Likewise with Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Though Burton did adapt from the source material rather than update Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the project probably was developed in the studio system as a straight remake which got retooled once Burton signed on.

Studios love to remake films. And most of the time, the result is uninspired, if not plain bad. Halloween was going to be remade, whether Rob Zombie directed it or not. It wasn't his idea to remake it, but he did the work. And he created something different. For those genre purists, the film must automatically be bad. After all, it is a remake of an established classic, and nobody should ever make one of those. But Rob Zombie's Halloween doesn't look like a straight remake. It looks like a reinvention. The difference is subtle, but it is there. It is an attempt to create something different, except it uses names we've heard before. Much like Michael Mann's Miami Vice, this reads as a movie that would be much better received if it only had a different title and different character names. I am personally of the belief that both films were going to be made, and both men thought that a straight remake or adaptation would be absolutely terrible. They sacrificed some credibility to prevent worse films from being made, and I think both made the right decision.

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Blogger Jonathan said...

I've been meaning to type up my review for a while, and maybe I'll do it now that you've brought this up.

I agree that people doomed and damned the movie from the get-go. I will say, having seen the film, that Zombie doesn't reinvent the story enough to make it completely successful. Sure, it's fine to leave things in, especially things that shouldn't be "broken," but a lot of the second half or so of the film borders on copycat-ism, and that's just disappointing. Also, as you mentioned, Zombie looks to put issues in Meyers's backstory to give Halloween themes, but in my opinion, he wasn't very successful (the idea was there, but I'm not sure if the execution was).

I read something on Ain't It Cool News, of all places, that I think makes sense, and I think coincides with what you're saying. It was said that the Halloween story and the character of Meyers have both reached such high, almost mythical levels, that they've become "fair game." By fair game, I mean that, just like Frankenstein, Dracula, and even to a certain extent, Batman and other graphic novel characters, everyone's taken a stab at them. There are a lot of different, semi-conflicting stories floating around about their origins and events. Meyers is so iconic and mythical that it's okay to take your stab at it. It's okay for Zombie to "reinvent" and do something different.

Does that make sense?


10:46 AM

Blogger Dan E. said...

Honestly, I've never found Michael Myers that iconic. My first thought on film serial killers is Jason from the Friday the 13th films, but I know that he can reach those heights for some people. It's interesting, though, that it's in the remakes of classics that significant artistic choices need to be made. Gus van Sant's Psycho comes to mind, here. Most remakes can be straight affairs, as with 3:10 to Yuma, but a remake of a classic needs some sort of artistic flourish to justify its existence. Often this leads to a more fascinating, if less satisfying film.

I appreciate that you don't like Zombie's Halloween, but I fear that there are people who would have liked it had it not had that title. As long as people approach the film on its own terms, they can be as disappointed as they like. I've just seen too many people who dismissed the film from the moment it was announced. That is something we as viewers need to deal with.

10:53 AM

Blogger Piper said...

Good story. I have admitted several times that I am sensitive to Halloween being remade, and you make a good point that is Zombie's remake a better treatment than just Halloween 7 (or whatever the number would be) and I would say yes. I have also stated that I don't even make this fight on behalf of Carpenter who willingly takes these checks and doesn't think twice about it. I fight this fight on behalf of movie lovers who are sick of the lack of thinking. You can ask the question why not remake Halloween? And then I ask why not make a new scary movie instead? And the answer would be because it's easier to remake something or build on something that to create something out of nothing. Even if the Halloween remake is bad, it will still make back its money because it was marketed well. Halloween is a sure thing and the positives of remaking it far outweigh the negatives.

And I see no reason to quibble over the words remake or reinvent or reimagining, because they're just spin words to cover the fact that there is a horrible lack of thinking going on.

7:42 PM


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