Thursday, May 16, 2013

Triumph of the Will?

As Hollywood grows increasingly bereft of original ideas, more and more classic films are being desecrated by unnecessary, unwanted and ultimately inferior remakes. Don't get me wrong - I think remakes are fine in certain cases. If the original film was technically flawed in some way, or if it missed an opportunity to make a salient point, or if the story can be updated in some way to make it more relevant for our time, then by all means have at it, but some films are so perfect, so timeless, that they should be off the table as far as remakes go. Sam Peckinpah's monumental 1969 Western, The Wild Bunch, is just such a film, but of course, nothing is off the table in today's Hollywood, and a remake has been in the works for some time. If that wasn't bad enough in and of itself, it was recently announced that Will Smith is on tap to star in the film. I have nothing against Will Smith; I've enjoyed him in many films, such as Independence Day and the Men In Black series, but the announcement of his (mis)casting in what is certain to be a cinematic travesty is the straw (dog) that broke the camel's back. I now present for you seven reasons why remaking The Wild Bunch, especially with Will Smith, is a bad, bad idea.

1. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, The Wild Bunch does not need to be remade. Peckinpah's original still retains its visceral power nearly 45 years after its release. It's arguably the finest film by one of the greatest directors in the history of American cinema, and there's really nothing about it that could have been done better.

2. Smith is a fine actor in the right role, but I'm not convinced that he's capable of fully conveying the self-loathing that is a crucial aspect of the main character in The Wild Bunch. William Holden did a magnificent job in the original film of demonstrating Pike Bishop's inner disgust at the man he had become. Smith just doesn't have the world-weariness or the gravitas necessary for the role.

3. The remake will not be a Western, but will be a contemporary thriller featuring Smith as a disgraced DEA agent. The whole raison d'ĂȘtre of the original was to tell the story of a group of outlaws left behind by changing times not long after the turn of the twentieth century. A remake set in modern times won't be capable of rendering that milieu with any sort of authenticity, which begs the question: what's the point?

4. The original was extremely violent and bloody, but the violence was presented in a realistic fashion meant to show the audience that death is an ugly business. The remake will undoubtedly try to top the original, but will showcase the violence in a flashier manner, with less moral weight - as modern action film audiences are accustomed to - and it will probably be rendered with fake-looking CGI blood, totally ruining the effect.

5. Smith rejected the title role in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained (which eventually went to Jamie Foxx), reportedly because he felt it wasn't prominent enough (anyone who actually saw Foxx's rousing performance in the finished film should find such a sentiment laughable). If he's truly conceited enough to feel that he's not suited for any role other than the lead, then he has no business acting in The Wild Bunch. It's an ensemble piece, not a star vehicle.

6. The practical effects that were accomplished on the set of the original, such as the bridge that was blown up with actual stuntmen and horses on it, gave it a sense of realism that will likely be completely absent from the remake due to the overuse of CGI effects.

7. It's highly unlikely that the characters will be as morally ambiguous as they were in the original, which is what made them so interesting. I have a difficult time imagining that the remake's screenplay and performances will have the courage to walk the fine line between showing the audience that the characters are very bad people yet still allowing us to care deeply for them. That sort of nuance is hard to come by these days, at least in big budget, star-driven films that have to appeal to the widest audience possible if they're to have any hope of earning their production costs back.

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