Tim Burton’s Greatest Mistake?

Johnny here is trying to figure out how to get his soul back from Burton.

March 19, 2012

I was excited when I heard Dark Shadows was going to get a movie adaptation. First of all, it was being directed by Tim Burton. Second of all, it starred Johnny Depp, though that’s kind of a given at this point. Burton and Depp did a great job adapting Sleepy Hollow, one of the great horror comedies of all time as far as I’m concerned. Burton has a good track record (even considering Alice in Wonderland) and he has a style that would lend itself to the campy soap opera.

And then I saw the trailer. If you missed it in the last article, here it is. Keep a tissue handy. You may cry like I did.


I’ll admit I’ve never seen Dark Shadows. I wish I had. It was one of those shows that had a good amount of camp to it but managed to hold its own despite a hectic schedule and soap opera storylines. The fact that it’s still watched and talked about today makes me think it’s something to put on my Netflix queue. In fact, two of my favorite shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel could be seen as spiritual successors to some of the things Dark Shadows started, namely using supernatural themes

But this?

I’m getting flashbacks to Alice in Wonderland. I love Burton’s style. It’s like a child’s fantasy on acid. My on artwork was influenced by the darks and playfulness and the way something cute might become something horrific at any moment. Lots of black, lots of white, a little gray, and let the creepiness do the rest. Burton, though, seems to be forgetting the lesson he learned from Sleep Hollow.

If you change something, it better be to make the end product superior.

Sleepy Hollow by ~Mize-meow on deviantART

Sure, the old series was full of little mistakes and the production could have used some polishing, but at least it tried. Now, instead of a drama, we’ve got what looks like a fish out of temporal water story. We’ve already got the same tired joke of the visitor from the past getting freaked out by television and the very unfunny mix-ups with modern slang. So far, I haven’t seen anything that tells me this will build on the original series’ legacy or form. There’s nothing groundbreaking about it.

Maybe I’m wrong. I hope so. Alice in Wonderland was an atrocity. This looks no better. Next thing you know, someone will take Quantum Leap and make it into a zany buddy comedy starring Ashton Kutcher and Jack Black. Ooh! How about we bring back Law and Order but make it a musical comedy starring Zac Effron as Lennie Briscoe?

Hollywood, cut it out before we, the fans, decide to pool our resources and invest in a neutron bomb.

And to clean out the broken dreams, here is every episode of Itchy and Scratchy, all in one place.

When Dan Brown Will Rewrite the Bible

On second thought, let me bring the shotgun.

January 6, 2012

This isn’t about the string of remakes that have come out in the last several years. Those are merely the symptom of a sick culture. And we are a sick culture. We may not know it, but we have a disease that’s festered and finally made manifest in the need to make everything in high definition and CG. We need fresh faces. We’re tired of Sissy Spacek as Carrie. Let’s remake it. Maybe we’ll cast Selena Gomez as the telekinetic powerhouse. Hell, let’s just rewrite the setting and get a Kardashian.

Why not? We’re already remaking damn near everything. It was bad enough when he just cribbed horror movies from Asia, then sanitized them for Western audiences. If you watch any of the originals (A Tale of Two Sisters, Shutter, Ringu, Ju-On) you’ll notice something. These films actually try and create suspense. They don’t use jump scares as much. It’s about atmosphere and feeling.

To top it off, it seems American Psycho is also going to get remade.  And they’re updating it to the 2010’s instead of the awesome 80’s.

Let me school the younger readings on why this is bad. Why all of this is bad.

This disease stems from wanting something shiny and new. We want the latest and the best. We want it factory-wrapped and still smelling like the inside of an Apple store. I’ve got news for you. Old things are awesome. Old things lasted and fought a war against the boy bands and crap books of their time. Jimi Hendrix wasn’t anywhere near the sales powerhouse of Justin Beiber, but we still remember and listen to Hendrix. No one will listen to Beiber in ten years, much like no one listens to N*Sync or the Backstreet Boys. Oh, they have their fans, but the bands flared up and died. They had no real staying power. It’s always been a race for pop to keep catching up. Something real, though, doesn’t need to do anything but just exist.

Blitzkrieg Rock and Roll by ~phoenix138 on deviantART

Now we have the disease of the remake. We’re updating and repackaging. If it’s not new, it’s not good. The urge to verbally and physically assault the students who have blatantly told me this point of view went away after I reminded myself that they would lead empty lives looking for the next new thing instead of appreciating the good things, the good art. I’m not saying we don’t have good books or new movies, and every generation has its crap music, but it feels like there’s less of an incentive to actually do a good job.

In a world where Twilight can bring the masses to the bookstore and the Kardashains rake in millions just getting recorded at every hour of the day, why make something new? Why make something great? We’re going to remake everything anyway. Just be rich and famous then get more rich and famous when you get followed around. Don’t bother making anything. The studios will research the market and tell you what to write. The studios will ask for the scripts.

Hey, we don’t even need to bother with special effects. The Expendables showed you don’t even need to bu8y blood anymore. Apparently, all you need is a cartoonist with red paint.

The sad thing is that the effects in a modern war movie look WORSE than a fantasy movie that’s ten years old.

Enough with the remakes. If you want to see a ghostly girl on a tape, watch the original with subtitles. If you want to see Norman Bateman slice up hookers, see the Christian Bale version. We haven’t moved on to adapting and remaking books yet. Stephanie Meyers’ American Gods? Dan Brown’s “The Heart of Darkness?” Danielle Steele’s The Bible?

It will happen. Mark my words. One day, Shakespeare will be too old for students and the masses and we’ll get someone to rewrite it and update it.

No amount of bladed implements will suffice when that happens and I feel the urge to get stabby with a market researcher.

a writer … by ~OrazioFlacco on deviantART

Divine by Zero: Rebecca Black and Mega Man Remake Godzilla

July 21, 2011

The voting is coming along nicely both here and on Facebook! keep going, guys. And when you’re done, please help yourself to a link or two. They’re on me.

I know, I know. I spoil you guys.

  • And speaking of things that are fun and bring us joy, every time a new harry Potter movie or book comes out, without fail, we get the psychos. Pat Robertson is already out in full force, but this gentleman takes the cake. Yeah, he’s a comedian, but the scary thing is that I’ve heard people who talk like him.
  • Rick Perry, possible GOP presidential candidate, started out as a Democrat. Hey, it IS Texas. He probably switched because they use liberals for target practice down here.
  • The Amazing Spider-Man is coming out next year, and we’ve already been treated to a blurry teaser filmed in a movie studio. That doesn’t mean we can’t look back on the old cartoon and guess at the kinds of things we can expect from a darker take on our favorite web-slinger.
  • Speaking of airheads, here’s Palin TRYING to look sexy. The result is akin to a mildly retarded beagle thinking it’s a ballerina.
  • And on the heels of the last article, Jon Stewart addresses Fox’s handling of the hacking scandal. See you Friday, folks, and keep voting!

Ninja Pirate Zombie Robots vs Superman… Or Something

Poor Kal got gutted of his super-testicles. So sad...

April 20, 2011

Is there a new movement for directors to take responsibility for their crappy movies? The latest is Bryan Singer, a man I generally respect for his work on the first two X-Men movies, House, and I look forward to see how he directs he adaptation of the 1970’s Battlestar Galactica for the big screen.

Superman Returns, however, was not his greatest moment.

Superman Returns… by ~DeMilburn on deviantART

In fact, I put it up there as the anti-Schumacher comic book movie. Schumacher tried to put as much camp as possible in his movies until they basically became self-parody. As Singer says, though, he didn’t want to go in that route and wanted to make something for the women to come and see.

See, he may have been thinking of doing something like the original Superman film with Christopher Kal-El Reeves, but the point is that he sold out without even realizing it. Chick flicks (and yes, I’ll call them that even though I won’t call a woman a “chick”) typically draw much more money than other films. This attraction was the basis for the wonderful commercial for The Expendables that ripped the phenomenon apart.

Is Singer right in that his movie sucked because it tried something different?

Yes. Yes he is. And I thank him for pointing out the atrocity he inflicted onto the Superman mythos.

The truth is that you can only do so much with a franchise before you make it so different as to be unrecognizable. Superman Returns had some destruction, some battles, but nothing really superpowered to fight old Supes. Yeah, you could do something with the philosophy and morality of BEING Superman, the responsibility inherent in being a god amongst men…

But that should be accentuated and pretty much delivered with shots of the Last Son of Krypton going toe to toe with something just as, if not more, powerful than him within a movie full of scenes of destruction that would give Ronald Emmerich a massive destructo-hard-on. Laser blasts searing enemies (robots so Clark won’t go into moral epilepsy), buildings getting tossed like rocks, and a battle royale in the skies to rival the… uhm, “epic” finale of The Matrix trilogy. Let me just let Mike Nelson and the boys say it better than I can.

Smith is Singin in The Rain by ~cmdrgabee on deviantART

You can do character stories for a comic book. Some of my favorite moments in the Hellboy films are just talking scenes. The best scenes in Nolan’s Batman films are the ones where we get a lot of tension from either the machinations of Ra’s al Ghul or the Joker. The banter with Alfred’s gold too.

Star Wars is about mythology and space battles. Dropping a bunch of political intrigue did nothing for the prequels other than make them jaw-droppingly awful. .

The Tremors series are always about hometown heroes doing what they with what they got… And they stick to that formula because it works. Think about this: they never get to the main monster attack until about halfway through the film.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a seven-year-long metaphor for life that used fantasy and horror to show us the world, and the new reboot is going to ditch all that and give us… something.

COMMISSION: buffy + faith by ~mistix on deviantART

Know your source material. Know how far you can take it and, if you decide to do the Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot version of your world, at least make an effort.

And now, dear reader, to the links!

  • This must be the WORST anti-drug ad ever. It’s not so much that it looks ridiculous, but that it basically does something akin to warning kids to stay away from strangers because strangers can transport them to Narnia and keep them captive. Not going to happen. Also, it pretty much asserts that being gay is some sort of disease.
  • Can’t You Read has a new meme that takes Carl Sagan quotes and twists them to make them pick-up lines. See a collection of a few of them here.
  • This adorable child has become a new meme. Tell me you don’t look at that little face and imagine her leading the hordes of hell.
  • And finally, to get you past that Wednesday slump, here are some adorable animals reaction to the music of Inception. See you Friday!

No Love for Faux-Artists

It's funny because it's wasted youth and obsession that borders on psychosis...

April 15, 2011

I am done with the internet.

You know how I often say that education is the key to our society’s survival and how all opinions are just opions until you actually show evidence for why your point of view should be taken seriously?

Behold the ultimate argument for my philosophy.

That’s right. Someone went and got a Leave Rebecca Black Alone tattoo. Why? Because we shouldn’t judge her just because she’s 13 and released a crappy song.


I have EVERY right to criticize her. She paid for a music video and song and didn’t even have the talent to sing herself. She needed a little electronic help. If I were to publish Charcoal Streets tomorrow and I got a scathing review from the New York Times, I’d expect them to look at it if it got enough attention. I can’t believe I have to say this again…

When you throw your hat into the ring, you accept the consequences.

Rebecca Black + Justin Bieber by ~xDinoSkittlex on deviantART

I’m not about to celebrate mediocrity just because someone tried. If Black had honestly tried, if she’d sung herself, if she’d written the lyrics, and if she’d endeavored to make something more than a masturbatory music video, I might cut her some slack. But no. She did nothing but show up for a recording session and a video shoot.

The guy that got that tattoo is going to regret it in three months. And if he doesn’t? He’s a bigger idiot than the people paying Snooki thousands of dollars to speak about her life.

No, I didn’t make that up. Rutgers is paying Snooki thousands of dollars to basically talk about herself and what it’s like to be Snooki. You know… what you can basically gleam from watching twenty minutes of Jersey Shore. To top it all off, this faux-tan piece of border-line alcoholism is going to get paid $100,000 dollars per episode of the new season of Jersey Shore.

Yeah, $100,000 to get drunk, act like an idiot, and hook up with random strangers.

Mona Snooki. by ~battlefate on deviantART

“But it’s the American dream,” I can hear some of you say. “Sure, it’s more than twice what the average teacher makes in a year, and she’d be touching lives the same way an STD after-school special touches lives, but it’s the same thing, right?”

Yeah, if I may get a bit political, rewarding laziness and not contributing anything to society is basically the rallying cry of the GOP right now. “Don’t tax the right or watch corporations,” they say. You could make it one day, and would you want someone else taxing you and telling you that you have to pay more because you make more?

Yes. I do.

I don’t enjoy paying taxes. I really don’t. My biweekly paycheck could be so much sweeter if I didn’t get taxed, but if I make enough that I can pay the government $250,000 a year and I still have enough to buy Blue Label, travel Europe for the summer, and maintain a fleet of classic cars, I think I’ll be fine.

I am plain sick and tired of rewarding mediocrity and lavishing people who act like 5-year olds simply because they can. If Snooki and Rebecca Black didn’t have any publicity, they’d be attention whores who, in five years time, would be either in rehab or dead in a Motel 6 dumpster. Actually, they might get there even with the attention.

Little Attention Whore by ~Cyberfish on deviantART

And if I’m overtly harsh, it’s because people who keep calling these two and people like them “artists” are REALLY starting to piss me off. And I rant about them because so many people seem to pay attention to them. Stop it. Stop giving them praise. Stop sharing their videos and antics just because they’re horrible.

You make it hard for people who are actually trying to do a good job.

Now let’s get some links to clean that aftertaste of tanning accelerate and your bowl of cereal.

  • Speaking of greedy pricks that steal money, take a look at this wonderful article that details a tax proposal that not only makes sense, but would save our economy while making the rich pay for their fair share.
  • One more video for the weekend. I’ve got five more words for you, and a film that predates Star Wars and is the basis for endless tropes in the space opera genre and for some of my favorite childhood memories. Are you ready for this? Live. Action. Wave. Motion. GUN.

Why Plagiarism is Good

It's yours if the new version is better...

January 19, 2011

Have you ever read the sequel to Macbeth? No? It’s really cool. The witches resurrect everyone at Hecate’s order in order to have them work out their differences at a lavish, magical banquet.

What about the stunning trilogy set after the events of “The Call of Cthulhu” wherein the narrator tracks down remnants of the Cthulhu cult and tries to close the cosmic seals keeping the Great Old One asleep?

No? Yeah, me neither.

There’s something massively appealing, though, about continuing a classic work. It’s not unheard of. There’s an unofficial sequel to The Catcher in the Rye. The Hitchhiker’s Guide has a volume Adams never wrote. Even the archetypical vampire, Dracula, got a sequel long after Stoker himself was dust. These books enjoy a measure of success, but they do beg the question of how you can go about making an adaptation of a famous work.

The internet is full of fan fiction, sure, but that’s not quite the same. It’s the same fanboy impulse to make things “cool” or appeal to the most superficial aspects of a work that gave us Star Trek Nemesis, a movie so full of itself it’s like a Star Trek matryoshka doll. No. Sequels, or even prequels, based on well-loved works have to do a few things.

First of all, though, they are sequels.

Think of the great sequels in film (Terminator 2, Aliens, The Empire Strikes Back, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, Die Hard with a Vengeance, The Dark Knight) and now think of how they compare next to the originals. They build on the premise of the first and do something new with it. They balance the nostalgia for that first hit of McClane with that new rush of Joker.

So why can’t we take old, public-domain works and just make them our own? Why isn’t everyone looking for that new spin on the old classics?

Probably for the same reason horror movies almost always get a sequel.

Sequels can very easily fall into the trap of just rehashing the old story. Sometimes, though, it’s the story itself that’s intriguing. The first and third Die Hard movies have a very similar plot: bad guy fakes one crime to cover up a more profitable one.

Sometimes the characters are what drive the story. No one would want to read a story about Alice where she wasn’t somehow involved in Wonderland, but take Ellen Ripley and put her on a new planet crawling with xenomorphs and a scared little girl and you have one the greatest 80’s films.

Ripley by *ertacaltinoz on deviantART

One of the best ways to learn anything is imitation. We learn to talk by imitating sounds. We learn a sport by watching others play it, then trying to imitate their movements.

And we learn good writing by imitating the greats. It’s not a bad exercise. Fan fiction is, at worst, an attempt at literary wanking. At its best, it’s an homage and a way to develop your own style by seeing how the classics were built.

Try and write that final chapter to your favorite book. Take a short story and ask yourself, “What made it so good? And what happened afterwards?”

Mark Twain once said that stealing from many people is not plagiarism. It’s research. Why not borrow from the best?

Art is nothing if not the synthesis of the world around us into new forms and shapes.

Homage by ~insomalia on deviantART

Well, time for the links and randomness.

  • Some of you may have already heard about this, but a dog belonging to a flood victim in Brazil is so loyal that it remains with its owner… even though the owner is dead.
  • If you think you’ve got mad acrobatic skills like Spiderman… you’re about one bad decision away from a broken neck. Like this guy.
  • And finally, proving that digging into the past is never a bad way to make something great, here’s the Nostalgia Critic with a review of Neverending Story III. See you Friday, and make sure you vote on this week’s poll in the upper right!

Return of the Revenge of the Son of the Sequel

I will drop neutron bombs on Hollywood if this goes through...

December 3, 2010

Perhaps now more than ever, Hollywood is entranced with the idea of reusing old ideas and trying to make them hip and gritty. This is nothing new. They tried it years ago with Super Mario Brothers and to a spectacular failure. Sequels are old hat. Remakes are nothing new. Re-imaginings are a newer concept.

But there’s a reason some work and some don’t and now Hollywood is after my beloved Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

We know of no cast and no story details other than it is a re-imagining of the original concept and will not feature any of the television show cast, mythology, and Joss Whedon will not have any part in it.

Before I get to the obligatory nerd rage over this, let’s go over a few other remakes and re-imaginings and why they worked.

Lil Formers – Star Trek by *MattMoylan on deviantART

Star Trek

This one got the ol’ nerd rage going. How could anyone, ANYONE, think he or she could recreate the campy cheesiness of the original series? How could you out-Shatner Shatner? Whatever its faults, Star Trek had decades of history on the pop radar. Even people who’ve never seen it knew about Klingons, knew the phrase “Beam me up, Scotty,” and could pick out a Star Trek parody a mile away.

It’s part of American pop culture, so why did the 2009 re-imagining work so well?

If you ever get the chance to see the original, the pilots for Star trek, “The Cage” and “Where No man Has Gone Before,” you’ll notice something absent from later incarnations of the story. People die. People and human emotion drive the stories. There is ZERO technobabble.

The new Star Trek got back to the roots of the original series. Cowboys in space, unapologetic, brash, and full of humanity. Yes, even Spock. J. J. Abrahams brought us back to a time when men were men, women wore miniskirts, and no one routed SHIT through the deflector. The greatest Star Trek episodes of all time, whatever the series, deal with people first and use the technology to advance the story, not the other way around. The moment characters become secondary to science, you have hard SF, and Star Trek has enough holes in its plots to preclude any possibility the science will get it right. Hell, they can’t even get basic continuity right. Do you really expect them to respect relativity, core engineering principles, and quantum mechanics?

Batman – Colored – by ~pochrzas on deviantART


Can we erase Batman and Robin from our collective memories? The movie is barely tolerable with Rifftrax and did more damage to Batman than the Adam West series. Yes, I loved the old live-action series, but let’s face it. Given the tone of the old comics, the darkness and noir roots of the original, it’s a bit like trying to adapt Sam Spade into a Broadway musical staring The Situation.

Chris Nolan actually did something similar to J. J. Abrahams. He made the characters human again and gave us real darkness, not some emo-crap. It wasn’t about the cool toys as much as it was about the people. Batman Begins was dark, and The Dark Knight brought it to an epic crescendo with a real-world, creepy-as-hell interpretation of the Joker.

Because these characters were people, we cared for them. The Joker became a menacing, mesmerizing villain not simply because of his nihilistic genius, but because we saw Bruce Wayne grow up and slowly become Batman. We watched Harvey Dent knowing he would become one of Batman’s greatest foes.

And we cared. We really cared.

BSG Propaganda wall by ~damndirtyape on deviantART

Battlestar Galactica

When I first heard Ronald Moore was going to remake Battlestar Galactica, I had one question.

“Wait, the guy from Star Trek is going to redo the show with the walking toasters?”

I like being proven wrong.

While the original Battlestar Galactica has a camp value of its own, it was an attempt to cash in on the Star Wars craze of the late 70s. Let’s face it, though, there’s plenty of appeal for cheese, and BSG built up a loyal fanbase. Even if it was never as popular as other franchises, people knew about it and it remained relevant.

Moore, however, again did the smart thing and made people the focus of the new show. The BSG Writer’s Bible even made it a commandment. No aliens, no gee-whiz tech, nothing like that.

Thou shalt be real…

Buffy Season 8 Wallpaper by ~Bacafreak on deviantART

What Does it Mean?!

Notice the pattern. Most of these remakes were based on properties that had faltered or became the subject of ridicule. As much as I hate to admit it, Nolan’s Batman, Star Trek, and BSG all benefited from being based on ideas and series that, quite frankly were considered jokes. When the bar is that low, it’s easy to impress, but even ignoring that, the final products built new mythologies and drew new audiences in.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (2011)

The original movie, as Joss Whedon has said many times, was a distortion of his original script and vision and the show staring Sarah Michelle Gellar. It was more than just a cute blond fighting demons. It had story. It managed to use rounded characters, ongoing story-arcs, and used horror, science fiction, and fantasy as metaphors. Despite some shortcomings, it was as close to a perfect show.

So what exactly are we going to add?

No Angel or Spike.

No Scoobies.

It’s not set in high-school or college.

Joss Whedon’s signature dialogue will not be making an appearance.

The tongue-in-cheek references to horror and fantasy, critical to the success of the show, will likely be gone or turned into self-referential humor.

We are left, ladies and gentlemen, with an athletic girl fighting monsters with medieval weaponry in a modern setting.

So…. Pretty much any half-assed anime.

Pretty much the only reason to make a sequel or remake something is because the original fell short somewhere. This is worse than remaking foreign movies. Most people in the United States have probably never seen the original foreign versions. This will be a show based on a show based on a movie. And the show was closer to the original script of the movie, so if they’re basing this on the movie, it’s the twice-removed bastard child of Buffy.

No links today. Classes are winding down, but the work is increasing. it’s like we’re nearing the academic singularity.

Divine by Zero: Vegetarians are Soylent Green and the Farmville War of 2011

October 22, 2010

It’s been one of those days. Months. Three months. Short version: this job is killing me for all the wrong reasons. I’ll elaborate more later, but suffice to say that my letter of resignation is in the mail and I’ll be going back to teaching and tutoring, something which, amazingly, is less stressful that working with deer.

“Diego’s Day,” the next chapter in Charcoal Streets got caught in the maelstrom and won’t be ready for a few days. It’s a combination of work that caught up with me and the fact that it turned out to be a little more personal than I thought.

In the meantime, let’s enjoy an assault of links from the world wide intertubes!

  • First off, a little something from hom. I was unaware we could not eat vegetarians, not just “vegetarian.”

  • Even if marijuana isn’t “legalized” in California, it’s apparently still ridiculously easy to get pot through the restricted means. Check out this informative video from CNN!
  • Almost everyone has seen the map of the internet, but at xkcd, they have a new, updated map. Looks like Facebook has grown quite a book, and if Skype isn’t careful, it may get invaded by Farmville.
  • Some parents are apparently mad at a photoshoot featuring some of the cast of Glee. They say it promotes pedophilia to have these girls dressed up in school outfits and then stripping. It makes sense… except that the actresses are in their 20’s and I’m sure no one outside of a school has ever worn a plaid skirt and pig tails. Right? Huh? Right? Also, in a final slap to these idiots, you can see the pics if you follow the link.
  • Mexico is being torn apart by the wars between the cartels, so the only obvious choice for a new police chief is… a 20-year-old woman who ran unopposed for the position. Okay, I have to give this young lady points for guts… but I have no clue what she intends to do. And I hope she stays safe.
  • Dark Archivist wrote a wonderful post on the tolerance of intolerance. She makes some good points, and she’s always a fun read. Check her out.
  • Dan Savage wrote a powerful response to a Christian who said he was offended by remarks that intolerance from Christians contributed to the recent gay youth suicides. I can sum it up thus: “Fuck your feelings.” It’s one of the most moving responses to the “It’s what my religion teaches” argument.
  • A Florida immigration law in the works will apparently target immigrants in much the same way as Arizona’s law… except that this law will exempt white people from scrutiny because, as we all know, European and Canadian immigrants are always cool. It’s those brown one we have to worry about.
  • Rumors of a remake to the cult classic The Crow starring Brandon Lee have been running around since at least last year. I’m on the fence about this. On the one hand, I love the movie, but think something closer to the comic would have been so much better. On the other hand, the original will always have a special place in my heart. Then again… now the rumor is that Mark Wahlberg may be staring in it. And right there you lost me.
  • And finally, are you still voting Republican? Let’s look at the Republican goals for this year, shall we?

Don’t Say the “Z” Word

When in doubt, empty the magazine.

March 15, 2010

WARNING: The following article contains minor spoilers for the 1973 and 2010 versions of The Crazies as well as the 1968 version of Night of the Living Dead.

Is there nothing that’s not made better by the inclusion of a zombie horde?

Oh, I’m sorry. My bad. The antagonists in The Crazies aren’t zombies. They’re the crazies. The infected. The recently-homicidally-inclined.

Think there’s a checkbox in the census for that?

Like I mentioned a few articles ago, I really wanted to see The Crazies, not only because I liked the original version but because I’m a total sucker for zombies. Overall, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the movie. It had some really good shots, a few really good scares, and our heroes were not idiots.

Well, except for two. And they died the rightfully deserved deaths of morons.

However, having seen the original version, I can’t help but compare something I didn’t really think about while watching this version.

The crazies, as the infected were called, weren’t homicidal so much as uninhibited. They didn’t really understand cause and effect, but they retained their full mental faculties. A sweet little grandmother killed a soldier with her sewing needles, then went back to sewing as though nothing had happened. In one of the original’s more controversial plot points, a father has sex with his infected daughter after he too succumbs to the effects of Trixie, the virus’ codename. There was no malice, but the scene did show just how unhinged the crazies had become.

In the new version, the crazies do experience a brief period of illogical behavior, but they quickly turn homicidal as their skin turns gray, they bleed through the nose, and their eyes change color. They also seem to loose the ability to reason and make quick movements. It’s a much more dramatic transformation whereas the original crazies looked the same as normal people. The remake makes it easy to distinguish the later stages of infection.

Zombie by ~beefkake on deviantART

While it’s fun watching this transformation in the crazies, it does diminish the impact the infection had in the first one. Now, they’re just another version of zombies. They’ve become nothing more than smart versions of the infected in 28 Days Later.

Cunning walking bio-hazards as it were.

The reason Romero’s Dead films were such a hit was that they hit a nerve and showed metaphor between the zombie apocalypse and society. The original Night of the Living Dead touched on issues of race relations. The sequel was a critique of consumerism and the third part was a condemnation of the adherence to tradition in the face of a changing world.

With the zombie invasion genre gaining more and more popularity, a lot of people have put in their two cents on the symbolism of the walking dead as a literary tool. It is this “zombiology” that, when used with The Crazies, shows one of the film’s shortcomings.

Romero Zombies
In the commentary track for Hellboy, Guillermo del Toro said that, in horror and fantasy, it was not necessary to understand the why. He said that if our heroes walk into a basement and one wall is a giant mouth, we as the audience don’t need to know why the mouth is there. It serves a purpose. Likewise, I believe, Romero’s zombies are not the focal point of his work. They serve to highlight and emphasize the conflicts within the human survivors. Basically, if the source of zombies has no bearing on the plot, don’t even mention it.

Romero never gave an explanation as to where the zombies came from. He never even called them zombies, and off the top of my head, Land of the Dead is the only time anyone even utters the word. The dead simply rise again. While the first film gave a theory regarding a radioactive space probe reanimating the dead, this was never followed through. In subsequent films, anyone who dies comes back. Period. A zombie bite simply speeds up the process.

This slow threat forces us to focus on the people who are mobile: the survivors.

The main plots in all the films were never really about the zombies. The focus was on the human characters and their fight for survival, their dwindling civilization, and how the horror of the walking dead showed everyone’s true colors. In the first, we saw Harry Cooper’s prejudice and control issues take the best of him when he left Ben, a black man and a great counter to the horror stereotype of “the minority dies first,” outside for the zombies to eat. The zombies are the catalyst, not the problem, for the conflict within the movies. Given enough time, most of the humans that are left would probably kill each other, and that’s the main drama with Romero zombies.

Fast Zombies
Ah, the Dawn of the Dead remake. It’s sparked the kinds of debates that used to be limited to Kirk versus Picard.

Kirk could totally whip Jean-Luc’s butt, but I digress…

With the remake, 28 Days Later, Quarantine, and the Living Dead movies that unofficially spawned from Romero’s work, the idea of a fast zombie, a hunter more than a slow death sentence, came into the popular consciousness. Instead of the slow decent into anarchy as the dead slowly multiply, survivors must contend with more pressing survival matters. They can be chased. Their enemies are mobile, sometimes ferociously so.

Even worse, increased speed often comes with an ability to use tools or otherwise manipulate the environment, something Romero zombies rarely do.

A fast zombie is, plot-wise, more action-oriented. You have longer, more physical scenes as opposed to the careful planning and tension of the rising slow horde. It makes sense that modern movies embraced the concept the Living Dead series took to heart in the 80’s. A faster zombie is geared towards action scenes. They’re more of a challenge, too. Modern audiences watching original Dawn of the Dead might laugh at how easily our heroes walk around the zombies, but remember that it wasn’t about the zombies.

Viral Zombies
While the Living Dead series that unofficially spawned from Romero’s original work blamed the creation of the undead on a chemical called Trioxin, many modern zombie franchises like 28 Days Later, Resident Evil, and now The Crazies make the catalyst a virus. Romero put one plausible explanation in his early work that hinted that radiation was the cause of the undead plague because, in the 1960’s, radiation and nuclear war were common concerns. Now, we fear biological and chemical weapons. Instead of the military, we fear corporations, which is where the threat of entities like the Umbrella Corporation comes from.

A new twist on the undead genre was the introduction of the living zombie, the monster that was not yet dead. This brought credibility to the threat. In 28 Days Later, for example, the Rage virus didn’t kill its victims. It turned them into homicidal maniacs. Quarantine‘s infected suffer from a hyperactive form of rabies.  The viral zombie also creates the threat of infection, mutations, and all kinds of weird side-effects.

Get bitten and you’re going to be target practice as soon as you start looking at anyone’s head too longingly.

Better still, if zombification spreads through a virus, there’s always the possibility of a cure, an anti-virus. We want happy endings. Very few people can deal with a depressing or open ending. If the viral undead are our generation’s fears, then the possibility of an antidote is our hope.

zombie by ~DustMyLemonLies on deviantART

And this is where the remake of The Crazies came up short.

The original version, like I mentioned, didn’t have any physical difference between the crazies and normal people. The paranoia over who was really infected or just stressed and panicked was part of the tension. There was a subplot involving military characters, including a doctor working within the town to find a cure. Now, while the victims are still very much alive and don’t need the obligatory shot to the head to be put down, they resemble modern concepts of the zombie so much that it’s impossible to NOT call them zombies.

But the purists will argue the infected here are not zombies. I’m sure a lot of readers would argue that the infected in 28 Days Later aren’t zombies either, but if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and eats brains like a duck, it’s a duck.

Or a zombie duck.

By dumping them into the zombie categories I outlined, the crazies fall somewhere between classic Romero zombies in motion and fast zombies in attack, but they lack the characteristics of the viral zombie’s contagion. They are unique in this respect, but now the crazies are bunched into the zombie genre instead of the regular satire Romero built in the first film. Worse, the military is just another villain lumped in. They’re there to kill the people in town and contain the outbreak. Instead of fleshed out characters, the tragedy of seeing those responsible try and deal with their mistakes, we get the typical X-Files black helicopter routine along with pseudo-zombies.

What could have been a wonderful plot driven by paranoia, not just tension of running into the next silent, homicidal machine or the military patrols shutting down the town turned into another bloody zombie escape. Not that it wasn’t entertaining, but it could have been so much more.

Is it unfair to compare this movie to the original?

No. It’s a remake. Someone made the conscious choice of making it a remake. I only compare it to Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, and 28 Days later in general subject matter. I’m not arguing whether or not it’s a real zombie movie any more than I would argue whether the vampires on Buffy where “real” vampires because they were demons in human bodies instead of the undead. The Crazies did a lot of good things, but I think it stretched itself too thin by covering a lot of the popular mythology on zombies, playing on expectations, and simultaneously not using the concepts it did use to full effect.

Still, it’s not a bad movie by any means. And I do tend to get quite verbose when it comes to the undead.

And to send you off on your Monday morning, Mister Zombie himself:

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