It is official. This is the worst period in the history of Hollywood.
There, I said it.
If you’re familiar with even two sentences of this column over the past 13 years, you’ve come to expect our throwing ice water on most flaming hyperbole; like “Worst president ever!,” “Worst disaster ever!,” “Worst economic crisis ever!” or “Best (fill in the blank) ever!” Then we crank out a thousand or so words explaining why everyone conveniently forgot what was likely a far worse or much better (fill in the blank). However, I vehemently stand by the above lead now that some coke-addled rapacious corporate geek has given the green light to a remake of The Wizard of Oz.
In all of the American century, it is hard to find a more iconic piece of art, its characters or its music, its influence or the bedrock resonance in the psyche of generations than The Wizard of Oz. Okay, maybe you can argue one or two that come close or perhaps might be equivalent, but then I’d use up my allotted space to easily refute it, and where would that get us?
Let’s agree for the purposes of this week’s rant that we’re pretty much in the ballpark in saying that if there is a piece of suitably untouchable Americana, a seminal work of art and a signature expression of a particular time and place in its creation, it would be The Wizard of Oz, okay?
And if it’s merely twentieth century pop art, then so be it. I would not be so bold as to place it beside The Great Gatsby or The Sun Also Rises or Death of a Salesman or Birth of the Cool or the original recording of “Kind Hearted Woman Blues.” But how much of any of those ends up in the forefront of present-day culture, whether to be exploited, engender an emotion or act as homage? I would argue none.
But coming soon, celebrated director, Robert Zemeckis of Back to the Future and Forrest Gump fame is tabbed by Warner Bros. to take the original script of one of the most beloved films in all of the art form’s history and hatch a modern, digitally ravaged, CG-festooned version of it.
The first question has to center on the issue of bad taste (a Hollywood prerequisite that everything is for sale, like, well… hell, re-staging Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ for countless shitty Jesus films or whatever crap is attributed to Babe Ruth. It always astounded me they could not make a film of someone as famous, complex and paradoxical as Babe Ruth, but keep coming up with these fairly moving horse movies like Seabiscuit or abysmal solipsistic schlock like Rudy. The thing practically writes itself!)
But who cares about taste? We’re firmly entrenched in the “nothing is sacred” camp around here. They can remake anything they want. It’s merely a vehicle, a piece of sellable content sitting around gathering dust to these cretins. No matter how abhorrently pathetic the previous “What the…?” remakes have been, most notably Planet of the Apes and The Bad News Bears—I didn’t mind King Kong, but then they made forty King Kong movies, so it kind of came as less a shock anyway. Some lunatic thought it made sense to redo Psycho (shot-for-shot) and half the planet had a fit when George Lucas had the gall to change a few scenes in Star Wars, and it’s his friggin’ movie! But, again, this is The Wizard of Oz we’re dealing with here.
The more pressing question then becomes “Why?”
Seriously, the only reasons to desecrate this masterpiece have to be money and technology. We can promote the shit out of this, build curiosity by making the trailer look super hip (for great examples of truly appalling films trumped by amazingly edited trailers, please see every Tim Burton movie since Edward Scissorhands) or we’ll simply take all our toys and make this thing look way cooler. Shit, then why not re-record The Beatles’ stuff with better equipment and more talented musicians, like they do with Beethoven. Let’s fight WWII over again now that we have more precise military devises and deadlier weaponry? Hey, why don’t we re-try OJ with more competent lawyers?
Wait, I’m veering way off course here. I have an airtight argument, can’t muck it up with flippant asides that may have its place in appetizing irony but dilutes the point.
When this craze of incessant Hollywood remakes began to really hit its stride in the late ‘90s (mainly due to the independent film uprising, wherein the truly original artistic visions grew tired of being booted out of executive offices and told to go back to the college dorms to blow weed and put out their films anyway, eventually making money and winning awards and then wooing big stars to their productions, which scared the living daylights out of the big studios) I would always joke, “When they remake The Wizard of Oz, then you know it’s over.”
This makes our opening line a solid piece of warranted hyperbole. And so I will repeat it for effect: It is officially the worst time in the history of big-ticket American movie making.
The exploitation of races and gaudy musicals in the ‘30s, the bad monster and gangster films of the ‘40s, the really horrific attempts to battle the advent of television in the ‘50s with drive-in fodder 3-D (which predictably is back) and mindless rock and roll teenage falderal moving into the Beach Blanket Bingo or embarrassing attempts to make social statement ‘60s, where a wave of film makers had to begin the golden age of Hollywood’s artistic expressions, all have their place in “Worst.” But the last 10 or so years, with its endless rehashing of computer animation and repackaged series whether warlock or vampire related, and even the lauded work of badly imitated subject matter from the original gritty independent versions, has solidified the flat-lining of Hollywood.
Now they go and put dirt on the entire thing by re-making The Wizard of Oz.
So I say good luck to the poor asshole that has to sit on that hay cart and belt out “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”.
Let the cringing begin…
James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of Deep Tank Jersey, Fear No Art, Trailing Jesus and Midnight For Cinderella.