John Grindrod: Yet again, for Hollywood, something old is new again

First Posted: 5/5/2014

With the opening Friday of the movie “Godzilla,” the gates have now been flung open for the summer movie season. Of course, there’ll be more X-Men, more of those lovable apes from a certain planet, more Transformers and even yet another visit to Jurassic Park, a couple of decades after the first one. And, while as a huge fan of movies both old and new, despite the fact that I’m glad the industry continues to thrive, I also have to wonder why the creative minds return so often to the past for storylines and characters that have already been done.

Certainly, with the giant monster Godzilla, having made its first appearance in the eponymous Japanese sci-fi movie that first aired in 1954, as in three-score ago, and then many times on TV since, the newest movie monster is certainly steeped in antiquity.

As for how the movie will do, well, the jury always remains out for a while, and even then, it’s really difficult for even those in the entertainment industry to decide on how big of a commercial success a movie is, given all the hidden costs involved in making a movie. Often, box-office information is difficult to interpret. While some who study the business side of movies place great stock in the opening-weekend numbers, others pay far more attention to the precipitiousness of the percentage drop from weekend one to two to begin to assess a particular movie’s commercial success.

So, let’s just wait to see how the weekend numbers shake out as we head toward June to see if the newer version of the monster has both giant slimy legs in the story and greenbacks legs at the box office as well.

Certainly, one thing that can’t hurt is that, because the original movie was so long ago, even after it made its way to television, much of the movie-viewing demographic wouldn’t really have been exposed to it, especially the younger age group. As for me, at 63 as of this month, I have seen the original on television and haven’t really decided for sure whether I’ll be heading to the Regal Cinema for the latest.

My guess is I just may, rather than waiting for the flick to make its way to Redbox, because I’m really curious to see Bryan Cranston’s return to the screen in the movie after an epic television run as high-school-chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-kingpin Walter White on “Breaking Bad,” which, for my money, was perhaps the most compelling character I have ever seen in a series. After Tony Soprano, I never thought I could say that, but I can after having seen Cranston absolutely dominate the part.

Despite Cranston’s inclusion in Godzilla, rest assured the real star is the shadowy and slimy one, and it’s The Big G’s performance upon which this movie will rise or fall.

For any who are under the assumption that remakes of stories that have already been put on the silver screen are always better, because, after all, movie making is far more sophisticated than the days when a large fan and some Styrofoam pieces were all that was was used to create a snowstorm, there are certainly examples that would fly in the face of such a supposed surety.

For example, Jack Black’s “Gulliver’s Travels,” which was first adapted to cinema from Jonathan Swift’s classic novel in 1939 as a full-length animated film, came out in 2010. Later versions cropped up either in the silver or small screen in 1960, 1970, 1977 and 1996. The ’96 version was a two-part miniseries that starred Ted Danson as Lemuel Gulliver and, as I recall, pretty good. However, when it comes to Black’s Swiftian odyssey, the movie barely got out of the gate in its run before winding up in DVD Land.

Of course, the 1933 classic “King Kong” found its way back to us in 2005 even though the original movie was actually remade with the original storyline in 1976, not to mention the sequels, one of which even included that 1962 cult classic that pitted two iconic characters in “King Kong vs. Godzilla.” However, it seems Hollywood never tires of looking back over its shoulder.

Perhaps the most excruciatingly long and poorly done of the remakes I’ve seen is the 1998 movie “Meet Joe Black,” a three-hour snooze-fest of a flick that was a loose remake of the 1934 film “Death Takes a Holiday.” What a waste of the talents and time of the remake’s two stars, Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins! The movie-reviewing website Rotten Tomatoes termed the movie “glacially slow and uneventful.” I recall while sitting in the movie theater, first my arm fell asleep, then the other, then a leg, then the other and then the rest of me!

The only remake I’ve seen that, while still not as good, at least does the original some justice is the 1981 “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange in the roles that were absolutely nailed by John Garfield and Lana Turner in the 1946 classic of the same name. A lot of seduction and a little murder can make quite a powerful cocktail as I think is evident in both the films.

So, I guess I’m not expecting much from the new “Godzilla.” While I’m sure the special effects will be far glitzier, it just seems that the older I get, the original versions of pretty much everything seem good enough!

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