Saturday, May 24, 2008

Yet more evidence that American culture is slipping into decadence

Apparently it pays off handsomely to take a cherished part of American film culture and to wreck it by remaking it. The latest example is that the cable channel A&E has remade the science fiction classic "The Andromeda Strain". The problem is that the original film is apparently too boring for a contemporary geek's attention span, so they have to sex up the plot with crazy stuff that isn't in the original. According to the wikipedia plot synopsis, the producers of the remake decided to throw in such crowd-pleasing details as having someone fall into a vat of radioactive cooling fluid. There's even a frickin' wormhole plot twist involving a space station at the end (damn you, "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine")!

The irony is that the remake has certainly adapted enough of the original plot to qualify as a remake while ditching the visual style of the original, despite the fact that the original is mostly distinguished by its visual style. In the original, we have a rich evocation of the American technocratic mindset. The main characters are, for the most part, middle-aged, non-glamorous career researchers; these are exactly the type of researchers with the career eminence to lead a major, crack research effort. The technology, consisting of the dot-matrix teleprinters and ASCII mainframe terminals of the day, reminds us that even the most advance tools of a generation ago were recognized as both indispensible and primitive even then. There is also the emphasis upon government formalism evoking the days of "the men in the gray flannel suits" when government planning was considered the trend of the future.

The net effect of the original visual style is to emphasize modernity, or at least the impression of late-1960s modernity that the film thought was going to impress its audience. This point seems to have escaped the notice of some of those involved in the remake (hyperlink in original removed):
Apparently star Andre Braugher isn't a big fan of the novel, "Crichton's book doesn't hold up to the test of time and so not much happens. When you go back to 1968 and read that book it's anti-climactic, period, so this is a re-telling of the story with the same premise." Let's hope fans of the novel aren't rankled too much by that. As long as he's nitpicking, he might as well say that the 1971 film based on the same novel doesn't hold up that well either. What's going to make their version so much better?

He's very stingy with the details, and basically only tells us that he's playing the military man who is brought in to deal with the situation, while Benjamin Bratt plays the "hot-headed scientist" who is trying to track down the virus. Does Benjamin Bratt have any roles where he isn't hot-headed? According to Braugher, the film will have some elements of Sphere in it (please dear god, let him mean the novel and not the awful movie version), and promises that the virus won't be benign as it is in the novel, but will be "malignant and on the loose."
This point of view seems to be that people seem to love the original film for some inexplicible reason completely unrelated to the low action level, but of course everybody knows that movies with little action couldn't possibly be any good, therefore the remake should have nothing but credits-to-credits, non-stop action. This is cultural decadence.


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