Happy 60th anniversary. The B-Movies Podcast, right here in the hallowed pages of CraveOnline, has now made it to its 60th week, and we are showing no signs of slowing. In this episode, entitled, amusingly enough, Anna Karenina: Heist Mistress, we posited that Leo Tolstoy’s emotional opera of despair and a woman’s unfortunate inability to pursue her true desires in a world that does not offer her the avenues or the imagination to escape the stifling world of bad marriages in cold and utilitarian pursuit of wealth by marriage, would be re-imagined by Hollywood as an ass-kicking, violent (but still PG-13-rated) action spectacle wherein Anna is a superheroine who fires guns, wears leather outfits, and who was heroically saving the life of a peer when the train ran her down.
Hollywood has a curious habit when it comes to literature. Newer pop books (like Harry Potter, Twilight, The Lord of the Rings, and now The Hunger Games) are given loving and careful attention to detail, and the filmmakers are all stringently faithful to the source material. Not a word is to be omitted, and the tone must be perfect. There are legions of fans to please, after all. But, when it comes to older classics, which presumably have their fans as well, Hollywood tend to rush wholesale into the exact opposite approach, repurposing famous titles with little or no regard to the source material at all. Why is it, for instance, that the third Harry Potter film gets the star treatment, and a 2 ½-hour-plus running time incorporating all the source book’s incident, while Alice in Wonderland is suddenly a war-wracked tale of death and bloodshed? How is it that the Twilight series gets five movies to cover every last detail of the four novels, whereas The Three Musketeers has the oddball appearance of a flying battleship?
Well, so long as Hollywood has the habit of casually blowing their noses on the pages of the Western Canon, while they just as casually masturbate to the endless icky descriptions of Edward Cullen’s sparkling midsection, why not liven it up a little bit? If we’re going to be irreverent, let’s be really irreverent. Heck, there’s a film coming out later this year called Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, wherein this nation’s legendary 16th president is given a loving biography that only contains a few extra supernatural bits involving a vampire conspiracy. No doubt, John Wilkes Booth will be a vampire.
With the pop culture dam bursting forth with all kinds of genre mashups and ironic films, I would like to, earnestly, propose the following five films to any studio interested. If you want to write the screenplays for these films, I give you permission. Just give me one of those vague “based on an idea by” credits, and we’ll be square.
The Haunting of Walden Pond
Henry David Thoreau’s early American journal of his experiences living in a self-built shack on the gorgeous shore of the placid Walden Pond is a little too, I dunno, bland. Who cares about some hippie’s experiences growing produce and contemplating what it means to live off the land for two years? Well, everyone, when it’s revealed that Walden Pond is actually the home to an ancient evil from space that has been lurking under the dark waters for generations. Henry (I guess we’ll call him Hank), a charming rogue who can bed whatever women he wants, has robbed a bank and fled to the shores to Walden Pond to live away from the prying eyes of the law. He is well trained in martial arts. As he is building his cabin, however, he accidentally awakens the ire of the ancient Lovecraftian evil, and it begins to manifest itself. The cabin becomes haunted, and beasts beset poor Hank. Luckily, Hank is cool under pressure, and can fight them off with his kung fu. He also manages to build several weapons, including nunchucks and fighting claws. He ultimately has to trek out onto the lake in an armored boat he builds himself, and do hand-to-hand battle with the spirit of the lake, which looks like a giant eel. He ends up writing a diary of his battles, but it is redacted and re-written to be Walden.
Johnson and Boswell, NYPD
The legendary life of the British Renaissance man Dr. Samuel Johnson proves that human beings can still live large lives and have enormous ideas. The life of the physically awkward, yet gorgeously thinking figure of The Enlightenment was notoriously captured, in excruciating detail, by James Boswell, who, by so closely following Johnson, wrote what is considered to be one of the greatest biographies of all time. But there was a part that Boswell left out of his memoir: the ten-year period wherein Johnson and Boswell moved to New York, and joined the police force. While there, the two of them began working out, became fit and cut, and trained extensively in the use of firearms. They also became fluent in several languages, and became masters of forensic science. The eventually join the police, and become involved the investigation of a killer with seemingly supernatural powers. He has been killing prostitutes in the streets of New York, and calls himself Jack. Hmm... It turns out that he is the latest in a long line of killers, who pass the “Jack” mantle down through the generations. It's up to Samuel Johnson and James Boswell to stop this “Jack” before his legacy spreads to England.
A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Android Fighter
After his stint in a Russian gulag, fighting to survive in the perpetual cold, and scraping together what small scraps of food he can, Ivan Denisovich, thanks to the seminal work by Aleksandr Solzhenistyn, became a symbol of hope as well as the central figure in an exposé on the harsh conditions of Russian prison life. After his release from the gulag, however, Denisovich was scouted by an extraterrestrial freedom-fighting force embroiled in a horrible battle on a distant planet with a newly risen machine intelligence. The planet is a frozen wasteland with little food, and it is the frontline of the android battle. Denisovich is abducted by a benevolent alien species, and is asked to lead the battle against the machines. His skills at prison survival come into play, as he reluctantly teaches the aliens how survive on little food, and bundle up from the cold. Eventually, he must give his heart to the new people, and help them in earnest to fight the coming android threat. Ironically, he ends up building a gulag for the android insurrectionists, leaving us with a morally ambiguous ending.
In Search of Lost Ninjas
Marcel Proust famously recorded his emotional life in a seven-volume autobiography that reads more like a poetic opera than a recording of events. He posited that we spend the bulk of our lives trying to recapture the lost time that has, like a dream, eluded our present-day waking life. He muses on the nature of memory, the importance of love, and how our childhood pleasures shape our adult expectations. He was also (and he didn't cover this in the books a lot), a Japanese master of invisibility and a well-paid assassin for the Japanese government. He spends the bulk of his new story musing on the ninja training school he attended, his first loves at the place, and how he must now, as an adult in 1920s France, track down his fellow students at the ninja school, whom he has heard are planning a takeover of the French government. The ultimate revelation is that his first wife, whom he met at the ninja school, was secretly having an affair with another woman, and his first love was secretly, all along, his male mentor, whom is secretly heading up the ninja insurrection. In a tragic ending, Proust must slay his ninja lover.
Lolita: Avenging Angel
Dolores Haze, following the notorious events of Vladimir Nabokov's novel, grew up into a sexy and tough, but embittered soul who, while in control of her sexuality, feels damaged by the sexual attention she received from men like Humbert Humbert and Clare Quilty. It didn't help that that Nabokov fellow made her story so public. She is now a foxy 40-year-old bisexual woman with a penchant for vigilante justice, and a 13-year-old daughter named Dolores Jr. By day, she is a powerful attorney who specializes in dodgy sexually themed cases (like in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), but by night, she looks for sexual criminals and beats them savagely, turning them over to the police. The story gets complicated when Haze, defending a 14-year-old boy against rape charges he is clearly innocent of, finds herself attracted to him.
From the Desk of William Bibbiani:
The Hollywood mashup movie, or “TeeFury Movie” as I like to call them, is nothing new. Witney made it pretty clear already, so you know the premise: combine a well known story or character from the history of pop culture, or just plain “culture,” and add another one. Go back to 1943 sometime, I dare you, to see Jacques Tourneur adapt Charlotte Bronte’s classic gothic romance Jane Eyre, but with zombies. Yes, it turns out that Mr. Rochester’s crazy old wife Bertha is actually crazy because she’s been raised from the dead in a voodoo ritual. Craziest of all, the movie was actually really good. I Walked with a Zombie stands alongside Robert Stevenson’s version, starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine, also from 1943, as one of the better adaptations of the novel to date.
So yes, this idea has been around for a while, and it’s often been done really, really well. Robinson Crusoe on Mars transplanted the old survivalist adventure novel into a sci-fi setting, just like Forbidden Planet did with Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Then there’s Time After Time, which combined H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine with a faux-biography of Wells himself, as he took the machine – which he built himself in “real life” – into the 1970’s to track down Jack the Ripper. Great, fun and inventive movies all. But that nebulous and all-powerful entity we refer to in hushed tones as “Hollywood” seems to be so enamored of the concept lately that they’re just shoving ideas together haphazardly. Witney was right to call out Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, a film based on a book about absurdist logic problems, and that adhered so strictly to a brain dead “How To” screenwriters’ manual that it turned out to be one of the most conventional motion pictures of 2010. Then there was the Jack Black movie Gulliver’s Travels, which took a fantasy parable about the failings of human culture and combined it with… well, a Jack Black movie, reducing the film’s satire to a mindless “just be yourself” morality tale more fitting with the cinematic oeuvre of Eddie Murphy post-1998 (and cutting out a good three-quarters of the story in the process).
So, fully aware of the possibility that any of the following pitches might completely suck, I present to you my own ideas for classic novels (and one play) that Hollywood could hit with the TeeFury stick. Let’s take these timeless tales of wonder and relevance and throw Jason Statham in them, just to see what happens.
John Steinbeck was no slouch. In addition to the classic novels East of Eden and Of Mice and Men, he also wrote what may be his seminal work The Grapes of Wrath, the Pulitzer Prize-winning tale of the Joad family, who traveled across America to California in search of work during the Great Depression. Tom Joad (Jason Statham) has been paroled for his recent homicide arrest and finds his family missing after the bank foreclosed on their home. He teams up with a former preacher (Liam Neeson) to track down his family and escort them safely to California, fighting off bounty hunters hired by that evil financial institution as well as fellow Depression era victims, who are promised work in The Golden State if they bring Joad in, dead or alive. His family is picked off one by one and the preacher dies in a cunning trap disguised as a Union strike. After taking down the murderers single-handed, using his signature weapon (a hoe), Tom walks off into the sunset, promising to fight for the oppressed wherever they are. After the closing credits, Tom is seen joining forces with kung fu expert Wang Lung, promising an inevitable sequel in which they fight side by side to save the world, and finally make this a Good Earth.
The Pygmalion Affair
Before the hit Broadway musical and Oscar-winning film My Fair Lady, there was George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, in which erudite phonetics professor Henry Higgins (Jason Statham) makes a wager that he can turn a bedraggled cockney peasant into a respectable lady… so they can pull the heist of the century. Eliza Doolittle (Milla Jovovich) is no mere flower vendor: she’s also a street-smart kung fu expert whose flower vending is the perfect cover for her father’s opium ring. Higgins needs Eliza and her botany skills to steal the rarest flower in the world, “The Legendary Flower of the Celestial Nagas,” which only blooms at midnight and then dies within hours. With the deadline looming, Higgins and Eliza train rigorously to make her presentable to the flower’s owner, a Greek diplomat whose henchmen, a former pupil of Higgins’, will be their biggest obstacle… except for Eliza’s father, of course, whose goon squads have to be dispatched with kung fu after they try to steal the flower in a daring racetrack robbery. Will Eliza find a way to keep the flower alive long enough to present it to their employer, Colonel Pickering? Will Higgins and his partner in crime realize that they love each other? Will the rain in Spain fall mainly on the plains? Find out in 2013’s The Pygmalion Affair, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson.
The Hunchback Begins
You know the story of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, in which Quasimodo the Hunchback (District B13’s Cyril Raffaelli) tries to woo the gypsy Esmerelda (Salma Hayek), who is being hunted by the villainous Archdeacon Claude Frollo (Ralph Fiennes). But do you know how the hunchback… began? The origin story of Hugo’s heroic acrobat finds Jason Statham free running atop the roofs of Paris for his “noble” master Frollo, fighting street thugs whose mysterious tattoos offer clues to a larger conspiracy at work. At first hunted, and then finally aided by the fiercely dedicated detective Javert (Jason Statham), Quasimodo tracks the devil worshipping cult known only as “The Miserable” to their hideout beneath the Arch du Triomphe, too late to stop them from raising the insect demon “Bug-Jargal” from the depths of Hell but not too late to fight the beast to the death in the skies of France. The climax finds Bug-Jargal taking a helpless gypsy woman hostage, thus introducing Quasimodo and Frollo to the woman who will tragically end their heroic alliance in the inevitable sequel.
The Prince and the Body Snatchers
Mark Twain’s 1882 novel The Prince and the Pauper told the rags to riches (and riches to rags) story of Prince Edward (Shia LaBeouf), who switched places with a doppelganger member of the impoverished. Or so history would have you believe. Prince Edward has a thing or two to learn about social inequality, so when he’s replaced in the court by a shape-shifting alien menace (who disguised their ship as Halley’s Comet) seeking to take over the British government and use their Empire to conquer the world, he’s forced onto the streets as a pauper, and learns a valuable lesson about class warfare. Specifically, how to start a revolution. He teams up with a gang of thieves (led by Jason Statham) to infiltrate the Royal Palace and reveal the otherworldly villains for who they really are, culminating in a fight between Edward and himself atop Big Ben, which is rigged to explode at midnight with a newfangled “time bomb” that malfunctions, sending our contemporary hero way back to King Arthur’s Court in a cliffhanger finale, that finds Camelot besieged on all size by gigantic, jumping alien frogs.
When Wolfgang Peterson adapted Homer’s The Iliad into the disappointing sword and sandal epicTroy, he left out one thing: The Gods. The original story, about the Trojan War waged by King Agamemnon against, well, Troy (duh), also featured many cameos by the Greek pantheon, who often made personal appearances on the battlefield in order to sway the tide of the conflict. Peterson left them out because, well, those gods didn’t exist. Until now. The present-day Pantheon Corporation has just invented a new video game that allows the players to project their godlike avatars into actual historical events, using all manner of inventive and satisfying special moves and combos in a game combining beat ‘em up gameplay with real time strategy. Only Achilles (Jason Statham) seems to realize that the “gods” aren’t behaving the way they’re supposed to, but his attempts to get the rival army to aid in his war with the pantheon are stymied when a gamer challenges him to a duel using the Trojan warrior Ajax (Scott Adkins) as an avatar. Using the chaos of the final, horse-centric battle as a distraction, Achilles is about to land the killing blow against the false gods when he suddenly notices that his heel is glowing red, alerting gamers everywhere to his weak point. You can fight the gods, but you can’t win the game if you’re only an NPC.