I generally don’t have a lot of interest in sacred cows. Want to speed up the game of baseball? Put a pitch clock in. It’s never been done before? So what? We’ve never had to regularly sit through four-hour games where only three runs were scored. Some of us want to have our cake and eat it, too. That is, enjoy a baseball game and still get to bed at a reasonable hour.
The same goes for movies. Want to take a mediocre or lousy film that people love and redo it? Or a great one that you are convinced you can make even better than the master who made it the first time around? Fine by me. Just understand that you’re walking through a minefield and asking for a whole heap of trouble from the numerous fans who love — and I mean really love — the original, whatever it may be. My feeling is always “buyer beware” and you just have to be prepared for the fallout.
I might ask, “Wait, why are they doing this, exactly?” But I would not actually say they can’t do it. Gus Van Sant gets an Oscar nomination for Good Will Hunting and wants to use his “I Can Do Anything I Want Now” card on a shot-for-shot remake of Psycho, with the strapping Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates instead of the meek Anthony Perkins, thus missing the whole point of the character in the process? Have at it. But when it’s a massive failure, you have to own it and acknowledge that the card could, and probably should, have been used for another, worthier purpose.
Which brings us to Kenya Barris and his “reimagining” of The Wizard of Oz, which he will write, direct, and produce, and which will apparently be set in the present day, though additional details regarding his take remain closely guarded.
There have been untold numbers of Wizard of Oz takes over the years — on the big screen, the small screen, on stage, in video games, books, comic books, and music videos. Pretty much every form of media you can imagine has featured some kind of riff on L. Frank Baum‘s classic tale. Seriously, the list goes on and on. Dorothy, Toto, and the boys have all shown up repeatedly over the last century-plus, long before the movie we all know and (mostly) love hit screens in 1939.
As unquestionably talented as Barris is, I think it is still worth asking why, exactly, we need this movie right now. I stand by the idea that nothing is sacred, but I also think that wiser heads should prevail in these situations, and the discussion surrounding why something like this is necessary must be had.
This leads me to think that, perhaps, Barris’ take is so unique that the folks at Warner Bros. couldn’t say “no,” but I’m sure people thought the same thing about The Wiz 40-some years ago, and we know how that turned out. This might not be giving Barris enough credit, but I think I’m allowed to be skeptical until I see something that makes me into a believer. At the moment, I’m sort of rolling my eyes about yet another skilled practitioner of the creative arts resorting to making something out of existing IP instead of doing something original.
Because, really, that’s part of the problem here. Not just that we keep going back to the same well over and over again, but that we now try to revisit it in different ways. Got a new take on a classic? Great! Let’s do it! Or perhaps we can take something that would be absolutely foolish to try to recreate, and instead, take a look under the hood and see how it got made! Take, for Exhibit A, The Offer on Paramount+, which wasn’t a remake of The Godfather — because that would be the height of hubris from which no one could ever return — but rather a 10-episode mini-series about the making of The Godfather. And a fictionalized one at that.
Ben Affleck is, I think, still attached to turn the making of Chinatown into a movie based on Sam Wasson‘s fabulous non-fiction book The Big Goodbye, because none of us have spent nearly enough time watching actors playing Roman Polanski and Robert Towne arguing with each other in a room for hours on end.
And perhaps one day we’ll see Bruce, a musical about the making of Jaws that takes its name from the mechanical shark that refused to function properly for director Steven Spielberg, in case you weren’t aware. In fact, there was even a script called The Shark Is Not Working that was voted to the 2013 Black List. I suppose either would be preferable to a straight remake of Jaws, because what nincompoop would ever attempt that?
A streamer could always revisit the two years that Sir David Lean and Peter O’Toole’s spent in the desert making Lawrence of Arabia. The movie is almost four hours long, so why not take twice as long to tell that story over the course of a limited series? Or what about a sequel to The Offer, about the making of The Godfather Part II? Too on the nose? No problem, let’s have a movie inspired by the behind-the-scenes issues that Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman had with each other 80 years ago during the making of Casablanca.
I’d rather see Hollywood take an approach like that rather than “modern reimaginings” of classics like The Wizard of Oz. If those are no longer off-limits, I suppose we’ll soon see Tom Holland as T.E. Lawrence — fun fact, the real Lawrence was only about 5’6” so he was much closer in height to the 5’8” Holland than O’Toole, who stood 6’2” — or Timothee Chalamet and Léa Seydoux as Casablanca‘s Rick and Ilsa. I mean, if nothing is sacred, why not just remake these classic movies wholesale for a new generation, most of whom haven’t seen the originals and probably never will, even if they could be bothered to track them down in the first place.
There may no longer be such a thing as a sacred cow when it comes to art, but I don’t necessarily see people trying to repaint the Mona Lisa. Yes, I think it’s fair to compare Lawrence of Arabia, The Godfather, Casablanca, and Jaws to the world’s most famous painting because I truly believe those are valid comps. I understand that we love the things we love and we want to recreate them. It’s only natural. But just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should…
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for nearly 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.