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Old 05-21-2010, 10:31 PM
WriteNow WriteNow is offline
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Default Monster movies!

So, I was asked by an old friend to speak to his screenwriting class on whatever topic I wanted. After seeing The Wolfman recently I decided to talk about and compare the successes/failures of the remakes of Universal's great Monster Movies.



For those of you who don't know or aren't a fan, Universal had a string of big hits with several now-classic monster movies, some based on classic books. They were Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolfman, and (the black sheep?) The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

As a kid I loved them all, but The Wolfman was always a favorite. I just like the idea of a man turning into a wolf-thing, the spooky-looking full moon, the blood-curdling howl. Great stuff.

So when I finally got around to seeing the new version of The Wolfman I was pretty excited. I purposely avoided reading anything about it, watching trailers, etc. so that I would see it "fresh". Well, that was a waste. It was awful, a total failure on all levels. Which got me thinking- why? Coppola's Dracula was fantastic, Sommers' The Mummy was very entertaining if not a masterpeice, and even Branagh's Frankenstein was a noble failure with lots of good aspects.

So that's what I decided to speak about- the issues that arise when updating classic properties, in this case monster movies.

After watching The Wolfman I read some reviews and things and found out that it was a very troubled production. They changed directors, editors, composers (then back again), cast members, and more. There were extensive reshoots (always a bad sign), rewrites (not as bad), and delays. In the end the movie feels like a boring mess with no cohesiveness. There ARE some good bits, but nothing gels. It's like the writer had his little index cards with key plot points tacked to a board and started writing, not interested in CONNECTING to the dots, nor making us care about any of it. I could go on for pages about the poorly done technical side of things, but this is a writing site, so I'll stick to that. Suffice it to say that I have not seen a movie in years full of so many clichéd one-liners ("I could never forgive myself if anything happened to you . . .") which is kind of odd because the script was co-written by Andrew Kevin Walker, who turned the stale serial killer genre on its head with Se7en. However, I read his original script (for Se7en) and it was much more generic than what you see on the screen. Another writer most likely punched it up and David Fincher gave it lots of style.

Anyway, I plan on complaining about The Wolfman for a good part of my speech as what NOT to do when updating something. But what about the success stories? I though Coppola's Dracula was brilliant. Aside from a miscast Keanu Reeves the whole film was a marvel. In this case the writers went back to the source material (Stoker's book) to give the whole thing a very classic and authentic feel. (This is helped by Coppola's use of old-school practical effects and optical effects, no CG at all.) There are no silly one-liners and clichéd quips, just that oddly stilted Victorian era dialogue that fits the mood perfectly. Unlike, say . . .

. . . The Mummy. Sommers was clearly going for the broadest possible audience by turning the sad and creepy love story of the original into a Raiders of the Lost Ark-style action/fx extravaganza. And- go figure- it worked. Pretty much the opposite of Dracula, there's a ton of (very effective, mostly) CG, Indy-style one-liners, bumbling sidekicks, a damsel in distress. The original film is used as a starting point, but the writer quickly veers off course and never looks back. And the film was a huge success, with one OK sequel, and one terrible one.

Frankenstein was more like Dracula. A return to the source material (Shelly's book) and an even more serious tone. Branagh seemed interested in really exploring the idea of what would happen if a "thing" was brought to life. And he even got Robert Deniro to play the Creature. But . . . it didn't work. It should have, but it didn't. The tone of the film was SO doom-and-gloom and depressing that it made my feel guilty for the parts I DID enjoy. Branagh cleverly re-did the famous "birth" scene, using electric eels instead of a lighting bolt and an awed look instead of "It's alive!", but it was merely a decent attempt. Nothing could have topped that original, iconic scene. So why bother? Just do it again, with the technological advancements we have today (and more $$) and wow the audience. Because a lighting bolt striking the mighty Creature and bringing him to life is a lot more exciting that seeing Deniro slide out of a watery tube. The whole feel films like this- comprises are made to make the film more realistic (and really scary?) but it undercuts the excitement.

This is just a basic framework. I plan on getting into character development and story structure and so on, but I thought I'd post some ideas here and see if you guys have anything to add. Again, I'm just a guest speaker (for 90 minutes or so) for a friend's screenwriting class. I'm trying to not be boring and not give the same old speeches I heard in film school and I think this is a good topic.

Let me know what you guys think-
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Last edited by WriteNow; 05-22-2010 at 08:50 PM.
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  #2  
Old 06-02-2010, 03:40 AM
WriteNow WriteNow is offline
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The speech went well. Only snag was my friend just *happened* to be sick that day so I was stuck with his class for the entire three hours when I had only prepared enough for and hour and a half. (Well, one hour with half an hour for questions/discussion.)

Sadly, many of the writers in the class were asking me about how to make it in Hollywood, what types of scripts will sell, how to break in to the business. I say "sadly" because at that stage the only thing they should worry about is *writing*. You can buy a one-way ticket to Hollywood any time you want but if you don't have a suitcase (3-6) full of the scripts that you are confident about then you're going to have a very hard time getting anywhere. And most importantly you need to have learned all the basics of how to write a script, story structure, format, etc. as well. Then you can worry about how to fit a dozen young starlets into a 10-seat Hummer limo.

Anyway, as part of preparing for the lecture I had dusted off my Universal Studios Monsters collection and re-watched some of the classics. If you've never seen them, I highly recommend them. There is much to learn, and they are just great films. Most only run 60-70 minutes because at the time (the '30's) a feature film was only part of the show, which also featured newsreels, cartoons, live organ playing, etc.

The Wolfman, for example, has some GREAT lines ("A man can get lost in the mazes of his mind,") and is the origin for the werewolf poem featured in the new version, and many other places. All the films' screenplays are much more "on the nose" in the style of their writing. That is, things are usually clearly stated, in a manner that would sound awkward in real life. (Like when a man, alone in a room says, "Perhaps he left the will in that chest over there!") But besides the antiquated style the films are very effective. The stories are told quickly and clearly, yet they never feel rushed.

So far I've rewatched The Invisible Man (fantastic- the effects must have blown people's minds back then), Frankenstein (also fantastic, probably the best of the bunch), The Wolfman (yup- fantastic, I even prefer the tranformation scenes in this to the modern, CG version. They are really creepy.), The Mummy (great, but a little slow), Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (it sounds silly with that title, but it's also a great film). Next up is The Invisible Man Returns (which I've never seen), and Dracula (which I recall not liking that much, we'll see).

Go rent (or Netfilx) any of these movies to expand you knowledge of film making and script writing. Please don't think that all these so-called "great" old films are just fond memories in baby boomers' minds and outdated and not worth your time. Trust me- besides Dracula none of the recent remakes improves on the original, and most are much worse. (I think of Hollow Man as a The Invisible Man remake and good lord- if there was ever an argument that money and fancy effects alone won't make a good film this is it. Hollow Man's effects are absolutely amazing, yet the low-tech 1933 film blows it away). You'll also get to enjoy some really amazing performances by the likes of Boris Karloff, Claude Rains, Lon Chaney, and Bela Legosi as the monsters.

And trust me, I have no soft spot for old, "classic" films. I remember watching Citizen Cane in film school and thinking "This is the greatest movie of all time? No . . ." But there are many amazing old films and you shouldn't be afraid to explore them just because they are old and don't have the technical finesse that you've become accustomed to with newer films. (Or Dolby Digital THX surround sound, computer-generated spaceships levelling cities, buckets of blood, and 3D.)

I just hope you don't get too scared-

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And remember- no matter what ANYONE says, not your next door neighbor or the head of Warner Bros.- keep at it. Eventually, you will succeed-

Last edited by WriteNow; 06-02-2010 at 03:45 AM.
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  #3  
Old 06-04-2010, 04:16 AM
Rex Rex is offline
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Hey WriteNow, maybe you should be a college professor, huh?

Anyway, I did see the Wolf Man, last year sometime. I thought it was pretty bad. Really slow and boring, and it just had a weird look to it. Like it probably cost a fortune but it looked cheap and fake. Not just the werewolf stuff, but that sucked too. Del Toro looked like a fuzzy bear or something.

Also, [SPOILER] was I the only one that knew his father was the werewolf from the first few minutes? Really obvious twist, plus Anthony Hopkins didn't seem to be taking the movie very seriously. From a writing standpoint the movie was more about father/son issues than the "new" werewolf (Del Toro) struggling with his terrible fate. [NO MORE SPOILERS]

I'm going to watch the old one and compare, I've never seen it before. I always loved An American Werewolf in London, though, probably my favorite werewolf movie- what did you think of that one?
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