Friday, March 19, 2010
Repossessing ... your movie idea
Miguel Sapochnik's Repo Men, due out tomorrow, may remind many film fans of Alex Cox's Repo Man (1984), and rightly so, given that there's only a one-letter difference in their titles.
But to me it's a lot more closely a ripoff of a movie I was in the minority about loving two years ago: Darren Lynn Bousman's Repo! The Genetic Opera. Whereas Repo Men nearly shares a title with Repo Man, it actually does share subject matter with Repo! The Genetic Opera. Both films involve a future society in which people buy artificial organs on credit, and the repo men come to take these organs back -- quite violently and mercilessly -- if they can't make their payments.
I'm not saying Repo Men actually stole the idea from Repo!, but it certainly could have. You really have to look at the origins of both stories to decide what you think about that. According to wikipedia, Repo Men has actually been in the works since 2003, when screenwriters Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner began collaborating with the film's director on a script, based on a novel Garcia was writing, which was published last year. Since this was all a good five years before Bousman's Repo! hit theaters, that would seem to rule out the possibility of a copycat, wouldn't it? Except that Repo! existed as a rock opera many years before it came to life as a movie. Though I'm having a hard time finding the dates of its stage life on wikipedia, the site traces the origins of the idea all the way back to 1996, when Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich began pooling their ideas for a story that was originally called The Necromancer's Debt. Their eventual Repo! musical must have hit the stage sometime in the next couple years, because a seven-track album of songs from it was released in 2002 -- a year before Garcia "got his idea."
Or it could just be the reality that I struggle with when I think about the cinematic universe -- namely, that different people are very capable of coming up with the same idea. Whenever I briefly toy with the idea of writing a script, I always have a moment when I become paranoid that someone else has already made, and possibly produced, a similar story. And that I'd go to the trouble of spending many hours working on numerous drafts, only to later discover that a movie like this already exists, and they will surely accuse me of plagiarism. If only I'd known everything that was in existence, I could have seen it and saved myself the trouble. It's reasonable to assume that both Eric Garcia and Darren Smith could have come up with an idea for a story in which organs are repossessed, because really, that's not such a hard idea to come up with.
Whatever the truth of the matter is, I hope that the release of Repo Men shines some light on Repo! The Genetic Opera. Yeah, it's true, every reputable critic you've ever read thought it was a piece of garbage, and yeah, it's true, Paris Hilton was not only in it, but she won the Golden Raspberry for worst supporting actress. But who are you going to believe, them or me? :-)
Seriously, though, it's easy to identify Repo! as a potential future cult classic -- those who liked it, and there was a small but vocal minority who did, have already labeled it an "instant cult classic." If the idea of a gothic rock opera, set in a dystopian future in which plastic surgery has gotten way out of control, and a street version of the plastic surgery drug is extracted from rotting corpses, holds any interest for you, do me a favor and check out Repo! Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Anthony Head is excellent in the lead, and Alexa Vega is similarly strong playing his daughter. I think the songs are great, and there's real emotion to the tragedy that unfolds in this twisted future world. And those who can't appreciate it on a literal level will almost certainly be able to view it ironically, since it intentionally embraces its own trashiness in ways as well.
At the very least, you'll probably consider Repo! an interesting failure. Whereas Repo Men just looks like it will be a boring failure.