Thursday, April 5, 2012

Everything's a mashup

When, according to some folks, pop music became stale and needed to be revitalized, along came mashups. Mashups took two very different songs, possibly even from different genres, and combined them to forge something thrilling and new.

Now, it looks like Hollywood has judged that movies have become stale, and they're trying to do the same thing.

I finally added to the impressive coffers of The Hunger Games last night, and I could have devoted today's post to discussing my thoughts on it. But that's not really what you come here to read. So instead, I want to talk about movie mashups, since I saw trailers for three of them last night. (It helped that I also saw two movies, sneaking into Casa de Mi Padre after Hunger Games finished up.)

It seems like Hollywood is really into reenacting those old Reese's Peanut Butter Cups ads these days. You know the ones -- "Hey, you got chocolate in my peanut butter!" "Hey, you got peanut butter in my chocolate!" If the trailers I saw last night are any indication, cinematic peanut butter is getting mixed with movie chocolate left and right, as unfamiliar genres are shaking hands, placing their faith in each other and hoping for the best.

Let's examine the trailers I saw last night ...

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, directed by Timur Bekmambetov
Basic idea: Before Abraham Lincoln was president of the United States, he fought vampires.
Genres mashed: Historical epic/biopic and vampire movie
Will it work? The trailer looks fun as hell. However, I have come to distrust Bekmambetov since not particularly liking the last four features in which he was involved: Apollo 18 (producer), 9 (producer), Wanted (director) and Day Watch (director). In fact, the thrilling Night Watch is now starting to feel like a distant memory. Perhaps returning to vampires is just what little Timmy Bekmambetov needs to win us back over to his side.

Dark Shadows, directed by Tim Burton
Basic idea: A man cursed to live as a vampire in 1752 wakes up in the 1970s.
Genres mashed: Seventies movie and vampire movie
Will it work? I think this one looks fun too, even though I distrust Burton far more than I distrust Bekmambetov. (Coincidentally, Burton is a producer on Abraham Lincoln.) There's something I like about the anachronistic vampire played by Johnny Depp -- anachronistic both because he's a supernatural creature, and because he lived in a different time -- interfacing with television and listening to Tom Jones. So even though Burton and Depp have worked together more times than any other duo in cinematic history (exaggeration), I'm looking forward to this one in part because it's also a property I was not previously familiar with -- a big change for Burton.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, directed by Lorene Scafaria
Basic idea: Weeks before an asteroid will end life on earth, a man (Steve Carell) seeks out his childhood sweetheart with the help of his neighbor (Keira Knightley).
Genres mashed: Apocalypse movie and romantic comedy
Will it work? I sure hope it does. I love the idea of examining what human beings would do in the end of days from an absurdist, comedic perspective. The trailer is chock full of comedic gold. Example: Carell tells his maid it's not really necessary for her to come back ... ever. But she doesn't seem to understand that concept. The only thing checking my enthusiasm is the fact that Scafaria is primarily associated with Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, which she wrote. I hated that movie.

The other trailers were all a bit more standard, though I must say, that G.I. Joe: Retaliation trailer filled me with a huge amount of optimism as well.

So three trailers for three mashup movies that look very promising. Is it just that I'm a sucker for trailers in general, and almost every movie seems like it could be good when you just see the trailer? Or are mashups really the way to breathe life back into moribund genres that have been repeatedly picked over? And I know there are more on the horizon ... Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, also written by Abraham Lincoln writer Seth Grahame-Smith, is supposed to be made into a film, even though it's had some problems getting into production.

Or maybe what I'm identifying is not really a true phenomenon. Maybe what I'm seeing is only a variation on the Hollywood mandate to "put an original spin" on such and such reliable cinematic chestnut. Maybe what I'm identifying as mashups are really just injections of creative spirit into tired entities. After all, you could expand this argument outward and say that Hollywood doesn't want to make anything unless it can figure out that small way that a thing is different from similar things that came before. I'm not saying Hollywood wants to take risks -- Hollywood in general is pretty risk averse. I am saying that even the least courageous studio executives realize they can't serve up the exact same dish as they served up last week -- something has to be different. And maybe those "differences" is what I'm describing as "mashups."

In any case, I don't know why I should have any confidence at all given the unqualified failure of last year's big mashup movie. If you want a prototypical example of a movie mashup, look no further than Cowboys and Aliens. It was a western mixed with a movie about aliens. And boy did it stink.

But something tells me that at least one of the three chocolate-peanut butter combos mentioned above will taste pretty sweet.


Travis McClain said...

I think it's largely a consequence of the spillover from geek culture into the mainstream. I suspect if you traced this fad back, it would coincide neatly with San Diego Comic Con being taken over by Hollywood. Now, instead of being a celebration of comic books, SDCC is a trade show for mainstream movies based on geek-centric properties. It's big business, and the same audience that makes it so is the same audience targeted by these genre mashups.

BTW, my personal favorite such mashup remains Shaun of the Dead: "A romantic comedy with zombies."

Vancetastic said...

Yep, Shaun of the Dead is certainly a mashup of tones -- the highly emotional parts catch you off guard, but actually work.

I agree that Comic Con is responsible for a lot of this stuff. Good call.

Don Handsome said...

I have to say that the mash-up concept doesn't seem to be that new of a concept. I love the idea that movie mashups are a product of geeks taking over holywood, but I think its just more a matter of needing broad appeal in order to market popular movies...wasn't Star Wars (a space western) a mashup? Wasn't Airplane! (a disaster-comedy)a mashup? Wasn't The Three Stooges Meet Hercules a mashup?

I think that mashups are currently getting better as whole and possibly higher concept as a whole and therefor are more likely to speak to the modern geek, but I think Hollywood has always been trying to play different target audiences off of each other for box office gain.

Just a thought. Good perspective though...I never thought of movies as mashups before, but the description definitely works.

Vancetastic said...

Quit reading my blog and turn your attention back to baseball.

Don Handsome said...

Isn't Erik Bedard a mashup?

Vancetastic said...

Oh, but to give a serious answer to your point, Don ... yes, I think you make an excellent point about it being incumbent on movies to find as many demographics to appeal to as possible, and it always HAS been incumbent.

So maybe the title to my post -- "Everything's a mashup" -- has a literal meaning I didn't intend, beyond the three movies I was using as an example of "everything." Maybe EVERYTHING really is a mashup. And if a movie can't mash up multiple prospective audiences, it just shouldn't get made.