The View from Mudsock Heights: Sometimes Movies are Fine the First Time Around

By Dennis Dennis | Posted at 14:37

Okay, I confess it: I like the Harry Potter movies. No, I’ve never read any of the books, either for my own enjoyment or to children, the usual adult excuse for having read them. My association with the long Potter saga is limited to the movies. Fact is, I was late even to those, having seen the first few on DVD years after they were in theatres.

We’re, what, a month away from the release of the last one in the series. There will be no more after that. The story will have been told.

It’s sad, in a way. What makes it sadder is that it has been a decade since the release of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” the first of the eight. For some reason this makes me feel older than it did to have attended the wedding of my nephew Michael to the fair Rachel this past weekend. (He recently graduated from Notre Dame Law School and therefore is doomed to be a lawyer. But he is family, so we overlook that offense, even though it might otherwise not easily be forgiven. I am going to some lengths, though, to make sure no one knows I’m related to an attorney.)

I wonder if the kids who flocked to see the first of the movies, who have grown up with them and indeed with the actors who are in them, have been as excited to see each new release as they were to see that first one. Maybe some of them have become too cool for fairytales. If so, they’ll be back.

There is a worrisome aspect to the end of the Harry Potter movie line, something that was brought up last year with the release of the penultimate of the films, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One.” A film critic (imagine at the Pearly Gates trying to justify that expenditure of your life, as you watch bank robbers and conceivably even the occasional lawyer getting waved right on in) said that he was looking forward to the time in a few years when the whole series gets remade, with new actors and all.

Something’s wrong with the idea of remakes in general. Is Hollywood so bankrupt of imagination that it has no new stories, no new ideas? Must it go back and do word-for-word re-dos of movies that already exist and that are just fine?

For example, last year there was “True Grit.” I have no doubt that it was a fine movie. The original was exceptionally good, so it would be hard to screw it up. The 1969 version was the second-best John Wayne movie ever. He won an Academy Award as best actor for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn. It could not have been improved upon, nor could Kim Darby’s performance as Mattie Ross. (I cannot explain the appearance of Glenn Campbell, except that maybe he slipped some fine print past studio lawyers and only after they had signed did he point out that his contract to do the ho-hum theme song included the requirement that he be allowed to use the movie to prove he could not act.) Anyway, it’s one of the finest westerns ever, with one of the best supporting casts ever (whatever Campbell did it wasn’t support, and we were glad when he got conked over the head with a rock by the murderer Tom Chaney).

One can only imagine that soon some genius will come up with the idea of remaking “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” the very best John Wayne movie. If, inexplicably and unforgivably, you have never seen it, it’s the movie in which John Wayne kept calling Jimmy Stewart “Pilgrim.” (The restrictions on language in movies were tighter in 1964, and Stewart played a lawyer.) The new one would probably have, oh, I dunno, Ben Stiller in the Jimmy Stewart role and maybe Ben Affleck as John Wayne. Liberty Valance could be Ricky Gervais. And it would be made into a comedy.

As they did when they remade “Cheaper By the Dozen,” the wonderful and touching 1950 movie that got turned into a slapstick thing with the often-brilliant-but-not-this-time Steve Martin 53 years later.

Special effects have improved, but Steven Spielberg’s silly “War of the Worlds” of 2005 wasn’t a pimple on the backside of the 1953 edition that has now scared two generations of children. The original “The Day the Earth Stood Still” with Michael Rennie is a classic of the genre; the Keanu Reeves remake was a highschool garage band pretending to be the Beatles.

On and on it goes. One trembles at what wonderful movie they’ll re-do next. It is not as if there are no good writers out there, or good scripts.

It may well be that the remake of “True Grit” was great. I shall live out my days without seeing it, just on principle.

And anyone who even thinks of remaking the Harry Potter movies should be locked in the chamber of secrets until he comes to his senses or is devoured by the basilisk.

It doesn’t matter which.

Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large to Open for Business. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. You can reach him at dep@drippingwithirony.com.



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