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Jewish World Review August 17, 2001 / 28 Menachem-Av, 5761

Laura Ingraham

Laura Ingraham
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Consumer Reports

Depressed after seeing uncut version of Apocalypse Now --- and for good reason -- FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA nearly lost his home, his mind and his life while making Apocalypse Now, his complex 1979 update on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Seeing the film this weekend, with its previously edited-out scenes added back in, was a real downer - and not because it reminds me of a war we should have never fought and never lost. It's depressing because its brilliance makes me realize that this is the summer of the death of movies.

When a re-release of a 1970s film is the only interesting theater fare so far this year, I know that the major studios have simply given up on anything that doesn't appeal to 14-year-olds who hang at the mall and download MP3 files all day. After all, if the goal is to lure millions of adolescents into octoplexes, why bother with artistic storytelling? Who needs a plot? And scripts? Dialogue is so over.

For evidence that Hollywood has given up, look at the summer's top-grossing films. Almost all are sequels or remakes. The Mummy Returns? Move over, Stanley Kubrick! Jurassic Park 3? Creative genius! Planet of the Apes? Step aside, Cecil B. DeMille! Rush Hour 2? That took guts! American Pie 2? Watch your back, Billy Wilder!

Why worry about writers' strikes? To get a film greenlighted these days, go to Blockbuster. Find an old movie and turn it into a new one the kids will like. Or make a movie from an old TV show - or, better yet, an old cartoon series (Josie and the Pussycats).


It may sound simple, but it's not. I tried to rework some of my favorites for the new Hollywood culture:

  • Moby Dick. Today Ahab would have to be sensitive and vulnerable. Ben Affleck? And he'd have to be an environmentalist who was on a desperate mission to save the whale rather than kill it as he waged war against the whaling industry. Queequeg would have to be turned into a love interest. Tara Reid, perhaps? Somehow, I don't think Melville would approve.
  • Raging Bull. We'd somehow have to get the brothers back together in the end and find someone more sympathetic to play Jake LaMotta. Affleck comes to mind. And here's an idea: Matt Damon could play his brother. But in the end, Jake must swear off fighting and help start Mothers Against Boxing and Violence in Professional Sports. Nah; it won't work. Boxing wouldn't excite teens. Maybe LaMotta could be a professional skateboarder?
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The mental hospital could serve as a backdrop for a love story - preferably, a love triangle involving Jack Nicholson and one of his best friends, also a patient. But of course the Nicholson part would have to be cast as someone more charming, more attractive. Like, let's say, Ben Affleck. And Nurse Ratched would be more human if she were waging her own personal struggle against HMOs. A perfect role for Gwyneth Paltrow!

The sad thing is, these scenarios aren't any worse than what Hollywood is now delivering. We've gone from inspired casting and writing in Apocalypse Now to films that shouldn't have made it out of a high school drama department. Coppola created something stunning out of light and words. But what's important to the Hollywood of 2001 is a quick return on investment. That means ripping off what already has been done - and it's not even a prerequisite that the film was decent the first time around.

When high-minded media types and entertainment moguls bemoan the public's obsession with Gary/Chandra or Bill/Monica, they should consider Tinseltown's entertainment alternatives for the over-18 audience. Hollywood plots aren't half as interesting. The characters aren't nearly as complex. The scripts don't have the nuance. Thank G-d for politicians. And thank G-d for Coppola, who gives us the only drink of water in this summer movie drought.

07/20/01: The other, maybe more important, news
06/22/01: Washington's pro-Bono worship is unnerving
06/01/01: Burying conservatism
05/17/01: Ashcroft's abuse of power

JWR contributor Laura Ingraham is the host of a radio show syndicated nationally by Westwood One Radio Network. Comment by clicking here.

© 2001, Laura Ingraham