Yes, there is a real "body-snatching psychosis, why Hollywood loves remakes, why critics hate Stephen King and more...


Question: I just saw the new Nicole Kidman movie Invasion with my girlfriend and she insists there's a real disease where people think their friends and family have been replaced by duplicates. That sounds crazy to me - I think there have just been so many versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers that people think it's a real thing. What do you think? - Erik

FlickChick:
Amazingly enough, there is a real psychological disorder called Capgras Syndrome whose sufferers are convinced that their loved ones are no longer their loved ones, just like the characters in the four adaptations to date of Jack Finney's allegorical science-fiction novel Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The delusion is named for French psychiatrist Jean Marie Joseph Capgras, who first described it in 1923. It remains something of a mystery and can take several forms: Sometimes people don't recognize their own reflections, others think that their pets or possessions have been mysteriously, inexplicably replaced.

I've never been able to find any evidence that Finney was aware that Capgras Syndrome had a name, but he describes it flawlessly in his book, the metaphorical underpinnings of which are flexible enough to support a variety of readings. And while The Invasion (2007) really is a disaster, the 1956 and 1978versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers are both terrific movies, and Abel Ferrara's 1994 Body Snatchers is a solid enough variation on a theme.

On a vaguely related note (truth is stranger than fiction), researchers have just discovered that moray eels have a second interior set of jaws that jut out of the eels' throats when they feed. Sound familiar? Think Alien (1979) and its sequels. H.R. Giger, the Swiss artist who designed the alien, sounded just about as surprised as felt when a journalist called him for a comment. "The double teeth came when I did my first drawings," he told the New York Times. "[Director] Ridley Scott told me to make it so that it could move. I hadn't studied any animal. My instructions were that it should be somehow frightening and horrible, and I did my best."

Question: Is it just because I'm 57 years old or is it just that this generation of movie makers has no imagination? Why does every movie, TV show and game have to be "retooled" for a new generation? I'm sick of reruns and refuse to go to the movies anymore. My library card is getting a workout though! - Marge

FlickChick:
Nope. It's not just you, Marge. I, too, am sick to death of remakes, do-overs, reimaginings, knockoffs, spin-offs and rip-offs. It's not that "Hollywood" - which I'm using rather imprecisely as a synonym for the American entertainment industry - is bereft of ideas. Most writers, directors and producers don't sit around dreaming of being the visionary responsible for a big-screen remake of cornpone series The Dukes of Hazzard. But they all want to work, so if they have to make The Dukes of Hazzard to pay the mortgage and stay on the industry radar so that maybe one day they can make that movie they've been dreaming about for years, they make The Dukes of Hazzard.

The movie industry has changed enormously in the last 35 years: I'm not going to wallow in the " Jaws and/or Star Wars ruined the motion picture industry" rant, but the one-two punch of their stupendous successes - a pair of cheesy B movies writ large, glossy and irresistible - changed the way studio executives thought about their business.

For most of the medium's history, studio heads sought to spread the risk around: Every year they assembled a large slate of diverse titles - different genres, different lengths, different budgets - and figured the hits would make up for the misses. They were also fine with the idea that popular pictures would pay for prestige movies that lent a little class to the bread-and-butter Westerns, romances and horror pictures.

Post Star Wars and Jaws, executives started looking for the big score, happy to spend a lot of money on the one picture that was going to make a mega-load of money.

The more money studios were planning to pour into one picture, the less studio executives were inclined to mess around. They made a concerted effort to wrest creative control away from unpredictable filmmakers and discover formulas that worked every time. Focus groups took on ever-increasing importance, asking people what they wanted to see and what they thought of what they had just seen. Would you be interested in seeing a movie about this subject? With that established star? This hot up-and-comer? Would you be more interested if the main character were a woman? A talking dog? How about if we made it funny/scary/set on Mars? And the thing about remakes is that they have a high preexisting factor. You may not have watched Starkey and Hutch, but you know it was a cop show and for a while people talked about it constantly. And so, the conclusion goes, if you're looking to go to the movies and you have a choice between a Starsky and Hutch movie and some other picture you don't know anything whatsoever about, you're going to lean towards the devil you know. And that, in a nutshell, is why we're going to be seeing everything from a live-action Speed Racer movie to a feature film remake of the classic PBS miniseries I, Claudius.

Question: I was watching TV Guide Network and saw a review and clip of a movie with a young man - possibly Keanu Reeves - who had a moderate brain injury and befriended another man (Jeff Daniels?) who was blind. It looked like a great movie, but I missed the name. Can you help me? - Sandy

FlickChick:
That would have been a great little movie called The Lookout (2007) - the young man is former 3rd Rock from the Sun star Joseph Gordon-Leavitt rather than Keanu Reeves, but you're right about the other actor - it's Jeff Daniels, in fine form.

Question: I'm always amused when I see comments like yours about the "generally dismal history" of Stephen King movie adaptations. Guess you've never heard of Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Misery, The Shining and Carrie. I believe all of these (and several others) were successful - both with critics and at the box office. Why is it that King's successes are so often overlooked? (Or maybe the better question is why does he get the blame for the clunkers, while the directors and actors get the credit for the good ones?) - Jack

FlickChick:
First, yes I have heard of all the titles you mentioned: They're six of the more than 100 movies (theatrical, made-for-TV, direct to video/DVD) based on Stephen King stories and they're good. Most of the others range from OK to awful, hence "generally dismal."

Second, I won't presume to speak for other critics, but I think Stephen King is a terrible writer. He has great ideas and he pounds most of them into the ground with the sheer weight of careless storytelling, clichéd characters, tone-deaf language, excessive subplots and lazy reliance on brand names to establish atmosphere and ambience. When people say King's writing is "cinematic," what they're really saying is that you sure as hell don't read him for the writing. He writes too much and, especially at this point in his career, gets edited too little.

Good filmmakers - Brian De Palma, Stanley Kubrick, Frank Darabont et al - keep the good parts of King's plotting and bring their own imaginations in to replace the junk they throw away. Good actors find layers and subtleties in broadly written characters. Bad filmmakers just slog around in the mire. Hence, filmmakers get credit for the good movies and King takes the rap for the rest.

The odd thing is that King is an astute judge of other people's work - I read his column in Entertainment Weekly regularly. But he can't seem to turn that same discerning eye on himself.

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