Perhaps There Are Somethings That Shouldn’t Be Remade

Many years ago (back in 1980), a good friend of mine from South Africa and I went to the AVCO theatres in Westwood and saw the movie Fame (at least that’s how I remember it — Lesley, if you’re reading this on Facebook, correct me if I’m remembering wrong). I loved the movie, and remember listening and listening to the soundtrack (I especially liked the song, “I Sing The Body Electric”). I regularly watched the subsequent TV series, and have a number of albums from that as well, as well as from the stage version.

When I heard they were remaking “Fame”, I was scared, very scared. In the right hands, it could be excellent. But in the wrong hands, it would be a train wreck, something worse than Metrolink in Chatsworth. But I kept hoping. I saw a recent video on YouTube from the new version (link to be added later), and although it updated the music to hip-hop, it seemed OK… except for the rapping in the middle. I still hoped, but less.

The new “Fame” opens today. So, while eating lunch today, I took a look at the reviews in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the New York Times, Roger Ebert’s review in the Chicago Sun Times, Variety, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Dallas Morning News. They hurt the railroad engineer in me; that engineer feels intense pain whenever trains crash and burn.

From the reviews, it appears the new Fame has lost its raw grit — the feel of the city and the depths one goes to for fame. From the New York Times, “the 2009 “Fame” offers a desaturated palette. Alice’s affair with a working-class composer merely glances at class tensions; the most daunting peril is the casting couch. Rebellion? A first-time drinker is inebriated, vomits and vows never to touch alcohol again.”. This is Fame for the High School Musical generation. It is Fame de-toothed for tweens. Ugh. The Los Angeles Times puts it this way,

Call the coroner. Then call in the top teams from “CSI,” and that sexy pair from “Bones” while you’re at it, because if ever there was a crime scene that should be yellow-taped and relentlessly investigated this is it. Someone has driven a stake through the heart and ripped out the soul of the 1980 original. The responsible parties, make that irresponsible parties, should be found, thrown in movie jail and not allowed within 50 feet of a set again. Ever.

Roger Ebert blames it soley on the folks who remade the movie, indicating they didn’t understand what drove the story… and perhaps, that the story needs to come first, and the music second:

Why bother to remake “Fame” if you don’t have clue about why the 1980 movie was special? Why take a touching experience and make it into a shallow exercise? Why begin with a R-rated look at plausible kids with real problems and tame it into a PG-rated after-school special? Why cast actors who are sometimes too old and experienced to play seniors, let alone freshmen? The new “Fame” is a sad reflection of the new Hollywood, where material is sanitized and dumbed down for a hypothetical teen market that is way too sophisticated for it. It plays like a dinner theater version of the original.

This is echoed in the Dallas Morning News, which says, “[The director] Tancharoen reveals his music video and concert film background by treating Fame as a series of production numbers with some storytelling segments connecting them. The storytelling is, not surprisingly, the weakest part of this movie.”

Some of the reviewers don’t get it, however. The San Francisco Chronicle writes, “The first [major flaw] is that the kids aren’t terribly interesting, possibly because 16- and 17-year-olds tend not to be all that interesting in real life, except to each other”. Bullshit. The original Fame had interesting teens, characters with drives and flaws and vulnerabilities. The uninteresting kids in this movie are the fault of bad writing, not just their being teens. The Variety reviewer writes, “It’s only that the kids’ stories lack much bite, and their caring teachers — a virtual sitcom honor roll that includes Kelsey Grammer, Megan Mullally, Bebe Neuwirth and Charles S. Dutton (Debbie Allen provides the one link to the first movie)”, conveniently forgetting that all of these characters have had major careers on the Broadway stage as well. It also should be noted that almost ever review makes some sort of play on either “I’m going to live forever” or “Remember my name”. As the St. Louis reviewer says, “The only way that this new “Fame” will live forever is in infamy.”

I was debating going to see Fame on the big screen in the next few weeks. After reading these reviews, perhaps I’ll pass and wait for the DVD.