Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fame Lite

Recently I was dragged by two 9-year-olds to see the new Fame movie.

I feel a little funny calling it "Fame" because it's really just a watered down "reinvention" that is merely trying to capitalize off of the popularity of the 1980 original. It's more like "Fame Lite". They would have been better off calling it "Musical High School" or something like that (although, that probably would have been criticized as trying to capitalize off of the popularity of the High School Musical franchise, which yeah they sort of are doing too). If they had just promoted it as "High School Musical: New York Style" it might have actually worked but as Fame it just falls flat.

Director Kevin Tancharoen explained why he didn't try to do a straight remake:
"Coco, Leroy, Bruno, Ralph, you cannot cast them again. [...] If you recast them, you will already have people who hate it, and I know there will be haters no matter what. You can, however, take the original idea and core message and integrity and play it to 2009."
The problem was that he didn't maintain the original message or integrity either. It's not that they didn't try to take inspiration from the original, because it seems that they did... The problem is that that inspiration didn't turn into anything really worth watching. For example, instead of the famous scene where Coco (Irene Cara) cries as she takes off her top for a sleazy fake casting director with a camera, the PG version gives us Jenny (Kay Panabaker) "running lines" with an actor who it turns out just wants to make out with her. After all of the juicy R-rated movie content (abortion, drug use, homosexuality) was stripped away, all that's really left is some PG singing and dancing.

Apparently I'm not the only person who feels this way. Sir Alan Parker, the director of the original 1980 Fame, described the remake as "dreadful". In fact, he compared the whole project to being mugged:
"It's a bit like being mugged. Such are the realities of Hollywood manners and American copyright law. [...] I feel very much that Fame is mine. I spent months with the kids at the school then spent a year making the movie. You do the work and make it as good as it can be, and you try to protect it. Then, because the copyright is owned by the studio, as with almost all American feature films, they can do a remake like this. It's extremely galling. There is no other area of the arts where you can do that."
Kevin Tancharoen, the remake's director, claimed in a recent interview that he had Parker's blessings and seal of approval, but Parker says this is untrue. "I have never had a single phone call from anyone - the studio, the producers - about this remake. No-one spoke to me about it. To say so is absolute nonsense." Parker is considering legal action over the use of the original Fame logo (the studio doesn't own the rights to that).

The critics have also been... well, critical. Here are some excerpts from a few of our favorite disses.

Lee Black, MSNBC:

Kevin Tancharoen knows what dancers do but keeps the movie as bright and scrubbed as a recent Disney Channel TV movie about some kids in an all-singing, all-dancing high school. [...]F-words: R-rated 1980 version = 39, PG-rated 2009 remake = 0. Whether you think that’s an improvement or not depends on your need to hear the way teenagers actually speak vs. your desires for an illusory “We’re All In This Together” cuddle-fest.
David Foucher, EDGE United States:
Alas, there’s nothing subversive or remotely steamy about "Fame" in 2009. The precursor had the audacity to tackle shocking issues in 1980: abortion, drug abuse, religion, and nudity. Here, an apparent attempt to latch onto the "High School Musical" demographic has crippled the film’s traction, leaving it largely without a significant thematic purpose in favor of a general admonishment that desire without hard work won’t get you fame. Duh. [...]

Either way, the movie is a soulless, inconsequential, vapid, hideously boring waste of time. That’s a shame, given the courageous nature of its predecessor and the culture of instant fame-making we live with thanks to reality television today. This should have been a creatively fulfilling remake; instead, "Fame" just leaves you creatively famished.

Fame gives us all four years of lessons learned, careers begun and hopes dashed, and that's just too much to cover with too many characters for this to gel. Quick sketches of characters, quicker sketches of their homelife, don't add to a complete portrait.

And if you're going to censor this material in imitation of The Disney Channel's greatest hit, you'd better fill in the holes with fun. Fame forgets that.

I could totally see this cast of teachers starring in a new TV version of Fame. But if you're just trying to reprise High School Musical, I don't think I'd bother watching it.

Jeffrey M. Anderson, Cinematical:
The new remake of Fame will appeal to pre-teens who hope to go to performing arts schools, but who -- implausibly -- have never seen any other movies, or plays, or dance performances or music recitals. Moreover, they must not yet possess the ability to tell good performance from bad, nor truly inspired plot twists from hackneyed ones. Parents, on the other hand, will find that the movie sucks their will to live. [...]

Tancharoen also tries to capture a "gritty" New York City feel, and his attempt is a failure; one shot of Times Square only reminds us that it has become a "walking mall," and a million miles away from the world of the original Fame. Despite all the collective experience of the teachers, not one of the students ever shows a moment of truth or real personality; it's all pre-programmed, test-marketed product for teens to consume, even if they don't know why. As for myself, as a lifelong lover of film and an admirer or artistic personality, I found this one of the year's most abysmally awful, depressing movie experiences.
Stephen Farber, Hollywood Reporter:
Let's be clear. The original movie, despite its iconic stature, was no classic. The script was riddled with cliches and overheated melodramatic confrontations. Nevertheless, the energy of the young performers propelled it. While this new version retains the basic structure of following several kids over four years at New York's High School of Performing Arts, it's been diluted in almost every imaginable way. [...]

Tancharoen doesn't weave the stories together gracefully, and the musical sequences are edited in the chop-chop MTV style that does no favors to the performers. Marguerite Derricks' choreography is lively, though very few dance routines are played out at any length. The new "Fame" is like a series of snippets and teasers for a movie still waiting to be made.
Peter Paras, E Online (UK):

Review in a Hurry: The '80s sensation is reborn for the High School Musical generation. But sadly, this one's all fame, no journey. [...]

At 90 minutes, cramming in four years of hopes and dreams at the fabled New York City High School of Performing Arts feels like one long music video, rather than a movie.

Kherington Payne of So You Think You Can Dance

If you loved the original Fame, don't go see this movie. You will be sorely disappointed. If you're into watching teenagers sing and dance and be overly emotive (or you happen to be between the ages of 8 and 16), then you might enjoy "Fame Lite". It's actually not a terrible movie - some of those kids are pretty damn talented - but it pales in comparison to the real Fame.

So my advice is: if you do go see this movie, pretend that it's not a remake and just try to enjoy it for what it is... instead of what it isn't.

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