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The movie mashup: The merits of an emerging art form

INTERSTELLAR
Matthew McConaughey in Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar.” Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon. Courtesy of Paramount Pictures Corporation and Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.

Imagine that you are deciding whether to watch “The Manchurian Candidate,” the original film, or its well-received remake. What if someone had created an amalgam of the two, taking lost elements of the old and merging them with the slick action, special effects and updated humor of the new? Now imagine if someone extracted all the rare shreds of enjoyment in the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy and blended them into a succinct hour-and-a-half film.

These options are increasingly becoming a reality as savvy internet users have begun to employ a new non-surrealist form of film collage, “the movie mashup.”  Taking footage from one or more popular films, these artists create new works that either tell new stories or communicate the original narrative in a more powerful way.

Examples of this emerging art form can be found on writer-director Steven Soderbergh’s blog, “Extension 767.” Cementing his role as one of cinema’s most assertive voices, Soderbergh (“Ocean’s Eleven,” “Erin Brockovich”) has used the blog to open his teaching materials and creative film lab to the world. The site contains both a handful of forgettable, but interesting projects and a number of truly stunning works.

For his first “mashup” Soderbergh transformed Steven Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark” into an edgy silent film in monochrome with rad techno playing throughout. The high color contrast of the original film creates stark imagery, making the scales of coiling masses of snakes, the shine of treasure, and the glint of fear in Indie’s eyes visually stunning. Although this rendition is pleasant to look at, it could not keep my attention throughout its two hour runtime. I could, however, understand devoted fans enjoying this reductionist approach; it creates a brand new feel, due primarily to the newfound expressiveness of the characters, the slapstick action and the 8-bit score, which collectively fashion the film into a virtual cinematic video game.

Exploring Soderbergh’s blog, one can also find a masterpiece of the “movie mashup” called “Psychos,” an elegant mix of the jarring 1960s Alfred Hitchcock classic and Gus Van Sant’s nearly shot-for-shot remake from 1998. Soderbergh pastes action/murder scenes from the remake between the iconic dialogues of Hitchcock’s version. This fusion becomes delightfully jarring at points, but can be a bit confusing at first — one character, for instance, gains and loses a Southern accent. Generally, however, the blend of old and new results in a satisfyingly terrifying remake.

Martin Freeman in Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies." Photo by Mark Pokorny. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.
Martin Freeman in Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.” Photo by Mark Pokorny. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

There are also a group of nerds-become-unofficial-producers/editors of more humble or anonymous reputation, gaining popularity through forums such as Reddit and Upworthy and producing similarly impactful works. One such editor transformed “The Hobbit,” a snoozefest of a trilogy, into a highly-watchable four hour epic . The new film features strong character development and less cartoony action, keeping true to Tolkien’s writing style.

In this regard, the magic of the “movie mashup” truly comes from the love the producer has for the original film. This love is evident in these films’ strengthening of storytelling, merging of editions and salvaging of retrograde films, which satisfy film geeks and film critics alike.  Based upon these recent successes, we should welcome, critique, and encourage the outcropping of adaptations from even the most adored modern films on their own terms. Soderbergh is leading a movement that believes no classics are too sacred to be spared reimagination.

 Contact Cooper Galvin at coopgalvin ‘at’ gmail.com

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