Sunday, May 13, 2012

Hollywood Pairs

Long ago I developed a theory of why Hollywood movies seem to come out in pairs.  I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.  The canonical example is generally Armageddon and Deep Impact, but I first noticed it when Volcano followed hard on the heels of Dante’s Peak (or vice versa; I forget).  Since then, it’s happened again and again: Antz and A Bug’s Life, Mission to Mars and Red Planet, Tombstone and Wyatt Earp, Madagascar and The Wild, Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line, The Descent and The Cave ... I could go on.

Sometimes they think they’re going to fool us by waiting a while before they release the second one.  Zoom was a full year after Sky High, but we still know it’s the same movie, right?  Or sometimes you forget there was a pair, because only one of the movies achieved any popularity.  I mean, after you saw The Matrix, you can easily be forgiven for forgetting about The Thirteenth Floor.  And The Sixth Sense really overshadowed Stir of Echoes, even though the latter movie is just as good (and maybe even a bit better, upon repeat viewing).  Or, to dip into the cheesy horror flick realm, remember Orphan?  Okay, now remember Case 39?  No, of course you don’t.  But there it is: same movie, different actors.

And it just keeps on happening ... tell me you haven’t, when watching a commercial for Wrath of the Titans, said to yourself: “wait a minute ... didn’t we just have Clash of the Titans?  Or wondered if we really do need two simultaneous movies about Snow White, even if one is serious and the other not? 

So I was sitting down the other night, watching Super and going “wait, how is this different from Kick-Ass again?” (although, to be fair, Super has a goofy, gory revelry that surpasses even Kick-Ass, although I still think Kick-Ass wins it in the end), and I was reminded (for the 87 thousandth time) of my theory.  It goes like this:

Have you seen The Player?  In this movie, which is about Hollywood elite types, and done by the amazingly awesome Robert Altman, we see what I deeply suspect is a very true-to-life depiction of how movies get made, mostly happening in the background of the primary plot.  (This movie, by the way is very good; if you haven’t seen it yet, go out and rent it.)  I suspect this because, by all accounts, Altman is just the sort of subversive director to do such a thing as reveal the duct tape and icky bodily fluids behind the curatin, and also it would perfectly suit the vibe of the movie if it were all true.  Thus I imagine that all the mini pitch meetings that Altman portrays really happened ... yes, even the one where someone says “it’s sort of Ghost meets Manchurian Candidate.”  And, in all these pitch meetings, the pitchee passes.  Can you visualize it?  “So, let me get this straight: an active volcano just suddenly appears in the middle of a major metropolitan area?  That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”  (It helps if you can picture Tim Robbins’ studio executive character saying it.)  “Go peddle that crap somewhere else.”

Which of course they do, right?  I mean, you’re a scriptwriter in Hollywood: pitching is what you do.  One guy says “no,” you just find another guy.  Ask enough guys, and someone is bound to say “yes” ... right?

Now flash back to the original guy who said “no.”  “Wait, someone picked up that story?  Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought ... what do they know that I don’t know?  No way I’m getting fired for missing the boat on this one!  Find me another writer to write a volcano story: pronto!”  And, poof: we have Volcano and Dante’s Peak.  Or whatever and whatever.

I have no clue if I’m right or not.  Although here is a blog post by someone who says they’re a real scriptwriter and it sounds remarkably like how I always envisioned it.  (Also he remembered a few pairs I forgot about ... Infamous and Capote: nice one.)

So maybe I’m onto something.  Or maybe not.  Maybe it’s just a coincidence that The Howling and An American Werewolf in London came out the same year.  Maybe two completely different people thought up the concept of movies about CGI talking penguins.  Or maybe it’s a giant Hollywood conspiracy.  Here‘s a list of pairs going back to the 1930’s and two films about Abraham Lincoln.

So obviously I’m not the first person to notice this.  TV Tropes (of course) has a name for this: “dueling movies.”  (Careful when visiting TV Tropes: wiki walks can consume large portions of your life.)  It offers even more great examples, like Treasure Planet and Titan A.E., or The Book of Eli and The Road.  Uncharacteristically, though, it offers no theories on why the phenomenon exists.

The thing I like about my theory is that it goes beyond just saying “Hollywood is so unoriginal,” which is itself a rather unoriginal statement.  No doubt true, granted, but surely we can do better than that.  Besides, if you think about it, it takes quite a while to develop, sell, produce, and market a movie.  If it was just a matter of studios copying each other, there would be a lot more time between the halves of the pairs.  Plus, it’s not like a movie like Sky High was so awesomely successful that it made a piece of dreck like Zoom inevitable.

So my theory still sounds appealing, at least to me, and I was even able to dig up some circumstantial support for it.  You gotta dig it, right?  It’s sort of like Out of Africa meets Pretty Woman ...

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