I don’t know exactly what film it was that tipped me off that Hollywood had run out of good ideas; I believe it may have been the 21 Jump Street film that actually turned out to be pretty funny, but then I recall seeing the trailer for the 2005 film remake of The Dukes of Hazzard, and telling myself that the well had run dry in Hollywood. It’s so bad with these remakes that it is at the point where I can’t remember an exact moment in time where I realized moviemakers were making poor decisions about where to get their scripts from. I don’t know when it started, and I’m unsure when it will end, but Steve Martin in The Pink Panther, Russell Brand trying to pull off Dudley Moore in Arthur, Vince Vaughn and Gus Van Sant getting together to try and better a Hitchcock film in 1998’s Psycho remake–all terrible ideas.
The fact is that most movie remakes of old films and television shows usually end up awful messes. I’ve pretty much given up on them altogether. Movie adaptations of books, on the other hand, I still have some hope for.
Tom Hanks is in a phase in his career where he really likes to star in movies based off books: starring in the film versions of the mega bestselling Dan Brown stories, to somehow making an already sad and sappy adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close even sadder and sappier, to the highly ambitious celluloid version of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Obviously the Brown books already had an audience, so the box office was a busy place when those movies were playing theaters, but Cloud Atlas grossed $130,482,868, and even though reactions for the Foer film were mixed, Extremely Close… did get a Best Picture nomination at the 84th Academy Awards. So judging by all of that, Tom Hanks has done pretty well being associated with films based off books.
I’m not quite sure if there is an actual phase that many acting types go through when they’re rich and respected in the way Hanks is, where they really want to be associated with films tied to works of literature, but it would make sense if there was one. Hanks doesn’t really need any more money or respect from anybody at this point, and that’s why I have this feeling that his choosing to make films based off of books (like his latest decision to star in an adaptation of A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers) is a reaction to the sad state of Hollywood in this day and age. Like a silent protest from a guy that has won awards, but also has starred in a few bad remakes of his own (what was he thinking with that Ladykillers remake? And what possessed the Coen brothers to make it?).
Television has benefitted from taking a more literary approach over the last few years: Mad Men is ripe with mentions of books, and gets plenty of comparisons to the works of writers like John Cheever, while HBO has had pretty much every writer you like writing something for them in the last few years, so maybe the major motion picture world would benefit for taking more chances on more literary projects.