So over the weekend hubs and I watched the latest incarnation of The Three Musketeers. We knew it had received poor reviews, but we admit we’re suckers for any adaptations (though the Disney version with Kiefer Sutherland, Oliver Platt, and crazy man Sheen wins every time–because there is no greater Richlieu than Tim Curry). I readily confess I didn’t know anything about this movie before we watched it other than that I liked the score (which I have a playlist for on Spotify).
It started out well, with a lot of surfing of IMDB to identify folks. Totally did not recognize Matthew Macfadyen with all that facial hair. And wait, Percy Jackson isn’t 13 anymore? There was some confusion when Luke Evans shows up on screen because in the dark he looks a fair amount like Orlando Bloom (who plays the Duke of Buckingham). Anyway, all a cast I pretty much liked. Even seeing Milla Jovovich kick ass in a dress was pretty fun.
And then the airship showed up.
This was a giant WTF? Given, of course, that blimps were not invented until 1902. Things pretty much tanked from there. It wasn’t until the movie was over that somebody mentioned on Twitter, oh yeah it’s supposed to be a steampunk retelling. Um, no, sorry it was a fail for me on that front too. It wasn’t quite “that’s 2 hours of my life I’ll never get back” bad, but it was close.
The whole thing got me thinking about how there are no new stories and we, as creators, have to therefore come up with some kind of awesome twist that makes it new again. It’s such a fine line to walk, trying to find something that isn’t derivative, something that’s original, and yet not something that’s so different that audiences are gonna go “Say what?” and rebel.
This is particularly salient when you’re taking a well known story (like The Three Musketeers or Shakespeare’s plays or Austen’s novels) and reinventing it. There is a real danger of departing so far from the original that it is no longer recognizable, no longer has that kernel that makes it what it is. I confess, I’m one of those who tends to like certain aspects of the classics. I’m a sucker for reinterpretations, but if you get too wild and crazy with it, I’m probably not gonna be happy.
It’s a hard thing coming up with something new and original. We’re constantly preached to about high concept, finding that thing that will allow mass audiences to connect with the work on a deeper level. And people think that it takes novelty to do that. That novelty is the height of creativity. And yeah, novelty is a component, but it’s not the be all, end all. The thing that makes a high concept work, the holy grail we’re seeking with audiences is a thing called empathic resonance. It happens to be what I did my thesis on. What this means, in a nutshell, is that we have to find the right alchemy to produce an empathic emotional response in our audience, to make them connect with the characters. If you don’t manage that, then it doesn’t matter how new and interesting your actual plot concept is, you won’t successfully engage the audience.