October 28, 2004

Live Wire

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Men in Skirts

In the last couple of years, when everyone had given up on coming up with new ideas for decent films, antiquity came back to haunt us. Filmmakers believe that if their film has a couple beefy guys wearing togas, it will be an instant success (historical epic = Oscar). Yet this is not such an accurate assumption. There is, of course, Gladiator, but this film is only an exception, and I do believe the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave Russell Crowe the Oscar only because he should have gotten it for The Insider.

Filmmakers believe that the American public (everyone, actually) is dumb, so the idea is to make a movie that seems smart and is historically based and, presto, it’s an award-winner. However, this does not always happen so smoothly. Take, for example, Troy. It has very complicated, digitally-enhanced battles, and it has both Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom in skirts. This movie, however, received less-than-stellar reviews across the board and remained in theaters for a brief period. A.O. Scott, reviewer for The New York Times, commented on the film last May, “Some moments may make you rue the existence of cinema, or at least of movies with sound, since the dialogue often competes with James Horner’s score for puffed-up obviousness.” There are other films that share the same qualities as Troy. The Four Feathers, a film about British imperialism in Sudan in 1898, and the much anticipated Alexander, about the Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great, a film slated to emerge next month, both work in this vein. While Alexander has a cast of thousands, including Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer (taking a break from being Moses) and Anthony Hopkins, I suspect that it will be more than a lot of hype and a big let down. This toga craze is not only limited to films — HBO has recently caught up with the trend. With Sex and the City over and The Sopranos off the air until 2006, HBO needs something worthwhile to fill the empty time slots. Fresh concepts for shows are slim, and with ABC headlining Desperate Housewives, a series worthy of HBO viewers, there does not seem to be innovative and groundbreaking story ideas coming through the woodwork. The series Rome, scheduled to debut next fall, appears to be the answer to this problem. Rome is currently filming in Italy and will end up costing $100 million dollars for the first year. “We’ve got a lot at stake here,” said Chris Albrecht, HBO’s chairman and chief executive, in a recent interview with Sharon Waxman of The New York Times. “We’ve got one opportunity to make it right, but we only get one shot.” HBO is under pressure to produce something worthy of acclaim and they are getting cold feet, which is understandable considering the magnitude of a series such as this one. It tells the story of Julius Caesar through the eyes of two of his soldiers. It will supposedly portray the nitty-gritty of upper and lower class conflict in 50 B.C. with intense, graphic detail. There have been bumps along the road; one of the main actors and the director were replaced and producers have come and gone. The filming has been pushed back and postponed, yet it is now moving in the right direction. I’m skeptical of such an enormous undertaking by HBO, the network is known for its cutting-edge urban comedy and drama. Perhaps a move to ancient Rome may be pushing the envelope. The new series bears the question: why resort to the complex and elaborate when their success comes from simply capturing the essence of human existence and how normal people, that we can relate to, act from day to day?

Archived article by Amanda Hodes