A lot of people decry the state of current film. I tend to not be one of them. I still believe people make great movies every year, and even more importantly, I believe TV has started to carry some of the load of storytelling depth. However, there’s no denying that there have been some thematic and philosophical shifts in the way studios make movies now. If they’re going to shell out big bucks for a certain type of film, there are certain things that a filmmaker will either have to do or be compelled to avoid. This means that certain movies we know and love would suffer if they were made today.
“Jaws” was very close to not being the movie that it became. It’s a commonly told story that the shark was supposed to be on the screen a lot more, but the animatronics didn’t work correctly, and Spielberg had to adjust by keeping him off screen for the majority of the movie. Because of the lack of visual scares, he had to use music and silence to set the tone. Thus, we ended up with a film that’s even more tense and gripping, because most of the time, it is left to our imagination where the beast is and when he’ll strike next. In modern day, that problem wouldn’t exist. There’s no such thing as CGI that just “doesn’t work.” So, instead of all the scenes staring out at the flat water, waiting for something to happen only to get to the moment you think it will but nothing does, we’d have a shark the size of a bus doing backflips over the boat. I think we can all agree it fucks our minds even more when the shark DOES appear when we don’t expect it.
2. “Top Gun”
For a movie about fighter pilots, we rarely see them in action. Sure, you have the opening with the MiG, the training sequences, and the skirmish at the end, but the majority of the movie is actually a character drama about hot shot pilots and what it means to live in that world. “Top Gun” is a pure action movie, and yet we would now find a way to dump even more action on top of it, effectively ruining what made it great. 2014’s “Top Gun” would take place during wartime. We’d get a few scenes of the jock pilots joking around and they would definitely add another sex scene or two, but the main focus on the movie would be shit tons of aerial stunts, dogfighting, and maybe even a “trapped behind enemy lines” storyline. The idea for the “Top Gun” sequel even bears this out. Here’s how it was pitched before Tony Scott’s unfortunate suicide: “Jet jockeys are being threatened by new drone technology taking away their jobs, so they will fight to prove that human pilots are still superior.” I saw that movie. It’s called “Stealth,” and it was a piece of shit.
3. “Annie Hall”
Woody Allen’s best movie was the last comedy to win Best Picture (unless you count “Shakespeare In Love”). The reason many other great comedies haven’t won since is mostly due to voter bias. But another big reason is that, especially in romantic comedies, there is huge pressure from studios and producers for the lead characters to be “likeable.” I get the reasoning–it’s tough to ask an audience to buy in on a whole movie focused on someone they don’t even like. But what made “Annie Hall” so great is that Alvy is an extremely flawed character. He’s whiny, pretentious, and overly-educated, but he’s also funny, charming, and self-deprecatingly endearing. Basically, he’s a human fucking being. Woody Allen is effectively playing himself (which he tends to do anyway) so he doesn’t shy away from shining a light on the things about him that he knows are imperfections. You don’t get that in most romantic comedies anymore. The characters both have to be funny and charming, and the things that leads to their breakup have to be misunderstandings, accidents, or the work of malicious outside forces–not an innate human flaw. That would mean even if the characters get back together, there’s no guarantee of their future happiness.
For a movie that’s regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, “Casablanca” is actually much more of a popcorn flick than cinema snobs want to admit. It’s a melodramatic thriller, and the reason it works so well is that it fully fleshes out each character, and every scene has a rising tension that thrusts into the next scene. However, the pitch of “disillusioned ex-freedom fighter chooses between love and doing the right thing–oh, and there are Nazis” would play out very differently in 2014. Rick would be the suave cantina owner, but his past as a gun runner wouldn’t just be a reference point. It would be a part of his character. He’d have the skill to fight and shoot his way out of situations, and he would. Frequently. Instead of these intense character moments and hushed conversations in shadowy rooms that drive the story, it would have set pieces and car chases, and rather than shooting the Nazi officer at the end, it would be a showdown against a whole platoon of soldiers. Most importantly, Rick wouldn’t stay in Casablanca with his future uncertain. If it were made today, the studio would find a way for Rick to also escape with Victor and Elsa on the plane, thus having him around to join a commando unit to drop into France for a suicide mission in the sequel.