The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

The Final Fantasy VII Remake

final fantasy vii 7 logo meteor

So they finally announced the Final Fantasy VII remake. Year after year, it’s been one of the hands-clasped-in-prayer announcements for E3 as much as the Half-Life 3. And me, being a huge FFVII fan, former writer on the FF Compendium, I asked myself this morning if I’d ever play it. My answer was “Pfft, no.”

Look, man, I love Final Fantasy VII. I LOOOOOVE Final Fantasy VII. I love the characters, I love the story, I love the gameplay. My memories of it are nothing but fond. But the fact is, you can’t go home again. It’s 2015. It’s been more than fifteen years since that magic time. I’m married. I have two daughters. I have a career. I’m not the same man I was when I first played that spiky-haired hero. I’m not as forgiving of things like “This guy are sick” or weird fighting houses with no explanation. The stylistic decisions like popeye arms and fuzzy plot lines can’t be glossed over anymore.

Not to say Final Fantasy hasn’t changed/evolved during the time I have. But that’s a large chunk of the problem. Final Fantasy VII has not died in the time I’ve been alive. There have been related material — Crisis Core, Advent Children, Kingdom Hearts, Dissidia — that are fine avenues and extend the FFVII universe. But they’re not good. Not good at all. It’s not so much a quality drop as a coherence drop. I played Dirge of Cerberus and it was a load of nonsense story and dull gameplay. Style over substance. And that’s been the ongoing modus operandi for Square. As technology improves, Squeenix fills every nook and cranny of every bit, every processor, with graphics and data.

Midgar from PSX Final Fantasy VII
Midgar from PS3 Tech Demo
Midgar from FFVII Remake E3 2015 Trailer

It’s now to the point where you have to invest as much time as reading War & Peace to get a full experience. I don’t want to play a single-player MMORPG. I don’t want to walk down an endless corridor with occasional button mashing when a random monster appears. It’s not even fun anymore, it’s just pressing the same button. Attack, attack, attack. There’s no need for strategy with the smaller monsters. Not when you reach a certain level.

Of course, a remake could change all that. But that is my biggest point. Remember when the Star Wars prequels came out? Everyone was excited not just because of the new stories, but they’d get to see their favorite things without the clunky, boxy robots and rubbery aliens. And then we got a bunch of detailed CG garbage and fifteen minutes of unnecessary pod racing. This is not going to be just a rehash, this is going to be a giant amorphous mass of FFVII gray goo. Remember Cloud as he first was? He helped Yuffie get over her motion sickness, rode a dolphin to the top of a platform, he dressed as a woman in an extended fetch quest. Can you imagine this guy doing that?

This is the Cloud Squeenix has made now. A taciturn, militant, angsty badass who never sees his friends. He only works in black. And sometimes, very very dark gray. There’s no emotion he can’t push down. Armband representing memory of dead friend? Check. Using sword of other dead friend? Check. Motorcycle? Check. Short, non-committal responses? Check.

One of the lines from Ernie Cline’s “Fanboys” comes to mind, about a group of geeks questing to get their friend to see Star Wars: Episode 1 before he dies of cancer. He’s the only one that’s seen the cut six months ahead of everyone. “You gotta keep the flaws. Crappy effects, real puppets. That’s what makes it so good.”

Why Do We Keep Remaking Carrie?

Why does Hollywood keep remaking Carrie?  Is it that good a story?  I understand the appeal.  It’s simple in concept and appeals to base emotions.  We all want to have superpowers.  We all want to exact revenge on certain people in our lives.  We all feel suppressed by “the rules” whether that’s government or religion, they always seem to have the same ridiculousness and irrelevance.  
But do we need four movies to tell us that (five if you count “Gingerdead Man 3: Saturday Night Cleaver”, but let’s not talk about that).  There’s the original Sissy Spacek version (1976), “The Rage: Carrie 2” (1999) which I loved, but is really the same basic story, “Carrie” the 2002 TV movie staring Angela Bettis (which was a little closer to the novel) and the newest edition with Chloë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore.  Those, in addition to the original novel, mean five versions of the same story.
And there’s really not much difference between them all.  War of the Worlds changes the main characters and style in nearly every iteration.  Comic books always add something new.  Even Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo have musical versions of their works.  But every version of “Carrie” is pretty much the same.  No changes.  Relatively few new scenes or additional information, either from the book or the imagination.
Like I said in my article about whether they should remake “The Princess Bride”, movies should be remade if there’s either a sufficient time between eras when technologies would allow a more immersive experience or there’s new content/ideas/styles that can be added.  The latter is more in common for adaptations like “Alice in Wonderland” and the former for great stories that suffered short-sighted movie producers and hedged budgets.  Carrie doesn’t really suffer from either.  There’s nothing ultra fantastic that wasn’t accomplished by the practical effects in the 1976 film.  My only bother is that Sissy Spacek looks kinda… weird.  She acts fine, and she fits much better in the role than Moretz, who is not homely or gaunt.  Just some of her expressions are too poorly directed to be anything but cheesy.
The book itself is only about 50 – 66% of actual story content.  The rest are “documents” — statements and transcriptions and news articles relating to the post-prom incident and deciphering who Carrie was.  Because Stephen King didn’t have enough story to fill it to novel length.  If the author, and lord of overwriting couldn’t do it, what makes you think Hollywood screenwriters can?

The story itself isn’t terribly heart-pounding horror.  It really drags in the middle.  You’re pretty much checking the watch between the time Carrie has her period and when the bucket dumps on her head.  The real horror of this story isn’t the post-prom devastation, it’s that you know bad things are going to happen to someone.  It’s dread that moves the plot, not character actions.  Which brings up the question, why keep revisiting the story.  There’s no point to dread if you know when those bad things will happen.

Should They Remake The Princess Bride

Remakes.  I’m always paying attention to them, since movies I liked as a kid are now being redone or rebooted.  I was re-reading “The Princess Bride” and it got me thinking — should they remake this movie?  It’s been 27 years, and with films like Robocop and Transformers and Indiana Jones and Ninja Turtles and Star Wars appealing to nostalgia, “The Princess Bride” is a candidate to get picked from the hat.  But where those movies don’t need a remake, I wonder if this classic could use an update.

No disassemble… my legacy.

One of the determining factors in deciding “update-or-nodate” is whether the movie would be better without one.  Short Circuit doesn’t — its effects fit. Number 5 is supposed to be a clunky robot.  That’s part of the character, since his conflict is convincing people that he’s sentient.  You don’t need flash for that.

RoboCop doesn’t need one because its motif was satirical and provocative, like MAD magazine (whereas the remake took itself too seriously, and was thus bland and forgettable).  It thrived on the over-the-top characters and gross-outs with practical effects.  But The Princess Bride suffers some flaws that, if corrected, could turn a good movie into a great movie.

For one: casting.  I love Andre the Giant as much as anyone.  He was a great man — brave, generous, kind.  But I cannot understand him when he talks.  I don’t know why they didn’t ADR his dialogue.  Everyone on set had issues with his speech.  Mandy Patinkin had to slap him to get him to speak clearly.  And kids especially have trouble deciphering thick French.  It took me years to comprehend this rhyming thing they were doing.  Thing is, I don’t know who would play him now.  But “Lord of the Rings” showed that you can screw with perspective to make people seem larger than they are.  Shouldn’t be difficult. Maybe another wrestler like The Rock?  He is supposed to be a Turk, after all.

Mandy Patinkin — love him as Inigo, plays the hell out of it.  Cary Elwes — a decent Errol Flynn replacement.  Billy Crystal — go-to guy for comic relief.   But everyone else, pretty forgettable.  Robin Wright is a willowy damsel-in-distress with no personality.  Wallace Shawn plays obnoxious well, but not menacing.  And he’s not even Sicilian.  Prince Humperdinck is the villain, but he’s so bland.  In the book, he’s a great white hunter.  Like, to the extreme.  As in “The Most Dangerous Game”.  That doesn’t come through in the movie.

Neither does Westley and Buttercup’s love.  It’s supposed to be a love story, but they go right from master-slave to undying love in the blink of an eye.  It’s glossed over.  In the book, it happens pretty quick too, but at least there are some causation around it.  The movie pretty much starts when Buttercup becomes engaged to Humperdinck.  Everything before that is prologue.

And speaking of Buttercup and love, I think that could use some changes.  It surprises me that girls rate this as one of their top movies, but fails the Bechdel test.  And it’s kind of misogynist.  When Buttercup is pleading to the Man in Black, he replies “And what is that worth, the promise of a woman?”  Any other woman in the story is a hag.  I understand it’s thematically linked to nostalgia for swashbuckling adventure.  But come on.

Besides that, there are lots of little missed opportunities that the movie skips.  And it’s not stuff that’s unfilmable like “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.  There are lines of dialogue, like when Fezzik says the man in black has defeated Inigo, and Vizzini says “no he hasn’t” and Fezzik says “Oh, my mistake.  Inigo has defeated him and put on his clothes.  And gained twenty pounds.”  And he’s not being sarcastic, he’s sincere.  That’s what makes it funny.

And plot points like the details of Inigo Montoya’s father’s death, or that the white horses Fezzik finds at the end are actually Humperdinck’s prized steeds that he and only he rides, jumping from one to the other so that none get tired.

And a bigger budget wouldn’t hurt anything.  The place where Inigo and Westley have their fight is so obviously a set, it makes my eyes hurt.  It looks like it was borrowed from Star Trek.  Buttercup is clearly on wires when she jumps out of the castle.  The rocks fly like Styrofoam.  And need I mention the R.O.U.S.’s?

When deciding whether you want a remake, the big question (assuming you’re not a money-grubbing studio exec) is whether or not you can improve on the original.  It’s not just upgrading.  You have to offer something new.  Something you couldn’t do in the past or had to leave out, due to time or budget or director disinterest.  Could a new “The Princess Bride” be better than the original?  Yes, I think so.  I think it could even to the point where it would replace the original.

But the bigger question is, would it work today?  These days, it’s all superheroes and CIA agents.  The Princess Bride was based on stories of Alexandre Dumas and Robert Louis Stevenson.  Did you see Hollywood’s last attempt at Robin Hood with Russell Crowe?  It looked like Nottingham Forest had an apocalypse, it was so gray.  The closest equivalent now are those “Give Me Back My Daughter” blow-em-ups or Pirates of the Caribbean, which hinged on supernatural elements (and Johnny Depp).

So, I’ll let people better than me decide this one.  In the meantime, I can be satisfied with my DVD and my book.