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Old March 14 2013, 06:49 PM   #1
Warped9
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Are some things better done retro?

Working on some of my retro spaceship models in 3d and perusing some threads here and elsewhere I was idly thinking about how some things seem to work better as retro or period pieces as well as thinking it could be interesting to see some things done in a retro setting.


One of the reasons I liked Peter Jackson's King Kong is because I thought it was smart to keep it back in the 1930s when society at large could still be moved by the fantastic. I thought it just worked better than putting it in the present day.

I liked Captain America partly because I think it worked really well set in the 1940s. Of course the plan was always bring him into the present day, but I'd like to see more of Cap in the '40s.

I liked how The Incredibles had a '60s vibe to it. I also liked the 1950s setting for the DCAU New Frontier.

I think Greystoke: The Legend Of Tarzan (even while being just an okay film) worked better by being set in the early 20th century. It just suited the material better. Same with John Carter.

I suppose for me it just adds a sense of the romantic to the material (and I mean romantic in the classical sense). There's an added sense of wonder.


There are things I'd like to see done even as I realize that it's highly unlikely. I'd like to see a Simon Templar The Saint feature set in the 1930s or '40s. How about a Bond feature set in the '50s or '60s? Batman in the 1940s and/or Superman in the '50s. A Flash Gordon feature yet kept back in the 1930s (but with better production values...and writing...and acting). Certainly Sherlock Holmes, Zorro and the Lone Ranger all belong in the 19th century.


Maybe it's just me, and I hope you get the gist of what I'm saying.

Thoughts anyone?
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Old March 14 2013, 07:17 PM   #2
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Re: Are some things better done retro?

I think it all comes down to the writing. Sherlock being the perfect example. It uses a contemporary setting yet it's one of the best interpretations of Holmes on screen.

If written as a period piece it still has to be written well. The setting won't save it either way.
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Old March 14 2013, 07:28 PM   #3
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Re: Are some things better done retro?

sojourner wrote: View Post
If written as a period piece it still has to be written well. The setting won't save it either way.
Agreed. Basically I'm thinking that certain subjects seem to fit better in a period setting.
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Old March 14 2013, 07:36 PM   #4
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Re: Are some things better done retro?

Sojourner has a point about the writing. Anybody remember the, uh, lackluster Timothy Hines period version of "War of the Worlds"? Even though set in the proper period, so much about that film (not just the writing) made it one of the worst experiences I've ever viewed. (If any film might have "cracked" Joel or Mike from MST3K, this would have been THE production!)

But having stated that, I think a "retro" aspect allows us to more easily suspend our disbelief. Example, most of us know that if two planet approached within a certain distance of each other, tidal forces would likely rip them apart, far, far worse than a few isolated earthquakes. But by having Flash Gordon set in the 1930s as the original newspaper depicted (which ironically was 'contemporary" when published) I think we're more willing to accept that two rocky planets can swing by each other without crumbling into asteroids.

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Old March 14 2013, 07:54 PM   #5
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Re: Are some things better done retro?

Absolutely, temporal context is key. A modern-day Kong would probably stink big ones. One simply can't have a present-day Indiana Jones, where he either doesn't wear a fedora or looks silly because no one else does. By the time Mutt finally inherits the hat, he probably won't want to don it. The Universal Mummy relaunch will reportedly be a contemporary story, and it'll probably be awful. I've always thought the Lara Croft movies effed up by setting things in the present day, instead of anywhere between the 20s and 50s.

By the same token, one couldn't really have set The Matrix in a simulation of the French Revolution, now, could one?

... As a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, I tried Sherlock, and while it wasn't terrible, it didn't do much for me, either. A Holmes without that thick London fog (which, being mainly smog, no longer exists) is not the Holmes I know and love; it's something else, and, in that case, it's something less.

Ebert has written on this subject regarding horror. Reviewing Mary Reilly, which moved Stevenson's story from London to Edinburgh but maintained the time period, he noted:
So what is it, this fascination with the Gothic? For me, it offers the fascination of secrets, dreads and guilts. Modern horror is too easily explained; indeed, the real world has outrun horror, and the headlines are now worse than anything Stephen King can imagine. In the 19th century, there was belief in evil, because there was belief in good. That makes stories like this sort of optimistic, in a way.

And he made a similar point vis-a-vis the recent The Wolfman:
"The Wolfman" avoids what must have been the temptation to update its famous story. It plants itself securely in period, with a great-looking production set in 1891. Gothic horror stories seem more digestible when set in once-great British country houses and peopled with gloomy introverts, especially when the countryside involves foggy moors and a craggy waterfall. This is, after all, a story set before the advent of modern psychology, back when a man's fate could be sealed by ancestral depravity.
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Old March 14 2013, 08:22 PM   #6
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Re: Are some things better done retro?

Gaith wrote: View Post
I've always thought the Lara Croft movies effed up by setting things in the present day, instead of anywhere between the 20s and 50s.
Except Tomb Raider the game series that the movies are based on is in a contemporary setting.

By the same token, one couldn't really have set The Matrix in a simulation of the French Revolution, now, could one?
Sure if don't want the movie to make any sense what so ever after the reveal.
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Old March 14 2013, 08:38 PM   #7
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Re: Are some things better done retro?

Hartzilla2007 wrote: View Post
Gaith wrote: View Post
I've always thought the Lara Croft movies effed up by setting things in the present day, instead of anywhere between the 20s and 50s.
Except Tomb Raider the game series that the movies are based on is in a contemporary setting.
Confusing me with someone who gives a crap about lame video games, you seem to be.
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Old March 14 2013, 08:40 PM   #8
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Re: Are some things better done retro?

Oh, I agree, Warped. You used king Kong as a perfect example - all you have to do is watch the 1976 version, which is set in 1976, to see that Jackson's period piece was the right way to go.

I'm also one who doesn't think a modern setting for Holmes works very well. My wife and I barely lasted thru one episode of the new CBS show, but we can drink in the Jeremy Brett series like fine wine.

Shakespeare set in modern settings can go either way. Whedon's upcoming Much Ado actually looks marvelous, but the story itself is timeless, not depending on historically fixed placement. Brannagh setting Hamlet in the 19th century kept me out of the moment, 'cause it was SO recent, and we know perfectly well who the kings of Denmark were around then. Romeo + Juliette was just plain dumb, except that every moment DeCaprio and Danes were onscreen together was magical, showing, I guess, that the material can transcend the presentation. And Ethan Hawk's Hamlet was just a disaster. My favorite production to date is still the 1980 Derek Jacobi BBC production of Hamlet, staged with simple sets and period costumes, and letting the story and the words be the point.
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Old March 14 2013, 08:49 PM   #9
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Re: Are some things better done retro?

Warped9 wrote: View Post
How about a Bond feature set in the '50s or '60s?
For years, I've wanted the BBC to produce a Bond mini-series, adapting the books (and books alone) and making them all period pieces.

I liked how the Batman animated series had a 1940's aesthetic but was set in the 'present' day. Even Burton's first Bat-flick had a 1940's vibe to it which I dug.
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Old March 14 2013, 08:58 PM   #10
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Re: Are some things better done retro?

I believe one can adapt the current day to one's own sensibility (rather than the other way around). That said, there are certain plot elements that are a lot easier to deal with in a certain setting, simply because of technology. Something as simple as Kirk opening his communicator in 1986 seems normal today, but was bizarre to the people around him then. And google has saved a lot of shoeleather.

In addition, we have stylistic conceptions of certain eras, and it's an easy shortcut to set something in a certain era in order to adopt the tone of the times without having to work too hard.

What makes me crazy is when things are set in a certain era and the attitudes or dialogue don't comport with those times (or try too hard to do so). It's very rare to see a modern movie set in the 1940s or '50s in which it looks like the actors are wearing clothes rather than costumes.

This is why I gave up on Mad Men after a few episodes. I was around then. It wasn't like that.

EDIT: I'm dying to see a Tarantino-directed Power Man and Iron Fist set in the 1970s.
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Old March 14 2013, 09:09 PM   #11
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Re: Are some things better done retro?

You have retro as an era, and then you have retro as in the styles and conventions of TV and movies of that era. Peter Jackson's King King may have taken place in the 30s, but it didn't feel like a movie from the 30s, whereas Ed Wood was made to look like one of his own pictures, and I thought that was brilliant.

That's what I thought Enterprise should have been. It should have looked like Phase II, basically, and THAT would have made it hip. Bringing out the colored gels and the soft-focus on women's closeups would have been bold, because nobody does that anymore. Instead they retconned canon to make the pre-TOS period look, in many ways, more futuristic than TOS, and by doing so it actually took a lot of the specialness away from the show. I know that's a tired argument that Trek fans have been fighting long before the prime-continuity/JJ-verse feud, but I still stand by it.

Likewise, something like classic Star Wars is now retro, not just the designs but the WAY it was shot, with the relatively constrained motion-control shots. No camera-shake. So to do SW right, IMHO, you want to avoid all the crap that is now in-fashion to the point that people might find it jarring to have a locked-down shot where the camera isn't doing really fast corkscrews or shaking like crazy.
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Old March 14 2013, 09:19 PM   #12
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Re: Are some things better done retro?

mos6507 wrote: View Post
That's what I thought Enterprise should have been. It should have looked like Phase II, basically, and THAT would have made it hip. Bringing out the colored gels and the soft-focus on women's closeups would have been bold, because nobody does that anymore. Instead they retconned canon to make the pre-TOS period look, in many ways, more futuristic than TOS, and by doing so it actually took a lot of the specialness away from the show.
Been saying a similar thing for years. I would have loved Enterprise to have emulated 50's sci-fi with rocket ships and flying saucers as a compliment to TOS' 60's look.
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Old March 14 2013, 09:21 PM   #13
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Re: Are some things better done retro?

Ironic, spending all that time, effort and money to develop "Steady-Cam" and now everything seems to be shot in "Shake-O-Rama". (Yes, that is hyperbole.)

Sincerely,

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Old March 14 2013, 09:40 PM   #14
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Re: Are some things better done retro?

I think it's tragic when they set a movie in 15th century europe and then film it. That shit should be woven on tapestries and rolled out in the theatre.
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Old March 14 2013, 09:47 PM   #15
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Re: Are some things better done retro?

Shazam! wrote: View Post
Warped9 wrote: View Post
How about a Bond feature set in the '50s or '60s?
For years, I've wanted the BBC to produce a Bond mini-series, adapting the books (and books alone) and making them all period pieces.
Seconded. I hate that most of the Bond films bore such little resemblance to the stories they were supposedly based on. Many merely used only Fleming's titles and a few select character names, but otherwise had nothing whatsoever to do with anything he actually wrote. ("Moonraker" and "Octopussy" spring immediately to mind.)

I would love to see the stories that Fleming created brought to the screen, as they were written, and presented within the proper historical setting that so many of the stories utterly depend upon. Maybe a co-production of BBC and the folks at AMC who produce "Mad Men".
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