A peculiar thing happened to me this week.
But first, let’s travel through time.
To 2005. A lousy year if my memory’s correct, and I’m sure it is, because Crash won the Oscar that year. What an atrocious show. Five-Six Mafia won, Jon Stewart was fumbling, and uh, honestly, nothing else noteworthy comes to mind right now, but that’s okay, that all sucked. 2005 was really the year Batman Begins came out.
Now, I love my genre flicks. Horror, action, sci-fi, adventure, uh… action/sci-fi/adventure… when they’re good there’s nothing better on Earth! When they come packaged in nostalgic superhero tights like Batman’s, whose 1992 animated series practically raised me (though mom and dad did a good job too – more on that soon), there’s a euphoria in me so intense reality peels away, and I’m swooping off rooftops alongside TAS’ Kevin Conroy and Begins‘ Christian Bale.
Batman Begins was a production I followed not closely, obsessively, with my friends, fellow Bat-fans, for years, back when Darren Aranofsky was on board to direct, when Wolfgang Petersen was set to do a World’s Finest mash-up, way back in… cripes, way back in high school. When Christopher Nolan took over… it was too fucking perfect! Would he get Guy Pearce to play an obsessive vigilante again? Batman, Memento-style?! Could something that brilliant possibly happen? When American Psycho Christian Bale was cast we rushed to rent Equilibrium to see if he was worthy of the cape and cowl. Absolutely worthy. When the rest of the cast was announced… all those names, all that talent… Roy Batty himself! Nolan screened BLADE RUNNER to the cast and crew and said “We’re going to do Batman this way.” …It was unbelievable news. Too good to be true.
And it delivered! Expectations were met! Cynicism and doubt were dashed to the sidewalk like so many Jack Nicholson Jokers. It was a religious experience. Unanimous approval. Thunderous applause. A new age for superhero movies began, a new age for action movies, for… wel, for MOVIES! There was so much confidence and spit and vinegar and other tired metaphors and cooking liquids… how could anything go wrong now? The bar has been raised for adaptations and genre pictures for years to come. There was no more room for flimsy, disrespectful genre films. Even today, writers, producers and various studio execs refer to Nolan’s movie as THE standard they want their franchise flick to reach.
2005, despite its junk, became a foundation for excellence, and 2006 was sure to build on that, easily, considering its bountiful offerings, like the final X-Men movie, the return of Superman, the film version of Silent Hill, a new movie from Equilibrium‘s Kurt Wimmer, an animated Philip K. Dick movie, Michael Mann’s new 80s-based cop thriller…
Yeah, bullshit. GOD, what an IDIOT I was. 2006 was HORRIBLE. X-Men? Yeah, try X-FUCK. Silent Hill? Silent DICK. Ultraviolet? UltraPIECE OF SHIT. And… the Oscar bait… oh, GOD the Oscar bait… Dreamgirls, Volver, Babel… everything else? Who the fuck cares? Cars. Over the Hedge. A hundred thousand other 3D animated idiot magnets. Superman Returns was nice but it was no Batman. Casino Royale was great. The Fountain was darling. Best movie of the year – which came in its final months – Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige.
Disappointment and venom reigned supreme. Gone were the carefree, romantic days of late June 2005. 2006 was cold and real. It reflected all that was wrong with the world, with me, with how things worked. There was no hope. No dreams. Why hope? You’ll only be disappointed. Brett Ratner will direct Wolverine to kick some guy in the balls and Tarantino’s ex-roommate will infilitrate your favorite psychological horror game with Bush-bashing witch hunters. Would I have to constantly depend on Chris Nolan for my genre film sustenance? Should I just nail myself to his doorstep?
During this maelstrom of shattering disappointment, there was one movie in 2006’s late summer I was so sure would break the curse… Miami Vice. Michael Mann was helming the update. He produced the original show, is a control-freak genius and his Collateral‘s a nigh fucking masterpiece, and now, he was going to give the same delicious HD treatment to the show he helped, uh, man in the 80s.
The 80s! They say styles and fashions have a 20-year cycle and the 2000s are prime evidence. The politics are nearly the exact same, the culture is just as trashy, the return of Die Hard and Transformers, He-Man’s getting an update, Nintendo is back on top, horror remake upon horror remake… I was too young to be cognizant of the late 80s but the early 90s were pretty much the 80s up until 1992 or ’93 or so, perhaps once the Ninja Turtles waned in popularity… only to return again this year. Again, more evidence. While I spent the majority of my adolescence in the 90s, the 80s formed my core.
So, Miami Vice has a sort of reputation in my household. It is probably my parents’ favorite show. Growing up, I often heard them talk about it, as some sort of myth or legend. Like Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen talking about Luke’s dad, there was fascination, familiarity even, and, like all good sagas, foreboding. I’d learn mom and dad watched it as they put me to sleep in my crib every night, like baby Kal-el in his ship to Earth, but instead of all the culture of Krypton, dad put Miami Vice on, its neon-lit glow cultivating my soft, mushy brain. Before animated Batman, Crockett and Tubbs trained my subconscious.
That was 1985.
Time passed, DVD sets were released and I got to see a few episodes for myself. Cops, style, babes, music… it was cheesy but it was so fun, it didn’t matter if it was outrageously acted or the editing was standard. Bruce Willis guest-starred! Liam Neeson! Ed O’Neill! Men with no socks! The show had a swagger, a vibe, it was a blast to watch with friends, which was perfect, we’re huge Battlestar Galactica nerds and in Miami Vice, Edward James Olmos is a taciturn badass commander!!
With this much history, this much fervor, I had to find out. The 80s… Miami Vice… it returned. I had to face it. It had to inherit this new film version. It was my birthright!
Holy fuck, what a terrible experience. I took a big group of friends (a separate group, not the Battlestar/Miami Vice gang) to see it at a theater in Times Square… what a mistake. They never saw Miami Vice. They weren’t raised in its radiance. Nobody was. The audience was slackjawed, sweaty and awful. If they weren’t there for tits and action they were menstruating Jamie Foxx fans. The screen was grainy. Everyone was laughing at the accents. I couldn’t stand it. And worse? The movie failed to deliver tits and action! It was so meditative, so slow, so methodical… it wasn’t like the show at all. This was no summer action blockbuster! Crockett had no pet alligator, he had a pet ferret living on his upper lip! No big set pieces. It was all whispery chit-chat on cell phones. When it wasn’t that it was a slow undercover procedural in shadowy locales. When it wasn’t that it was some lonely romance with clipped accents and awkward sex. What a fucking bore…
I hated it. I felt so guilty. So betrayed. Disgusted and grimy. I went home and announced, without a hint of irony (okay, maybe some), “Cinema is dead.” I might as well have been dead too. I had enough. 2006 was a travesty, a fucking disgrace. If one year was to go down in history books as a collosal fuck-up, 2006 was it. Was? IS. I still believe that to be the case. Mainstream audiences tore Miami Vice apart and critics were divided straight down the middle, love it or hate it. I hated it. I told my parents as such, and once it came out on DVD, they agreed.
Time passed, as it often does.
Finally, a peculiar thing happened to me this week.
Film remakes class. An interesting seminar course about the trend of remaking and remixing and adapting and covering, alluding, referencing, making old new again… lots of foreign remakes, Tarantino discussion, trends… all that stuff. Movies adapted from TV shows came up. My youngish professor, who also watched Miami Vice when it first aired, screened clips to the class… which, for some reason, was mostly empty. There couldn’t have been more than 20 kids in the room. It’s basically a theater, usually there are 50-60 seats filled, but no one cared to show up for the show’s pastel blazers and white pants. Eventually, I don’t know why I didn’t realize it before, but something horrifying struck me. A realization.
I was about to watch the Miami Vice movie again.
The lights dimmed and the film began…
I watched, at first with trepidation and anxiety. Then a change began. It was slow, gradual, not like a lightswitch or anything but… I started to actually kind of like it. I noticed new things. The soundtrack and the editing are so well-synched. The performances, though understated, resonate something I couldn’t see on a giant, ugly grainy Times Square screen. I was able to see everyones’ eyes in detail this time. I was able to fall into the slow flow of the movie and just let it carry me, like a go-fast boat to Havana. This isn’t an action blockbuster at all. I don’t know what genre it fits in. It can’t be pigeon-holded into one, it doesn’t deserve to be. It’s hypnotic. It’s isolating and sad. Not what I expected at all that summer.
Was it the stuffed-shirt academic environment? Conditioned by a hokey liberal scholar with an agenda to see this as “video art?” Possibly. The clips from the TV show he screened were very carefully chosen as perfect examples of why the film version was such a good adaptation, or rather, update, after all. After the movie ended I didn’t feel hate. With my expectations already betrayed I think I was able to simply see as it is, without all that baggage I brought with me. The expectations fell to the wayside, but all the nostalgia I outlined above was actually enforced. The movie and I share a history now and I can look back on that history. Use it. It’s still being written, as I type these words.
I don’t know where this is going. I know I’m overly opinionated, with a severely weak grasp on reality, and a terrific penchant for graphic swearing and hyperbole. That’s what I hope to communicate. That’s my passion. Movies aren’t just movies. Same for videogames, comics, anime and the like. They’re us. They reflect us, and resonate within us.