Our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a USC film-school grad, does a regular feature here called BASED ON, looking at literary works adapted into TV or movies.
As Academy Awards night (February 24) approaches, here’s the skinny on the Oscar-nominated sequels of original movies or films based on the denoted source material. See previous posts for more detailed essays on the five films nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.
As much as I loved the first Incredibles movie, you’d think that after a decade plus interlude, the filmmakers would have come up with a more original plotline than the government suppression of vigilante justice that seems to drive most superhero franchises. Nevertheless, the movie redeems itself at film’s end by suggesting the foolhardy nature of a mother fighting villains by herself, as she eventually learns it takes a family of superheroes (baby Jack Jack included) to save the day.
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Like the subject (video games) of its first movie, the Disney filmmakers consider the Internet to be a neutral entity in this sequel. As the second movie’s title suggests, it’s the use or misuse of the information superhighway where morality comes into play. I found myself at times disagreeing with what they found objectionable: i.e. Trolls. I think a few mischievous, inconvenient truth-tellers should roam the digital world, speech police be damned.
Avengers: Infinity War (based on the Marvel Comic book series)
I’m reserving judgment until the release of Avengers: End Game is released. To its credit, this truly felt like an intermediate chapter of a quartet, where nothing truly resolves. With so many characters hanging in the balance, the filmmakers did not even attempt an internal desire through line, the only focus is on an external want: defeating Thanos.
The title character growing up and re-visiting the stuffed animals come to life of his youth forms an intriguing premise even if the execution is sometimes stilted. Winnie the Pooh and friends offer wisdom that Christopher continues to draw from, but the childish playing with the stuffed animals is passed along to Christopher’s daughter, Madeline.
Ready Player One (based on the Ernest Cline novel)
Steven Spielberg adapts some of the more mature elements in the novel to a wider PG-13 audience. What’s not sacrificed in the movie is the long, complex journey Wade/Parzival (Tye Sheridan) must undergo in finding an Easter Egg, actually a moral lesson, that our flesh and blood relationships, however messy, surpasses anything the virtual world could manufacture.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Finally, a chapter in the Star Wars saga that breaks the mold of the three-pronged culminating battle scene. That is, a one-on-one lightsaber fight scene, a limited ground battle, and an all-encompassing space battle with compulsory death star or its rough equivalent blowing up. Critics were mixed and box office relatively low, but I believe this was a step forward in developing characters and texture, in the same vein the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles traded action for the cerebral.
Mary Poppins Returns
This rebooted musical works because there’s a believable impetus for the characters bursting spontaneously into song. I took each song as analogous to prayer. And there’s an arc to the songs/prayers throughout the movie: an adult character sings by themselves when they think no one nearby can hear them. The singing progresses to feeling comfortable singing with others (communal worship). Within those ensemble numbers, they begin singing in “tongues” (“Leery”)…until finally singing all together up in the sky at the final scene. Whether intended or not, Disney ends up making the year’s most Catholic-themed film, and I didn’t even mention a certain Mary who seems to keep reappearing.
Mary, Queen of Scots (based on the John Guy book)
The book tries to tell the English Reformation (or Revolution, depending on your ecclesiastical politics) through the Catholic point of view, via the eyes of Mary, Queen of Scots. It does so with measured success. Relying on the opinion of my favorite critics, the film fails for much the same reasons I didn’t care for The Favourite. They excised the intrigue of whether England would permit the practice Catholicism or place it under state control in the form of the Church of England. This question needled England from Elizabeth’s reign until just before Anne assumed the throne, but neither film really takes it up with any seriousness, making a choice instead to “sex-up” both movies. A shame seeing that the theme is timely: see the Vatican’s recent concession to China in the appointing of bishops.
Free Solo (runs concurrently to the two new chapters of Alex Honnold’s memoir, Alone on the Wall)
Honnold’s memoir makes the case that rock climbing without safety ropes and climbing partners is the modern-day blood sport. It’s hard to argue with him as viewing the documentary had my stomach turning and hoping that he safely summit the world’s most harrowing climb, El Capitan in Yosemite. The film version tells the story in visual terms, avoiding the technical jargon in the memoir.
Detainment (live-action short film based on police interrogations)
I don’t think the short film format was the best medium for the adaptation of Great Britain’s youngest ever convicted murderers. And it’s questionable whether the true crime story should have been adapted at all. A largely verbatim film condensed into thirty minutes only allows the film to explain the “how” of the murders. The little transcripts I’ve read elude more to the “why.” And filming without notifying the victim’s mother leads me to think the short was produced for shock value alone.