Thursday, November 15

What does 'The Dark Knight', 'The Mummy', and 'Harry Potter' Have in Common?

They have each replaced an actor for another actor in the same role.

Hollywood has prided itself on being able to capture reality. The Hollywood method is to use all of these specific elements such as editing, lighting, sound, music, costumes and much more to make a film look natural. However, Hollywood does not want the viewer to know or care about all of the elements that went in to making the production a success. Hollywood wants to take audiences on a journey, even if it is to another planet or a small town in Middle America. No matter how wacky, magical, or unrealistic the film is there is always something the audience can relate to. Whether it is within themselves or an idea the viewer needs to find a way to make it believable to them. If the film can’t find that idea or something that the audience can relate to then the film is just a wacky unrealistic film that no one will believe and as a result the film will not make money.
 One thing that can keep me from completely giving in to a film and ultimately making it unbelievable is any break from reality that will take me out of the narrative and have me wonder why that is happening. Sometimes this break in reality is on purpose. Filmmakers like to play with the art form, hone their craft, and push the envelope; however, there is a purpose behind the change that the filmmaker wants to get across to the viewer.
One break from reality that I find the most disconcerting is the replacement of an actor with another actor in the same role with no cause behind it. Now when I say cause I mean within the narrative itself the character changes form and therefore a new actor is needed. When I see a new actor or actress in a role that a previous actor or actress has made their own I am confused and my mind begins to wonder about what happened to the other actor, this actor is nothing like the character, where did this actor come from, what else has this actor been in, and so on. I am thinking about everything except the narrative. I watch films for the story primarily and when I am taken out of the story I don’t get much out of the film. However, there are circumstances that warrant the changing of an actor. For example, Richard Harris, who played Professor Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films, passed away in 2002. The Harry Potter series is a beloved and highly profitable property so of course Warner Bros. studios are going to replace the actor to continue the series. Warner Bros. went with Michael Gambon to carry on the role. I am a huge fan of Michael Gambon and I think he is a great Dumbledore, but the character changed in a lot of ways, not drastically, but enough that even 12 year old me recognized that he wasn’t the same. Dumbledore became more playful in a sense with Michael Gambon compared to Richard Harris’ more wise and older looking Dumbledore.

The Dark Knight and The Mummy series each replaced their respective female leads in their films as well. The Dark Knight replaced Katie Holmes in the role of Rachel Dawes with Maggie Gyllenhaal. The excuse for the replacement was that Katie Holmes did not have the acting ability to do what the character was going to go through emotionally. The Mummy series replaced Rachel Weisz in the role of Evelyn with Mario Bello in the third installment, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, because of scheduling conflicts. For The Dark Knight the change didn’t affect them because there was so much hype for the film and Maggie Gylenhaal in fact does have better range than Katie Holmes as an actress. However, for The Mummy it was a train wreck.

When Katie Holmes was replaced in The Dark Knight after appearing in the first installment of the new Batman trilogy, Batman Begins, not many people cared. OF course, there were headlines and maybe a hint of controversy but everyone was basically in agreement that as an n actress Katie Holmes has a limited range. Besides, by the time The Dark Knight was released it was as if the switch had never happened because by that time Heath Ledger had passed and the media was raving about his brilliant performance as the Joker. The hype and buzz for the film was deafening. Everyone wanted to see Heath Ledger’s final performance for which he won an Oscar for. When I saw the film it barely registered to me that there was a new Rachel because I was drawn in by everything else. Everything was working for this film and Rachel was a big part in the film but Maggie Gyllenhaal was great so I didn’t really lose focus on the narrative.

The Mummy was a different story entirely. The first two movies worked because of the chemistry between Brendan Frasier and Rachel Weisz, and an engaging storyline. Frasier and Weisz together elevated the film and made it an exciting and great film. So several years later when Universal decided to make another installment in the franchise, I was excited. Those films were still appreciated and highly liked by audiences so it seemed appropriate to make another film. So, I am not sure if there was a tight schedule or not but Rachel Weisz decided to pass on the project due to scheduling conflicts. Now when your star is not free to work on a new film in a franchise that some circles may call classic, you would think that the studio would push back the film dates. But the power of money is stronger apparently, so Universal decided to move forward with the film with another actress, Maria Bello. I was not pleased with the changed but I decided to give the third film a chance to prove itself. When I saw the trailer, however, I was not impressed. I felt like the magic had been sucked out of the franchise. The storyline had nothing to do with the original two films and Maria Bello, who is a fine actress by the way, was no Evelyn. I decided to stay away from the film when it was released and apparently so did everyone else. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor grossed $102 million domestically and is the lowest grossing film in the franchise even before ticket price inflation. And what makes it even worse is that when you do factor in ticket price inflation it made less than the spin-off to The Mummy series, The Scorpion King. I did finally see The Mummy 3 and my initial reaction was correct. The story was weak and Maria Bello fell short to Rachel Weisz performance.
Replacing actors in franchises is a tough decision. It ruins the magic for me most of the time, but sometimes it is necessary.

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