Why the Aladdin Remake Is Frustrating

I was coerced into seeing the 2019 Aladdin remake by a group of friends who promised it was good. Even though I tend to be against remakes on principle, I tried to keep an open mind and allow the experience to shape me in whatever way it chose.

To be fair, Will Smith did a phenomenal job. He achieved what no one thought he could and was a powerful successor to Robin William’s Genie. Rather than attempting to replicate Genie’s character from the original, he provided his own entertaining interpretation that wowed me.

The musical numbers were all visually captivating and well choreographed, enhanced by the Middle Eastern aesthetic. I loved watching the bollywood-style dancing and listening to the gorgeous music.

This was a very attractive film….

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But it wasn’t good.

Why?

Because it exemplified all the things that make reboots and remakes so frustrating.

Reboots are notoriously guilty of scrapping plot-points that are perfectly fine and keeping ones that are arbitrary. Or, as in some cases, they will change things for the better, but won’t alter the story to accommodate the alterations they made.

The most obvious example of this in the Aladdin remake is Jasmine.

Jasmine’s character went through a major make-over with this movie. Gone was the idealistic and naive teenager, replaced by a much more worldly and tenacious young woman determined to succeed her father as sultan.

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Personally, I didn’t dislike this change. I don’t think there was anything wrong with Jasmine’s original character, but the alteration wasn’t unwelcome.

The issue was they did not adjust the story to suit this new personality makeover.

Because they made her into someone far less naive than her older counterpart, pivotal scenes no longer make sense.

In both versions of Aladdin and Jasmine’s first meeting, Jasmine steals an apple to give to a group of starving children she sees in the marketplace only to be apprehended by the proprietor. The cartoon Jasmine is so sheltered it doesn’t occur to her people have to pay for food, making her actions believable. The live-action Jasmine is way too smart to do something so mentally bankrupt and we never see her do anything this absent-mindedly dumb ever again.

Then, they change the scene where Jasmine thinks Aladdin is dead and replace it with Jasmine getting shot down by Jafar, prompting her to sing her live-action film original song Speechless. 

No joke, they spend so long on this scene.

I get that they are trying to make Jasmine her own person and everything to placate the modern feminists, but guys, the movie is called Aladdin.

It’s supposed to be about Aladdin.

No one cares about this stupid country.

The irony is they could have developed Jasmine and kept the central focus on the titular character at the same time. Speechless would have been much more emotionally impactful if they had kept the scene where Jafar lies to her about Aladdin’s demise. Because she stayed “speechless” an innocent and wonderful dude was murdered. Isn’t that way more emotionally investing than hearing about some random country we literally never see or learn anything about?

To make matters worse, Jasmine and Aladdin have zero chemistry in the remake and it’s  obvious why.

In the 1992 animated film, we could see why Jasmine would fall for Aladdin. He was a smexy street-wise guy with a heart of gold that filled her dull, pampered life with action and adventure.

Now that she’s a m-fing woman that actually wants the throne (unlike in the original where she outright states she has no interest in being royalty) and is perfectly capable of navigating the streets of Agrabah all on her own, why does she need Aladdin?

What does he contribute to this relationship?

That isn’t to say Jasmine is the only issue, however.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the live-action Jafar was less intimidating than Yzma after she’d been turned into a cat.

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Yes, Jafar was a one-note villain in the original, but he was a fun one-note villain. Jonathon Freeman obviously had a blast in this role, going from underhanded and cunning to full-blown bombastic evil mastermind.

But this guy?

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I don’t know what his other credentials were but he just looked bored the whole time. His line delivery was more underwhelming than a prepubescent boy at a school play.

It’s frustrating that at one point they actually tried to make him more interesting by revealing he used to be a thief like Aladdin. If nursed enough, this could have made up for his lack of intimidation and made him a memorable villain. Instead, it’s unceremoniously dropped and we never learn anything else about his past again.

What a wasted opportunity.

Oh, remember that awesome scene where Aladdin fights Jafar as a cobra?

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Well, in this movie Aladdin and Jasmine fly away from Iago as Jafar morphs him into a large…parrot.

Yeah, instead of a giant cobra, it’s a parrot that chases them around CGI Agrabah.

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Isn’t….isn’t that so much better?

Aren’t you  impressed?!?

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I could go on in further depth if I wanted to.

I could talk about how the guy they cast as Aladdin is only a passable singer and actor.

I could talk about how unnecessary Jasmine’s handmaiden was, or why it makes no sense that Jasmine is apparently the sultan now even though her father is still alive.

But those things aren’t what bothers me most of all.

What vexes me so much about this movie is the same thing I find so offensive about every other remake:

It doesn’t need to exist. 

Tell me, apart from making money, what was ever the point of re-making Aladdin? It’s one of the most beloved animated films of all time, receiving critical and box-office success and is forever slated as one of the best films ever made.

There’s this bs comment floating around that “kids these days” don’t want to watch “old cartoons” and we have to preserve these stories for the next generation.

So…..you are telling me kids will watch cartoons that look like this-

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And this-

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And this-

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But they won’t watch something that looks like this-

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Or this-

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Or this?

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Well, let me tell you-

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There is a reason films like Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast and all the rest are considered classics.

People still watch them. 

I didn’t view most of these films when they first came out because I was either too little to comprehend the plot, or I wasn’t born yet.

My childhood favorite, Snow White, was made a whopping 49 years before I was born. I didn’t care that it was old. I liked it because I thought it was good.

It doesn’t matter that kids have iPads, or that streaming exists, or that Twitter and Instagram are a staple of modern society. These stories are strong enough to withstand the test of time.

That is what made them good in the first place.

I will no longer endorse the “fixing” of things that aren’t broken.

There are so many other stories out there that deserve funding, why should continue paying people to make crappy Xerox copies of films that have already been made and made better?

You’re welcome to keep shelling out your hard-earned dollars for stuff like this, but I prefer to sit them out from now on.

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Game of Thrones: Book 1 v. Season 1

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SEASON 1 OF GAME OF THRONES AND MINOR SPOILERS FOR THE BOOKS. 

Good news! I can consider myself a good nerd now that I have finally completed the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series.

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That being said, I have many thoughts that I am wanting to share on the subject of both the first beloved now maligned TV series and the first book in the timeless saga written by George R. R. Martin.

In this post I won’t be going into the specifics on how the book and show differ necessarily (if you’re more interested in that, then watch this video series by The Dom). Instead, I will be discussing what I think worked best between the two in terms of story-telling.

Points to the show: 

Faces to the names 

George R. R. Martin has unquestionably made one of the most intricate fantasy worlds in existence, rivalling even the likes of J.R.R Tolkien in its density. Its packed to the hilt with lore and customs and people….

….and therein lies one of the issues in Game Of Thrones.

There are too many goddamn people. 

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I tried to read the first book before I started watching the series, but dammit if I couldn’t make it. There were just too many name to remember, too many notes that had to be taken.

It didn’t help that some of the characters had similar physical attributes, making it even more difficult keeping track of who was who.

Wait…is Jorah Mormont this old, white, bald dude, or is he that other old, white, bald dude?”

Converting the written word into a visual format allowed me to put a face to the name and has made my reading experience less confusing as a result.

Cersei

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While in some ways I appreciate the characters in the book more than in the TV show, I think Cersei proves to be an exception to this rule.

Cersei is not a POV character in the first book and so we are only able to see how she interacts with other POV characters a.ka. Sansa, Tyrion, and Ned Stark. While we do get a taste of how nasty and demented she is in the novel, we don’t see her in her more vulnerable moments like we did in the show.

There’s a scene in the first season in particular where Cersei asks Robert if there was ever a chance they could have been happy, to which Robert responds with a heartbreaking “no.”I thought this scene added more emotional depth to Cersei’s character, enabling the audience to see her as something more than just a cackling villainess.

Ned Stark 

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I love Ned Stark in both the novel and in the show. However, Sean Bean’s performance brings much more warmth to the character than existed in the book. For the life of me, I can’t recall a time where Ned laughed or cracked a smile outside of the show. I’m sure it happened, but for the most part he was ever the stoic Northerner, waiting for the next conflict to arise. In the show, there are more moments of levity and he actually lets out a chuckle or two. It makes him look more approachable and gives him sort of a Mufasa-isque quality to him.

Robb and Catelyn’s Grief

In the books, we don’t see how Robb and Catelyn react to Ned’s death immediately after they receive word of it. Instead the story flashes forward to when they arrive at Riverrun, heartbroken but not quite despondent.

In the show, however, there’s a truly  tear-jerking moment where they show Robb futilely hacking away at a tree with his sword and Catelyn going over to console him, promising they will have their revenge on the Lannisters.

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It’s a really sad scene and it shows how deeply Ned’s loss has effected them.

The Music 

This one might be considered unfair because a book can’t have audible music, but it is definitely a point in the show’s favor. The composer, Ramin Djawadi, does a fantastic job of creating atmosphere with his music. I have yet to hear a soundtrack that packs such an emotional wallop. Death scenes, action scenes, emotional scenes. He can do them all.

Those cellos have me swooning every time.

Here’s a free video on Youtube that contains some of the songs from the show. I recommend you check them out here or on Spotify.

Points to the book: 

More Lore 

One of the most obvious draw-backs of visual media is time. With each episode needing to be about 45 minutes or shorter, there isn’t nearly as much freedom to explore the world. I think the show did a pretty decent job cluing in the audience as to how Westerosi society operates, nevertheless, it was always going to be at a disadvantage compared to the book.

Point of View

There are very talented actors attached to Game of Thrones, but there is no substitute for being able to crawl into a characters mind and read their thoughts. The experience of reading is just far more intimate.

In the book, we see so much more about the world and we get small but satisfying tidbits about character’s pasts that make them all the more real. I think some of my favorite inclusions are Catelyn Stark’s ruminations on growing up in Riverrun. They were touching and added more dimension to her character, really driving home how out of control everything has gotten since her youth.

She is an outsider taken to a land much colder and harder than her childhood home. Their climate is different, their customs are different, even their gods are different. Nevertheless, she finds herself having to fight for this alien culture that she has never truly understood.

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More Fantasy

The book is pretty gritty in comparison to the traditional fantasy novel, but there is more of a nihilistic atmosphere to the show than in the book. I think this makes it more palatable for the casual viewer as fantasy tends to be an acquired taste, but I personally like the more fantastical environment the book creates.

Dany’s and Bran’s dreams in particular add a level of sinisterness and foreboding that don’t land quite as successfully in the show. We are shown the dream of Dany walking to the now destroyed remnants of King’s Landing, but there are other seriously messed up things she sees in the book. As for Bran, he has a dream towards the middle of the novel wherein  he has to learn to fly while an endless pile of bones looms below him.

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I can also appreciate the characters aren’t constantly saying “fuck” in the book. It’s not that I have a problem with the word, it just takes me out of the moment. I’m pretty sure “fuck” wasn’t a word in medieval times so when it’s used with reckless abandon in the show, it’s a bit distracting.

Aging down of characters

This might be considered a weird point in the book’s favor, but hear me out. The fact that all the kids are so much younger in the book makes the events that follow all the more tragic.

Can you imagine not even being in your teens and having all your family members murdered? Or, like in Robb’s case, having to take over for you Lord Father after he is held hostage and having thousands of people depending on you to be their leader?

To me, the aging down of the characters drives home the underlying premise of the novel: When we seek to destroy each other, we are also destroying our future a.k.a our children.

Conclusion:

So which do I think is better: the book or the TV show?

I think I’m going to give a cop-out answer and say I don’t know.

There are things I believe the TV show did better and things I believe the book did more effectively. Most of the shortcomings of either are due to their respective mediums and not necessarily a result of incompetence on either side…..

That won’t come until much later.

Normally, I can’t read the book after seeing a film or watching a TV show based on it, however, I don’t believe my having seen the show beforehand hampered my ability to enjoy the book series. In fact, the opposite is true.

So if you haven’t read the books but have seen the TV series, I recommend giving the books a read anyway. There are very well written and will hold your interest regardless if you know what will happen later on.