November 29, 2010


The trailer to the new Green Hornet film screened over the holiday weekend with the latest Harry Potter movie, giving a wider audience a taste for what's in store for the newest 1960s re-make. Spy Vibe was excited to hear about the film's production in its early stages, but quickly became weary that the filmmakers were taking the road most traveled by adapting a cult show into a buddy/comedy flick. Well, that's exactly the impression I get from the trailer. Yes, the action looks cool. And yes, we get to see some iconic moments, like the Hornet's gadget-loaded car swinging up from its hidden chamber. But the presentation of the characters and story seem, at least at the outset, completely interchangeable with other buddy-formula action films. Is this really just the I Spy movie with cooler costumes and gadgets? The gas-gun gag really gets my eyes rolling with dread. It makes sense that the main character is driven to find meaning in his life through crime-fighting (like Bruce Wayne), but why does he spell out his epiphany and mission to us like a cardboard cut-out? I think modern audiences can understand a hero who poses as a villain (like Batman) without having the facts spoon-fed to us. Just looking at this image below is foreboding. Is the true identity of this dark hero with Q-branch gadgets really just Fozzy Bear?

I'm a glass-is-half-full kind of guy, so I will probably find many things to enjoy about the film once it screens this winter. And I'm a huge fan of Michel Gondry, who I think of as a very inventive filmmaker. But I don't have high hopes that his Hornet will become a modern classic. And isn't that what these re-makes are often missing? The comedic approach usually takes these kinds of projects off-track (OSS 117 notwithstanding), and the filmmakers really miss an opportunity to add to the mythology of the properties they cultivate. The relaunch of Batman and James Bond both had an integrity to them that I believe will help sustain the films in the future. The Dark Knight will most likely remain a modern classic.

One of the qualities that I always enjoyed about the original Green Hornet TV show was that they played it pretty straight. The show used fun mystery/adventure conventions and the stars, unlike the Batman TV series, never winked at the audience. The two shows had cross-over episodes in the 1960s, where this distinction was evident. The Hornet show could be stiff, however, and certainly a modern feature film could bring more tension and excitement to viewers (not to mention a better soundtrack). It could even use humor to relieve tension or to enhance the pacing. But, do all modern characters have to be wiseguys at this point to appeal to ticket-buyers? I fear that the new Green Hornet will likely be fun, but quickly forgotten. I hope my fears are unfounded. It would be fantastic to see the effort pay off as classic material, especially in light of the fact that it has taken so long for a Hornet film to get off the ground, and that the TV show (with Bruce Lee, for any Spy Vibers who have not seen it), has yet to be released on what we still quaintly call "home video."

Spy Vibers looking for more Hornet action should check out TV clips on Youtube. And if you are into the slower-paced, action/adventure conventions of the 1930s and 1940s (think playboy/detectives punching it out with thugs), try some of the original radio shows or cliffhanger serials. The best Green Hornet so far may exist in some imaginary crossroads between all of these incarnations. Comic book cover image from Gold Key Stories here.

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