Reuters reported this week that the owners of the short story that inspired Alfred Hitchock’s 1954 film Rear Window are suing Steven Spielberg, Dreamworks, its parent company Viacom Inc, and Universal Pictures. Sheldon Abend Revocable Trust holds the rights to “Murder From a Fixed Viewpoint,” a short story by Cornell Woolrich. They’re furious that Spielberg and Co didn’t buy the rights to adapt the story when making 2007’s Disturbia. Made for $20 million, the film dragged home $80 million in ticket sales.
Let’s compare the two movies. Rear Window stars Jimmy Stewart as a photographer who spends his time recuperating from a broken leg by spying on his neighbors. Disturbia stars Shia LaBeouf as a high school bad boy under house arrest who spies on his neighbors. Peering out their windows, both characters think they’ve witnessed a murder inside one neighbor’s home. Both have two friends who help investigate.
The people suing Spielberg and Co. may have a point. Disturbia is Rear Window for teenagers. As a true remake, it falls slightly short. The two films differ in that Rear Window leaves you wondering if Stewart’s character is paranoid by questioning every trivial action he sees happening. Only towards the end, do the clues add up. The newer Disturbia lacks any real doubt that LaBeouf’s neighbor is a serial killer who lures women home to kill them. The killer (David Morse) quickly knows he’s being watched. Its third act is a slasher-style gore fest.
How close is too close? This lawsuit brings up the question of what is the dividing line between paying homage and outright stealing. Does Disturbia deserve to be sued for not giving credit?