This just in from the Department of Unfortunate Developments, Christopher McQuarrie has been announced as writer, director, and producer of a big-budget, Hollywood remake of Star Blazers.
“But Rob,” you’re thinking or possibly saying aloud to yourself while sitting in your workplace cubicle or restroom stall, “aren’t you a big fan of both McQuarrie and the seminal animated series from Japan that first showed you what it was to become emotionally invested in human cartoon characters?”
Okay office weirdo, I’ll bite.
McQuarrie’s actually been attached as screenwriter on this project with Skydance Productions for over two years, so while he’s kept busy on other films (including his next, Mission: Impossible 5) this has been sitting on the back-burner for some time. Ideally the whole thing would have just gone away, but instead this new announcement ups his involvement to include directorial duties too.
This is a shame for many reasons, but it’s mostly unfortunate because I really want a sequel to Jack Reacher.
He’ll most likely always be best known for writing The Usual Suspects, but McQuarrie’s actually been slowly and steadily building a career as a go-to script doctor (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, World War Z) and a writer/director of incredibly good but criminally underseen thrillers. This includes Jack Reacher (obviously), but his debut in the chair, The Way of the Gun, is also a fun mix of grounded thrills, character work, and memorable dialogue.
And those are the exact reasons why McQuarrie just doesn’t feel right for an epic, space-set adventure like Star Blazers.
The series ran in the U.S. during the ’70s and was a re-edited, re-dubbed version of the Japanese show, Space Battleship Yamato. After Earth is attacked by an alien race the planet’s surface becomes an irradiated and inhospitable place. What remains of mankind retreats underground, but even there humanity is only expected to survive for another year. An offer of help comes from a distant planet light years away, and to take advantage of it a special spaceship is crafted from the sunken remains of a WWII battleship, the “Argo.” Once completed the crew sets off on a galaxy-spanning race against time, fighting alien threats along the way.
I loved the hell out of this show as a kid, and while it was in part due to the action and adventure, the bigger draw was following the interactions and struggles between various crew members, getting to know and care about them across several episodes… and then watching them die.
To be clear, I didn’t like seeing them perish, but as a kid it was my first experience with the mortality of human characters. The bastards at Walt Disney had already shown me how fragile singing animal lives were, but humans? That ongoing risk and drama played out in season-long story arcs that left me consistently invested in what was happening, and not only was it unlike any other cartoon I had seen before but it remains unlike most of the cartoon series that followed.
So if the show’s great and McQuarrie’s great, why isn’t the combination of the two a match made in cinema heaven? Because none of his strengths (grounded thrills, character work, and memorable dialogue) have a home in the Star Blazers universe. The shows’ scripts are simplistic melodrama punctuated by explosions, the lead characters are named Captain Avatar and Derek Wildstar, their spaceship is a retrofitted naval vessel captained by an old man dressed in naval uniform, the plot is nonsensical in its ridiculousness.
I’m not saying any remake is beholden to leave things unchanged, and I’m sure McQuarrie could create a stronger storyline, but if all the dumb and/or iconic elements are replaced then what’s the point of even calling it Star Blazers? Why not just create an original property or adapt something that hasn’t already come to the screen (something he’s doing with his adaptation of the novel “All You Need Is Kill”)?
And if the show’s silliness remains it just feels like a waste to have someone like McQuarrie spending two years of his life working on it when Jon and Erich Hoeber are sitting around just waiting for a green light on Battleship 2. McQuarrie’s skills just don’t lend themselves to big, CGI-laden blockbusters. Sure his only foray into that realm so far is Jack the Giant Slayer, but have you seen Jack the Giant Slayer?
At the end of the day I’m all for people challenging themselves, and McQuarrie strikes me as a smart enough guy who’s earned the benefit of the doubt on the projects he chooses. If he thinks he can bring something new or worthwhile to the Star Blazers table then I will hope for the best and see it opening weekend. But seriously. I just want a follow-up to Jack Reacher. Have I mentioned that?
Here’s the subtitled trailer for the recent big-budget Japanese feature incarnation of Space Battleship Yamato.
Links provided by Zergnet, which sounds like a villain but is really quite helpful.
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