Hollywood's Rule of Pairs
Anyone watching the recent glut of sequels and remakes pouring out of Hollywood lately doesn’t need to be reminded that the movie-making capital of the country is sometimes a little starved of original movie ideas. It’s so bad that the rare idea gets immediately snapped up — snapped up, I’ve observed, by more than one studio.
It’s what I call the “Rule of Pairs.” Inevitably, Hollywood will take two bites at the same apple if it looks good enough.
I think I first noticed the Rule in 1998, when “Deep Impact” and “Armaggedon” hit theaters within months of each other, both about giant space rocks on collision courses with Earth. That same year, Pixar’s “A Bug’s Life” and Dreamworks’ “Antz” were each released, both computer-animated films about insects.
In 2001 Hollywood made the move into epic fantasy with two simultaneous franchises: “The Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter.” In 2004 the ancient Greeks were on the menu, with “Alexander” and “Troy.” Flash forward a few years and there were two movies about, of all things, author Truman Capote (“Capote” and “Infamous”).
(I just briefly skimmed over the past two decades here, and I know there’s movie pairs I’m missing. Chime in in the comments!)
EDIT: Additions to the list, courtesy of my own memory and other people’s suggestions:
“Finding Nemo” (2003) and “Shark Tale” (2004), animated films about fish
“The Prestige” (2006) and “The Illusionist” (2006), about early-20th-Century magicians
“Tombstone” (1993) and “Wyatt Earp” (1994), about Wyatt Earp
“Chasing Liberty” (2004) and “First Daughter” (2004), about president’s daughters’ romantic hijinks with undercover Secret Service agents
Now, just this past week, we’ve seen trailers for two movies based on the story of Snow White. Like some but not all of the above movie pairs, the two take different approaches — very different approaches — to the identical subject.
First out was Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Kristen Stewart (“Twilight”) and Chris Hemsworth (“Thor”) alongside Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen:
This, you can see, is a fantasy epic, with stylized action but a grim tone.
That’s not the case with the second Snow White film, “Mirror Mirror,” starring Lily Collins (“Priest”), Armie Hammer (“The Social Network”) and Julie Roberts as the Evil Queen:
Other than the fact that the two movies include the characters of Snow White and a dashing leading man and include a famous Hollywood actress as the Evil Queen, not a lot in common. “Mirror Mirror” is comic, almost farcical. Whereas the violence and magic in “Snow White and the Huntsman” had dark edges to them, in “Mirror Mirror” they’re played for laughs.
My biased opinion is that “Snow White and the Huntsman” looks like a much better movie. That’s not to say it’ll be a good movie — we don’t see that much of it, and don’t even get to see Kristen Stewart’s Snow White speak a single line of dialogue, moreso that “Mirror Mirror” looks awful. It has its moments — Julia Roberts enjoying herself as a villain, lavish costumes, a few good one-liners — but counters them with moments of plain low-brow comedy. There’s all sorts of potential humor in the idea of a love-potion-gone-wrong, but “Mirror Mirror” goes with a “puppy love potion” that makes the prince imitate a puppy? And the worst sin of all: winking anachronistic humor, as one of the dwarfs quotes “Scarface” with “Say hello to my little friend” and cartoonishly pummels the prince in the face. The movie certainly has its audience and should do well, but the two trailers so far would seem to put “Snow White and the Huntsman” in the front of this movie pair.