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The Film Fan’s Curse: What Might Have Been…

The first photograph from the Farrelly Brothers’ The Three Stooges appeared on-line last week. It will star Will Sasso, Sean Hayes and Chris Diamantopoulos as the eponymous trio. Still, I can’t help wondering how many film fans looked at that picture and shared the exact same thought that popped into my head, mourning what might have been, rather than getting excited about what we had. Sure, most of the audience who see the film probably won’t know any better, but I can’t help be wonder what the original cast of the remake might have looked like.

Three of a kind of a letdown?

This isn’t to pre-judge the film. I might see, or I might not see it. I’m not sure yet. The recent films from the Farrelly Brothers haven’t been great, to be honest – although I only ever really liked a trio of their films (Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary and Kingpin). I’m not sure there’s any indication that The Three Stooges will see a return to that level of quality, or if it will continue on the pair’s downward trend.

Still, as a film fan, I was a little bit excited at the initial casting line-up the boys had assembled. It’s nothing against the trio of actors currently cast as the leads, but the duo had assembled Jim Carrey, Benecio Del Toro and Sean Penn to play the three leads. While he’s a “love him or hate him”actor, I maintain that Carrey is the best slapstick actor working in cinema today, and I think that he’s long overdue a return to very silly comedy. Del Toro is an actor who has the rare ability to make any role seem at once perfectly suited and entirely surreal – he’s an actor who is great dramatically, but he’s very weird and wonderfully intense. And Sean Penn is just a wonderful actor, even if I haven’t seen enough of his comedy chops to judge.

I'm sure the production will Carrey on without him...

I hope their replacements can do a good job, and maybe it’s a good thing – maybe these three will be able to lose themselves in the roles in a way that three iconic movie stars might not have been able to. Still, as a movie nerd, I can’t help but wonder about how different the movie might have been had the Farrelly Brother held on to their cast. We’ve yet to see the film, and I know I’m comparing it against a figment of my imagination, but my mind does occasionally wander. I think it’s something that any film fan has been known to do from time-to-time.

You see, anybody who is a fan of movies inevitably picks up on some behind-the-scenes chatter. Obviously, regular cinema-goers know that a movie has a long road to take from the moment a writer or producer suggests it until it reaches opening night, but I think the difference is that the nerdier among us actually know some of the forks in that road. Through reading on-line websites or interviews or books, or listening to DVD commentaries, we dig up those little trinkets of trivia, like vacuum cleaners hoovering up information.

Would Gene Hackman have chewed the scenery?

And, naturally, some of those pieces of information inevitably suggest alternate possibilities. It can be something as simple asa cast member (do you know that Gene Hackman was originally going to play Hannibal Lector in The Silence of the Lambs?) or as fundamental as the genre of the film (did you know that Green Lantern was originally going to be a comedy vehicle for Jack Black?), but they do provide interesting food for thought. Can you imagine how distinct either of those choices would have made the resultant film? For fun, you can even try to play with the “ripple effect” of consequences – if Gene Hackman made The Silence of the Lambs, would Anthony Hopkins ever have received his big break?

It’s a silly little game for us hardcore film nerds to play whenever our minds drift. I imagine sports fans probably do something similar, asking themselves how certain events might have played out if you added or removed a particular player from a given line-up. The human mind seems designed to run on these possibilities – to play out complex fantasies and scenarios around events that never happened, comparing some imaginary alternative to what we really ended up receiving. The possibilities are endless, as we wonder what might have happened if certain events went just a little bit differently. What would Robert Downey Jr.’s career have looked like if he hadn’t imploded during the nineties? What if Darren Aaronofsky had got to direct Batman Begins instead of Christopher Nolan? Could Tim Burton and Nicolas Cage have made Kevin Smith’s Superman Lives! work on the big screen? What of all the actors rumoured to play James Bond?

Could Superman Lives! have killed the franchise?

We know it’s futile, but I think that’s why we enjoy it. The only absolute we have is the finished film playing on our screen. Anything else we consider is, to quote Willy Wonka, “pure imagination.” We have no idea how any other alternative would have played out, with the sheer volume of possibilities and probabilities in play, we can only fantasise and dream – and maybe that’s the appeal. It’s hard to think of anything that appeals more to us than our own fantasies – in fact, it’s the one time that we’re assured the desired end result.

If we want to believe that Gene Hackman would have made a better Hannibal Lector than Anthony Hopkins, we’re free to imagine it – in our heads, Hackman would play the character exactly as we would hope, fitting the conclusion we’d already reached. Similarly, if we think he’d be worse – we imagine a performance that plays to that. Hell, psychologist argue that we make our decisions and then rationalise accordingly, so I think that’s a fair observation to make. “Hackman would suck as Lector, and here’s why…”

How would a different lead transform a movie?

We’ll never know what the Farrelly Brothers might have made of a cast involving Jim Carrey, Sean Penn and Benecio Del Toro. We don’t know if it will be better or worse than the film that will actually make it to the big screen – and, unless we discover some sort of device that allows us to peer into alternative universes, we’ll never know. But it sure is fun to imagine…

6 Responses

  1. I read a short story once about this guy who walks into a video store that exists in an alternate reality where Tom Selleck played Indiana Jones, the studio never cut up The Magnificent Andersons, etc. Can’t remember who wrote it, though.

    Theoretically, we only balk at Gene Hackman playing Lector because Hopkins playing him is so ingrained in our heads. If we didn’t have that reference point, it’d be all hunky dory.

  2. That promo-shot has effectively scared me away. I’ll wait until I hear some positive buzz before I go anywhere near “Stooges.”

    Also, Tim Burton and Superman should never have come anywhere close to one another, let alone over that wonky script.

    As much as it hurts me to say it, though, I’d like to see the proposed giant spider in action with today’s SFX (not at the expense of Supes’ rocky film franchise, of course).

  3. I had the same thought you did regarding the 3 Stooges. Once it was announced that Carrey, Penn and Del Toro were no longer attached, I stopped caring.

  4. It’s always interesting to imagine what movies would be like and there is mostly no way to know what would have been. If you look at the footage of the original guy that was playing Marty in Back to the Future you say it would be crap, but that’s because you already know what this movie turned out to be. So basically I completely agree with your post 😉

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