As you probably know because you’re on this website, next week’s Glee episode is titled “The Rocky Horror Glee Show,” and features the cast performing the play–songs, spandex and all–for their school. Now Deadline reports that the episode, directed by Glee creator Ryan Murphy, could turn out to be a trial run for Murphy, who is apparently in talks to direct a big screen Rocky Horror Picture Show remake for Fox 2000.
In the current Hollywood climate, it’s hardly surprising that the studio would want to cash in on a remake of the cult classic 1975 musical starring Tim Curry and Susan Sarandon. As Deadline notes, the original “has grossed north of $100 million and is considered the longest running theatrical release in film history because it still packs the faithful into midnight shows.” It’s the epitome of cultural phenomenon, with its own in group language and customs that have stood the test of decades. For a movie studio, that sort of cultural impact spells one thing: $$$$. (Times several million.)
Still, doesn’t Rocky Horror’s continued success mean that the “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” philosophy is most relevant in this scenario? Is nothing sacred anymore? (We still need to ask, even when we sadly suspect the answer is “no.”)
One could argue that, not only is Ryan Murphy is the perfect man for this job based on his current one, but that Glee fans have no right to complain about the integrity of such remakes, since Glee‘s premise relies upon the act of re-recording classic songs that didn’t need messing with in the first place. Yes, one could easily argue that. And one would have a great point.
But the tension in the air as Glee‘s Rocky Horror tribute draws nearer is pretty good indication that it’s a little more complicated than that. I can really only speak for myself, but as both a Glee fan and a Rocky Horror fan (not an expert, but a definite admirer), I don’t think I’ve ever been more nervous for an episode of Glee to air. But the nerves are tempered with excitement, too. For one, you’ve got to admire the show for its ambition. Done in the right spirit and with the right reverence, a remake (of a song, or a film, or anything, for that matter) can just as easily be seen as a celebration, not a ripoff. And isn’t a spirit of innovation and interactivity with its fans what made Rocky Horror such a cult classic in the first place?
These questions lead to more, bigger questions: When does a remake taint the integrity of the original, and when does it celebrate it? How much should the remake vary from the original in order to not be a straight-up ripoff–and when do those changes insult and trample upon the legacy of the original? When the original still resonates and has no room for improvement (not to mention relies on its low-budget, ’70s campy-ness), what’s the point? Besides the obvious ka-ching, of course.
I don’t have the answers, and I suspect that movie studio execs don’t really care what those answers are. But, given his current day job, Ryan Murphy probably thinks about these questions a lot. He may not always hit the right balance between remake and ripoff, but he thinks about them. He must.
We haven’t yet seen Glee‘s Rocky Horror episode yet, so I can’t yet say how it will deal with these questions. But there are good signs. Namely, that the TV tribute sets itself a safer narrative distance away from the original by making it an actual high school production that the students are putting on. And everyone knows high school productions of anything have problems. If questionable changes are made, songs botched, characters miscast, or legacies potentially trampled, that just becomes part of the story: They can chalk it up to the kids’ juvenile butcherings of a classic, not the show’s. It’s a tribute put on by teenagers. As such, I suspect we’re meant to feel a little more forgiving than usual.
At this point, Deadline’s saying that Murphy hasn’t committed to the big screen remake. They say he’s “met” about it. Here’s hoping he thinks long and hard about whether this is a loaded gun he wants to pick up–and, if it does get made, that Rocky Horror fans think long and hard before they shell out their money to see it–even if, as this persuasive MTV commenter/future studio exec suggests, Neil Patrick Harris plays Frank-N-Furter. Because despite my misgivings–dammit, I probably would go see that movie!
(Image courtesy of Fox)