I don’t normally take notice of news that a film isn’t happening – after all, projects are always going on and off the boil in Hollywood at a rate of knots. However, the announcement that Robert Zemeckis’ proposed 3-D motion capture remake of the 1968 animated Beatles movie Yellow Submarine has been officially scrapped did make me happy, simply because it had struck me as a terminally bad idea from the word go.
It had been mooted since last year that, following his worrying-looking Jim Carrey-starring adaptation of A Christmas Carol, Robert Zemeckis was choosing Yellow Submarine as the next stage of his oddball quest to bring motion-capture animation to the masses. It was an especially odd choice considering that the 1968 cartoon is distinctive and eccentric and wonderfully weird, but is also very much a product of its time and doesn’t exactly have “REMAKE THIS!” stamped across it.
However, it is easy to see why the Yellow Submarine remake appealed – it’s a way of repackaging the Beatles’ music once again, the visual style of the original is instantly recognisable, the merchandising has major possibilities (indeed, the Yellow Submarine action figures released in the last decade are both kooky and wonderful), and it’s a property that has plenty of brand awareness. Trouble is, the only real reason for doing it is the money – there’s no way that a modern-day remake of the film would go anywhere near the eye-searing psychedelia of the original, and I doubt that much of the flawed original’s off-beat humour would make it through either. Truth be told, Yellow Submarine isn’t a classic – it’s a weird piece of Beatles ephemera that the band themselves had very little to do with, and it just about pulls through on eccentric charm, but it’s absolutely a period piece, and the kind of film you’d probably have to break in order to remake.
Added to this, the whole motion-capture question is a thorny one. Zemeckis has dedicated a ridiculous amount of time to this technology (his last live-action film was Cast Away in 2001), but I’ve yet to see a fully mo-cap movie that’s genuinely worked for me – with the exception of Avatar, but that had the major advantage of not attempting to do photo-realistic humans. 2007’s Beowulf was fitfully interesting, but I spent most of the film wishing I could see Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary’s screenplay done in live action, and feeling like there was a big sheet of CGI-animated glass between me and the movie, and the less said about The Polar Express (the most unintentionally creepy Christmas movie ever made) the better. Admittedly, it’s a technology that works better when stylised – one of the reasons why I’m intrigued to see how the upcoming Tintin adaptation The Secret of the Unicorn fares, as it’s deliberately using Herge’s visual style for its CG – and the idea of using that on the oh-so-sixties visual approach of Yellow Submarine was interesting – but it still sounded like the kind of thing that would feel horribly empty and creatively bankrupt if it ever made it to theatres.
Well, looks like I don’t have to worry. There were already rumblings that the film wasn’t happening – Zemeckis’ animation company ImageMovers lost its home at Sony, and there were rumours that the Beatles heirs hadn’t yet signed off on the project. Now, thanks to the absolute tanking of Zemeckis-produced mo-cap animation Mars Needs Moms (Cost: $150 million, Opening Weekend Gross: $6.5 million), it’s been officially announced that the plug has been pulled on Yellow Submarine. It’s not amazing news – the trailer for Mars Needs Moms is full of the kind of creepy uncanny-valley humans that naturally freak me out (as well as looking badly conceived from the get-go), and as gimmicks go, motion-capture animation hasn’t quite received the blessing of the box office that 3-D has (however mistakenly). However, I think Mars Needs Moms’ failure is much more to do with the project than the animation style used – and while mo-cap may fall behind a little (I still think it’s best used as one technique among many), I don’t think we can completely count it out yet. Nevertheless, the Yellow Submarine remake is out for the count – and I still can’t see any megabudgeted Hollywood animation going anywhere near the sheer trippiness of the Sixties original…