Friday, November 18, 2011

What defines a Cult Classic?

In terms of movies, literature, television, pretty much any form of entertainment that revolves around storytelling, there are those stories that seem to only ever find appeal with a certain key demographic -- i.e., cult classics. Some of the more popular cult classics of recent years have ranged from things like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World to more esoteric fare like anything that has come from director Lars Von Trier. But where do you draw the line between what is a genuine classic and what is a cult classic? In essence, what defines a cult classic? I've decided to try my hand at answering this question.

This past week there was an internet uproar because BBC commissioned a feature film version of the Brit. show, Doctor Who, to be scripted in hopes of hitting theaters within a few years. Obviously, the diehard fans of Doctor Who were outraged, because the movie will have no continuity ties to the show and will not feature the Doctor from the TV series either. In some ways I feel the idea of those involved is to take a fairly popular British show and turn it into a popular film series Worldwide, and it makes sense that a clean slate is the best place to attract new fans. For me, both points of view are understandable, and obviously the bigger question isn't the stupidity of rebooting a franchise that is still currently healthy (which is my biggest point of contention with this), but is: Is Doctor Who a classic or a cult classic?

To me, this always makes the difference when it comes to remakes. Remaking Star Wars is one thing, remaking a little known sci-fi flick from the '50s may frustrate a few, but to the larger public it's fresh and invigorating. While I am always one for originality in movies, usually the reason a movie or TV show relegates a cult status is because it is a flawed piece of entertainment, or it was because the entertainment in question just was not acceptable enough to a mass audience and only appealed to a small demographic. Case and point, The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price and then I Am Legend starring Will Smith. Both are based off of the same novel, but I feel the Will Smith movie is a better movie simply because it is more accessible to a casual moviegoer.

And here is the thing with Doctor Who, the TV show appeals to its key demographics, but there is something about British film and television that can often be off-putting to American audiences. Whether it be the dry humor, the often slower pacing, or even something as face value as the lower production values. This is why Doctor Who does not have a bigger fan base in the States, and it is why to many, this Doctor Who movie may be the best thing to expand the fanbase. Case and point, compare the original Star Trek TV series to the Star Trek movie from two years ago. The original Star Trek took a slower, campier, and more philosophical view, where as the movie amped up action and adventure. Both are good, but the movie found a reach beyond just science fiction fans; this is very much how I see this Doctor Who situation. Of course, this still does not answer the question as to whether or not Doctor Who is a classic or a cult classic.

The thing is, there are very few movies, TV shows, and books, that are generally agreed upon by everyone as classics of the form (like: Gone With the Wind, I Love Lucy, or The Great Gatsby). But there are a ton of movies, TV shows, and books, that have devoted fans and think that they are classics even if the casual audience does or does not. What I am trying to get at is that a classic is only a classic in the eyes of the beholder. I mean, I consider the movie Johnny English a classic, but that does not mean it's a classic to the larger entertainment population. At best, it's a cult classic. And I believe the same can be said for Doctor Who, at least in America where its popularity is not quite as high as it is in Britain.

The thing is, worldwide the show is not as big as a Star Wars or even an Avatar. People see a lightsaber and know immediately what it is, but when they see Doctor Who's sonic screwdriver, more than half wont know what it is, unless you are in the appropriate setting. This is the thing, would it be awful if the movie managed to go beyond the fans of Brit. TV or sci-fi buffs? I personally don't think it would be. The bottom line is, even if the movie is bad, the fans will still have the TV Show to comfort them. No harm, no foul. I mean, I did not like Spider-Man 3, but does that decrease my love of the first two Spider-Man movies? No. In fact it makes me realize just how lucky and special they are.

The bottom line is, there aren't enough American Doctor Who fans to stage a boycott or nothing, casual moviegoers will still go see it if it has tons of explosions and a big name. As is evidenced with the successes of countless movies like Fantastic Four, which found fan ridicule, but box office success. And the fanboy audience is not big enough to sell a big budget movie alone, which is why it is impossible to make a David Tennant Doctor Who movie, because he has no name recognition and the movie would flop. I mean, studios relied on the fanboy crowd to sell Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and look at how badly that one crashed and burned at the box office. This is why studios are now putting less stock in things like Comic-Con because fans will eat it up on a convention floor, and they think this is gonna be a hit, but then when it comes out the movie never had enough of a straight appeal to catch the average joe moviegoer.

So whether or not a Doctor Who movie is made, is simply irrelevant. If you believe the show is a hallowed classic, then, good or bad, this movie cannot destroy your love of the show as it already is.

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