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Spielberg's Harvey: Why It's A Good Idea

Posted on Monday August 3, 2009, 10:29 by Helen O'Hara in Off The Wire
Spielberg's Harvey: Why It's A Good Idea

So  the news emerged today that Steven Spielberg is making a new version of Harvey, the Pullitzer-prize winning play by Mary Chase. It's the story of an eccentric, and apparent alcoholic, who faces being committed to an insane asylum because he claims to have an invisible six-foot, three-and-one-half-inch rabbit pooka* for a best friend. Within hours of the project being announced, the internet was alight with people deriding the new version.

Twitterers and bloggers suggested that Spielberg would spend $100 million showing the rabbit, that the rabbit would turn out to be "an alien. From the future" (that one happily tongue-in-cheek), that Spielberg would dull the story's sharp edges and turn it into something saccharine and sentimental.  Industry veteran Anne Thompson dubbed it "Studios playing it safe" - something that's true in the sense that Spielberg doesn't make flops, but also somewhat negative.

After all, even if you don't like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - and I'll be honest, I'm not its biggest cheerleader - the idea that Spielberg is off his game of late isn't really tenable when you look at his films. His seven of the decade (not counting US veterans' short documentary A Timeless Call, which I haven't seen) vary from perfectly good with moments of greatness (The Terminal, War of the Worlds) to great (Catch Me If You Can) to freakin' awesome (Munich, Minority Report and, I would argue, the much-maligned A.I. Artificial Intelligence**). 

But in any case, the suggestion that he was anything but ideally suited to make a new version of Harvey seems a bit bananas to me.  Sure, he can use effects on scales both large and small - but surely we can credit him with the wit to realise that this is more of a Munich than a War of the Worlds in terms of the effects needed? After producing Who Framed Roger Rabbit back in the day, we can safely assume that he's got the interacting-with-a-non-existant-rodent bug out of his system and won't need to put a rabbit in for the sake of it. This film will only work if the invisible rabbit stays intangible, and if anything filmgoers should expect less of a nod to the rabbit's existence than we saw in the 1950 version, because you can be sure that the critics would leap on Spielberg for showing even half as much sentimentality as in that version.

Rather than joking about CG rabbits, in fact, I think the main challenge here is going to be updating the tone of the story to the modern day, because we live in a more cynical world with less of the tolerance for human foibles that made the original so likeable. Tell people you see a giant rabbit in 2009 and you might get a guest spot on Jeremy Kyle (well, if your brother sleeps with it anyway) or Dr Phil, but you're unlikely to be kindly tolerated by neighbours who know you well and like you for your foibles as well as in spite of them.  Even in a small-town local, the drunk who claims to have a giant rabbit for a friend would provoke comment, I suspect. In that sense, Spielberg would do better to cast a Sam Rockwell or a Phillip Seymour Hoffman or someone like that, rather than a Hanks or a Will Smith who will have people screaming about sentimentality before anyone's seen so much as a frame.

So for me, this idea's one I'm intrigued to see, and likely a nice little small scale film for Spielberg to nail between the effects-fest of Tintin (it could well shoot while he's still working on the effects for Tintin in fact) and the (possible) period drama of Lincoln. Remember, this is a guy who was editing Jurassic Park while shooting Schindler's List, at the same time that he was producing and viewing episodes of Animaniacs, so you'd be a fool to bet against him.

And hey! If all else fails, he's got a great career as a magazine editor ahead of him.

*Nothing to do with Jamie Oliver - actually a  benign but mischevious character from Celtic mythology. Think something along the lines of Pan from A Midsummer Night's Dream.

** Yes, I'm its fan. The fanclub get-togethers are kinda quiet, but there's cake so that's OK.

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1 ploppyx
Posted on Monday August 3, 2009, 15:53
It is such a shame some of these amazingly talented people can't be producing original stories, there are so many out there, I am personally sick of seeing so many reports of re-makes... it's like if I see another remake of Oliver I am going to throw up!

2 thenarrator
Posted on Monday August 3, 2009, 15:54
Why Empire thinks its a good idea? Because they refuse to criticise Spielberg or anything he does for fear of losing out on future Indiana Jones and Transformers exclusives...

Why remake it? Just watch the original.

3 ben300185
Posted on Monday August 3, 2009, 16:09
Hopefully it'll be a low budget true to original.
P.S. Helen, I thought I was alone out here liking A.I.
(It was even used as my case study in my Dissertation at Uni years ago.)

4 ryanh75
Posted on Monday August 3, 2009, 16:55
I am a Spielberg fan but by no means think he has a 100% track record. He has the skills to pull off something like this. People probably would have felt more comfortable with a Wes Anderson type for this but I think he could treat it very respectfully. I agree that it shouldn't go to Tom Hanks. Maybe someone like Adrien Brody....

5 Quint
Posted on Monday August 3, 2009, 17:46
I think it can work, but I do wish 'the beard' would do Lincoln instead. Regarding Helen's point about the world being more pessimistic; I would agree, but as she said, I still feel the film could work if the right balance was struck. A good example is 'Lars and the Real Girl, which has similar ideas, but was well received by audiences and critics alike. So if Spielberg keeps things low key, almost quirky (maybe a puppet/man in a costume for the rabbit) then I think the films charms will be effective.

6 catfurniss
Posted on Monday August 3, 2009, 18:19
Though I do feel it's a shame that so many remakes are dished out today, Spielberg has more than proven himself to be one of the most adaptable and inventive directors going. I feel this version of Harvey is in safe hands. The general opinion seems to be that this film is not needed, but if a talented director has seen something that clicks with him with this remake then it may be best to judge the final result. I for one am very intrigued to see how he handles this story.

7 Justin Greene
Posted on Monday August 3, 2009, 19:54
A.I. is a masterpiece! Released in the same year as Fellowship of the Rings, Moulin Rouge, Philosopher's Stone and many others, it still stands out as my favourite movie of 2001.

8 kingoftheducks
Posted on Monday August 3, 2009, 19:56
I think a template for how Spielberg should approach this is the much under-rated and over-looked 'Lars and the Real Girl', which dealt with a contemporary neighbourhood trying to tolerate someone's delusions beautifully. Such a fantastic film...

9 Garth_Marenghi
Posted on Monday August 3, 2009, 20:39
I loved A.I. too! Glad there are others of us out there. If you cut the last twenty minutes, it's one of his best films. Still, made me cry my eyes out as it was.

I have mixed feelings about this; the original film is lovely, so we don't really need a remake, and having to make it work for 'cynical modern times' doesn't exactly fill me with joy. I hope he doesn't wander too far from the tone of the first film...

10 Lemure
Posted on Monday August 3, 2009, 22:51
Granted Rockwell would be brilliant in this, but why bother? There must be gazillions of scripts floating around Hollywood with new and original ideas in them. All it takes is Spielberg to see potential in one and we have something to look forward to. Just one. Why doesn't he take a day or two off from whatever it is he does (and I'm not doubting he's a busy guy) and go to wherever they keep the scripts that are sent in, then flick through. Because even if this goes ahead, no matter what, it won't be as good as the original.

11 super8stories
Posted on Tuesday August 4, 2009, 12:17
A.I. was such a bold, stunning film. And I love its final twenty minutes. Really. While the idea of David alone with the Blue Fairy for the rest of eternity is a haunting image (and it is), I found the actual ending far sadder. One artificial creation hugging another artificial creation, while Teddy sits at the foot of the bed forever and ever? That's devastating, in its way.

Also, hurray for cake.

12 Sydney Schaeffer
Posted on Tuesday August 4, 2009, 13:31
if anything filmgoers should expect less of a nod to the rabbit's existence than we saw in the 1950 version, because you can be sure that the critics would leap on Spielberg for showing even half as much sentimentality as in that version.

I don't see how that follows. Spielberg stinting on the sentiment because the critics might give him a beating? If critical opinion was a factor he wouldn't be remaking it in the first place.

At least with something like Harvey (which is a good, but not great movie) Spielberg won't be making his frequent mistaking of laying on the treacle with subject matter where it has no place being (Saving Private Ryan, Munich, Schindler's List). With the result that those films are an unholy mix of great filmmaking and basest manipulation, never really earning their spurs as works of a mature artist because he can't take that necessary step further back he needs to effectively explore those stories.

13 vibeangus
Posted on Tuesday August 4, 2009, 14:33
A.I is awesome, only bitter bastards disagree

14 the ageless stranger
Posted on Tuesday August 4, 2009, 14:34
It pains me to say this, but I'm starting to think the Beard has lost it. I defended pretty much everything he was doing over the last few years, including the less popular stuff like The Terminal. But now; Indiana Jones was just "meh", infected with George Lucas' need to put CGI where it isn't needed. I couldn't give less of a shit about Tintin. And the Oldboy remake? Yeah, let's see Spielberg and Will Smith do the last 15 minutes of that film.

I'd love to see him do Lincoln with Liam Neeson, but I fear he has started to go downhill.

15 Geosolus
Posted on Tuesday August 4, 2009, 15:02
Speilberg has pretty much always made family entertainment which puts him in a good position for Harvey. Harvey being light hearted and gentle. However what made the film a good watch decades after it had been made was its simplicity and a certain calibre of actor. There is not a living known actor to replace the main man and an update, upbeat version of the story would lose the magic of the era in which it was created.
Speilberg does blockbuster, bring the kids popcorn flicks and Harvey was a simple fairytale with a moral. Not all family viewing works with the same eye and I have yet to see Speilberg do a straight forward independant felt narrative.

16 Jack'sSmirkinRevenge
Posted on Tuesday August 4, 2009, 17:14
I'm usually in the "why can't they just do something original and stop remaking/reimagining/rebooting old movies" camp, but I don't really mind too much in this case. The original was a good movie, but for me, no classic, so I wouldn't mind seeing Spielberg have a bash at it. I'd rather see him do a remake of this with Will Fucking Smith, to give him his full name, than Oldboy. If that ever comes to fruition, I will have no option but to sick all over the shop

17 Andybee76
Posted on Tuesday August 4, 2009, 23:26
Nic Cage would be good in this!! And I think this could be a great remake give the man a chance!!! Jeez!!!

Oh and I loved AI and didn't mind Crystal Skull either!!!

18 Turpentine
Posted on Wednesday August 5, 2009, 04:28
Dear Ms. O'Hara,

I think your blogs are informative and insightful.


Why do you insist on using an asterisk footnote for each aside when the mere use of brackets will suffice.

It's just frustrating.

Yours sincerely,


19 vibeangus
Posted on Wednesday August 5, 2009, 21:04
Turpentine is a wanker

20 Lord Byron Pitt
Posted on Thursday August 6, 2009, 13:36
not going to moan about remakes as one everyone does, two some great films have come from them and three not much we can do about it.

Mr Steven...can I suggest John C Reilly in the main role?

21 Ebony Heart
Posted on Thursday August 6, 2009, 22:43
If they show the rabbit then it would ruin it, I think.
One of my favourite things about the original is the fact that you never see the rabbit and it's a damned good film.
It is annoying when people remake classic films, but its inevitable and I think fair play to El Beardo, just as long as he doesn't make it too schmaltzy.

22 grandmascomplaint
Posted on Sunday August 9, 2009, 03:01
I think Steven will do a great job and honor the original film. Give him a chance. If you do not like it, then don't go when it comes out. I got to portray
the doctor's wife in the stage play years ago. What a fun script!

23 Sheinen
Posted on Friday August 14, 2009, 17:11
It's probably going to end up a very well presented, wonderfully shot, intellectual and evocative film.

Unfortunately there aren't going to be any big explosions so the general public won't bother with it and it'll hit bargain bins in a garage near you within a year of release.

24 MOnkeyboy1138
Posted on Thursday August 20, 2009, 09:10
I can't say that I am in any way supportive of a remake/re imagining of this classic. I fear for the state of modern cinema where not a week goes by without some sort of remake, sequel, Toy commercial, comic book movie getting released and making a ton of cash. I know that for the most part the studios want to make money so they will make movies that will get in the masses following the cookie cutter production line treatment, but remaking Harvey really is the last straw for me.

I have no doubt that the genius of Spielberg will give us a beautiful, clever and moving film (with plenty of back lighting), and I will probably watch it.

My main problem is that these classics that are constantly being remade suck out the soul of modern cinema. They constrain and kill all real creativity, this is going to sound a bit stupid but I want to quote Jurassic Park here John Hammond 'How can we stand on the shoulders of giants and not act', Ian Malcolm 'what you call progress I call the rape of the natural world'. It's a very round about way of saying 'look things aren't perfect but it doesn't mean you have to go around playing with things that already exist'. Sure some of these old movies may suffer from slightly creaking acting and dialogue in places, the effects are nothing compared to what we can do today, but it doesn't mean it needs to be re-done. It's only a matter of time before we do get Casablanca, in colour with a happier ending!

If there is a chance that a studio exec ever reads this I implore you, take a risk, don't go for the safe option, try something new, a new idea experiment explore the medium, NEVER repeat.

Though like everyone else I will watch this and probably enjoy it and a little piece of me will die inside.

25 ushiep
Posted on Tuesday September 8, 2009, 13:59
Buffy is one of my favourite TV shows and Dracula one of my favourite books. I like the first Blde movie and From Duck till Dawn. I also watch True Blood.

Me and my mates loved Spike in Buffy not Angel because Spike was bad-ass cool, fun and funny where as Angel had the whole tall, dark and handsome thing but that was it. Appearence-wise he was hot, well I don't think so but many women do, but persoanlity-wise he was dull, broody and boring. So me and my mates loved Spike because he'd be fun to hang with.

We also had the hots for Oz who was a werewolf. In Buffy the vamps and wolves didn't have any problems with each other. Oz was loved by us because he had the whole geeky cute band thing going. Girls like that too.

So if a guy is bad-ass cool or tall dark and handsome or geeky cute then women will love them. If he is a gentlemen, women like that too.

In Buffy there wasn't really the love triangle thing as Angel and Riley both dissappeared before Spike had the hots for Buffy. Also because Buffy knew she couldn't have a life with Angel so although she'd love him forever, she didn't hold out for him.

As for Sookie Stakchouse and Bella Swan, yeh they're dull lol! Yet the vamps and wolves can't stay away from them. But not all of these "lucky women" are dull. Buffy was cool and interesting, even Willow had the whole geeky cute thing. Bella and Sookie are neither bad-ass cool or geeky cute which makes them dull.

As for Bill in True Blood, well he's a gentleman which makes women like him. The Cullens in Twilight are neither bad-ass cool or geeky cute but have the whole hot-looking thing going for them so women like them. The wolves have the whole toned body thing too so again women like them. But that's not to say the humans don't get a look in.

A lot of women liked Xander in Buffy because of the geeky cute thing, a lot liked Riley because he was good looking and as for me and my friend we love Renee and Sam in True Blood, not so much Bill.

26 ushiep
Posted on Tuesday September 8, 2009, 14:03
This is because Renee is sexy and cute and reminds us of Gambit in the x-men cartoons who we love, and Sam and Tara have a great dynamic and a much more interesting relationship than Sookie and Bill. Bill's a gentleman yes but he's also pretty bland. Sam seems to get more fired up and excited than Bill does when people in the town are being threatened which makes Sam more exciting, Bill only gets fired up when Sookie is in danger so that makes him kind of dull.

OK enough blabbering from me now because I have to get of the computer lol! Sorry by long essay which I've just written.

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