Gnomeo & Juliet Written by John R. Smith, Rob Sprackling, Kelly Asbury, Mark Burton, Andy Riley, Kevin Cecil, Emily Cook, Kathy Hamburg and Steve Hamilton Shaw
Not that I’ll pretend to know their individual contributions, but the nine writers collectively prove how no one can write a whole film based on one gimmicky title. And I also won’t pretend to understand exactly whatever the hell it is that producers actually do. There are already several producers I could name who lead public lives, bringing honest passions to whatever they make, from conception to release. But the massive majority of them are also either directors or writers, who are using their position as a producer to benefit their creativity.
And none of them are legendary musicians whose songs make up just about the entire soundtrack. As it happens, it’s Elton John. Not that I’m ripping on Elton John, of course. If you don’t like Elton John, then you clearly just hate love.
This is only made all the more unfortunate by John being legendary for a reason, and his original song for Gnomeo & Juliet – Hello Hello – is one of his newer classics. What makes it tragic is that it was made for Gnomeo & Juliet, a film that secretes popular culture to the point of getting a fever. Accusing a William Shakespeare adaptation of being unoriginal isn’t a valid argument, but what makes this particular example so vile is that those other adaptations at least manage to be original within themselves. Film-making is like house-construction: in one neighbourhood, most of the houses will look alike, but the difference is what’s inside.
A house’s appearance doesn’t matter, because their purpose is to be lived-in, not looked at. So when a film is adapting anything, it’s taking the fundamental aspects and making something new of it. What Gnomeo & Juliet does isn’t just to grab the most basic elements that can be found in any other Shakespeare adaptation, but to draw on whatever else the producers thought was popular of the moment, and to throw them all in there as well.
I regularly use the old content/context analogy made famous by Syd Field, and this is another good excuse: it’s not the cup I don’t like, it’s the drink. I’ve never judged a drink by the cup, and neither has another self-respecting individual. Which isn’t to say that the cup can’t also be disliked, but I’m yet to discover an example in-which the two aren’t separate. Gnomeo & Juliet, like every film, had the potential to be good.
Even with such a gimmicky title. All of us have those personal examples that we didn’t expect to work, yet did. But make no mistake with this one – Gnomeo & Juliet is a gimmick, and nothing more. It really doesn’t take long – almost no time at all, in fact – for the meta-textual references to become grating.
“Look”, it says, “we understand Shakespeare”. Well, so does every good adaptation. But what made them good is that they don’t constantly try to prove it to you, they just get on with it. And the ones that stand-out are those that transform the source material into something new.
Romeo & Juliet is arguably the most popular story ever told, but the way Gnomeo & Juliet approach it is to go on derivative tangents almost as if it doubts you like it. If this film were a person, it would try to impress you by appealing to the band you like, or the comic books you read. But deep in your heart, you’d know it was just mentioning them without actually understanding them. You wouldn’t want to spend your time with someone who, whenever they open their mouth to make you like them, exposes how much of a fake fan they are.
Similarly, I don’t want to watch a film that masks its own lack of confidence with distracting fake-fangirling about a story it simply doesn’t “get”. Which is probably why it has – quite frankly – the bloody nerve to suggest that its new ending is better than the original. I’ve nothing against the ending being different – early theatrical performances would alternate between tragedy and comedy – but it’s executed in a way that tells me that it’s being done just for the hell of it, rather than contributing something to the original. In fact, it’s not really an adaptation of Shakespeare.
Even that’s just to make it seem deep. I expect the original draft of Gnomeo & Juliet started as two gnomes from different gardens that fall in love. But some pretentious flap-dragon saw the vague similarity to Romeo & Juliet and had a load of literary analogies thrown in there even though it’s not that kind of film. The ending was obviously changed because of the film’s tone, but if that’s the case, maybe it should just not pretend to be something it isn’t, because that also ruins the source material it’s claiming to adapt.
Especially when it even describes the original text as “rather boring”.