Monday, December 28, 2009

Movies from public domain works like 'Sherlock Holmes' have built-in audiences


Movie studios return time and again to works in the public domain because they are familiar stories with built-in audiences. They’re easier to sell because people already know what they’re about.
Plus, the stories are free to use because they’re no longer covered by copyright restrictions.
Movie makers usually put a twist on these older works to make them interesting to modern audiences. They can make them dark and nightmarish, sexy and exciting, updated to modern times, or done as period pieces with today’s technology.
This past weekend, the big-budget movie “Sherlock Holmes” raked in $62 million in U.S. box office receipts. Not bad for a property in the public domain that any studio could produce. Holmes debuted in 1887 in the short story “A Study in Scarlet” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Writer-director Guy Richie and star Robert Downey Jr. revitalized the old London detective story by making it a gritty action thriller with a sense of humor.
Techdirt writes that Sherlock Holmes is popular in large part because the character is in the public domain. CNN.com writes about the many portrayals of Holmes and company.
Due out March 5 is director Tim Burton’s movie “Alice in Wonderland.” The fantasy story, based on “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865) by Lewis Carroll, is – like Sherlock Holmes – in the public domain.
Comic book artist, writer and toy designer Todd McFarlane has talked about doing a twisted remake of “The Wizard of Oz,” which is also off copyright. See article on GeekTyrant.
Film director Paul W.S. Anderson (“Resident Evil”) plans to make a 3-D movie version of “The Three Musketeers.” It would be based on the 1844 tale by Alexandre Dumas. See report by The Hollywood Reporter.
One of my favorite movies based on a public domain work was Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” (2005). He told the story of an alien invasion of Earth from one family’s perspective. It was based on H.G. Wells’ 1898 science fiction novel “The War of the Worlds.”
I’d like to see a movie based on the 2009 graphic novel “Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer.” Read the description of the story on GeekTyrant. It’s a takeoff on the classic fairy tale “The Adventures of Pinocchio” (1883) by Carlo Collodi.

This article is part of a series on copyrights and the public domain. To read more, click here.

Art:
Poster from Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Sherlock Holmes”
Poster from Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland”

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