Dear Ms. Warner
By now it is almost common knowledge that the Warner Sisters shingle is developing the project Return to Casablanca. While many cinephiles the world over may be cringing at the very thought of a sequel to one of the most iconic films ever made, I have read with an open mind of the late Howard Koch’s concept and believe this project has no small degree of merit. I am thrilled at the prospect of discovering what happened to Rick, Ilsa, Victor and perhaps even Renault during, and after, the War. I also feel compelled convey to you a few thoughts towards the making of Return to Casablanca for you to take or leave as your producer’s instincts suggest:
1) Since 1942, there has been a subtle un-asked, and un-answered, question regarding the ending of Casablanca. It was Rick who decided for Ilsa that she would get on the plane with Victor. No one ever asked Ilsa with whom she preferred to go. While the lady was certainly conflicted at the time, surely, she had a preference hidden deep in her heart. Who did Ilsa want to leave Casablanca with? In Return to Casablanca that question must be explored, and definitively answered once and for all. Even, especially, if that answer is one Ilsa might have regretted one day, and for the rest of her life; or equally, if the answer is one she has come to regret.
2) As J.J. Abrams discovered in re-casting the classic crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise hiring actors to portray legendary characters is dicey at best. Digital resurrection is already with us, from the brief cameo of the late Sir Laurence Olivier in Kerry Conran’s Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow to the audacious, posthumous performance of Tupac Shakur at Coachella 2012. As long as your script does not demand too much from any late original cast members, I heartily recommend taking the chance and using modern technology to revive their performances. Of course purists will protest, but sooner or later such a perceived “travesty” will be done. It would be best, I think, to do break that ground in a project such as yours, with grace and respect for the original material and performers. The motion picture industry must set its standards and justifications extremely high for digital resurrection, and sooner rather than later, before they are set lower in some purely commercial production.
3) I don’t know if Rick Blaine makes a return in the third act of Return to Casablanca but I almost hope he doesn’t. Referring to the above paragraph, I believe you could absolutely get away with a digitally resurrected Sidney Greenstreet, Claude Rains and even Ingrid Bergman, in brief cameos; but Humphrey Bogart? There’s a trick few might get on board with including myself, and re-casting Rick Blaine, well, again see above.
4) A final thought on casting: I am at a loss for a young actor to play Richard, Rick & Ilsa’s son. I honestly cannot think of a single young American actor with the chops and cinematic gravitas to do the job. Richard shouldn’t be played by some flavor-of-the-month actor fresh out of some tv/film vampire franchise. As James Cameron did with DiCaprio in Titanic, you’ll need find a true talent for Richard, one that will continue to grow and develop a lifelong career.
5) A few quick words on photography: I doubt I’m alone in thinking any sequel to Casablanca naturally needs to be filmed in black & white. The obvious romanticism of black and white aside, the style of the cinematography as well as the shot set-ups themselves should be evocative of this film’s setting in both time and place. Films of the French New Wave such as Godard’s Breathless and 1960’s American indies like John Cassavete’s Faces should be studied I think, but with the understanding that the goal in doing so is to emulate, not imitate.
6) The success of Return to Casablanca will be judged not only at the box office, or by critics, or even devotees of the original Casablanca. This sequel’s success will be measured by whether or not it can follow in the auspicious footsteps its forerunner. This picture must find a way to discover the zeitgeist of today’s world while offering timeless, universal truths that will speak to generations to come. Perhaps this film could look at the post-war oil boom and the root causes of today’s troubles in the Middle East. Possibly explore culture clashes, indigenous culture’s rights vs. general human rights? Either must be done, however, while nevertheless reminding us that even those problems don’t amount to a hill of beans on a planet that we are all of us no more than caretakers of... And yet, neither Richard nor the film can be felt to be preachy or trying too hard; instead they must, like Rick Blaine, lead and even educate us by levelheaded example.
Return to Casablanca is a fascinating project and I wish you every conceivable success with it! You have a long road ahead, I think, but please don’t ever get discouraged and never surrender the vision. Remember that until it had been done no one ever would have dreamed that Peter Jackson, a nerdish, maker of gross-out films from New Zealand -- a filmmaker, mind you, who had had only moderate international success with The Frighteners –- would be handed hundreds of millions of dollars and a remarkable amount of creative control to bring J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy to life.
Yours Very Sincerely,
The Film Examiner, a.k.a. Film Dude