The second film in the Fantastic Beasts series hits theatres this weekend, bringing with it much witchcraft and wizardry – and Jude Law as a much younger version of Dumbledore than we’re used to seeing.
As the notion of the prequel has taken hold over the past several years, we’ve seen a steady increase in the appearance of characters we love from other films and TV, re-cast with an actor playing their younger incarnation – sometimes uncannily so. Of course, this has plenty of precedent in decades past through flashback and other devices, too. For this week’s Friday Five, we’re nodding at some of our favorite performers to step into very big shoes and wear them well…
Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins
It will be a long while yet (if ever) before fans cease debating whether or not Tolkien’s The Hobbit held up to full trilogy treatment or whether, as with the novel, one single tale would have been better for the big screen. While the extra installments and weaving in of familiar faces from the Lord of the Rings trilogy was a hit or miss proposition, very few folks seem to disagree that Martin Freeman’s casting as Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit films was a stroke of genius. Not only does the actor share a few similar cadences and ticks with Sir Ian Holm, who played Bilbo in the first trilogy, but he’s just so darn good at that befuddled indifference – no, darn it, I don’t want to go on your silly adventure, I’m quite happy right here in this hobbit hole! (Well, OK, until he changes his mind…)
Zoe Saldana as Uhura
To be fair, you could go all seven potential ways in selecting a standout player from JJ Abrams 2009 reboot of the Star Trek films, in that each younger-version Enterprise crew member was a super solid choice. Zachary Quinto’s Spock is rightly heralded a lot, and maybe the most underrated is Karl Urban’s Bones (His intro scene is cranky perfection). And yet, I don’t think it’s possible to overstate just how much Zoe Saldana brings to the table as Uhura. As indelible and important a presence as Nichelle Nichols was on the bridge in the original series, it’s fair to say that Uhura usually had fewer complex storylines (Most of the crew did, if they weren’t Kirk, Spock or Bones, to be honest); from her opening scene in Abrams’ film, Saldana gives us a recognizable yet entirely fresh, young comms officer, one who isn’t shy about giving Kirk a solid dose of sass.
Josh Brolin as Agent K
Men in Black III is an interesting case – on the one hand, it took a full decade to make it to screens after the roundly panned Men in Black II soured a lot of folks on the franchise. Yet, while nowhere near as iconic as the original 1999 film, it is definitely an improvement, from Jemaine Clement’s beastly-freaky villain to the eternally welcome presence of Emma Thompson as the new MIB chief, Agent O. Thing is, the entire going-back-in-time premise hinges on the perfect actor to play Tommy Lee Jones’s K as a young, dashing agent… and in Josh Brolin, they found him and then some. You could successfully make the case that even when stuff doesn’t work, it’s worth it to watch Brolin nail this to the wall.
Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi
There have been a lot of rumored, “potential” Star Wars spin-off films over the past several years – some of which came to fruition, others which have lingered in development limbo to date – but one prospective title seems to keep coming back and piquing fans’ imaginations. Similar to the Hobbit conundrum, feelings toward the Star Wars prequel trilogy vary wildly depending on which fan you ask on any given day; that said, you’re unlikely to find many who aren’t fans of Ewan McGregor’s dashing, noble take on the young Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi. It’s no surprise that the idea of exploring more of Kenobi’s back story with McGregor in the driver’s seat is a popular one; his transformation from a young apprentice to Jedi leader, perfectly channeling Sir Alec Guinness’s genteel tones the whole time, is gold.
River Phoenix as Indiana Jones
Not gonna lie, to this day this is probably my favorite performance of this type of all and he’s only in the film for 10 minutes! One of the smartest decisions to introduce Indiana Jones fans to the nature of his relationship with his previously-unseen father was to enter the story in a flashback, to Indy’s youth. What Spielberg and screenwriter Jeffrey Boam manage to accomplish in this prologue of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is pretty astounding – not only do we get a bit of that father/son context to take into the rest of the film, but we get to see a fateful day in young Indy’s life where he gained a lifelong crusade for a particular artifact… and his phobia of snakes… and the scar on his chin (Google the real reason Harrison Ford has that scar, it’s less adventurous but also a little scary)… and of course, the fedora. And throughout all of it, the late great River Phoenix is mesmerizing as a teenage Indy. Uncanny doesn’t quite cover it, he’s got every single one of Ford’s mannerisms down cold. (Fun fact!: Three years earlier, Phoenix played Ford’s son in the drama The Mosquito Coast, so he had a lot of time to observe him and get the impression right.)