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When Remakes Attack!

January 23, 2011

Well I just don't feel buying anymore networks. There's never anything good on...

When I stumbled onto news of the remake of Vision Quest starring Taylor Lautner it made me a little uneasy. While the original is hardly a cinematic masterpiece there’s something to be said for leaving well enough alone. Unfortunately, it’s not a message Hollywood enjoys hearing.

Trailer for The Island of Dr. Moreau

Remakes – or in the case of franchises, Reboots – are generally maligned and with good reason. Remakes are judged more by hilariously terrible misfires – The Island of Dr Moreau (Brando in a caftan, anyone?) – than its modest (Seriously, people Sabrina isn’t bad, just different) or grand (I see you, Star Trek ’09) successes. Granted, the ratio of hot, holy, “What were they thinking” hell (Planet of the Apes) to the glorious first two Tim Burton Batman movies (don’t start! Nolan’s are good too, but I’m a Keaton girl. Buy a ladder and get over it. hey, I got that from Chriso!!!)

The Island of Dr. Moreau probably seemed reasonable enough during the conception stage, but went terribly wrong somewhere between pre-production and delivery to multiplexes. It is my favorite awful remake and is a film so unfathomably terrible that I’m struggling to write this passage because I’m laughing so hard. Yet, I can’t exactly pinpoint why this film couldn’t get its shit together. Great cast, good source material and how much do I heart me some John Frankenheimer. Though to be honest, I often confuse him with John Carpenter and John Schlesinger. The late Frankenheimer directed two underrated classics: Ronin and 52 Pick Up and the Wallace bio-pic that earned Angelina Jolie her first Golden Globe win! Nevertheless he’s no stranger to some hot buttered cinematic fail. I see you, French Connection II! If anything, the pedigree involved with a remake for the most part signals to me it’s likely to go terribly wrong. All together now: The Ladykillers!

Nevertheless, Hollywood LOVES these things. It can’t be just about the cashmoney. Because there have got to be easier ways to make a killing at the box office (have you met my friend, The Expendables). And there are even a few remakes/reboots that defy odds and kind of work. Here are a few examples:

Annie
I have no idea why a reworking of Orphan Annie’s story is so freaking satisfying and hilarious, despite the presence of austere director John Huston! Why that’s like getting Sidney Lumet to direct a musical based on The Wizard of Oz! Someone should get on that!

War of the Worlds
Absolutely no clue why I would find this remake satisfying. Upon its theatrical release nothing about the film appealed to me. Not its star, its story and leaving aside the fact it looked to be more stress inducing grown up Spielberg fare. Yet, I loved the film! Though I made the mistake of watching it AT NIGHT, ALONE while house sitting for my parents! Oops. Don’t tell my parents, but I broke a rule by allowing the girls (pups Lady Alexis and Miss Ariel) to bunk with me! In my defense I slept on the floor and neither one was sold on the concept. When I woke up, both were sleeping in their own beds; Ariel in her crate and Lady Alexis curled on top of her doggie bed.

Oceans 11
Of course this would be an example. The 2001 remake was one of the best movies I saw in a year riddled with wonderful releases. It was so much freaking fun. I’ve written about this movie so many times, so I’ll stop there.

Seeing the relative commercial and occasional critical success of certain remakes shouldn’t be the dominant criteria when deciding whether or not to produce them. Other factors, which are often overlooked, but are essential are:

1. Relevance to current audiences. Can it provide a new or interesting perspective?
2. Correcting some well establish production deficit with the original.
3. The current era meshing well with a truer vision of the material.
4. Creating interesting cross generational conversations regarding the material.

These are just my opinions, but there are certainly more considerations besides the ones I’ve listed.

Granted, even a bad remake can have a positive effect; if only to cause audiences to seek out the original, like in the case of The Ladykillers. Are there films that warrant remake treatment? Heck. Here are a few.

Logan’s Run
I know I go back and forth regarding this dramedy plagued remake, which I’m fairly certain will get made (if it’s not already in production). The original isn’t good and does everything in its power to insult the source material, which itself is kind cheesy. Still, it is an intriguing idea and well, Hollywood is certainly starved for that.

Sharky’s Machine
I am one of this remake’s biggest champions, which makes me kind of a rarity, given that I am a HUGE fan of the original and the source material. My reasoning is, of course, Mark Wahlberg, who has become one of the finest character actors of his generation. He has wonderful acting instincts, and owned The Departed. Shut. it. down. His performance in that film assured me he “got” Tom Sharky. In my mind, he and Don Cheadle were the ONLY actors I feel could offer something new, interesting and satisfying to the role. I’m even hoping that Wahlberg considers remaking the entire Burt Reynolds “crime thriller” trilogy, which includes the underrated gems Heat and Stick.

But back to Vision Quest, whose remake as currently envisioned leaves a lot to be desired, perhaps the update will surprise me. It’s already miles ahead of the original thanks to the casting of an actual TEEN in the title role. Still, what gives me pause when pondering any remake is the way the quest for new hotness often leads to the destruction of some of the delightful moments of charm found in even the humblest of originals.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 23, 2011 9:05 pm

    I had heard, several years ago I think, that The Last Starfighter was in the works. I get a sickly, excited feeling when it comes to remakes. I pray for the awesomeness that could be, but expect the ” I hope its better than Poison Ivy 3″ trash it usually is. I am puzzled by the Island of Dr. Moreau myself. One of those situations where wonderful ingredients makes rotten saurkraut instead of a gourmet meal. THewlis, Kilmer(when saying Kilmer meant something, Fairuza Balk’s hot hillbilly white trashyness. It should have been marvelous, at least it was better than Poison Ivy 3.

  2. January 24, 2011 9:13 am

    The problem with remakes is that they only make sense if something new is added. Which can be done marvelously well, as in adding Ashford and Mencken’s songs to Little Shop of Horrors. But too often the “something new” is Hollywood’s flavor of the week actor. Like, whose idea was it to have Vince Vaughn play Norman Bates in a Psycho remake?

  3. January 27, 2011 12:00 pm

    Wow I didn’t know there were plans to remake Logan’s Run! I really liked the original but then again I haven’t read the book. Also I saw it at an all-night sci-fi marathon so I was a bit sleep-deprived.

    The planned Annie remake seems ill-advised, mainly because Annie isn’t that great a play. I feel like not many people can really like Annie all the much. It’s just so saccharine! I can’t imagine it finding a wide audience today, but I guess the power of Willow Smith compels them!

  4. January 27, 2011 5:35 pm

    The planned Annie remake seems ill-advised, mainly because Annie isn’t that great a play. I feel like not many people can really like Annie all the much. It’s just so saccharine! I can’t imagine it finding a wide audience today, but I guess the power of Willow Smith compels them!

    The problem with the remake is not understanding how utterly irrelevant the Annie role is. The key roles are Daddy Warbucks, Miss Hannigan and Daddy Warbucks’ secretary. The 82 film is irresistible to me because of that trio of performances, with Albert Finney as Warbucks being my absolute favorite. He fantastic as a straight man. God, just thinking about him makes me laugh.

    I like the parts of Annie that didn’t really involve the children. That probably makes me a bad person.

  5. January 29, 2011 9:24 pm

    Your HF pic suggests this remake: Raiders of the Lost Ark, only this time they’re looking for the last original script left in Hollywood.
    “I hate agents, Jock! I hate ’em!”

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