Monday, October 29, 2012

Question for the Week of Oct 29 - Nov 4: Remake? Fine

For which movies would I want or support a Hollywood remake?
I sometimes gripe so strongly about Hollywood's remakes/reboots that's it's become a pet topic on this site; it has its own tag and everything. However, I figured that instead of just sitting back and jeering, I'd show that I can also be a constructive critic. As such, here's a good example of a remake I could get behind:

This Redband trailer is fine; the original team is behind it.

Evil Dead came out ages ago, and it did what it had to: cemented Raimi's career and led to Evil Dead 2. I'd hate to hear of an ED 2 remake, but the original? That's just fine, as it was an imperfect debut. In any case, the involvement of Raimi and Campbell, with all their talent and experience, circumvents my usual worry: that the new project is a cheap money grab. 

Want another example? Both sequels to The Matrix. This might be unfair, as I'd pay anything to avoid that disappointment again, even giving a pass to two remakes of a franchise that should've stopped with film #1. No price is too high.

The main issue I've had with remakes is that they're a symptom of the real problem: execs believing that you can guarantee an audience for a picture solely because it's named after something popular. My What's in a Name post is all about the excessive reliance on "names" and "brands." In our case, we get remakes of successful or cult films - it's why a new Red Dawn is coming out, Logan's Run is in development, and a second trilogy of Dragon Tattoo, though the first did the job just fine.

If you're just gonna do a different stage dressing of Stieg Larrson's work, you might as well have had Craig and Rooney put on a production of Our Town. They're both fine actors, and I'm sure Fincher would just crush the material.

I'm snarky and picky because a lot of these remakes don't even carry much effort or quality or invention - it's like showing up on a date in a really nice suit, but talking like a jerk the whole time. You can make the image of a movie look great, and you can give it a familiar label to make it appealing through familiarity, but that's simply not enough. And if what someone brings to the table seems weak or quite sloppy - and it's their damned job and it involves millions of dollars - then they've made a very bad impression.

There's this basic idea in science that nothing is completely destroyed. When a tree burns, it's turned into energy, gas, and charred carbon - whatever makes up the tree doesn't just vanish. In the case of Hollywood, it's not so much what scientists call the conservation of mass/energy, it's the conservation of any familiar "property" in order to provide a marketing boost and preserve copyrights...

I've heard mixed reviews, but Judge Dredd was a good choice.

I covered the movie Lifeforce here not to long ago. I liked the film, but it had a lot of flaws. Its main strengths are (a) a very nifty take on an alien/vampire/zombie story, and (b) the gorgeous female villain, who walks around nude the whole time. See, that pic is ripe for a remake - it wasn't great, it had some promise, and it's not loved for any real reason aside from nudity that's really, really generous to a 15 year-old in an all boys' school.

Similarly, I've never seen anything with The Lone Ranger; not one single movie or show. I have no sentiment toward it one or another. When I hear that they're doing a new The Lone Ranger movie with Johnny Depp, I don't feel like the source material is being abused or disrespected. Yet, despite the low stakes for me, I still have to wonder whether it's just being made because movie-goers are, basically, a money-machine.

Unfortunately, the modern trend doesn't seem to stop to consider whether a movie is a suitable remake subject. Hell, it doesn't even stop to wonder if it can do something different and special with the material, like when Johnny Cash covered songs by Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode. As my friend Gino D. said, "Johnny made those songs his own" - and in a way that most studios don't adopt for their reboots/re-whatevers...

I'm less bothered when a film-maker decides to re-do their own work. As annoyed I am by America having more exposure to foreign film, my cynicism is set to "low" when I heard that the creator of Ringu was involved in the US adapation, The Ring. These things aren't a guarantee of quality, sadly - but it easier to assume that the project isn't so cheap. It's why I'm neutral over the Evil Dead remake; it could go either way, but I'm more at ease with Campbell and Raimi on-board.

This clip has 7+ remade scenes. What was the point? Just show the original.

While I'm at it: my most sarcastic impulse is that studios should just go completely nuts and take another crack at the lousy remakes they've released recently. The horror and fantasy genres have suffered the most, with an unneeded do-over given to A Nightmare on Elm StreetFriday the 13thConan, and Total Recall, among others. I say, go hog wild - do it all again next year. Just do them well this time out, okay?

I'm getting a little tired of writing full paragraphs, and you may be tired of reading them by now. Let's jump right into more concrete examples instead of just explaining my ideas here:

Splice minus everything but the premise, actors, and fx. You can keep the director, too - but that screenplay and story MUST DIE. That movie made me seethe, as my review abundantly shows (seriously, nearly 6500 words).

The Star Wars prequels, minus GL, his story and direction, and those destructive-to-acting green screen sets. Yes - practical effects and scenery; it makes a difference, guys.

300, with fewer historical inaccuracies, no pretending that the Spartans were a butch of pedos and militant religious zealots, no forced b-plots, and a much, much better script.

A remake of Michael Bay's The Island with a better director and script. It was a nice premise that was turned into the bland pretty-fest that is Bay's only hallmark (besides hot women and explosions).

Enemy at the Gates, but with a real narrative instead of the confused, all-over-the-place sentiment that the film-makers took to the actual... what do you call it? Oh, yeah: story. Yes, I want EatG to come out but with a director/writer that chooses whether to make it a war film, or a love story, or a message piece...

I wouldn't complain about a remake of Dick TracyThe Fury, Time Bandits, The Quick and the Dead, or the Scream sequels. All of these pictures were flawed, but had solid potential. De Palma's The Fury is the best picture of this bunch, but it's not so perfect or iconic that I couldn't bear a second production. Meanwhile, the Monty Python film is too old and surreal for me to feel annoyed by a remake.

New versions of some of the movies I've really ripped apart here (non-Splice category): Breaking the Waves, Tron Legacy, Reign of Fire, The Center of the World, and each Blade sequel. It's not that I want more of any of those stories, just for them to be done again and done right. Each was terribly-managed in their own way - in overall story, or endings, or the way the stories developed...

But I guess by that logic, I'd want a Hudson Hawk remake - and who's honestly interested in that? Nobody. In particular, HH was a vanity piece for Bruce Willis, lacking some basic idea that was so amazing that it calls for another attempt at getting it right. In fact, HH is so bad that it loops around to being enjoyable, so I'll take it as a glorious failure...

I think what you can get from my suggestions is that reboots or remakes are best when you work from an original film that is very flawed, and not really very widely-loved. This is why Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory faced a very up-hill climb - because Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was a genuinely great, fun movie!

Total Recall had some great action in it. Recall had a really lived-in, realistic-feeling world, but was also was insanely ott, so violent and nude and graphic. The pic was so... sticky, like life, that it was easy to go along for the ride. I had problems with it, on my first watch, too; I don't know if I'll ever like Verhoeven's pornographic mentality. But for what it was, TR was just fine - entertaining action without a bad story or script.

Seriously, that was a pretty unique project to remake. Why bother? I've never seen what Wiseman can do with a good story and script, but he doesn't film stuff badly. And with the removal of the Mars plot(s), it was different enough from Arnie's version. The 2012 picture looks good, and has a fine cast, yet all the reviews say it was flat. Why not just commit to a whole new story, and change whatever makes it a Total Recall pic?

Because people who are involved in the decision-making process just figure the words "Total Recall" is a guarantee of X% more ticket sales. And let's not forget the back end DVD and online rental markets. No, we can't forget about the back end...

I'll never think it's worth fighting every single one of these that comes out. But... I start to see problems here. So, include in everything I've written here the fact that in the last few years, there have been remakes of three movies famous for their violence - and their rape scenes, ladies and gentlemen. I Spit on Your Grave, Straw Dogs, and Last House on the Left. Seriously, who thought those were a good idea?

Sorry. To get back to my last point, you don't remake Robocop. You remake Mortal Kombat.

Honestly, Roadhouse was not a good movie, but it was a perfectly entertaining, satisfying film - for what it tried to do. The same goes for Big Trouble in Little China on the high-quality side of things, or Tango & Cash on the low-quality side. And I'd probably include pix like Amelie and The Princess Bride as very specific types of crowd-pleasers that are best left alone. Each was a superb entry in its respective genre, so they're untouchable.

In short, when you pick your targets for re-packaging, you want to start with something that was kind of weak to begin with; the way Hollywood has handled a lot of its remakes, they seem to be going for what's most likely to sell. Someone should always be asking if a picture "needs" an update.

The semi-flawed Sherlock Holmes by McG was just fine; Sherlock's been done over a hundred times by now. The 2000's update of Alfie, however, was atrocious. Some stories bear retelling, others could genuinely use some improvement - but certain pictures don't really require anything more to be said about them, save praise.

At my most cynical moments, which last only seconds, I think someone's got money to burn. The update of Rollerball was a complete mistake; at times, I feel like they're gonna give it a third try just to get the bad taste out of our mouths. I can love any movie with LL Cool J, and yet Rollerbore was just throwing money away. I can't abide studios doing that when they could support fresh projects with new potential...

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