2016/07/19

Soon to Be Forgotten Remakes of Recent Classics

I've written about Hollywood's devolution into an assembly line for ill-advised remakes. As a follow up to that post about (then) upcoming reboots, reimaginings, and ripoffs, here are some remakes of films from the 70s, 80s, and 90s which, unlike the classic originals, are doomed to oblivion.


RoboCop 2014
Robocop 2014

One of the few movies on this list that I've actually seen. The RoboCop remake is perhaps the mildest offender since its only real fault is failing to bring something new to the table--an absolute must for any remake.

Not that I'm excusing the film makers' poor judgment in deciding to remake RoboCop in the first place. The original tackled perennial issues ranging from anti-cop violence to the meaning of humanity to consumerism run amok so deftly as to be definitive.

Since any recognizable RoboCop story pretty much has to address these topics, any attempt to say something new on those fronts with thoughtfulness and style even approaching the original basically sets itself up for failure.


Total Recall 2012
Total Recall 2012

Full disclosure: I haven't seen 2012's Total Recall. Nor am I likely to. It's not even that the original film is perfect. On the contrary, while I have a soft spot for Verhoeven's 19990 version, the schlocky 80s action movie interpretation of Philip K. Dick's short story leaves plenty of room for improvement.

This remake was a chance to give "We Can Remember it for You Wholesale" the Minority Report caliber treatment it deserved. But the title alone tells me that I'd be in for a watered-down remake of the fun, often goofy Schwarzenegger action flick; not a faithful adaptation of  the PKD source material.


Conan the Barbarian 2011
Conan the Barbarian 2011

Speaking of lackluster remakes of classic Arnold Schwarzenegger films, Half in the Bag told me everything I needed to know about 2011's Conan the Barbarian.



Fright Night 2011
Fright Night 2011

Speaking of Half in the Bag, they also told me everything I needed to know about 2011's Fright Night.



Red Dawn 2012
Red Dawn 2012

I skipped this one, too--for the complaints of rampant shaky cam, if nothing else. However, reports that the commies invading the US were changed from the Chinese to the North Koreans provide the first major instance of a remake tarnished by political correctness and pandering to overseas markets.


Point Break 2015
Point Break 2015

This imitation of the Kathryn Bigelow original made my prior list of ill-conceived remakes. Can't say I'm displeased to see that it's already sunken into obscurity. Let Point Break 2015 serve as a harbinger of the fate awaiting uninspired remakes yet to come.


Ghostbusters 2016
Ghostbusters 2016

Covered this yesterday. Took second place to a kid's movie in its second week of release. Fell miserably short of the (formerly) worst film in the series' opening weekend. Only recouped 1/3 of its production budget, which was itself a fraction of the total budget after promotional costs. Tied for biggest PC propaganda piece on this list. Banned in the market that Red Dawn sold out to. Next.


Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Star Wars - The Force Awakens

Time to lay my cards on the table. Any dog with an internet connection can safely predict that an Escape from New York reboot will fade into obscurity five minutes after its misbegotten release. It takes true grit (actually a decent remake), keen insight into the popular zeitgeist, or stark raving madness to predict the same fate for a Star Wars movie.

But that's what I'm doing.

In a comment on my Ghostbusters 2016 post, reader JD Cowan predicted a coming backlash against TFA. Not only do I concur wholeheartedly, there are clear signs that a popular reaction against what's basically a Star Wars 1977 remake is already underway.

Say what you will about George Lucas' directing talents. He can dream up memorable imagery like nobody's business. Cameron is dead right when he says that TFA fails to match even the prequels' visual imagination.

Compare the two images below. The first is the iconic opening sequence of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. The second is the analogous scene in Episode VII.

Star Wars IV Opening

Star Wars VII Opening

Now tell me honestly: which frame draws your eye in, imparts a sense of motion and action despite being a still image, and conveys everything you need to know about the film's antagonists and protagonists--including their relative strength and basic relationship?

And which one looks like a shadow puppet?

There's no contest. TFA's opening presents us with a mostly dark screen that's immediately much less interesting to look at than ANH's shot of Tatooine before the ships fly over. The only objects of note are promptly blocked by a vague black shape.

It's dull, it's flat, and it fails to impart even 1/10 of the plot, character, conflict, and theme information that the Devastator chasing the Tantive IV does in one frame of A New Hope. TFA's opening betrays an acute case of directorial Dunning-Kruger syndrome: someone who thinks he's fluent in the visual language of film when he's really a Chinese box mimicking true masters without understanding.

That's not even getting into the achingly PC propaganda shoehorned into the script.

Star Wars Episode VII made money because it's Star Wars--the only franchise that can draw massive audiences with its name alone. At least, it used to be. Fans are already wising up to the fact that TFA is a not-so-thinly veiled insult to their existence. If the foretastes we've had of Rogue One are any indication, Disney may be on the verge of squandering all of the franchise's social capital.

Think it can't happen? Then you're probably too young to remember the pop culture scene ca. 1985-1995, after the hype surrounding Return of the Jedi had died down and before the mid-90s special editions. Hard as it is to conceive of now, there was a time when Star Wars was reduced to an afterthought, if that; surviving only as a toy line.

Lucas has always been a consummate businessman. He knew what he was doing with the special editions and the prequels. Love them or hate them, they were wildly successful in attaining their primary purpose: reigniting public interest in Star Wars, particularly in the all-important kids' demographic.

Star Wars toys raked in mountains of cash last Christmas for much the same reason that the movie they cross-promoted did: the franchise's dwindling supply of good will. Contra the mint that Disney has made on Star Wars toys, there are signs that they're having trouble managing what has always been the IP's most valuable aspect.

Consider Disney's total overhaul of Star Wars game production, including mass firings, which resulted in the very pretty but roundly disappointing Battlefront 2015.

Then there's the tone-deaf marketing, exemplified by this ad in which a young boy who daydreams about being a Jedi Knight rushing to his sister's rescue has his fantasy crushed when his ingrate of a sibling easily saves herself while complaining that he wasn't as punctual as she'd have liked.

Star Wars Saves Christmas
Why didn't you do this BEFORE?
As the clearance markdown of Ghostbusters toys prior to the new film's release once again proves, companies ignore the different preferences of boys and girls at their peril.

To recap: under Disney's hamfisted micromanagement, Star Wars has become self-derivative, preachy, visually flat, and unmemorable. If upcoming films in the series continue this trend, expect an angry backlash followed by a lapse into oblivion--especially if they fail to transmit fandom to the next generation.


Perhaps I'm wrong. In fact, you might love all of the movies on this list. In either case I invite you to read my novels, which are space operas but not movies.



@BrianNiemeier

11 comments:

  1. Disney supposedly bought Star Wars because it wanted a brand to attract boys. They're not doing the best job with that.

    As for remakes, do you count the Judge Dredd remake in that? I assume not since it is not a remake of the '90s film, but a new adaption of the comic.

    Much could be said about the creative bankruptcy of Cannon Films, but I would much rather watch a film like Cobra, Delta Force, or Bloodsport, than anything I've seen from Hollywood over the last decade.*

    It's not just the remakes, though a remake of Goonies or Bill & Ted would probably make me swear them off forever, but the total emptiness of ambition and hatred of its audience that gets me.

    And I don't see that improving any time soon.

    *Marvel and Pixar excluded. For now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "As for remakes, do you count the Judge Dredd remake in that?"

      No. Dredd isn't a remake of the 95 Stallone film and is better by far. Far from being forgotten, there's considerable popular support for a sequel.

      "Much could be said about the creative bankruptcy of Cannon Films..."

      Funny you should mention Cannon Films. I recently watched Electric Boogaloo, a documentary that chronicles Cannon's rise and fall. Highly recommended.

      And you're absolutely right. The Go Go Boys were anything but cynical social engineers. They were passionate film makers who loved American movies.

      Sadly their foreign perspective often hindered their attempts to capture the essence of American cinema.

      "And I don't see that improving any time soon."

      American cinema needs an indie revolution to break the power of Hollywood much as self-publishing has broken the Big Five.

      Unfortunately, there's a reason that a revolt of artists and audiences has thus far only succeeded in publishing.

      I can produce a professional caliber book--in many cases superior in quality to what NY can offer--for a total cost in the mid to high three figures; then sell it through the same dominant worldwide distribution channel they use.

      I know many independent film makers. To say that they face bigger challenges is a massive understatement. Producing a pro quality film, even a minimalist character study, takes resources that are simply beyond the personal means of all but the independently wealthy.

      There is currently no reliable means of funding independent films. As one indie director friend told me, "You can only ask family and friends for money so many times."

      Crowdfunding as we know it isn't the answer. Too hit or miss.

      And the money problems pale in comparison to the ordeal of getting an indie film distributed and exhibited.

      Granted, these are all technical problems that have solutions. But we won't see improvement in the quality of American movies until they're solved.

      Delete
  2. Both my wife and I rather enjoyed Fright Night. It is not destined to be on anyone's list of the best films of all time, but we actually found it to be rather fun. Granted, at the time we saw it we had no idea it was a remake. But then we went out and watched the original, and frankly... it wasn't really a film that was destined to be on anybody's list of best films ever, either. But we also enjoyed that one.

    Your mileage may vary.

    Otherwise, I'm pretty on board with this list - especially TFA. "Forgettable" is probably the single word that most came to mind after I watched it, and it's what I would have called it. Except that it's Star Wars, so it's going to be remembered for that. I especially remember when the first teaser for it dropped. Everyone on my friends list was going nuts, talking about how awesome it was. I watched the trailer and my first thought was, "If this wasn't Star Wars, nobody would watch it based on this teaser." The teaser was boring - devoid and lifeless.

    The film itself isn't that bad. But it's still eminently forgettable. I've watched it exactly twice (once in theaters and once on home video), and that alone tells you something. I saw all of the prequels more times than that in theaters.

    You're also 100% correct about George Lucas's sense of the visual. It's the one thing about film making that he really is truly an absolute genius on.

    Fun experiment: try to get your hands on a copy of any of the Lucas Star Wars films (even the prequels) and watch them with music but no dialogue. You can still follow the stories surprisingly well, and the films are almost actually better that way. One of the "Superman: The Movie" DVDs actually offered the choice to watch the film that way. It's harder with Star Wars. But try it if you get the chance.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The original Fright Night actually is among my all-time favorite films. But then, I'm a huge 80s horror-comedy geek.

      I haven't seen the remake yet. That's whey I passed the ball to RLM. I'll take your word that it's good. Still been mostly forgotten, though.

      Delete
    2. TFA is what happens when a lesser talent tries to imitate his betters without fully grasping how vast the skill gap between them is.

      And you're right: Lucas has an unrivaled flair for visual storytelling. Del Toro might be the only director of this generation who comes close.

      Abrams' attempt just feels flat, like a 2D picture of a 3D sculpture.

      After seeing the new Independence Day, a friend and I were talking about how Lucas is the last film maker to popularize a trademark SF tech style. My buddy's kid just got a new Lego set for his birthday--an X-Wing. Its significant that nothing has managed to rival these designs in 40 years.

      Re: your proposed Star Wars experiment, I'm intrigued. Will have to try it.

      Delete
  3. Reviews of the new Star Trek actually sound pretty good. A lot of "return to what made the original great" type commentary, which is promising.

    Gay Sulu doesn't bother me. If you don't want liberal propaganda in your Star Trek movies, then you don't know anything about Star Trek.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you're implying that Star Trek as a whole has always been Leftist propaganda, please share your drugs. Keeping them all for yourself is impolite.

      Star Trek often features Leftist premises and messages. It only occasionally stoops to propaganda, and those are the worst episodes/films.

      The message of almost every Original Series episode, perhaps unintentionally, but truly nonetheless, is that Spock's alien collectivism is always wrong and Kirk's human individualism is always right.

      Delete
    2. No, I am implying no such thing. I am absolutely stating, as a categorical fact, that it has always been leftist propaganda. More - I am saying it OBVIOUSLY was. I am saying that not only am I not on drugs, I am coming up with the only sensible conclusion.

      Roddenberry himself said practically word for word that the show was always meant to promote a "progressive" agenda, and one so radical he couldn't even be completely forthcoming about it to the networks.

      That was the whole purpose of the show: To break racial stereotypes, according to George Takei to break gay stereotypes at one point, in TNG to change "where no man" to "where no person" (while Roddenberry was still very much involved), and all war and violence being solved by a big ol' non-violent Federation. Everything goes under one government, all war ends.

      So yes, my contention is that one who doesn't see it for what it was clearly intended to be - heck, what Roddenberry practically SAID it was intended to be - is looking at it through rose-colored glasses.

      Like it or not, making Sulu gay is right in line with everything Star Trek is, was, and stands for. Takei even confirmed it; he just didn't think Sulu should be the mouthpiece.

      It's entertaining and - at least sometimes - well-written and acted leftist propaganda with memorable and heroic characters, and occasionally it puts across an excellent message...but it's leftist propaganda.

      For what it's worth, I think the exact same thing about Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

      Delete
    3. To put it another way - I am saying one of the MAIN REASONS the franchise was created was to promote a progressive political agenda.

      Maybe not every episode went to forwarding this goal. Maybe it was sometimes too well-written for its own good. But whether or not we like it, Star Trek was intended to be a progressive, leftist show - and making one of the characters gay is entirely in keeping with the show's original stated goals.

      Delete
    4. You make a well-informed, persuasive argument.

      Star Trek is and always been Leftist propaganda.

      The only sane and moral course of action, then, is for everyone to go and see the latest feature-length piece of Leftist propaganda so Hollywood will keep making more.

      Delete
    5. Well, if you want to give up, and tell everybody else you know to give up, watching Star Trek...go to town.

      I think it's fine to watch as long as we all keep in mind that's what we're watching. And as long they don't let their message overwhelm their story, as nuBusters seems to have done, among other issues.

      Delete