When Bad Remakes Happen to Good Films
From left: Messrs James LeGros, John Philbin, Patrick Swayze and Christopher BoJesse in Point Break, 1991 Kobal Collection
Say goodbye to fond memories of Point Break – Hollywood is in a remaking mood. Here’s why this, and other VHS-era classics, should be left alone .
In 1997, the film director Mr Gus Van Sant embarked upon a curious, courageous and fundamentally misconceived project: he remade Mr Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), shot for shot, only with Ms Anne Heche instead of Ms Janet Leigh, Mr Vince Vaughn instead of Mr Anthony Perkins and himself instead of the Master. It was an act of the purest whimsy by a director who can turn his camera to almost anything. But, like _Psycho’_s victim, Marion Crane, it never stood a chance. As a viewer, either you come to it already burdened by the indelible images of the original – not least that shower scene, one of the most startling and unforgettable moments in film history – or you’ve never seen Mr Hitchcock’s Psycho before, in which case you should watch it immediately. Not Mr Van Sant’s redo.
This is not to say that all remakes are inherently flawed, or that there’s never been a good one. Mr David Cronenberg’s body shocker The Fly (1986) was a far more sophisticated and effective film than the 1958 original. More recently, in the Coen brothers’ remake of True Grit (2010), Mr Jeff Bridges easily outgunned Mr John Wayne. Nor is there necessarily anything wrong with the “reboot”, that is, a movie that offers a continuation of a story, or a new take on old characters, as with the recent, gripping Mad Max: Fury Road, or the upcoming Vacation, in which, somewhat knowingly, the next generation of the Griswold family attempt to recreate their grandfather’s ill-fated road trip from the original movie.
But those are the exceptions – and it took me a while to come up with them. There are many remakes that never should have been made, particularly in recent years, as the mainstream film industry remains stuck in a superhero-shaped creative rut, with very little entirely original material going into production. Clash of the Titans (2010), The Karate Kid (2010), Arthur (2011), C_onan the Barbaria_n (2011), Robocop (2014)… Not one of those came close to improving on the original. Most were close to travesties. And yet there are many more on the way, particularly of cheesy 1980s and early 1990s hits, though there is also crazy talk of a new version of Mr Nicolas Roeg’s extraordinary 1973 psychodrama Don’t Look Now. The following list compiles six impending remakes we’re especially fearful of: futile-sounding attempts to bottle the lightning created by the VHS cassettes of our adolescences. (There’s also one that, despite all the above, we can’t wait to see.)
From left: Messrs Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves in Point Break, 1991 Moviestore Collection/ Rex Features
Point Break (1991)
The surfing! The mullets! The dewy-eyed bromance! A jolt of pure cinematic adrenaline, Zero Dark Thirty director Ms Kathryn Bigelow’s outrageous, high-octane cops and surfer-robbers action thriller starred Mr Keanu Reeves as an undercover FBI agent called Johnny Utah (yeah, right) and Mr Patrick Swayze as the extreme sports-loving Zen criminal Bodhi. And now a new version is on its way, “inspired by” the original, starring a cast of unknowns (with the exception of Mr Ray Winstone, bafflingly cast in Mr Gary Busey’s role) and directed by an auteur called Mr Ericson Core, previously best known as the cameraman on The Fast and the Furious. The late Mr Swayze, one imagines, is skydiving in his grave.
Mr G.W. Bailey in Police Academy, 1984 Rex Features
Police Academy (1984)
Crude, rude, witless, puerile, moronic and at times very, very funny, the original starred Mr Steve Guttenberg (remember when he was a thing?) as smug smartarse Officer Mahoney, plus a cast of misfits as incompetent trainee cops. It was a huge hit and spawned six – six! – increasingly lame sequels. But with a combined gross of almost $250m worldwide, the lure to return to campus seems to be irresistible. “It’ll be anything but another movie with a numeral next to it,” said producer Mr Paul Maslansky, announcing the new film. Maybe they’ll call it “Police Academy Why?”
Ms Kelly LeBrock in Weird Science, 1985 Allstar Picture Library
Weird Science (1985)
“What would you little maniacs like to do first?” Let’s go through that initial pitch again, with our sensitive-liberal-feminist-new-man heads on: two spotty, geeky rich kids design the perfect woman on their computer (they use a Barbie doll and wear bras on their heads) and when she springs to life – in the rather thrilling form of leggy pin-up Ms Kelly LeBrock – it turns out she loves them. Universal and super-producer Mr Joel Silver are apparently betting that the late Mr John Hughes’ nerd wish fulfilment comedy can be updated to 2015 tastes. But without the Oingo Boingo soundtrack and Mr Robert Downey Jr, not to mention La LeBrock, we’re concerned it might be the wrong kind of weird.
Mr Matthew Broderick and Ms Ally Sheedy in WarGames, 1983 Allstar Picture Library
Remember when computer geeks were a rare breed, rather than billionaire masters of the universe? Mr John Badham’s original WarGames starred a pre-Ferris Bueller Mr Matthew Broderick (aw, cute) as a teenage hacker who breaks into a military supercomputer, almost causing WWIII. Nowadays, of course, he’d be offered a job at Google, if he hadn’t already launched a revolutionary social media start-up. Either that, or he’d be hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. And he’d be played by Mr Benedict Cumberbatch. While superficially this movie might sound perfect for our cyberterrorised era, it’s hard to imagine a less relevant remake than one of a film originally conceived during the simpler time of the Cold War when our most pressing fear was the imminent threat of global thermonuclear war. Happy days!
Sir Sean Connery and Mr Christopher Lambert in Highlander, 1986 Moviestore Collection
Hard, you might think, to remake a film that had the tagline “There can be only one”. But there have already been five Highlander movies, starring the spectacularly po-faced Frenchman Mr Christopher Lambert, and now the tartan-clad fantasy is to return. Even though the last film was called Endgame. No word on who will take Mr Lambert and Sir Sean Connery’s roles. Messrs Chris Hemsworth and Liam Neeson? Messrs Chris Pine and Alan Rickman? Messrs Chris Pratt and Jeremy Irons? Mr Chris Evans? Kriss Kross? Hard to care, really, isn’t it?
Mr Zach Galligan in Gremlins, 1984 Moviestore Collection
“Cute. Clever. Mischievous. Intelligent. Dangerous.” So ran the pre-publicity for the Spielberg-produced original. As a description of the cute/ creepy critters who terrorise a small community (ain’t it always the way?), that’s not bad. As a description of the film itself? Well, remember how you once found Fletch really funny? Don’t try it again. That’s right: hate to tell you but I watched Gremlins again for this article, for the first time since I was 11. How to put this? It sucks. And that’s the other thing about remakes: some things are best left in the past. Original writer Mr Chris Columbus turned down the suggestion of a sequel – good decision, Chris – but is back on board for the remake, and we assume the puppets are available. Here’s hoping Barney the dog makes it back, too.
Messrs Dan Ackroyd and Ernie Hudson in Ghostbusters, 1984 Kobal Collection
Not long after the release of the rather flaccid 2004 remake of the 1960s Brit classic Alfie, Mr Jude Law, who took on the role made famous by Sir Michael Caine, ruefully told me he thought the only way to have successfully remade that film, a dated relic of pre-feminist Swinging London, would have been to make Alfie a girl, on a similar quest for sex and enlightenment in contemporary Manhattan. This was a smart comment, I thought, and a welcome acknowledgement of the fact that the conditions that made the first Alfie a hit no longer exist. It’s for similar reasons, and for the sheer hell of it, perhaps, that in remaking the much-loved Ghostbusters, Bridesmaids director Mr Paul Feig has decided to replace Messrs Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd et al, with female actors. The 1980s film fanboys may not be overly enamoured with the idea, but those of us who get out of the basement occasionally should rejoice. Mr Feig has gathered the cream of American female comic talent (including Mses Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig) for an all-girls take on the greatest supernatural action comedy ever made. At last, a remake we want to see.