Sunday, July 27, 2008
Nothing to Do with Anything
There's a strange new trend emerging of remakes that aren't really remakes. Two trailers that ran before The Dark Knight, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Death Race, each share titles and basic premises with genre classics. I'm not automatically anti-remake - there have been a number of remakes worth mentioning alongside the earlier films, and some of the best remakes (The Fly, The Thing) deviate wildly from the originals in fascinating ways. But not only do these two movies have almost nothing in common with their respective sources, they also demonstrate contempt for everything that makes the originals worth remaking in the first place.
Paul Bartel's Death Race 2000 is one of the best example of B-movies' ability to fly under the radar - its pitch-black humor and sharp social commentary were (and remain) practically nonexistant in mainstream American movies. Set in a near future where a totalitarian government pacifies the proles with a deadly cross-country race, Death Race 2000 is brilliantly self-reflexive exploitation, slyly indicting its audience for our passivity and appetite for violent, shallow entertainment. A big-budget studio remake that retains the orignal's distrust for authority could be a lot of fun in the hands of Robert Rodriguez, fellow Corman protege Joe Dante, or a few hundred directors more qualified to balance action and satire than Paul W.S. Anderson, the director of Soldier and Aliens vs. Predator. Judging by the trailer, Anderson's Death Race is completely toothless, with the original's villianous president replaced by an unamused-looking Joan Allen (redundant, I know) as a prison warden, with criminals forced to compete replacing the original's celebrity drivers, who earn bonus points by running down pedestrians. With very little at stake story-wise, Anderson seems more focused on screeching tires and things that blow up good. Iconic antihero David Carradine is replaced by Jason Statham, a boring doofus that medium-budget action movies keep trying to sell as cool. The trailer is filled with fetishistic close-ups of pimped-out death cars interspersed with leering T&A shots that completely betray the original's deadpan, free-spirited attitude towards sex and nudity. In other words, it looks like exactly the kind of mindless spectacle Bartel was making fun of.
There are also plenty of explosions (or, at least, the suggestion of shit blowing up good) in the trailer for The Day the Earth Stood Still. Which is funny, because the original has barely any action - it's sci-fi driven by ideas, with alien visitor Klaatu's encounters with and message to humans meant as a comment on the political climate in '50s America. Here, Klaatu - a member of an intellectually advanced race - is played by Keanu Reeves. And while Keanu lets us know in his most ominous attitude that we should listen to him, the trailer cuts to hamhanded 9/11 imagery as some sort of vague CGI blur (nanobots? locusts?) prepare to do...something. Maybe the lights go out and the rest was a dream sequence; either way, it's hard to imagine with Keanu in the lead that The Exorcism of Emily Rose director Scott Derrickson's movie will be anywhere near as talky as Robert Wise's.
The really weird thing is, it'd be easy in either of these cases to make a movie that both respects the orignal and has wide commercial appeal. These remakes appear so dumbed down that one wonders why they even bothered buying the rights to the originals. Neither Death Race 2000 or The Day the Earth Stood Still has much relevance to the young male audience their remakes are targeting, so why not alter the plots just a little more, keep the money and not insult the fans? If the trailers are accurate, these pseudo-remakes are too stupid for fans of the original to possibly enjoy, and anyone who will enjoy these probably hasn't heard of the original; they are, essentially, movies for nobody.
That said, I'd like to offer a few of my pitches for any studio execs that happen to read this:
Knightriders George A. Romero's movie about a troupe of motorcycle-riding Medieval Faire performers is ripe for a remake in the age of geek chic. Except you shouldn't cast real geeks, like in the original. And lose all of the anti-corporate stuff, because we all know how well that worked out for Speed Racer. Replace Ed Harris with Vin Diesel, get Rob Cohen to direct and change "Medieval Faire" to "Vegas Stunt Spectacular," and you're looking at a 30 million opening weekend (35 if you can get Evanescence to do the soundtrack).
Zardoz John Boorman's trippy sci-fi movie is perfect for a remake because it has lots of boobies and shooting. But all the religion stuff would probably be annoying for an audience today, so instead, have Zardoz control the brutals with extreme sports. The Rock can play Sean Connery and still have a lot of sex with the Immortals, but instead of freckly European ladies, they should be Jessica Alba and a bunch of other hotties. The stone Zardoz head can stay, but the Rock should blow it up at the end. Neil Marshall directs.
The Red Shoes Replace ballet with crunk. Fifty million in the bank.