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.


Anonymous said...

My policy about remakes has always been only remake something that had its fair share of problems to begin with or something that most people have never seen.

For example:

Walking Tall - The fantastically cheesy redneck flick from the 70's. The new one with The Rock was a smart remake and not a bad greenlight as far as the studios are concerned. Because even though the original had its own guilty charm and a terrific performance by Joe Don Baker it had boom mics swinging around left and right.

Man On Fire - While I love Scott Glenn and Joe Pesci the original really blows. Tony Scott's remake with Denzel is amazing and Helgeland's dialogue is right on the money. How can you top lines coming out of Chris Walken's mouth like, "Creasy's art is death...And he's about to paint his masterpiece." Awesome stuff.

I'm actually a huge fan of Romero's Knightriders so I hope Hollywood will leave that one alone. A remake of that would probably wind up somehwere between Torque and Wild Hogs. God help us all. But seeing how Death Race is being released its entirely possible.

Note: I'm not sure if you heard this yet or not but Rob Cohen is supposedly remaking Monster Squad a movie I love from my childhood. While its not a perfect 80's kid film by any means most of what made that film work were the practical effects and Shane Black's wonderfully over the top script.

A CGI ridden Monster Squad update will suck almost as hard as Mac And Me.

Speaking of CGI and my anger towards Hollywood right now check out this interview on AICN with make-up artist Rick Baker:

Here are a list of films I wouldn't mind seeing remade:

The Spook Who Sat By The Door - Early banned blacksploitation film directed by Ivan Dixon that rocks but I would love to see an update to more modern times (i.e. late Reagan/Oliver North era). A fun little trivia fact is it was edited by Spielberg's editor Michael Kahn.

William Dieterle's Love Letters - In the case of Love Letters (one of my all time favorite movies) they did a retrospective in NY of Jennifer Jones' films and left this one out shockingly. So I guess that is how much love it gets from people. Anyway, love this film and wouldn't mind seeing it updated to present day Iraq with email.

Johnny Firecloud - If done the right way this could be a really cool Tarantino style throwback to the 70's. The original works on its own bizarre level but it wouldn't hurt to remake it.

White Lightning And Gator - Again two films I love (WL is near perfect) but few people of my generation have seen either one of those films and its about time Hollywood brought back the hicksploitation flick.

Eight years of Bushie should have told Hollywood by now that they need to make more hillbilly films.

Which brings to me my final remake choice:

Smokey And The Bandit.

It was never a great film to begin with. Entertaining yes but certainly not perfect.

But at the end of the day instead of remakes I would rather see homages to many of the films mentioned.

I feel like Hollywood should be asking themselves instead of remaking a great film why not do something like it?

52 Pick Up is a good example of this. Love what Frankenheimer did with it. Wouldn't change a thing...But someone could do their own version of it.

I mean what Labute is doing with Longview Terrace seems to be the racial equivalent of Pacific Heights. Or PH with an interracial angle if that make sense.

And who the hell really remembers Pacific Heights?

Movies I would like to see released on dvd immediately:

Sam Fuller's White Dog
Howard Franklin's The Public Eye

I would be curious to know what movies you could see being remade and which ones you would like to see released on dvd.

Check the site at least once every day. Great work!

Ivan said...

Hey kids, let's make Sam Peckinpah, Alan J. Pakula and Stanley Kubrick spin in their graves!

Cross of Iron: Peckinpah's confusing bummer is jazzed up and streamlined by Brett Ratner as he reunites Brad Pitt and Ed Norton as a couple of angry Wehrmacht grunts sticking it to the man by stealing some Nazi gold. The siege of Stalingrad is recreated by ILM's crack CGI team. Nas' theme song "Cross (2 Bare)" is deemed "edgy" as it samples old Luftwaffe drinking songs.

The Parallax View: Blogger Joe Grady (Colin Farrell) defeats the lone, acting-by-himself-we-cannot-emphasis-that-enough renegade Parallax goon (John Travolta) high atop the [whatever big stadium the studio owns], preventing the assassination of a digital Barack Obama. Zooey Deschanel is Colin's girlfriend who gets killed, and Jessica Alba is the hotter FBI agent he hooks up with by the end. Billy Crudup is the red herring CIA agent we're supposed to think did the killings--until he's killed by Travolta henchman-and buddy of Colin Farrell Jack Black (Surprise!). Zemeckis or either of the Scott brothers directing.

Ben Stiller directs (after firing Todd Phillips and screenwriter Scot Armstrong) himself and 12 Mike Myers in a whacky, Gen-Whatever remake of that mean-spirited downer, Dr. Strangelove. Accents, digital compositing and make-up galore! A soundtrack produced by Moby! We finally see Miss Foreign Affairs boobs! Stiller's performance as Gen. Turgidson outdoes his last round of scenery-chewing! Vern Troyer as a stowaway on the B-52, where the whole crew is played by Myers! Sasha Baron Cohen and Will Farrell cameo as the Siberian farmers whose barn the hydrogen bomb (with Mike Myers on it) lands on. Of course the bomb doesn't go off. Because the fillings in Mini-Me's teeth helped fix the CRM-114.

Hooray for Hollywood!
Great site, by the way; please keep up the good work!

Gregory Joseph said...

"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."

See also: Watchmen.

The Crazies is being remade by Michael Eisner's son (a guy who's also working on updates of Flash Gordon and Creature from the Black Lagoon). Knightriders might not be too far behind.

There must be some contest to see who can remake Wes Craven films the fastest, because new versions of both Nightmare and Shocker (!?) are coming.

Coming remakes (all in some stage of development or production--no guarantee they'll all actually be made): Child's Play, Rocky Horror, Piranha, Terror Train, Hellraiser, The Hidden, Near Dark, Stepfather, Escape from New York, Logan's Run, Clash of the Titans, Straw Dogs, The Tingler, Scanners...

I'm waiting for a remake of Don't Look Now starring Ryan Reynolds and Megan Fox.

Anonymous said...

Endless Greg,

Its really sad to hear how many of those films are in development to be remade.

I mean how the hell is today's Hollywood going to top Cronenberg's Scanners?

Its crazy to me that filmmakers and development executives won't just say, "Why don't we do something LIKE this...Not the same film exactly?"

Child's Play remade will be a "CGI" Chucky running around. Not cool. I actually don't mind them remaking Shocker since I considered the original a pretty bad film. Its just not something I would like to see again in any shape or form.

The Nightmare On Elm Street series from my point of view is not untouchable (even though I LOVE 1-4) because I always felt it was a great opportunity for up and coming directors to experiment and show their stuff. Nightmare 4 for example (my personal fave) was what brought the world Renny Harlin and Brian Helgeland. Holder went on from 2 to do New Line's The Hidden...A great flick!

It would be cool to see what people like Cuaron (warners tried him out on a commercial scale with Azkaban) would do with an Elm street movie or someone of his ilk. I think it could be a terrific proving ground for indie filmmakers but it probably won't go that way unfortunately.

Andrew Bemis said...

Matthew: You could make a killing with most of those remake pitches, and I'd kill to see a White Lightning remake. I heard about that Monster Squad remake - Cohen was a producer on the original, so I hope that he has enough sense not to fuck it up. As for your two questions, I'd love to see a remake of The Gauntlet, and my most anticipated DVD would be a toss-up between Black Moon and Howard the Duck (for very different reasons). Big agreement on Nightmares 1-4 (2 is pretty terrible, but so entertaining).

Ivan: I assume Farrell lives?

Greg: I'm taking a wait-and-see approach to Watchmen. Dr. Manhattan looks awesone, and the trailer certainly resembles the book I remember reading, but soo did the trailer 300. Snyder's got one good remake under his belt and one adaptation that plays the same notes but misses the music. So yeah, no anticipation, no dread, just a big question mark.

Ivan said...

Of course Farrell and Cohen live! And in the after-the-credits cookie, we'll see the outtakes of Farrell, Cohen and Myers (in his Major McKong makeup-- "McKong" because now Slim Pickens' character is Scottish, natch) trying to sing Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive."

Gregory Joseph said...

I'm trying to be optomistic. Snyder & Co. shaved the political ideas from the Dawn remake script (there's a Sarah Polley interview where she talks about the differences between the original draft and what was filmed-- Salon? Onion? Can't remember where), and took 300's libertarian ideas even further than in the original. I can't help but assume that Snyder's Watchmen conveniently misplaces and re-appraises the Randian/Nietzchen notions which Moore deftly deals with and demystifies throughout.

Also, Dave Gibbons' art in Watchmen is as layered as the writing, and contains a lot of ideas itself, about the genre-comic form. That kind of craft is hard to translate. A panel-by-panel construction ala 300 would be impossible.

But you're right, the trailer does rule. And I like the cast.

Fingers crossed.

Dr. Criddle said...

Hey Andrew - I'm happy to hear you sing Death Race 2000's praises - when I saw this trailer before The Dark Knight (which completely amazed me, by the way) I died a little inside. The original is a brilliant satire that is simultaneously wacky and over-the-top while still incredibly sly and subversive. Anderson seems not so much to have missed the point of the '75 film, but opted to side-step it completely: a comedy about mowing down pedestrians probably wouldn't fly these days, so let's just make it a straight action movie about mowing down convicted criminals. Setting it in a prison and making us try to root for Jason Statham pretty much neuters the whole concept. At least they're dropping the "2000" to avoid confusion over which is the good version and which is the shitty version.

The Day the Earth Stood Still, on the other hand..... hubbawha? The original is pretty much the Citizen Kane of genre films, and is just as powerful if not more today than when it was released.

Why don't we just say nobody should be allowed to direct blockbusters anymore except for Christopher Nolan?