Thursday, December 04, 2008


I know I've spent a fair amount of time complaining about Hollywood's recent tendency to remake absolutely everything, but the thing is, they won't stop. The Hollywood Reporter this week has stories of three utterly pointless redos in the works, all of them begging the question: Why?

I can almost understand the rationale for a new version of John Carpenter's They Live. Aside from the fact that every single one of Carpenter's films is apparently going to be done over (despite the fact that the new versions of Assault On Precinct 13 and The Fog were non-starters at the box-office, and the "re-imagining" of Halloween annoyed far more people than it entertained), the nifty premise of They Live--free-market aliens exploiting earth as a sort of third world colony--was a howl of protest against the failed trickle-down financial policies of the Reagan-Bush years, and God knows a story about blue-collar workers and homeless people rising up against their evil overlords would be relevant today.

Except...what's the likelihood they're going to bother including all that in the remake? Carpenter cleverly couched his political points in the context of an ass-kicking action movie, so more than likely, any remake will simply take off from there, offering only the most cursory glances at any subtext. This baby will no doubt be all about bigger guns, bigger explosions. Instead of Carpenter's precisely staged, shot and edited action sequences, we'll get shaky-cams, frantic cutting and lots of CGI. It will suck, play for maybe two weeks in theaters, and if it has any audience at all, it will be found on DVD, where we can only hope people will actually rent the original by mistake.

Still, as I said, the reasoning behind that project can almost be understood. But a remake of Arthur? Yes, you read that right: Arthur, the Dudley Moore vehicle from 1981, a big hit in its day but now almost completely forgotten, except for its supremely annoying Christopher Cross theme song and as an amusing reminder of an era in which it was possible to non-ironically cast Liza Minnelli in a lead role.

The weird thing is, Steve Gordon, who wrote and directed the original, intended it as a tribute to the classic screwball comedies of the thirties and forties, only updated with a modern (well, early eighties modern) sensibility. He took archetypes of an earlier era--the rich, drunken playboy, the snooty butler, the rough-but-good-hearted working gal--and placed them in the present, to see what would happen, how the story arcs might play out differently. Watching it may make you think of My Man Godfrey or some such, but it certainly wasn't directly based on any one model.

So why remake it? Why not do the same thing Arthur did originally? If you want to make a movie about a rich drunk, go ahead, but why do you have to use another movie for your template? It's not like the world is still gripped in Arthur-fever, imagining itself caught between the moon and New York City, realizing that the best that it can do is fall in love. (And seriously, if this new movie also includes an update of that damned song, the producers should be tried for crimes against humanity.)

Finally, plans are also afoot to rework Romancing The Stone, which...Really? The main thing the original had going for it was a surprisingly clever script, but in execution it was just another Indiana Jones ripoff, albeit one directed by an actual Spielberg protege (Robert Zemeckis, marking his transition from the guy who made good movies like I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Used Cars to the tireless hack we know today).

Well, again, what's the point here? Why not just make an all-new Indiana Jones ripoff? Why tarnish the semi-fond memories of literally dozens of hardcore fans of the original?

But really, what is the thinking behind all of these? They Live is still highly regarded by its cultists, and the other two were popular at the time, but none of them have particularly iconic titles, none are so well-known or highly regarded that anyone could imagine people lining up based on the properties alone. The instant failure of such why-bother remakes as The Amityville Horror and The Bad News Bears, along with the colossal flops on television of the pointless Bionic Woman and Knight Rider rehashes, would seem to indicate that audiences aren't particularly nostalgic for relics of the past.

Still, they'll keep coming, as good, original screenplays languish unproduced, and the local multiplex becomes even more of a thing to avoid.