Recently I caught myself having an out-of-body experience. In the midst of a heated discussion about a new release — Gil Kenan’s completely unnecessary Poltergeist — I blurted out that Hollywood should stop producing remakes. The words spilled out of me so quickly, yet there I was in that exact same moment listening and fully appreciating where this impulse was coming from, but realizing that maybe I had spoken out of frustration and expressed an opinion that I truly didn’t believe in my movie-loving heart.
Let me clarify, though, that Poltergeist is an insidious symptom of a blight that threatens the art form I love. It is one of what seems like an endless parade of empty movie replays — contemporary updates of former box office crowd pleasers — that studio executives callously imagine a new generation of viewers need to have reinterpreted to match current sense and sensibilities. Kids today, the logic says, want that Spielbergian wonder and magic or that rebellious outsider inspiring a community to rise up and dance their butts off, without the pesky off-kilter reflections clothed in fashions of the 1980s.
So we find ourselves caught up in a time warp of flickering frames, with new versions of Endless Love (which made, according to boxofficemojo.com, $23 million vs. $31 million for the 1981 original), A Nightmare on Elm Street ($63 million vs. $25 million back in 1984) and The Last House on the Left ($32 million vs. none listed for the 1972 original) that have nothing to do with anything as sentimental as nostalgia. No, this is a crass bottom-line decision that has not even proven to be a successful business model.
These remakes haven’t triggered a noticeable uptick in ticket sales. But they have drawn the ire of critics and fans like myself who wander around like crazy heretics shouting at anyone within earshot, especially those like my teenage daughters, imploring them to check out the originals if they are so inclined.
I appreciate that level heads should prevail, which is why I offer an alternative to my broad emotional call for a moratorium on remakes from the Hollywood studio system. I do not truly believe that remakes are inherently evil. But I wish more creative care went into the decision-making process before giving these films the greenlight.
I will certainly continue to question the necessity to remake fairly successful genre-based foreign films like the 2011 French crime thriller Sleepless Night, about a police officer under investigation by Internal Affairs who winds up on a wild night chase through the city attempting to rescue his kidnapped son from a mob boss. From that sketchy premise, Sleepless Night already sounds like a Liam Neeson knockoff, so why is there a version in development listed on the Internet Movie Database with Jamie Foxx and Michelle Monaghan attached? Fortunately it hardly seems worth noting that we shouldn’t have anymore shot-for-shot exercises in artistic navel gazing like Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, right? Remaking an Alfred Hitchcock classic is akin to re-typing Shakespeare in a Word document and slapping your name on it.
So what is this grand alternative I’m suggesting? Why not select less-than-successful movies for updating? Rather than wasting the high-energy chops of a director like José Padilha (Elite Squad) on a superficial RoboCop upgrade, convince him to tackle the gloriously outrageous B-movie excess of the double feature Kill or Be Killed (1976) and Kill and Kill Again (1981).
What I would truly love to see, though, is a new wave of outlandish visionaries rising up, inspired by the surreal genius of Alejandro Jodorowsky who, after achieving cult godhood for El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973), embarked on an improbable quest to adapt Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic Dune during the mid-1970s. While the example would seem to fall outside the parameters of this discussion of movie remakes, it perfectly aligns with my call for artistic daring. Jodorowsky, at the time he began prepping his version of Dune, had never even read more than a few chapters of Herbert’s book. But it was in those precious few chapters that he found the necessary spark that ignited his wandering passions and his desire to explore the depths of his psyche and led to a quixotic, albeit unrealized, dream of a movie.
The studio system has proven its willingness to invest in retreads that barely cover their own expenses, so why not seed a bit of madness? A potential box office bounty could be waiting on the distant horizon. (tt stern-enzi)