Pop Off: When Remakes Work

Within the landfill quarry of cash grab sequels and franchise vehicles taking the “Police Academy” route and coasting into cult nostalgia; there are a few familiar titles with fresh remakes in the release schedule that I am looking forward to. As grating I find the posters for “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2” and “Furious 7” in my local theatre, it’s because my thought process is essentially, “oh hey, another version of that movie I already hated.” But I’m starting to realize that I don’t dislike sequels and remakes as a concept, just the immediacy of them. Unfortunately, nothing in Hollywood is written to be a standalone feature. A draft of the second and third installments is written before production on the first is finished.

There is the old phrase, “the test of time.” It’s a shame how little that test is applied these days. There’s a “Fantastic Four” remake set for release later this year. While the film’s entire existence is just a faux-pas for the studio to keep the license, the first “Fantastic Four” came out only 10 years ago. I remember seeing trailers for it sandwiched between episodes of “SpongeBob,” I remember seeing cardboard cut-outs of Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman in McDonalds. I only wish I could remember the actual film. I saw it, I just don’t remember it. “Fantastic Four: Oops, Let’s Try Again” isn’t far enough removed from the humdrum original for me to become interested. Sure, it’s directed by Josh Trank, who made the excellent “Chronicle,” and will probably lift Miles Teller into superstardom, but to me it still feels like a continuation of the letdown I saw when I was in middle school.

There have been some remakes, their face quality excluded, that arrive with a guaranteed buzz of anticipation. I remember seeing “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” back in 2009 and thinking, wow, my parents probably saw “Raiders of the Lost Ark” when it first came out. Now here I am, 28 years later, watching Indiana Jones catch a baddie in his whip on the big screen. That’s really cool. When a movie can truly become an icon, a pop culture staple across generations, when the art of filmmaking has changed so drastically; that’s when a remake is warranted.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” will probably end up being one the biggest films of the spring and I can’t wait for it. “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” the original “Hunger Games” is 30 years removed from the present, and has become the predominant post-apocalyptic adventure film. Now with Tom Hardy as the lead, original director George Miller back in the saddle, and effects well beyond those he could afford in the ‘80s, “Fury Road” re-enters the market with a lot of stock.

Then of course there is “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” a.k.a. “Episode 7” arriving this Christmas, the buzz seems not about the transfer of control from George Lucas to J. J. Abrams or how the new leads will compare to the beloved crew of Luke, Leia, Han Solo and the like, the excitement seems to boil down to, “HOLY CRAP THERE IS A NEW “STAR WARS” COMING OUT AND I’M GOING TO BE ALIVE FOR IT.” What information did the first trailer give us? There are droids, X-Wings, the Millennium Falcon, and it all looks very cool. A plot, who needs that? It’s delivering to us the elements of what we love in the most dazzling fashion it can. Sure, there were the prequels, but most people my age were only old enough to care for the release of “Revenge of the Sith.” Now, it feels like the series is transplanting itself into present day, and “The Force Awakens” may be our “New Hope.”

The same thing goes for “Jurassic World.” The sequels to “Jurassic Park” were awful but at least this goes back to the drawing board, and with Chris Pratt to boot. A new “Alien?” Well it won’t be the same without Sigourney Weaver, but Neill Blomkamp could probably do something really interesting with Xenomorph, so sure, why not.

It’s also not uncommon for directors to remake their work, as every artist has changes they would make a second time around. Alfred Hitchcock made “The Man Who Knew Too Much” in 1934, and again in 1956. Any fans of Hayao Miyazaki will notice that “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind” is essentially a prototype of “Princess Mononoke.” Cecil B. Demille is best known for “The Ten Commandments,” Hollywood’s most spectacular effort in size and grandeur until “Titanic.” But he actually already told the Moses story in part of the silent film of the same name in 1923. But with a larger budget, Technicolor, and dozens of other innovations, he was able to tell much closer to how he originally imagined.

While it may not fall under the category of original, a remake of a film that has a sturdy legacy in its genre and still requires no explanation when brought up in casual conversation may be a great choice for a blockbuster. Perhaps we are just the first, wait make that second, generation to see a new “Star Wars.” Maybe 60 years from now there will be three more incarnations, each with a different cast and all drawing off the success of the original. It’s already happened with “Star Trek,” and “Superman,” and probably will to any franchise able to find appeal across mediums. Good remakes are the comfort food of the film industry. You’re tucking into a series that you already know and love, and if you don’t like what you’re given, you can just return to the old favorites until the next time around.

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