Cinema Psycho

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Archive for March, 2007

Escape from Remake City; or, Hollywood Steals Third and Thinks They Hit a Home Run

Posted by CinemaPsycho on March 21, 2007

Well, they’ve gone and done it now. The Hollywood bastards have announced yet another remake. I know, I know; it seems ridiculous to get upset over a remake at this point. I can’t even keep track of all the movies that are getting swallowed up and regurgitated. It’s gotten to a point where it seems like literally every movie ever made has either been remade already or has a remake in the works. There’s no point in fighting it or even bothering to express outrage. It’s going to happen no matter what.

But this is different. This is one of my all-time favorite movies, the one that I genuinely hoped that no one would ever touch: John Carpenter’s 1981 nihilistic masterpiece Escape from New York. I should have known it would happen one of these years. Nothing is considered “untouchable” anymore – if they’ll remake Psycho and Dawn of the Dead, then nothing is off-limits. It’s all up for grabs. I fully expect to see a remake of Lawrence of Arabia announced any day now.

I could go on and on about how our entertainment has become disposable and superficial in our post-American Idle culture, where nothing really means anything anymore and no one has any respect for other artists’ work, blah blah blah. But I won’t do that. Because the truth is, there’s one person and one person only who’s to blame for this particular remake happening: John Carpenter himself.

You see, this once-great director and fanboy favorite has somehow devolved into a money-grubbing hack who’s content to simply rest on his laurels (as literally as humanly possible) and collect the checks from whoever’s willing to buy the remake rights to his films. Other than two Masters of Horror episodes (the first really good, the second kinda lackluster), Carpenter hasn’t been bothered to get off the couch and actually make a film since Ghosts of Mars tanked in 2001. Some people seem to think that’s a good thing, given that his output in the ‘90’s, well, mostly sucked (though I confess a moderate affection for Vampires, I’m apparently in the minority). He seems content to sit around and play video games all day (if his interviews are to be believed), which I guess is preferable to making another Village of the Damned.

Well, that’s his prerogative. But the result is that instead of bad Carpenter films, we get unnecessary remakes of good Carpenter films. Which is actually worse, because not only has the guy driven his reputation into the ground, he doesn’t seem the least bit concerned with protecting the legacy he worked so hard to create. So far we’ve had remakes of Assault on Precinct 13 (pretty good) and The Fog (horrible). Rob Zombie’s version of Halloween is on the way, and The Thing (itself a remake, no need to point out the irony) is being set up for a miniseries for the Sci-Fi Channel. Now Escape is being plundered as well. Hell, let’s just knock out Starman, Big Trouble in Little China, Prince of Darkness and They Live and be done with it already. Save us the trouble of waiting for it to happen.

It would be different if Carpenter had no control over any of these properties, which is often the case with remakes. But that’s not the case; in fact, Carpenter owns half the rights to Escape and the Snake Plissken character, and has veto power over anything that’s done with them. So when producer Neal Moritz, the mastermind behind the Fast and the Furious and XXX franchises came calling with an offer, Carpenter had every right to say, “Fuck you, your movies suck! I don’t want you touching anything I’ve created!” No one would have blamed him for refusing to sell out to a schlockmeister like Moritz. For once, the artist behind a classic title had the right to say no to a remake.

Instead, Carpenter made the deal.

So there you have it. It’s obvious that, for whatever reason, Carpenter doesn’t give a shit. He’s laughing all the way to the bank. And the original will always exist, right? So what’s the harm? Hell, everyone was against the Dawn of the Dead remake, and that turned out decent, right? So what’s the problem?

The problem is, where does it end? When does it stop? How many of our cult favorites are going to be devoured by the big corporate machine and spat back out at us? The irony of it all is that many of the films being remade were low-budget productions that would never have been made by the big Hollywood studios. Now they’re snatching them all up and cashing in on them. And we go to see them – out of curiosity, or because we’re too young to have seen the originals. Sometimes they’re OK, sometimes they’re awful. But they’re never what the original films were. I think everybody can agree on that.

How will Moritz and New Line remake Escape? Obviously they’ll pump up the action scenes. Maybe throw a rapper or two in the cast. They’ll streamline it and make it look visually like every other movie out there. But they’ll definitely tone down the nihilism, the unrelenting sense of “man, the future is fucked” that pervades every frame. And who knows, it might turn out to be a decent little action flick. But it absolutely, positively won’t have the soul of the original. That’s what’s missing from all of the recent remakes, be they good, bad or indifferent. Zack Snyder’s movie was a pretty decent zombie flick, but it really wasn’t Dawn of the Dead. It had the mall setting, the title and definitely the zombies, but it wasn’t the same film. I’m sure Snyder would tell you that was on purpose. But there’s just something about these films that you can’t recapture with a bigger budget and slicker visuals. You can remake Scanners, but it won’t be David Cronenberg’s Scanners. You can give The Warriors to Tony Scott, but no matter what he does, it won’t be Walter Hill’s The Warriors. There’s no way that it could be.

The reason these movies mean so much to us is not just the nostalgia factor. It’s not, “oh, that movie was really cool when I was 12”. It’s because they still hold up – they still capture our imaginations when we watch them today. They still work, no matter how many times we’ve seen them. The remakes are just pale shadows of that accomplishment. It’s like a new band covering a classic song to get attention – it works, but only because of our affection for the original. You can speed up “Mrs. Robinson” and turn it into a pretty good tune. But you can never duplicate the original.

Let’s think about this – Escape came out in 1981, just over 25 years ago. What else came out in 1981? A little movie called Raiders of the Lost Ark. You might have heard of it. Is anyone talking about remaking that? NO, in fact Spielberg and Lucas and Ford are about to finally make the third sequel. 25 years might be a long time, but not long enough to keep them from making another movie. Escape might not be in the same league, but there’s still a fanbase that loves it and the Snake Plissken character. They made one sequel 15 years after the original, Escape from LA (I’m the one guy that enjoyed it). Kurt Russell is still a convincing badass (look at the trailers for Grindhouse). So why can’t they just do another one? Why do we need a new Snake, when we already have a perfectly good one? Why do we need a remake of a film whose contemporaries are still doing sequels? We’re not talking about some dusty old black-and-white John Ford movie starring actors who are long dead. This is still a kick-ass film that doesn’t require “updating” in order to enjoy it! So why do it? What possible reason could there be, except to cash in on the reputation of the original?

I don’t particularly want to see an Escape from New York remake. I have no doubt that I’ll see it, mostly for curiosity’s sake. But what I want to see is Carpenter’s long-discussed Escape from Earth. Or maybe Escape from New Delhi. Or even Escape from Pittsburgh. I don’t really care where he’s escaping from, as long as it’s Kurt Russell wearing the eyepatch and he’s escaping from somewhere. And it just wouldn’t feel right without John Carpenter directing. Is this impossible now? Maybe. But George Romero got to make his Land of the Dead after the remake of his Dawn was a hit. It was even released by the same studio. I didn’t hear anyone complain that they were confused. Will the same thing happen here? I doubt it, because that would mean Carpenter would have to get off the couch. But you never know.

I just wonder what’s next. Blade Runner? Videodrome? Re-Animator? Streets of Fire? Mad Max? Poltergeist? Animal House? The Howling? The Godfather? Jaws? Chinatown? Rosemary’s Baby? The French Connection? The Karate Kid? Back to the Future?

Laugh all you want. All of these could happen. Well, maybe not Streets of Fire. Just don’t come crying to me when it’s your favorite movie. I already warned you.

With that out of the way, let’s do some brief reviews of films I’ve seen but haven’t been able to write full reviews for:

Hannibal Rising – you mean people didn’t want to see a skinny French kid as Hannibal Lecter? Go figure. Audiences love their Lecter, but they love Anthony Hopkins as Lecter. No Hopkins, no deal. I actually thought the movie was OK for what it was. I’m just not sure why we needed to see Hannibal’s unpleasant childhood. Isn’t he scarier if we don’t know why he kills people and eats their brains? Giving him a sympathetic backstory just kind of detracts from his legend. He’s not Batman, for crying out loud. Nice try, though. **1/2

Bridge to Terabithia – a surprisingly strong and affecting film that might be the best live-action Disney family movie since Jodie Foster was a kid. I even knew the twist going in (my nephew’s friend had read the book and told us) and I still wasn’t prepared. It’s not just a sad movie that works on you because it’s sad, either – it works on you because it’s good. I wonder if the Disney people even knew what they were unleashing on its young audience. It’s the Old Yeller for the ‘00’s. I love any movie that acknowledges that childhood isn’t all fun and games, and this certainly emphasizes that point. Terrific performances from the young actors, especially AnnaSophia Robb and Josh Hutcherson, who are definite stars in the making. It did pretty well at the boxoffice, but I have a feeling this is going to be a cult film for a whole generation of kids. It’s definitely more substantial than most of what they see at that age, and I strongly believe it will be remembered for a long time to come. ***1/2

The Number 23 – Jim Carrey lost his mind. Not just on screen, but when he read the script for this thing and agreed to do it! A fascinating first 2/3 gets flushed down the crapper by a weak and unsatisfying twist ending. What were they thinking? I could go on and on about how ridiculous the coincidences in this movie are, but I’d have to reveal far too much. Let’s just say, the ending isn’t what you’re expecting – and what you’re expecting is probably better than this. Having said that, it’s actually not badly directed by the beloved Joel Schumacher, Carrey is pretty compelling throughout and there are some interesting ideas here, even if they’re not fully explored. But man, that ending is such a fucking letdown! You gotta stick the landing or the plane crashes… **1/2

Zodiac – fucking excellent film! A quantum leap forward for David Fincher, who is now officially one of American cinema’s heavy hitters. Brilliant cast, fantastic story, riveting as all get out – what more do you want? If you haven’t seen this yet…just go. ****

300 – America, you are nutty. This is what you like? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that glamorizes war more than this one. Ever. The Spartans are motherfucking insane. These are people who throw babies off cliffs if they’re weak or deformed, in some bizarre fascistic quest for purity. These are our heroes? These are the people we’re supposed to root for? Not me, pal. These guys are just a little too gung-ho for my taste. When the messenger guy said “this is madness” I was inclined to agree!

So basically 300 Spartans commit suicide by getting slaughtered by a much larger army, when they could have waited to gain the council’s approval and built up their forces first. Brilliant strategy there, guys. Seriously, it’s like these crazy fuckers couldn’t wait to die! All for “the glory of war”. Bullshit, OK? Any veteran will tell you that the only glory in war is surviving it. Forget politics – the Spartans are just fucking war-crazy lunatics. So I guess they got what they wanted, didn’t they? Why are we supposed to care? There’s very little talk of “fighting for freedom” or anything that might make their struggle worthy. They just want to go out there and kill, because it’s cool. Fuck that nonsense.

Look, I don’t have a problem with war movies in general. Movies like Rambo and The Dirty Dozen are obviously fictional fantasies set against the backdrop of real wars, and they work just fine on that level. But 300 is supposed to be an account of a real battle, and to portray it as some kind of fucking video game (I’m not just referring to the visual style, either) is just reprehensible. Especially when we’re actually at war. How many kids are going to buy into this “glory of war” nonsense and sign up for Iraq? Hopefully none. Whether war is necessary or inevitable is one thing. But it certainly isn’t cool. Getting your head chopped off isn’t “a bitchin’ time”. It’s fucked up, And guess what, we don’t fight with swords and shields anymore, my friends. So take your “glory of war” bullshit and shove it up your asses.

It’s not even as if the Spartans are really sympathetic people, either. They seem to have 3 modes – argue, fuck and kill. Especially kill. They’re like human pit bulls, constantly bellowing about how they love to kill when they’re not killing. They don’t seem to mind dying too much either. So who cares if they do or not? Maybe the Spartans were really like this (though I doubt to this extreme), but it doesn’t make for compelling cinema.

Some people seem to feel that the visual style justifies everything. Sorry, but I don’t buy that either. I never read the comic book (and that’s what it is, folks, not a “graphic novel”), but I never read Sin City either, and I liked that movie just fine. But I had the same problem with that film as this one: it doesn’t really require any artistic vision to simply take the look of a comic book and put it directly on screen. Especially these days, when computers and blue screens can do pretty much anything. Yes, 300 looks amazing. But is that all it takes to make a good movie? Sorry, I’m not impressed by this. I’d be impressed if they had actually adapted the comic into an actual movie, one that doesn’t look like the actors are running around in an old virtual-reality game. If they had created the world of the comic without the use of Computer Generated Imagery, that would be one thing. But that would require some actual thought and effort. I didn’t pay to see a comic book on screen – I paid to see a movie! Why didn’t they just save themselves the trouble and make a cartoon? Actually, I’ve seen cartoons that are less shallow than this. At least some of them are based on original ideas.

So if your idea of a good time is watching a bunch of bloodthirsty maniacs slaughter people and get slaughtered in turn, then Zack Snyder (overrated hack) and Frank Miller (warmongering nutjob) have the movie for you! And apparently a lot of people are buying into it, if the audience at my screening was any indication. I just find the whole thing appalling. There are plenty of war movies out there that are about something, that portray the experience honestly and realistically. Sadly, 300 is just one-dimensional, idiotic “war porn” full of bloody money shots. If that’s your kind of thing, go for it. But I would hope that people are smarter than that. Apparently not. *1/2

That about covers it for now. I’ll be back soon with more reviews (yes, I’m serious). Later.

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