Hollywood's Total Revamp Syndrome - Flashback Week


Remember when film adaptations were inspired by great works of literature or plays on Broadway? Then one day movies got so big that Broadway began taking cues from Hollywood with musical versions of Legally Blonde, The Lion King, and Hairspray (which was later re-re-made into a movie starring John Travolta in a fat suit).

It’s easy to see today that Hollywood has run out of ideas, especially when the biggest movie openings of the last ten years have nearly all been based off of comic books, children’s literature, and theme park rides. Case in point: the first two Harry Potter films, The Dark Night, Spider-Man 3, the Twilight series, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Iron Man comprise the top eight film openings ever, making more money in their first weekend than any other movies in the history of film.

Yet by the 2012 film season, these formulas are growing stale and cinemas are starting to see movie releases based on popular films of old. It’s a method that has never proved to be a sure-fire formula even for the ends of simple money making. For instance, the recent remake of Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs in 2011 was a major commercial and critical failure, proving that even picking a popular movie from 40 years ago does not necessarily mean that it will strike a chord with audiences or critics today.

Image courtesy of ABC Pictures.

The original Straw Dogs tells the story of David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman), a weak professor who moves to the country and must protect his wife Amy (Susan George) from a gang of hooligans. It is a film I never thought would be remade, mainly because it has the longest and most horrific rape scene I have ever seen in any film, let alone one made in the early ’70s. In fact it was so gruesome, it was famously called “the first American fascist film.” So you can imagine why it was so surprising for film buffs to see posters for the remake of Straw Dogs covering the subways last year.

As hard to watch as the original may be, it’s a favorite among movie geeks and critics like those at Rotten Tomatoes who gave it a 91% rating. The remake, on the other hand, was deemed worthy of only a 42% rating with a 35% rating among users on the site.

But perhaps the worst showing in Hollywood’s come-and-go remake fevers is a notoriously sacrilegious tribute to one of my personal all-time favorite movies. When Gus Van Sant remade Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Psycho, he received a “Razzie Award” (The Golden Raspberry Awards for terrible movies) for the Worst Director of 1998 — and I fully agree, it is one of the worst films ever made.

Poster design by Intralink Graphic Design.

If you’re not familiar with Gus Van Sant by name, you’ve still probably seen at least one of his movies and in all likelihood, you really enjoyed it. The man behind such modern day classics as Milk and Good Will Hunting said he made his shot-for-shot copy of the mother-of-all slasher flicks as an answer to everything he hated about the Hollywood machine’s remake buzz of the late ’90s. Yet just by adding a few extra scenes and needless details, he typified all the damage a remake could do to just about any movie. The video below shows one of the most respected and brilliantly directed sequences in film history, Hitchcock’s infamous “shower scene,” juxtaposed by Van Sant’s version. See if you can spot the differences:


This scene aside, there was still plenty about Van Sant’s version to hate. First of all, it is hard to imagine Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates even before he was in Wedding Crashers. Anthony Perkins was so fantastic in the original role that he was pigeonholed and subsequently received very little work afterwards. It was hard for audiences to see him in any other movie and not think of a soft spoken psychopath. While very few actors could ever fill Anthony Perkins’ shoes, for some reason Gus Van Sant picked the comedic talents of Vince Vaughn.

Then again, the fault doesn’t lie entirely in Vaughn’s lackluster performance. Gus Van Sant made the unforgivable decision to show Norman Bates masturbating when he spies on his guest undressing. In the original movie, Norman Bates simply watches her, forcing the audience to imagine what’s going on in Norman Bates’s head. There lies the genius of the original: the audience is motivated by their own interest to peer into the mind of a serial killer. When Gus Van Sant added a few frames of masturbation, the audience participation was spoon-fed and thus, cut-off.

Maybe Van Sant’s indulgence shows the beginning of Hollywood runing short of good ideas, or maybe it shows how our audiences need everything spelled out for them. Maybe the directors and studios are remaking all these classic films so our dumb and unimaginative minds can actually understand them. On the other hand, perhaps turning to less-than-stellar movies is the answer. If you can’t make a classic any easier to swallow, why not re-tweak some aged mindless pulp for the masses? With that in mind, here are a few memorable flicks from years past that are slated to be remade in the coming years:

Logan’s Run

Poster art by Charles Moll, design by Bemis Balkin.

After Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling hit it big (enough) with their art house action movie, Drive, they could have their pick of just about any screenplay they wanted. With some serious clout behind them, they decided to re-make the little known ’70s sci-fi cult film, Logan’s Run.

The original film depicts a perfect, seemingly utopian society with a catch– no one is allowed to live past thirty. Logan (Micheal York) has to escape from the futuristic colony before he is caught growing gray hair. He fights his way past poorly animated laser guns and clunky robots to find himself in a ravished Washington, DC where he meets a crazy old cat lover who lives in the abandoned capitol building. The new movie, written by Andrew Baldwin, has shifted release dates with some sources reporting its release as early as this year.

Total Recall

Image courtesy of TriStar Pictures.

Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, and Bryan Cranston have all singed on for the remake of Total Recall with Len Wiseman, the director of the Underworld series, heading up the project for a 2012 release.

Total Recall is about the virtual vacation of Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who travels to Mars as an undercover spy… or does he?

He does. If you don’t remember, it’s the movie with the alien that has three boobs. Screenwriter Mark Bomback (Live Free or Die Hard) is committed to staying true to the film’s literary origins in the Philip K. Dick story, “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale,” on which the original film was based but took some drastic artistic liberties with. The potentially unrecognizable revamp is slated to come out in August this year.

Red Dawn

Image courtesy of MGM/UA Entertainment Co.

Red Dawn is about a group of teenagers who stop a Russian invasion from taking over their small town. Since the Russians are no longer our bitter enemies, MGM has decided to change the villains to North Korea.

The film will star Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Adrianne Palicki (Friday Night Lights), and amazingly, they got Dan Bradley to direct. You don’t remember Dan Bradley? He’s the stuntman from the Spider-Man movies. Look for his directorial debut this November.