Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Haywire Hollywood: The 10 Worst Remakes Ever

Author's Note: If this is not the greatest work I have yet written, it's certainly the longest. You'd better sit down for this one.

Statistically, and this comes straight from the Bureau of Monkeys Typing out the Encyclopedia on Typewriters, one in five movies coming out of Hollywood since the turn of the century has been blatant plagiarism. Many simply call these remakes, but as life happens and new generations spring forth the status of these titles passes under the radar. Sometimes this is not a big deal. Sweet November with Keanu Reeves was a remake, but nobody really believes Sandy Dennis, star of the original 1968 version, rolled in her grave over it. She did, after all, crown her career with the role of Aunt Lucy in 976-EVIL, which stands as a classic example of the collateral damage suffered by 80s horror flicks when another mom-and-pop video store folds.

Unfortunately, seldom is the unmemorable movie remade. Rather than take failing formulas of the past (e.g. Heaven's Gate) and doing something creative to make them successful and memorable (e.g. replace Kris Kristofferson's role with Cornelius from [the original] Planet of the Apes), Hollywood executives and the oversupply of "creative" talent who, like all of us, have to put food on the table (plus pay for Gertrude's new nose) are often eager to grab what they see is The Sure Thing. (Thankfully, no one has tried to cash in on The Sure Thing, not yet anyway.) So they turn to the Classics.

No, no one is remaking The Godfather, nor Jaws and not, for the moment, Citizen Kane. Even Hollywood has to have some scruples. And far too large a percentage of the population still watches those. No, a little sneakiness is needed to pull it off, so they turn to classics that are only enjoyed by a minority and widely undiscovered.

Then the remake, as almost all remakes go, is terrible. As a result, fewer people even discover there is an original, because most passing references to the film will bring up vague recollections of some stupid movie that flopped just a few years back. Let's take a look at the top ten worst remakes, as of October 2006:

#10: Assault on Precinct 13 (2005)
Originally: Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

The original has finally made its way into the $5.00 bin at WalMart, so if your location gets one of these shipments you might get lucky. The original is a fantastic shoot-'em-up that helped John Carpenter hone some cinematic skills before he blew up two years later with Halloween. The Plot: A police precinct scheduled for closing (the very next day) is accosted by misguided youth who break through windows for about 45 minutes and meet Austin Stoker and Co., who blow them away with shotguns. It's not Touch of Evil, but it has heart. Orson Welles probably saw this movie and loved it. The remake: you didn't see it, and neither did I.

#9: The Punisher (2004)
Originally: The Punisher (1989)

Probably as low-budget as Assault on Precinct 13, the original Punisher is without doubt Dolph Lundgren's best role second only to Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. This is largely because Dolph has as many lines in this starring role as he did in his 20 minutes of screentime in Rocky IV. But don't let this zing hold you back, because Dolph's one-liners are pure gold:

Evil Yukuza Lady: "Who sent you?"
The Punisher: "Batman."


I have waited over a decade to use that line.

The Plot: The Punisher, or Frank Castle in a past life, takes on the Yukuza (headed by Evil Yukuza Lady) with an assortment of sharp knives, guns (including a vintage Tommy Gun) and a motorcycle. He also lives in the sewer and used to be a cop partnered with Lou Gossett Jr. Lou Gossett Jr. After the success of X-Men and Spider-Man, Marvel Comics decided to let the Punisher property out again and a remake(:) that included playing baseball with a hand grenade and John Travolta playing the same role he did in Swordfish, Broken Arrow, and Face/Off (when he was the bad guy... 'cause he was both... in that movie... nevermind) resulted.

See the original. Better yet, buy the original and share it with your friends.

#8: Rollerball (2002)
Originally: Rollerball (1975)

John McTiernan is a good man. He gave us Die Hard, Predator and a very under-rated jem called The 13th Warrior. Remember how Anne Heche had her little "gay" thing with Ellen DeGeneres in the late '90s? Well, if John McTiernan never "played for the other team", there is ample evidence he had at least a "man-crush" on Norman Jewison. Consider this chronology / theory: McTiernan divorced his second wife in 1997. To win over Jewison's heart, McTiernan directed and released The Thomas Crown Affair in 1999. Norman Jewison, director of the original Thomas Crown Affair (1968), stayed married to his wife of nearly 40 years at the time. Not to be outdone, McTiernan remade another Jewison movie, Rollerball. The remake flopped, McTiernan folded and re-married (a girl) in 2003.

Not convinced? Well, it's just a theory. Anyway, The Plot: James Caan rocks out as Jonathan, champion rollerball player in a future world run by evil totalitarian corporations. Rollerball involves motorcycles, roller skates and a stainless steel ball that makes a very loud clinking noise. Jonathan kicks so much butt they want him to retire. Jonathan doesn't. It culminates in an ending scene that could have shut the industry down. The soundtrack makes copious use of Bach and other classical music. It is in every way perfect. The Remake(:) has LL Cool J and Chris Klein. End of story.

#7: Solaris (2002)
Originally: Solaris (1972)

Besides Battleship Potyomkin, and perhaps Ballad of a Soldier, Solaris is the only piece of cinematic beauty to come out of the Soviet Union. The Plot: I have absolutely no idea. But it looks great. Downright amazing. Long, tedious, and undeniably communist. I love this, but I hate communism. You get the idea. The Remake: George Clooney talking to the chick from The Truman Show and occasionally donning a spacesuit. Sold as a romance meets sci-fi, somebody forgot to tell Steven Soderbergh that just because he made Kafka no one is ever going to pull this off and make money.

#6: Titanic (1997)
Originally: A Night to Remember (1958)

Fine, I concede that Titanic is not a remake of A Night to Remember. But where does anyone get away with selling their movie like it's the authoritative work regarding the sinking of the big boat? Take a totally asinine plot with Leo and Kate and then a dramatic ending and what do you get? Millions upon millions of dollars, critics hailing the film as timeless, and 600 cartoonists around the country cashing in on the "ship sinks" joke. Nearly a decade later, it's safe to say no one cares about this movie and it will never make a Top 100 list. Back to the original (The Plot): tons of amazing stories about passengers on the Titanic. The ship sinks. Some make it, some don't. Very emotionally traumatic, and the ship sinking is still amazingly realistic and spared no expense.

#5. The Italian Job (2003)
Originally: The Italian Job (1969)

The Plot: The Michael Caine (yes, the Michael Caine) pulls off a heist. In Italy (hence the title). With Mini Coopers. Witticisms and other hilarity ensues with a cliffhanger ending that should make this required viewing in all British secondary schools. The Remake: Mark Wahlberg pulls off a heist. In Los Angeles (hence the... wait, what?). With Mini Coopers. Seth Green makes jokes about Napster that withstand the test of time as well as fish in your pockets. This was successful, and while no one's watching it today, they remember it, and have no interest in the original. Damn you, Donald Sutherland.

#4. Lord of the Flies (1990)
Originally: Lord of the Flies (1963)

Many remember reading the novel in high school. Maybe somewhere a teacher with taste screens the original. As my teachers had no taste, I was subjected to the 1990 version. While the original takes William Golding's novel and gives it a perfect cinematic translation (with special emphasis on the scene with the Lord of the Flies), the remake was modernized and completely lost Golding's message. The Plot: British schoolboys are stranded on an island without any adults. Hobbesian state of nature happens. The Remake: schoolboys are stranded on an island without any adults. Script rewrites form characters that probably aren't missed very much by their parents. Hobbesian state of nature happens; the audience rejoices.

#3. The Good Thief (2002)
Originally: Bob le flambeur (1955)

The Good Thief is a film I myself fell victim to, which is why it ranks so high on the list. While the admittedly decent Nick Nolte remake did not exactly sweep America by storm, it hurt this young soul. When I finally watched Bob, I suffered the "I've seen this before" syndrome that foiled much of what turned out to be a superior film. The Plot: Bob is a down-on-his-luck high roller who thinks up a plan to rob a casino in Monte Carlo. French New Wave noir and a thick aura of coolness surrounds every frame. The remake stays relatively faithful to the very end, when a Hollywood ending is tacked on that was only outdone recently in Soderbergh's Ocean's Twelve.

2. The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Originally: The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Who remakes a Sinatra film? Steve Soderbergh with Ocean's Eleven. Man, why do so many directors sell out? I can't even go into this. It's just too painful.

#1. Insomnia (2002)
Originally: Insomnia (1997)

The #1 ranking is a symbolic gesture to one of my favorite films; the original Insomnia. It's like pouring out some of your alcoholic beverage for all your brothers still in the struggle. The United States version of Insomnia was not only successful, it was loved. The critics rejoiced. The audiences came in droves. Those who know of the original don't particularly care, believing Hollywood took those Scandinavians to school with the re-make of this film. The Plot: Down-trodden Swedish detective heads north to solve a murder in no-man's land Norway, the land of the midnight sun. His past and present weigh on him, and combined with 24 hours of daylight (you guessed it) insomnia ensues. It's raw, it's dark, it's the perfect anti-hero film that pulls no punches and offers little in the way of redemption. Not so for the remake: No one would hush about Robin Williams' breakout performance. Never mind that Williams gave twice the performance that very same year in a little indie venture called One Hour Photo. Let's turn to the main character: Albert Pacino. He's The Godfather. He's Scarface. He's Vincent Hannah from Heat. I have nothing but respect for the man, but when not acting suave and tough, Pacino comes off as nothing more than an old woman hagging around Alaska looking for misplaced dentures.

"Have you seen my teeth?"

Hillary Swank, an actress who deserves all the credit she receives, serves as nothing but a distraction from the conflict between Pacino and Williams, and more importantly, the conflict between Pacino and himself. The pacing is oh-so-unevenly Hollywood, with every added feature blotted in with all the skill of a 3 year old revising a Renoir with fingerpaint. If you take anything away from this post, please consider seeing the original Insomnia.

I wish I could say I was nitpicking, but the remake epidemic has gone from HIV to AIDS, here's some honorable mentions: Point of No Return (La Femme Nikita), City of Angels (Der Himmel uber Berlin), Psycho, Cape Fear, Get Carter, Shaft, Planet of the Apes, Diabolique, Flubber (The Absent Minded Professor), The Ladykillers, The Omen 666 (The Omen), Poseidon (The Poseidon Adventure), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Longest Yard, Rear Window, Night of the Living Dead...

And here's what we have to look forward to: Black Christmas, Conan the Barbarian, East of Eden, Fahrenheit 451, The Fly, Halloween, Logan's Run, Swiss Family Robinson, Warriors...

See the growing list of atrocities here.