Artists Pay Back (The Blog)

June 11, 2010

Movies of the 80’s That Should Be Remade

Did you hear about that new movie? The Karate Kid. Man, there’s something familiar about that title.

Yes, it’s just the latest (and not anywhere near the last) in an avalanche of movies being adapted from the cinematic wellspring of my youth. The summer movie season has already seen remakes, er reboots, uh, I mean reimaginings of A Nightmare on Elm Street and Clash of the Titans (and this doesn’t even take into account TV show reboots exploding on the big screen) and there are many more on tap.

Now, it’s not that I am anti-remake. Not at all. Though I do think a little more time should pass between original and redo (I’d say 40+ years is a better timeframe) and you should only remake movies that need remakes. For instance, The Breakfast Club does not need a remake, the original holds up well-enough today that any modern tweaks would only be pandering. (Really, do we some crappy script that just throws in references to sexting and “OMG’s.” Thankfully an intended remake appears to have fallen apart last I heard.)

Also, for a movie to need a remake, the original should be something that is horribly dated to the point where it’s hard for an audience to get past it to focus on the story. To me, the best movies to remake are ones that either never got the attention they deserved or ones with a great story to tell that were botched in the execution.

Of the three mentioned above – Karate Kid, Titans, and Nightmare – none really fall into these categories. The stories are universal enough that any dated references won’t overpower the core story. Sure, Titans is high-grade cheese filled with lame effects (though you gotta love Harryhausen), bad dialogue and worse acting but it is a beloved movie almost because of those things rather than in spite of them. Besides in the case of the new Titans, it wasn’t really a remake so much as it was the same title and mostly the same characters and some familiar setups, but it deviated from the script enough that it really could have used a different title. Karate Kid appears to suffer from the same disease. Look guys, if you’re going to use the title then just remake the movie. I get why they want to name the cake and eat it to, the all important “brand recognition” factor. But the bottom line is, if you don’t have faith in your movie, focus more on the script and don’t just rely on the associations of the words gracing the cover.

As for the Nightmare† reboot. Sorry, Jackie Earle Haley, I think you’re a fantastic actor, but you, sir, are no Robert Englund.

But that’s not to say there aren’t some movies that should be remade. If they’re going to lazily stroll through the 80’s looking for films to dredge up, there are better options than the ones we’ve been given. For starters, stop going after the ones that were highly successful, those that still hold up well or ones that are largely considered cultural touchstones of our collective youth (this means you sure-to-be-horrible upcoming remake of Red Dawn) and start combing through the noble failures.

And if you’re going to use the title then remake the movie.

Below is a completely personal list of movies I think would be much better options for remakes than what we’ve been getting.

One note: When I sat down to write this, I decided to pick the movies first and after finishing I would check to see if any of these are actually being remade. Any notes to this effect can be found at the end.

• Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins* (1985) – This is one of the poster children for “Under-watched Gems.” I subjected my twelve-year-old to a viewing and she really liked it. I think the ending suffers from some bad editing and the climax is mostly on the “anti” side of the coin, but it’s still a fun, enjoyable movie. And I always appreciated the ballsiness of the title. Announcing an intended sequel right there in the name of a movie takes guts (or, in the case of something, like Leonard, Part 6, an unhealthy amount of delusion). You would probably need to get Joel Grey to play Chiun again because he nailed the role (though if I remember correctly there was some grousing about him playing a Korean man, jeesh.) My fear is they would try to get some comic actor to take on the role and completely misread what was great about the humorous character. The Statue of Liberty scene (which is still impressive) would of course need to be altered, but the framework of the movie is strong. Get a better villain and a good sardonic leading man and you’ve got what could actually be the beginning of more adventures this time.

Electric Dreams** (1984) – I always liked this oddball little movie about “Moles” and his computer that gains consciousness. It’s part Cyrano, part Short Circuit and part Fatal Attraction as he and said computer both develop feelings for the sexy girl in the building. Some of the computer stuff was fairly advanced for the mid-80’s with a computer-controlled home wired into a central hub. But with such a strong focus on what should be cutting edge technology, an update is necessary at this point. However, the central conceit of a man competing with a wired-in suitor for the attention of a woman is quite relevant in our social media obsessed world of today. Who hasn’t felt like they were sharing someone’s affection with a tech item? (And often, losing the battle.)

• Dragonslayer (1981) – This was a well-done and admirably dark (in many ways) movie that has been largely forgotten. I remember it being a pretty big deal when it was released. It was a good story that developed a real sense of dread. I rewatched this six or so years ago and thought that it held up well all things considered. Most surprising, I found that the dragon effects aren’t embarrassing as I thought they might be. In fact, it looked better than some other CGI-reliant movies that have come out since (Dragonheart, please step forward). It’s a good story that could use a little tightening but would do well with some carefully done state-of-the-art production work (as long as they don’t overdo it with the CGI). Nerd-blasphemy alert: I’d rather see Peter Jackson take on this than the Hobbit.

• The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982) – Sure everyone remembers Conan, but do you remember all of the other Dungeons and Dragons type movies that came out in those days? The glut of low-budget, high-gore, mystical sword-and-sandal flicks that probably helped define the term “straight to video?” For me, the greatest of them all was The Sword and the Sorcerer. Now if everyone gave a collective “huh?” to the title I would understand. But if you watched cable TV circa 1983 and I said the words “the movie that had that three-bladed sword that could shoot the blades out” now you know what I mean, don’t you? Yeah, you do. It’s been twenty years since I’ve seen this one, but rather than slap out yet another Conan, how about the studio instead give this one a redo. It was fairly well done and I remember it having a sly sense of humor about itself among the buckets of blood that Conan lacked. And of course, that awesome sword.

• Silent Rage (1982) – Chuck Norris battles an unstoppable, raised-from-the-dead killer. This was one of the first movies I snuck in to see and since they’re treading on the corpses of all of the other 80’s slasher flicks with pointless rermakes, why not this one? It’s got a nice paranoid take on the old “doctors playing God” scenario that is relatable today with all of the genetic advancements and superdrugs and it all begets an raging (but mute, hence the title) killing machine. And, you know, Chuck is still around and ready for a comeback so you really just have to roll the cameras.

• Manitou (uh, 1978, close enough) – Oh, the spirits are angry in this one, my friend. It’s about a woman who finds out that she’s about to give birth to an ancient Indian Demon thing. It starts as a suspected tumor. On her back. And give birth she does. From a giant lump. Still on her back. Only a witch doctor can save her and the world from this creature. A hospital ward gets frozen. Her hospital room ends up in outer space. Why is this not already filming?

The Prophecy (1979, yeah that counts) – Ah, speaking of ‘science is evil’ movies, let’s talk about the Prophecy. I’m sure with the newly oil-enriched Gulf of Mexico we can probably expect a renewed interest in “we’re screwing with nature and nature is going to start fighting back” type movies. This one is about giant bear thing that was mutated by some careless industrial waste and it rampages through a park killing everyone. Yes the effects are terrible, the acting is bad, the script is worse, but the setup is fine and the monster was appreciably unpredictable and out-of-control. It was actually scary and not just because it was so bad. It just needs a better production budget.

• The Last Starfighter (1984) – This was the hardest one to put on the list and truth be told I’d probably be offended if it was being remade (and it will not be a popular opinion). I don’t know anyone who saw it that didn’t like it. Ideally, I’d like to see the original movie gain an appreciation again but I don’t think it’s going to happen. Though it didn’t do much in the theaters it had a great life on video/cable, yet it’s not one that still permeates pop culture and doesn’t get replayed often as far as I can tell. With video games even more realistic and the controls more complex, the central conceit that a race of aliens uses a video game to recruit a pilot would work even better now. The performances were all good, it had humor, heart, action and oddly-foreheaded aliens – in short, it had it all. If they simply upgrade the special effects (and don’t try to go overboard with some reimagining or effect overload) and stick to the same ‘small town kid does good’ setup, this could be a real crowd pleaser again.

• Uncommon Valor (1983) – This may be my favorite “war movie” of the 80’s (okay, wait, sorry, Red Dawn first, then this, then Missing in Action: Part 2.) It’s been in rotation on HBO this month and it was great to see again. The cast is excellent – Gene Hackman, Patrick Swayze, Fred Ward, the reliably crazy Randall “Tex” Cobb, the underappreciated Tim Thomerson. I suppose the remake would want to bring it into the modern day by having it relate to the middle east somehow and as long as that’s the only real change, I could let it slide. Leave the rest of it alone and get the damn team back together.

• Used Cars (1980) – Some have called the recent movie “The Goods” a remake of this because it centered on used car salesmen, but it wasn’t (and an insult to even suggest upon viewing both). I’m sure someone, somewhere tried to get the Used Cars name slapped on that one but they thankfully didn’t. Used Cars is a very funny movie and one of Kurt Russel’s best comedic performances. In general I’m not a fan of comedy remakes, because unlike a dramatic situation, you can’t recycle comedic moments and have the same effect. So you then have to either change all the jokes (thus negating a need for a ‘remake’) or you use the same material and let them suffer from either familiarity – which is comedy death – or an unfair comparison to what will surely be considered the superior original. Still, having said all that, some of the situations in this movie are just too good to not be funny again if handled with care. And other than the horribly retro apparel, there’s not a whole lot that would need to be updated.

• War Games*** (1983) – “Shall we play a game?” Yes, it’s a beloved movie that was a fairly sizeable hit in the 80s and there’s not a whole lot that can be improved in regards to acting, story or production. So it pretty much contradicts my “reasons to do a remake” list. Oh, but my aren’t those computers horribly outdated. Modems play a big part in the story for god’s sake (and if you say “what’s a modem?” then my point is proved). I know there was some had-to-be-horrible sequel thing that was crapped out a few years ago. It was so bad, I don’t even think it went ‘straight to video,’ they probably just shipped the master disc straight to TBS. So let’s just go with a remake. They can even get Matthew Broderick to play the reclusive genius who built the killer program. But don’t you touch Ferris Bueller, dammit.****

• The Black Hole***** (er, 1979, last one, I promise) – Man, I loved this movie when I first saw it. Man, is it hard to sit through now. The comedy falls totally flat. The special effects are atrocious. The dialogue and acting is bad even by 1970’s live-action Disney movie standards. It was hard to get either of my kids to sit through a viewing of this one and once the mocking began I just had to take it. So please remake this one but there are some iron clad things that shalt not be changed. V.I.N.C.E.N.T. was and still is cool, keep him the same. The Cygnus was a nice looking ship, again, not broken so don’t fix. You gotta have the ‘former crew members being turned into lobotomized drones’ storyline. And above all, do not change anything, ANYTHING, about Maximilian. He was, hands down, the coolest robot bad ass ever to grace the screen. Gort couldn’t hold his jock. And nothing from even my beloved Star Wars trilogy could face up to him and his deadly helicopter hands. And no crappy CGI for him either. Build the damn thing life size, no excuses.

*Remo’s adventure may indeed be beginning again. Last July there was chatter about some producers looking to get a ‘Destroyer’ movie on track. ‘The Destroyer’ is name of the series of novels the character came from.

**Well that’s two-for-two. Apparently Electric Dreams is also in development. The best outcome for this would be that maybe I can actually get the original on DVD now. Though the tagged article is a couple of years old, there is a listing for it on IMDB as well.

***Apparently this one is in the works with Leo himself trying to get it rebooted.


*****Well, I can’t say I’m surprised. The good news is that they appear to be adhering to at least two of my commandments thus far. The Cygnus’ design will remain the same and Maximilian will be back with in all his spinning blade glory. The plan is to make this one a little more serious and scientifically sound, and that may not be a bad thing.

†The Nightmare on Elm Street situation does bring up one distinction when looking at remakes. When you making a movie about a specific character or group of characters, you can get way with using a familiar character in a new story and avoid being an outright remake. For instance, on its surface The Dark Knight was a movie about Batman squaring off against the Joker but it wasn’t at all a remake of 1989’s Batman even though that movie had the same central conflict. In this respect, superhero movies can be churned out from now until the end of time without one ever needing to be a “remake.” Sometimes, however, a character and actor are too intimately linked making the extension of the character in a new adventure difficult for audiences to take. (Would anyone else be accepted as John McClane? Did Terminator: Salvation ultimately fail because Arnold had only a token cameo? My answers would be “not any anytime soon” and “yes, but among many other reasons.”) But, as James Bond has proven time and again, even a seemingly irreplaceable actor ultimately takes a back seat to the character if done well.

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