Spring is a time of new beginnings.
Cute baby animals, budding plants and a general sense of freshness abound at this time of year, as the world wakes up from a long, harsh (very, very wet) winter.
With that in mind, and fresh off the high of seeing the latest King Kong flick, I began to think about remakes.
They get a bad rap. Yes, most of them are inferior and unnecessary. Yes, some of them are downright offensive (I’m looking at you, 2015’s “Point Break”).
And, yes, they do tend to lean heavily on our collective nostalgia button to the point of exhaustion, often needling us, the viewers, into parting with our cash out of some weird sense of obligation to the beloved originals of yesteryear, much like a deadbeat friend hitting you up for cash after reminiscing about the good old days.
However, some of them are amazing.
Successful remakes have given us some of the greatest modern films. Consider: 1982’s “The Thing,” 2001’s “Ocean’s Eleven” (and subsequent sequels), 2010’s “True Grit,” 1991’s “Cape Fear,” 1986’s “The Fly,” 1997’s “Vanishing Point,” 2006’s “The Departed,” 1956’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (the rare example of a legendary director, Hitchcock, remaking his own movie), and the ongoing television version of “Westworld” (2016—?).
Quality viewing, all.
Even a cursory perusal of that list will show that a successful remake hinges on a few key innovations:
1. The story itself gains new importance when viewed through an updated perspective, in light of events subsequent to the release of the original;
2. Technology has changed in such a way that previously impossible FX are now doable, thus better realizing the writer/director’s actual vision for the original film;
3. The original had promise, but flopped due to any number of potential pratfalls not directly related to the story; and/or
4. Placing the plot in a different culture/time period enhances the story and allows it new importance and complexity.
So, with a surge of sunny vitamin D coursing through me and a fresh, springtime sensibility in mind, I set out to create a list of the five films I believe deserve a remake. Some you will know, others you may not — but all are ripe for a fresh set of eyes on both sides of the camera.
Please note: I’m talking here about strict film-to-film remakes (or, reimaginings, if you will), not sequels, prequels or shared universe expansion films — all of which are subjects complex enough to merit their own discussions.
1. “Stealing Harvard” (2002)
Student debt has never been a bigger issue than it is today, with many young Americans effectively entering a state of what is essentially indentured servitude in exchange for a degree, leveraging years of living in debt against the hope that their degree, as promised, proves the gateway to a better life someday. It’s even worse for impoverished or military veteran students who fall prey to the predatory recruiting practices of for-profit education.
This lends a new, decidedly darker tone to the scenario proposed by this under appreciated 2002 flick, which stars Jason Lee as a well intentioned but dopey uncle who, years before, promised his niece that if she worked hard, stayed out of trouble and got accepted into college, he would pay for it. Well, she did. And, of course, he can’t afford it. Determined to not let down the smart, ambitious young lady of decidedly low income means, he turns to his eccentric best buddy (Tom Green) for help in coming up with the cash — by any means necessary. Their method of choice is true blue Robin Hood: they set off to rob rich elitists, and one criminal they knew in high school, bumbling all the way because they are actually decent guys and decidedly incapable of villainy.
I see this being remade in a much more serious tone. A man with a troubled criminal past (I’m thinking Michael Shannon) becomes caretaker for his niece after her parents die in a car accident (or something) and, hoping to help her escape from a life of poverty and struggle makes the college agreement with her, and then must reconnect with an old criminal buddy (Ray Liotta, duh) to “come out of retirement” and “pull one last job” to get a “big score” and come through for the kid.
2. “Brotherhood of Justice” (1986)
With bullying finally being taken seriously as a true social ill and getting the attention it deserves, and in a post—Columbine world of rampant public and school shootings, I think the idea of a handful of students taking it upon themselves to step up and rid their school of danger is worth a revisit. The ’86 version stars Keanu Reeves as the leader of a secret club of seniors at a California high school, the titular “Brotherhood of Justice,” who seek out and attack drug dealers and bullies in response to the continued failings of the adult, so-called authorities to protect the students.
Of course, they eventually go too far and the thrills go to their heads in a big way, with many in the secret club quickly beginning to abuse their power and simply attack anybody they don’t like.
Set in a low income urban school — or a posh private school, perhaps? — I definitely see some potential for a modern take on this one. Maybe Reeves can cameo as a stoner history teacher (“I believe our adventure through time has taken a most serious turn…”)?
3. “Swamp Thing”
How is this not already a thing?
With big studio execs scraping the bottom of every comic book bin in all the nation’s finer flea markets looking for intellectual properties to snatch up, how have we not been treated to a decent, modern version of this classic creature?
Comics, cartoons, a live action TV series and subsequent movie (directed by Wes Craven, no less), this one’s been there, it’s a proven safe bet. A fresh look at Swamp Thing is an idea whose time has practically passed. In his most popular incarnation, Swamp Things is, officially, “A swamp monster that resembles an anthropomorphic mound of vegetable matter. He fights to protect his swamp home, the environment in general, and humanity from various supernatural or terrorist threats.”
Come on! He’s got it all: superpowers, cool villains and a decidedly eco-friendly message. He’s like a less preachy Captain Planet. I can’t be the first guy to see the potential here. In film or on TV, this one writes itself.
4. “Gallowwalkers” (2012)
This was so close to being great it actually makes me a little mad. Consider the original premise: It’s about a gunslinger who is hunted down by the relentless zombies of everyone he ever killed. It’s a great story, and one that was ruined in the 2012 lackluster crap-fest, starring Wesley “I need to pay back the IRS, so any work will do” Snipes. The central idea is far and away the best thing about the movie — and they even changed that in the end! Instead, Snipes’ is killed while trying to avenge his murdered girlfriend. Then, a nun breaks her covenant to save his life (don’t ask, it’s dumb), which in turn curses him. The hex brings his recent victims back to life, and, as the undead, they pursue him for revenge.
Let’s just forget the first movie ever happened, pull an HGTV on this bad boy and flip this flop. I see it as a serious horror/western hybrid that’s part “True Grit” and part “The Walking Dead.” Consider: a gunslinger, a legit bad guy a la Billy the Kid, is cursed after desecrating ancient tribal lands — or some similar Western movie stereotype — and is from then on pursued by the zombies of anybody he kills. Violence being the guy’s only reaction to anything, he’s bound to rack up quite a following rather quickly. Hence, he’ll be forced to learn to use alternative means of problem solving while he flees the angry undead horde and searches for a way to lift the curse. Too easy, Hollywood.
5. “The Running Man” (1987)
Undoubtedly the weirdest of what became a score of questionable Stephen King adaptations, this early Arnold Schwarzenegger vessel maintained the basic premise of the novel, but lost the point. The hero has to be an average, clever guy with no other options, not a superhuman-looking macho man, or it doesn’t work.
Consider the premise: “In 2025, the world’s economy is in shambles and America has become a totalitarian dystopia. Ben Richards, an impoverished resident of the fictional Co-Op City, is unable to find work, having been blacklisted from his trade. His gravely ill daughter Cathy needs medicine, and his wife Sheila has resorted to prostitution to bring in money for the family. In desperation, Richards turns to the Games Network, a government-operated television station that runs violent game shows. After rigorous physical and mental testing, Richards is selected to appear on ‘The Running Man,’ the Games Network’s most popular, lucrative, and dangerous program.”
Richards then proceeds to evade “The Hunters” for longer than anybody previously thought possible, becomes a national sensation, brings hope to a downtrodden populace and embarrasses the corrupt government, upping the stakes with each hour he stays alive.
Basically, it should have been “The Fugitive” and they made it WrestleMania. Actually, I see it working really well as a TV show. The story is very episodic nature, and it would be a cool way to capitalize on the fact that it’s about a TV show. Maybe even include some fake “future” commercials?
Cast an unknown everyman in the lead — and Matthew McConaughey as the super sadistic leader of the Games Network Hunters — and you’re off. The idea of a morally bankrupt society obsessed with violent escapist, (sort of) reality-based entertainment will transfer just fine. Trust me.