Remakes and Reboots: Part 4

The Failed Remake

Of course not all remakes can achieve the heights of some of the previously mentioned films.  We have recently been inundated with remakes that have either fallen short or failed spectacularly.  Famously, there is the disastrous remake of Psycho, which was copied short-for-shot with a new cast in color.  As if a new director could possibly have made the film better than Alfred Hitchcock?  The argument could be made that it is the same method used for the Night of the Living Dead update, but there are subtle differences… most importantly Savini participated in Romero movies and made his film to honor Romero and help audiences remember the original.  Psycho… I’m not entirely certain what the purpose of it was.  Everyone, even people who have never seen it, KNOW the original.  It was shot by a cinematic virtuoso whose work could not be replicated or improved upon.  The same could be said for Kurosawa (if Hitchcock has an equal, his name is Akira Kurosawa), but remakes of Kurosawa often honor the original and try to place the basics of his story in a new place (as we have seen, with mixed results).  There has been word that Kurosawa’s magnum opus, The Seven Samurai, is getting yet another American remake, this one starring George Clooney.  Not only would it be the second western remake of this terrific film, this is overall a TERRIBLE idea, however still will not insult the original as much as reshooting the source film in color, shot-for-shot, with new actors as though he didn’t get it right the first time a la Psycho.  Please people… just bite the bullet, enjoy the black and white and watch the originals… there’s a reason these films are considered some of, if not THE, greatest movies in film history…

Cult Classic Case Study: Clash of the Titans (1981)

Leaving classics aside (as the general reception of the Psycho reaction proved) cult classics have become the focus of the remake machine.  While they are more understandable fodder for a remake, the reason behind the popularity of the original is still lost on most remakers.  One easy example is Planet of the Apes, which also achieved the same level of negative response as Psycho despite Tim Burton at the helm.  I saw the remake only once, and I remember enough to know I wouldn’t want to see it again.  We’ll jump to a more recent remake disaster: Clash of the Titans.

First, the nature of the cult classic.  The cult classic remains a cult because it succeeds in spite of its flaws.  It is greater than the sum of its parts.  Clash of the Titans (1981) was a delightfully cheesy feast.  Harry Hamlin’s Perseus is a feathered-haired relic of the late 70s and early 80s.  Monsters and creations by stop-motion animation wizard Ray Harryhausen show the art form at its precision best, from scorpions and vultures, to tiny clockwork owls, and Medusa with her dozens of snakes.  Acting legends like Laurence Olivier, and soon-to-be legends like Maggie Smith graced the screen with B-movie actors like Hamlin and Ursula Andress.  The story is right out of the basics of mythology, a hero is set upon by a vengeful god… he now has to set out on a journey, far too big for him, aided only by his guile (and some well-placed allies on Olympus) he goes to save his love, Andromeda, from the wrath of a sea goddess and her vicious creatures.  He gets an adorable clockwork owl, Bubo from Athena, a special sword and shield (of course), and rides the unridable Pegasus, one of Zeus’ winged horses.  Along the way, he fights with the twisted Calibos, fends off attacks from Calibos’ vulture and scorpions, duels Medusa, and finally saves the day by turning Poseidon’s mighty Kraken to stone with Medusa’s severed head.  The film is fun because it is so silly.  Stop motion isn’t as slick as CGI, but that’s what makes it special, something that took craft, patience, and years if not decades of training to get a physical something in front of the camera with actual lights reflecting off of it and casting actual shadows.  You wonder at how the little R2D2-esque owl flew, or how the menacing vulture, or the elegant Pegasus did the same.  You know it’s all just “the movies,” but you still leave it wondering how someone could take the time and effort to do all these things.  Perseus himself is a demi-god who acts like an everyman.  He doesn’t have the strength of Hercules, by far the most famous demi-god, but his cleverness makes up for it.  He succeeds by out-thinking enemies not out-muscling them.  He gets help when he needs it, and accepts it because he knows he needs it.  He travels the world to save his love while the gods literally play at dice high above him.

The film is not the masterpiece of Yojimbo, or Psycho, it’s not even a reflection of the times like The Karate Kid, instead it’s just a fun movie designed to entertain audiences and take them away to a fantasy world like movies are meant to do.  Then the remake…

Cult Classic Remake: Clash of the Titans (2010)

It’s hard to tell whether the 2010 version was supposed to be a remake or a reboot of a series.  In the end, it doesn’t matter.  It is one of the worst remakes, and one of the worst recent movies, in a number of years.

There has been a trend in movies, especially action movies and historical period movies, for revenge as a motivation for the protagonist.  Braveheart and Gladiator are two critically acclaimed movies that display this trend.  It’s strange to consider as revenge is, at its root, a very ugly thing; something not to be desired in a person, and certainly not a hero.  In the 1980s Clash (hereafter known as Clash) Perseus’ motivation was rescue.  He has offended the sea goddess, Thetis, and now she seeks her revenge by forcing Perseus’ betrothed Andromeda to be sacrificed.  Note that it is the villain of the piece after revenge… as traditionally a villain would be after something that petty.  In the 2010 remake, Crap of the Titans (hereafter known as Crap… for obvious reasons) Perseus’ family is killed by Hades at sea (Why Hades at SEA and not Poseidon?  I’d guess because the filmmakers thought, “Hey Hades is like the Devil he’s so much COOLER than Poseidon!”), and Perseus tries to defy the gods by tracking down Hades and defeating him.  That’s right, Perseus is seeking revenge for his family, which we’ve seen in every movie that features a guy with a sword since 1997… yawn.  Perseus in Clash looked every bit the classic Greek hero (save for the feathered hair).  Greeks always favored cunning over brute force.  Perseus uses his cunning constantly, he’s quick, clever, and fast thinking.  Things aren’t always spelled out for him (or the audience), and he has to decipher mysterious puzzles to defeat overpowering enemies.  And Perseus in Crap?  He’s a generic thug.  His shaved head, square jaw, and tiny-tight mouth make him look more like a second string UFC challenger than a Greek hero.  He’s capable of two emotions, rage and despair.  He shifts his feet, looks sad, shouts, and acts as though he has no common sense whatsoever.  He uses NO guile instead relying on just being mighty.  He is very mighty.  He cuts his way out of a big scorpion after all.  He refuses favors of gods trying to help him; instead he endangers his travelling companions because of his own pride and selfishness.  He is easily the most unlikable movie hero of the last 5 years.  His quest doesn’t even make sense.  Andromeda is no longer his love interest.  She’s just a princess who gave him water and will be sacrificed because the town her father rules has defied the gods.  It seems Perseus (especially the selfish brute they made him) could go on his quest to “kill” a deathless god without worrying about saving her since he has no plot-developed attachment to her.  Instead his love interest is Io, who is as unnecessary a character as has never existed in a movie.  She’s basically there to prod this mess of a plot along and explain things to Perseus (and the audience who are treated like imbeciles by the filmmakers).  They could’ve named her Expositiana and been more honest with everyone.  Then there is Perseus’ quest.  He wants to kill Hades?  What kind of sense does that make?  The gods can’t even kill each other…  Even Homeric hero Diomedes was only able send Ares back to Olympus after gutting him with a spear imbued with power by Athena herself.  Today’s Perseus’ quest can be described in real life as this: your family is killed in a drive by; so you collect the finest police officers in the city and your closest friends to go punch a Gambino in the face.  Well done, you’ve killed everyone with you and eventually yourself, even if you knock him out, break his nose, and put him in the hospital for a month.  Eventually, they will be coming for you, and they have the ability to take you out far better than you can take them out…  Even if you are friends with the Governor…

Breaking the Remake Rules: Insulting the Original

So that’s the plot.  It’s bad enough.  How can a remake be worse than just a bad movie?  Easily, it can insult, demean, and forever try to one-up the original.  As I said from the beginning, remakes owe the original their existence.  They should recognize this, accept it, and honor the source material as much as possible.  Crap breaks this rule and never misses an opportunity to declare itself bigger, better, and badder than Clash.  They achieved the last one at least… in all the wrong ways.

Early in the film Perseus finds the clockwork owl.  He is told to leave it behind, as it’s apparently nothing useful.   The filmmakers to the audience: take THAT beloved classic character!  When scorpions appear in the desert in Crap they start out about the same size as the ones Perseus fights in Clash, then they get bigger and bigger until the final scorpion is the size of Delta’s Pacific airline fleet welded together into some metallic art-school drop-out garbage collage.  The filmmakers to the audience: You see?!  Look how much bigger and menacing our monsters are!  In Crap, Perseus comes upon a herd of elegant white Pegasus (which were all killed but one in Clash), suddenly they scatter and run as a bigger, BLACK Pegasus stomps into scene.  Filmmakers to audience: Yeah, we scared off those piddly white ones you saw in the original.  Look at how much COOLER the menacing BLACK Pegasus is!  Aren’t we awesome?  In Crap, the Kraken finally shows up released from, I guess Hades.  And why a SEA beast, the Kraken, is controlled by the lord of the underworld I have NO idea… just another display of how absolutely poorly the film was written using the original ideas.  The Kraken is the size of Tokyo bay.  Filmmakers to audience: See what we said about the scorpions? Yeah, he’s bigger, slimier and looks like a video game end boss, phase II.

In the end of Clash, Perseus uses his guile to turn the Kraken to stone, save the day, and win his girl.  The end of Crap is the same thing, but Perseus of course doesn’t get Andromeda. Instead, a coda is added where Io, who has DIED, is brought back from the dead by a LITERAL deus ex machina, and they leave the opening for a sequel, which is now impending for next year.  Pat yourselves on the back everyone for appealing to the lowest common denominator…

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