Remakes and Reboot Redux: Conclusion

I grew up reading Dark Horse Predator comics and Wizard Magazine. As I moved into other comics, I founds lots of characters to love, but one I always knew about but never read was Judge Dredd. I recognized the character, but didn’t know much beyond the iconic appearance until the last 5 years or so.

Judge Dredd (1995)

In the 90s the mega action stars of the 80s were looking for vehicles. As Sylvester Stallone’s biggest franchises, Rambo and Rocky shifted from classic to semi-farce (at least for a decade or so) Sly began looking for other franchises to be his next big thing. He tried it first with Demolition Man but went for a recognizable character film with 1995s Judge Dredd.

Since I didn’t know about the character at the time I admit I rather enjoyed the film. It went for a “big” story, introduces the world, the judges’ council, then immediately breaks into a story of a character trying to bring it down. It was still exciting, had great 90s special effects (love that bodyguard-bot), and good characters. Stallone made a great Dredd, he certainly had the look, and Diane Cannon was also effective as Judge Hershey.

It came out in the extended Lethal Weapon fallout when every character had to have a “buddy” comic relief aspect. They chose Rob Schneider to basically play himself and proves to be the weakest part of the film. The other aspect of it is Dredd sacrilege but is a direct result of the Stallone-vehicle reality of the movie. They show Dredd’s face. Constantly. Something the creators of the comic have consciously decided not to do (as he is the faceless embodiment of righteous but fascist judgment in Mega City).

It was a Judge movie but still a Stallone movie and also a 90s action movie. It was bright, colorful, and very much a product of the 90s comic movie industry, basic popcorn entertainment. Fun but tossable.

Dredd (2012)

After what a lot of fans consider to be mor Tinseltown than Mega City outing of 1995’s Judge Dredd 2012 brought a reboot in Dredd. With a faceless Karl Urban as the titular Judge, it made the gritty judge movie for the modern era. Films, even hero films, took a dark turn and Judge Dredd is perfect in a “dark” thematic world.

Karl Urban is excellent as Dredd. I didn’t even know it was him, and therefore accepted him more easily as the character. Olivia Thirlby is also fantastic as psychic Judge Anderson, a dynamic female character in modern action movies. Dredd doesn’t treat her like a woman, he treats her like a rookie. Only bringing up her gender when the possibility of capture by savage gangers is a possibility. Lena headey makes a for a sufficiently creepy villain as Ma-Ma and she’s surrounded by a circus of terrific character actors playing terrific characters.

One of the best aspects of the film is its “day-in-the-life” feel. It is a rousing action film, but in the end Dredd explains his miniature war in Peach Trees Mega block as “Drug bust. Perps were…uncooperative…” it looks great, is well-acted, and gives us a look at a different kind of comic character.

These movies show how these films are products of their time and both work very well. Essentially the 2012 Dredd ignores the previous version, but both were successful movies; the first a fun 90s-style action flick; the second a gritty, modern sci-fi crime movie.

Neither is overtly disrespectful of the origin material and the reboot classy-ly makes its own movie without deriding the original. So a viewer can watch 1995s Judge Dredd, enjoy the fun 90s glory of it; then watch Dredd and appreciate the millennium brutality of Mega City crime fighting.

That’s the current state of reboots and remakes in my opinion. Some are good, some are bad, but admittedly it’d be nice to see a brand new intellectual property out there… Til then… It’s Judgment Time Hollywood.  At least make more Apes and Dredds, and less Clash of the Titans and RoboCops

Remakes and Reboots Redux: Part 2

Off The Top of My Head

I remember always being behind the times as a kid. I never saw the Rambo or Indiana Jones movies when they were new. I didn’t get the newest pop music or know anything beyond what showed up in “Weird” Al Yankovic or Kids Incorporated. BUT…I distinctly remember the first time I saw a RoboCop movie.

It was actually RoboCop 2, which is slightly inferior but in the same spirit as the original. I loved the action, the big robots, and the stop motion. You saw little glimpses of Officer Alex Murphy’s previous life as a person, enough to make his current state as a cyborg meaningful, but it was mostly shoot ‘em up robot fun with some funny parts and just a dash of character development.

I didn’t see the first film until the 2000s and despite its decidedly 80s vision of crime and the future it held up very well; and I can say that honestly as I didn’t have any youthful attachments to it. Bad guys were wonderfully bad. Robo had an established personality but was a great cyborg. His partner, Anne Lewis, was one of the best tough female characters this side of Vasquez from Aliens. And the story had an excellent progression and a fantastic “oooh gotcha!” conclusion.

The Real RoboCop

THEN they did a remake.

The original RoboCop series established certain demands on anything trying to call itself “RoboCop.” He-is-go-ing-to-talk-like-the-computer-in-War-games. He’ll spin that gun like a he’s in a 1950s western. He’ll call someone a “creep. “ Tell them to freeze. Then lots of shooting will occur.

That’s what RoboCop means to those of us who care about the series and, to be totally honest, would be the audience for a remake series.

Here’s what I don’t watch RoboCop movies for: To see his family life. To get to know him as a person for hour. To have a strong female character turned into…a dude… To see RoboCop CRY. And have Alex Murphy talk like Marky Mark Circa 1991.

Nearly half the remake is used building Alex Murphy’s character. He’s an honest cop, a devoted family man, a good partner, a decent person, a tough guy, a badass, a rebel against corruption. For an hour we see this in story, exposition, and flashbacks. Even after he becomes RoboCop we see more character exposition, as he copes with his new status, trains to become RoboCop a la Batman Begins, and fights against corporate prejudice (from one of the many rather good performances in the film, this one by Jackie Earl Haley. Other great performances include those of Sam Jackson, Michael Keaton, and Gary Oldman).

This is some strange RoboCop…thing

Less than half an hour into the original film Alex Murphy is RoboCop. Out RoboCopping it up with Old Detroit’s street trash. Before he gets all Robo’d, he’s introduced as a rookie to the precinct, which means other characters have to get to know him naturally and thus the audience gets to know him in an organic process. He’s cocky and arrogant, but in less than five seconds of dialogue we see how he’s developed and achieved a rapport with Lewis. He spins his gun because his kid likes it (and maybe he does too…) establishing he’s got a family he cares about, and we see that family in staccato flashes after he’s attacked (actively I’ll say by the bad guys, not in a BS car bomb). All of his character is built in about 10-15 minutes. His transition into RoboCop is done via first-person montage. As he’s switched on, sees something new, and is switched back off again. Time passes, he’s advanced to a new state of Robo, time passes again. Never wasting time so we get to the main story as soon as possible.

RoboCop does a lot of this blow stuff up stuff…

Where Apes updated the premise while making the story fit to a new audience and changing times, 2014’s RoboCop is a near-Clash of the Titans-level farce. The Corporation plot is senseless and muddled. There was a needless “military drones should be legal in the US” angle. Robocop was Strong Sad in an exoskeleton. His wife and child just WOULDN’T GO AWAY. And none of it had to be done.

An hour into the movie RoboCop 2014 makes his first bust (35 minutes passes in the original for RoboCop 1987 to accomplish this) and the corporate mouthpiece comments that Robo ID’d the bad guy after only 60 seconds on duty, and says how impressive that is. Why then, may I ask, did it take the movie 60 MINUTES to get us here?

And none of this “what have they done to me?!” stuff…

Now many of you may start shouting, “But wait, wait, wait, Apes updated its story, was dramatic, and deep, and you showered it with praise!” True. I did. BUT. The original Planet of the Apes movie was a sci-fi drama. Designed to have social commentary, make observations on human hubris, and still wrap it up into a terse, excellent sci-fi movie. That’s exactly what the two new Apes films did.

What was the original RoboCop series? An outstanding, fun, sci-fi action movie with more Dawn of the Dead style tongue-in-cheek commentary on consumerism, economic Darwinism, and social progress seen in the periphery and through action, rather than exposition. It was not a DRAMA. It was NOT a personal introspective look at the life n’ times of a homie from the block who became a robo cop. And how it made it him feel. And what does it mean for society.

The new movie was a product of a film industry that seems not to know how to have much fun anymore. It either makes dreadful and derivative Scary Movie style “fun” or it makes action movies that have to show consequences and emotions rather than just the cartoon style blasty-blasting we saw in the 80s and 90s movies. Even action movies, have to try to hit you in the feels rather than just show a half-dead robo-man blowing away street scum.

More importantly either filmmakers don’t know what kind of movie they want to make, or want to make a cross-genre thing that, as Jim Sterling would say in a mocking, whiny voice, “appeals to a wider audience.” Before making any film the question needs to be asked, “What is this movie about?” And stick to THAT. A movie like RoboCop can have social commentary, the original certainly did. But it shouldn’t shoehorn it in at the expense of the real plot. We shouldn’t spend more than half the film establishing character. We shouldn’t spend an equal amount of time on drama. We shouldn’t waste even more screen time getting into the mechanics of how RoboCop robo-works.  We shouldn’t go down the plot-rabbit-hole chasing military drone legalization and political debate. A movie that tries to do everything at once accomplishes doing nothing much in the end.

In a scene that packs more emotion in three minutes of activity than the 2014 remake did in an hour of exposition, Alex Murphy lies to his wife in RoboCop 2 saying, “They made this…to honor him.” They certainly didn’t make the new RoboCop to honor you, Alex.  So Hollywood, the fans are taking away your remake privileges. Dead or alive they’re coming with me…

Next week will be a bonus wrap up with a pair of movies about the same character, one from the 90s one from the last couple of years, that both succeeded in making fun movies but in totally different ways.

Remakes and Reboots Redux: Part 1

Off The Top of My HeadRise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

In my very first series of posts on RevPub I detailed what I thought made a remake, reboot, or sequel successful. In the modern film environment it’s easy to see why that’s important. Over this past weekend I watched three films that made me want to go back and revisit this concept. The first two were excellent (one a reboot/prequel and its subsequent sequel) and the last one dreadful and all helped prove the point of what makes the “re-” genre work and what makes it fail. This week I’ll start with the successes: Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Few films are as iconic, not a word to be used lightly, as the 1968 Planet of the Apes. I’d say it’s up there with The Godfather and Scarface for quotability and nearly invented the modern shocker twist ending. It’s a product of its cold war time period, but many of the lessons it professes are still valid and it largely still holds up, even if many of the film making and special effects may seem dated.
There were a number of less-than-stellar sequels and even the Tim Burton remake from 2001, so when a new one was announced it felts like territory that had been over-traveled. The first film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a pleasant surprise…and an impressive film in its own right.
Part reboot, part prequel, it does everything a film in this kind of category should. It pays proper homage to the original, making small references, quoting, and even foreshadowing the previous film, and never NEVER once makes light of the original film or attempts to outdo or show up a film more than 40 years old.
Apes movies are in the “monster” genre I feel and in many ways the latter half of the first movie and the entire second film feel like a far more original extension of the zombie genre. These kinds of monster movies are only as effective as their human characters. In the first film the human cast, led by James Franco and supported by John Lithgow, Brian Cox, and Freida Pinto are compelling in their positive and negative qualities. Andy Serkis, of Gollum fame, is a show stealer as Caesar, the real star of the movie and the character in whose story we are invested. Like his role in the Lord of the Rings however his performance is lost in CGI, though I would wager echoes of his emotions shine through. This is very similar to the stories I remember hearing about how difficult it was for Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter to emote behind layers of thick prosthetic make up.
The story itself is character-based, always pushed on my characters (mostly Caesar) responding to events and actively making choices and deciding, rather than having choices thrust upon him. Not only that but one actually feels far more attached to him than to the human characters, even those we like, because of how well he is portrayed, both in the writing and in the performance.
Furthermore it fills in plot holes from the original such as why the apes speak English, use human-style tools, and how they progressed so quickly. It also skillfully updates the setting from a cold war nuclear age to a 21st century biological age without detracting from the original purpose or even re-writing the events of the canon.
All in all it’s a terrific reset to a legendary film, and compelling to watch for fans of the original and just those seeking some great entertainment.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes succeeds where the sequels to the original film largely failed in that it is actually a good movie. Dawn picks up where Rise left off, telling the story of how the newly self-emancipated apes and the remnants of humanity come into conflict with each other, and how even in an idealized setting, one under perfect leadership and the best altruistic foundations, selfishness and violence can creep in. It’s a perfect extension of both the ideology and story of the first film and progresses us more and more toward the eventuality of the progenitor film. Again the human cast is effective led by Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, and Keri Russell.
Yes this “reboot/prequel” franchise is a success. It succeeds because it takes what made the original film work, builds upon it, pays proper respect to it, and then tells its own narrative. Most of all these two moves are just well-made, well-designed, well-told stories. They know what they set out to do and do it. A rarity in modern film making…
Next week we go from the sublime to the ridiculous as we look at last year’s remake of another classic film…this one from the 1980s.