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Tom Cook

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Era of the Pointless Remake

Posted: 05/07/2012 15:00

I'm afraid we're currently in a recession time for Hollywood creativity. With the Spider-man 're-imagining' swinging its way into cinemas this summer, it's clear major studios no longer feel it necessary to do its audience the courtesy of introducing new characters and concepts. Couldn't they have had a brainstorming session at Sony Pictures and at least come up with a different 'man'? Scorpionman? Eagleman? Skunkman? Maybe not the last one.

In a recent interview, producer of the 'Amazing Spider-man' Matt Tolmach said the movie will bring the franchise up to date with the new generation, as it'd been 10 years since the original Spider-man, directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire, was released: "The world we live in has changed, technology has changed, attitudes towards life has changed." I'm not sure how radically different this generation is from the last. I'm not sure whether the introduction of the iPhone and Tulisa has really changed the youth's perception of the world enough to justify this movie.

But the remake which has really got my goat is the upcoming Total Recall remake. I understand it may be necessary to update movies which have a strong story but have dated terribly in visuals, 1951's the 'Thing' being a good example. John Carpenter's 80's remake was excellent, maintaining the suspense of the original whilst introducing some delicious, gloopy gore. But 1990's Total Recall is a classic of the sci-fi action genre, and was made at a high point of physical special effects, for which it won an Oscar (Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects). It's exactly what you want from a sci-fi actioner; fast-paced, larger-than-life characters, and importantly doesn't take itself too seriously. Paul Verhoeven was a master of balancing tragedy, comedy, and kick-ass gunfights coated in over-blown gore. Arnold Schwarzenegger is always watchable, a great action hero who is relatable despite being an unstoppable force of nature. It also had the usual roll call of scheming 80's villains: the charismatic Michael Ironside, the devious Ronny Cox, femme fatale Sharon Stone.

The story and direction cannot be improved on, so the motivation for making a new version must be to use computer graphics. Admittedly occasional scenes in the 1990 original contain rather obvious special effects, for instance the scene where Arnie (plasticine model) pulls out the homing device through his nose, but would updating it make any difference to our enjoyment of the film? And if you allow one scene to be computerized you've got to expect that every scene which might require a little time and effort to film in the real world will now simply be created in an office. Which utterly takes you out of the moment. When you realise 70% of what you're seeing is SFX it becomes very hard to suspend your disbelief.

In an on-set interview, director of the upcoming Total Recall pointlessity Len Wiseman said his main influence for the movie was the original Philip K Dick short story 'We Can Remember It For You Wholesale': "The impetus to do it was based on picking up the short story, reading it, and saying wow it would be great to do this". Wiseman, of 'Underworld' fame, is noted as a director who sees plot development and coherent dialogue as irritating distractions from relentless SFX fight scenes. I'm glad he inserted the 'reading it' portion into that quote, otherwise I might have assumed he simply picked up the book, said "What the hell is this?!", be informed it was the source for Verhoeven's masterpiece and decide to make his own version featuring his wife and a few plot tweaks, knowing that because the title is recognisable it will sell tickets. Dick wrote 121 short stories! Dig a little deeper Len!

There are reported remakes of Mad Max, Robocop, Lethal Weapon, and Romancing the Stone in the pipeline. Why are the 80's being so mercilessly exploited? Movie studios clearly lack respect for these 30-year-old classics, because there's no word of a Casablanca remake, or the Apartment, or the Great Escape, or the Godfather. No, these are hallowed turf. But apparently the 80's can be ridden roughshod over - "Meh, not bad, but we'll do it better". I beg to differ.

 
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