The remake trap

He's good, but he's no Patrick Swayze.

He’s good, but he’s no Patrick Swayze.

I recently watched the Green HornetTotal Recall and Red Dawn remakes. Yawn.

Why bother? Philip K. Dick’s original story, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, had the great reveal at the end that saves the protagonist’s life. The basic idea – the implantation of false memories revealing a secret agent who has lost his real memories – is used in the first Total Recall movie, as well as the focus on the mystery and promise of Mars. Director Paul Verhoven’s version chose to take a slightly different direction, focusing more on the idea that the main character’s memories and current thoughts and actions may or may not be real, and we can’t be sure which it is. The film did a nice job of hewing to the original story without following it note for note, even if the camp factor is a bit high.

Then there’s Len Wiseman’s recent version. Mars disappears from the picture completely. We never really doubt that Colin Farrell’s character is indeed the secret agent he is revealed to be. To tell you the truth, I’m not even entirely sure what his mission was after having watched it. Because it wasn’t important. What the movie was about was Farrell, Jessica Beal and Kate Beckinsale strutting around looking hot and shit blowing up in the background periodically. Which, if you can get paid obscene amounts of money for it, isn’t the worst job in the world. However, it’s mostly a waste of everyone’s time when you try to turn it into a movie.

Red Dawn, the original version, holds up fairly well after all of these years. Yes, it’s a bit of a survivalist fantasy piece, but the casting is good, the screenplay does a good job of giving some historical context, the conflict felt by the senior Cuban officer who is not sure he likes going from occupied to occupier is a solid secondary plotline, and the background of the northern plains states really gives it an empty, frightening feel. A classic by no means, its has some legs. Patrick Swayze also does a good job of bringing some maturity and command to the eldest of the young, bratty Wolverine rebel group.

The new Red Dawn is much like the new Total Recall: Just kind of an average action flick with an old movie’s name. It has a real chance to discuss some serious things – the difference between being a terrorist and freedom fighter, to name one – but glosses over that sort of nonsense quickly to get on to the next gunfight. I love Chris Hemsworth as Thor, but he didn’t bring much to role as the lead Wolverine. He very much lacked a certain … Swayze-osity, a Swayze-ness that the role requires. The idea of healing the brotherly bond and the maturation of Hemsworth’s younger brother, played by Josh Peck, was nice, but again, there wasn’t much focus on it. It was addressed briefly and never developed, like pretty much every other thematic or plot thread introduced throughout the movie.

The Green Hornet was different for me. I remember watching a few of the original episodes as a kid, but the show doesn’t hold the same place in my youthful heart as Red Dawn and Total Recall do. In this case, I was in it for the talent behind the camera, director Micheal Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind) and writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Gondry has made a living creating unique, gorgeous videos for any number of musicians – The White Stripes (Fell In Love With a Girl), Bjork (Army of Me) and Radiohead (Knives Out) – as well as some interesting, quirky features (mentioned previously). Rogen and Goldberg are the writers behind two of what I consider to be the funniest movies of the last decade, Pineapple Express and Superbad.

Yet The Green Hornet is an unfunny, unoriginal, slow, dumb piece of crap. It’s awful. At least the Red Dawn and Total Recall remakes were watchable. The Green Hornet lacks center, the writing is appalling and the direction seems to be focused more on making a film for 3D than it does making a film worth watching.

Of course all of this is really my fault, because I fell into the trap, didn’t I? Hollywood remakes films and TV shows in an attempt to capitalize on the sentimentality of folks like myself who are in some way attached to the originals.

But it didn’t work out as well as Hollywood hoped. I didn’t pay movie theater prices to watch any of these. I didn’t rush right out and purchase them. I waited until well after the DVD release to watch all three of them.

And while Hollywood is generating profits from these films, they’re also creating something self-destructive: Aware consumers who become less and less likely to spend to see what they now expect will be disappointing films at best, complete crap at worst.

Hollywood, ask the music industry how that worked out. You might want to reconsider what you’re doing.

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