The Hollywood Dream Machine is at it, again, but with so many high-paid executives running around, can't they come up with something new?
A story with a familiar ring - more sequels
Of the latest crop of film remakes to be announced in the trade press, which sounds the least essential? A big-screen treatment of TJ Hooker, the bombastic cop drama that contrived to keep William Shatner on television throughout the early 1980s? Or a reprise of Short Circuit, a family comedy about the adventures of a military robot who breaks his programming and gets a Mohican haircut? This duology, by the way, is now best remembered for its playground-delighting catchphrase "Your mama was a snowblower!" and for its unselfconscious use of brownface (check out Fisher Stevens as Ben Jahrvi), both features which may be key to the lingering appeal of the franchise.
At any rate, The Weinstein Company appeared to have tonal concerns: it took the screenwriters Brent Maddock and SS Wilson off the job (they're now doing TJ Hooker), and replaced them with Dan Milano, best known for the screwball pop-culture cartoon Robot Chicken, for all your scatological Star Wars parody needs. Short Circuit's spirit of blithe offensiveness may live on after all. Ah, but what is there for the more discerning remake fan? A little over a week ago, viewers were threatened with a new version of John Landis's horror comedy An American Werewolf in London, a film that broke ground with its monster effects and that now plays as a quaint time capsule of Britain as it appeared to 1970s Californians. Since neither of these selling-points can be duplicated with any reliability, one wonders what the point of the exercise could be.
Perhaps the studio is hoping to pull a bait-and-switch on the Twilight fan base. If they fell for teenage vampires, the thought goes, surely backpacker lycanthropes are just a few disappointing SATs away. That isn't all. The serially feuding rapper The Game is rumoured to be a favourite to play BA Baracus in a feature-length reworking of the 1980s action series The A-Team. Headline writers will applaud this piece of casting even if nobody else does.
Meanwhile, Beyoncé Knowles has expressed a wish to take the lead role in a musical remake of the Whoopi Goldberg vehicle Sister Act, itself a thematic retread of the British comedy Nuns On the Run. And lest we forget, at the time of writing the US box office chart is being comprehensively dominated by the - deep breath - sequel to a franchise reboot of a cartoon that took a range of toy machines as its starting point. In the arena of the summer blockbuster, the Transformers are our new robot overlords. That's the power of remakes.
So they sell. But who actually likes them? Well, studios do, of course, or else they wouldn't keep foisting them on us. Looking at the issue from their point of view, one can see the rationality of this. A film is always an expensive gamble: who can be blamed for trying to stack the odds with an existing audience? It works, too: one dunderheaded action flick costs as much to make as the next one, and scores of them come out every year. But if you get to put a big picture of BA Baracus baring his guns on your poster, accompanied by the tagline "I pity the fool!", your film will have an edge: a million tiny flickers of recognition - scarcely more than indifference - can add up to an impressive bump at the box office.
Yet for the most part it's hard to get excited, even when you liked the original. In fact, liking the original is often the worst thing you can do if you want to enjoy the new version. The oddest thing about the sociology of remakes is the sense of betrayal a revamp can engender in its natural constituency. Never mind that the cherished original still exists, that it remains undamaged by the new project and is probably being sold off on special offer at DVD shops cashing in on a wave of publicity.
Even when the remake is good, the fans wail. The American satirical website The Onion caught this nicely when the wonderful new Star Trek film came out: it ran a video headlined: "Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film As 'Fun, Watchable'". And the funniest part is, they did. No wonder executives seem to prefer remaking bilge like Short Circuit. If no one liked it to start with, there won't be any hurt feelings now.