x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Can the original magic of Dirty Dancing be recreated?

With the news that Dirty Dancing is to be remade, we consider how successful remakes are.

Rewind to 1987. While all the boys were trying to sneak into Lethal Weapon or Beverly Hills Cop II, all the girls - and we mean all the girls - were swooning over Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing.

They skipped out of the cinema, dabbing hankies at their eyes, genuinely believing that, with a bit of hard work and a lot of luck, they too could be Frances "Baby" Houseman and dance their way into the affections of their own particular dreamboat.

Topped off with the Oscar-winning song that must have been among the most karaoke plays of all time, Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes's (I've Had) The Time of My Life, Dirty Dancing is one of those wonderful 1980s staples, a veritable Star Wars for girls. So the news this week that the film company Lionsgate is going ahead with a remake was fascinating. It's quite literally playing with the nostalgia-laden memories of a generation.

Of course, the decision to begin a remake stacks up. Dirty Dancing went viral back when the internet hardly existed, becoming the first film to sell one million copies on home video. Returning to the Facebook age, the page for Dirty Dancing has more than nine million fans. More than one million people have seen the stage play in London alone, its world tours selling out months in advance.

And Lionsgate is, advisably, playing it safe, asking the original film's choreographer Kenny Ortega to direct. Thankfully, he has actually directed movies since then, most notably the High School Musical franchise, which may point towards a more glossy, slick version of Dirty Dancing than the surprisingly rough-hewn original.

But it's a high-risk strategy - Ortega has to simultaneously appeal to the 21st-century teenagers rather less used to a political subtext (and there is one, about teenage pregnancy) in their airbrushed, feel-good 3D films and the ready-made audience of 30 and 40-somethings who have returned to the movie again and again. Offend the latter constituency, and Dirty Dancing 2012 will be dead in the water by the time the devoted masses manage to get around to arranging childcare to go and see it.

Much-loved classics ferment in our nostalgic minds so fiercely, the remakes can never compare - even if the originals weren't the greatest films in the first place. Take this year's remake of Arthur, starring Russell Brand. Admittedly, it wasn't the greatest film of 2011 - James Mottram wrote in The National that "remakes are often wrong, simply on principal, and Arthur is no different". But actually, the Dudley Moore version isn't brilliant in hindsight either (even though, bizarrely, it was nominated for four Oscars). It's John Gielgud's Oscar-winning turn as the butler that really stands the test of time.

And to watch Christopher Reeve in Superman now is a lesson in laughable special effects. But, in a way, that's the charm of the film. It lodged in the hearts and minds of generations of kids - and kick-started the whole superhero genre - specifically because of its simplicity.

But remember the actor who reprised Reeve's role in 2006's Superman Returns (it was Brandon Routh, by the way)? Of course not. It had none of the wit or charm of the original, and yet, horrifically, another Batman-style "reboot" is planned for 2013, with Zack Snyder (Sucker Punch) at the helm - never a director who will choose substance over style.

Whisper it, but Dirty Dancing isn't the greatest film ever, either. The dialogue is cheesy enough to approach "so bad it's good" guilty pleasure territory. But it's been called everything from a classic feminist tract to the ultimate coming-of-age story. One thing is certain, though: it made the careers of Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey.

And yet, when Guy Ferland tried to tap into the vast reserves of love for this strangely alluring film with Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, it was an embarrassing flop. So bad, in fact, that in the UK it went straight to DVD in 2004.

All of which is a clear warning, then, for Ortega's remake. The problems he faces are many, but the biggest is clear. People love the original specifically because Grey is playing the uptight teenager and the late Swayze is the raunchy, bare-chested dancer.

It's impossible to repeat that magic. Perhaps Ortega is better off sticking to High School Musical after all, and filing Dirty Dancing away as a good job, well choreographed.