L. Neil Smith's
Number 329, July 24, 2005

"You've GOTTA be kidding"

Remade In America
by Jonathan David Morris

Special to TLE

Most Hollywood remakes suck. This news shouldn't take you by surprise. But it's pertinent because adaptations of old shows, movies, books, and even comics have flooded theaters this summer, with no end in sight. The Bad News Bears. Bewitched. Herbie. The Honeymooners. War of the Worlds. Even Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The list goes on and on. If history is any indication, some of these remakes will delight old fans while scoring legions of new ones. But most of them will suck. Hard. So why is this?

People think remakes flop because Hollywood lacks originality. Nice as that sounds, it doesn't explain why old ideas are being pillaged and plundered so poorly. The truth is, the remake makers have no clue how human beings relate to culture. They film movies for viewers—not fans.

Take me, for example. I'm a guy. And like most guys, I can quote ruthlessly from a catalogue of well over six thousand films. In fact, I've made it through whole dinners just quoting Rocky III, Old School, and Gandhi (though the last one provided me with decidedly little material). Sometimes, this works against me. I've quoted from Spaceballs so many times that I can't watch the movie anymore. Yet, to this day, I still enjoy quoting from it. The reason for this inconsistency? The experience of Spaceballs has transcended Spaceballs itself. I took the things that I liked and made them my own. I could never go back now. It would be like watching a rough draft.

The way an audience receives a work of art is just as important as the work of art itself. This fact separates the remakes that soar from the remakes that suck. A prime example is Godzilla. By most accounts, the original was a classic (even after being diluted for American audiences). But when they remade it in 1998, it featured Matthew Broderick, a souped up dinosaur, and a Puff Daddy update on Led Zeppelin's Kashmir (which may have been the worst song ever recorded). It followed the standard hire-a-star, buy-fancy-graphics, slap-together-a-soundtrack formula. And it stunk. Their mistake was trying to recreate Godzilla instead of trying to recapture it.

On the other hand, 1995's Brady Bunch Movie succeeded because the people who made it realized they could never outdo the original program. Instead, they satirized it through the prism of anachronistic fandom, placing the '70s Bradys in '90s America. This warmed a lot of hearts.

I look forward to the Dukes of Hazzard movie, but I doubt it'll surpass the Family Guy episode where Peter paints his station wagon like the General Lee and attempts to get it airborne. This is something only a Dukes fan would consider doing. And if I had to guess, it's something most Dukes fans have considered doing. You see, it wasn't just the airborne General that made that show special. It was how the airborne General made you feel—how it worked with your imagination, instead of at it. The Dukes built on the cultural experience of moonshine runners, and, likewise, the Family Guy builds on the cultural experience of the Dukes. In so doing, it creates a cultural experience of its own—like ancient stories passed down, and added to, through oral tradition.

So if you think remakes suck because Hollywood lacks originality, you might want to think again. Americana is a culture; and as one of its stewards, Hollywood shouldn't give up that remade ship. What they should do, however, is try making remakes that capture the context in which the originals were enjoyed. After all, that's the whole point of remaking old shows and movies to begin with.

In closing, here's a gratuitous list of things that wouldn't suck:

1. Arnold vs. Webster: Remakes of Diff'rent Strokes and Webster are inevitable. Instead, Arnold Jackson and Webster Long should face off like Alien vs. Predator. This would allow them to settle the age old question: Who was the better short black kid adopted by white folks in a 1980s sitcom? Bonus points if the Gooch, Mr. T, or Nancy Reagan run in for a screwjob ending.

2. A Nightmare on Elm Street This one's been done to death. In the remake, instead of random teens, Elm Street should be populated by the Brat Pack (i.e., Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, etc.). Freddy Krueger should haunt the sets of St. Elmo's Fire and The Breakfast Club, killing the actors and their dreams (instead of killing them in their dreams). Bonus points if it ends with Freddy filming a B-rated Phantom of the Opera before killing Robert Englund's career. More bonus points if it fails to resemble Scream in any way.

3. Charles In Charge: In the show, Charles lived with a family and watched their kids. A few years later, the family moved out and a new one moved in, but, somehow, Charles stuck around and kept his job. What was he, an appliance or something? Did he come with the house? In the remake, the Pembrokes and Powells should live in parallel worlds, which collide and cause trouble for Charles. Bonus points if he double-books dinners with both families and runs back and forth between the tables while inexplicably changing his outfit. More bonus points if he quadruple-books dinners with his boss and Gwendolyn Pierce. Points deducted if worlds colliding fails to create multiple Buddy Lembecks.

4. The Facts of Life: When this show started, it took place in an all-girls prep school. Then it evolved into a few of the girls living in a house with their RA, Mrs. Garrett, who was later replaced by some other lady, who eventually turned the house into a store. The remake should explain why those girls felt the need to live with a substantially older woman after they graduated. Bonus points if the remake's never made.

Jonathan David Morris writes a weekly column for The Aquarian and other publications. He can be reached at jdm@readjdm.com.


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