The James Clayton Column: Sci-fi films ready for a remake

Feature James Clayton 7 Feb 2014 - 06:15

With the new RoboCop out now, James considers some sci-fi films that might, just might, benefit from an imaginative remake...

They remade RoboCop. I'm still finding it hard to get my head around that fact, even as I arrive at the moment I get to see the new reboot in cinemas. RoboCop remade. Paul Verhoeven's dystopian masterpiece of 1987 - the ultimate techno-tinged sociopolitical action movie - remade. Really? I mean, really?

I'm pretty sure that in ancient aeons past a divinely-appointed prophet laser-scribed "Thou shalt not remake RoboCop, creep!" on a titanium slab of commandments to be observed by obedient future generations. Nothing is sacred though and, alas, RoboCop is remade, rebooted and upgraded in line with modern filmmaking standards for today's drastically altered multimedia marketplace.

To fill you in on the details you probably already know, the PG-13 rated reboot (really?) is directed by José Padilha and places Joel Kinnaman front and centre as Alex Murphy - the critically injured Detroit beat cop who is remade to become the titular cyborg law enforcement officer by the OmniCorp conglomerate. (The film is, in effect, a troubling remake of a film about a troubling remake.) With a stellar supporting cast of screen legends - Samuel L Jackson, Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman to name just a few - and top-of-the-range special effects, RoboCop clearly means business and will undoubtedly do business.

Heading into RoboCop - or at least, this RoboCop that is not 'My RoboCop' - I naturally have some reservations. If you'd asked me a few years ago to compile a personal list of 'Movies That Should Not Be Remade' - a little like the very worthy list Andrew Blair compiled for this site last month - the 87 original would definitely feature. And then I would have traced over it again for emphasis because RoboCop deserves that bold emphasis.

Still, I'll go with it and approach Neo-RoboCop with an open mind. Anger and raging geek tantrums are futile and everything deserves a fair chance. Yes, even the remake of RoboCop. It could be good. It could be bad. It could be ugly. It could even potentially be a masterpiece like, say, A Fistful Of Dollars (Sergio Leone's spaghetti western version of Yojimbo) and Scarface (Brian De Palma's 80s Miami revamp of The Shame Of A Nation) to name a couple of outstanding classics.

I preach passive acceptance and urge others to enter into remakes free of grudges or a determined desire to be offended. What's the point of wanting to hate things and wanting to be angry? If you leave prejudices and precious memories of the original in the lobby you're more likely to be able to enjoy the new movie on its own terms and avoid any unpleasant feelings. It's in this spirit that I've watched such recent re-do jobs as Evil Dead, Carrie and Oldboy and come away feeling that I've had a good time, even if the original articles resonate more and rate as my preferred versions.

There's an unhealthy anxiety surging through geek culture and I think we might need to exorcise that dread by de-stigmatising the term 'remake' a little more. As I acknowledge the continuing relevance of RoboCop's story and conceptual basis, I realise that the science fiction genre is the perfect place to conduct that reassessment and go about looking at re-imaginings and reboots in a more positive light.

Sci-fi - the literature and cinema of ideas - is the ideal genre for remakes. The concepts, philosophical questions and cerebral themes that form the core of so much science fiction are always worth revisiting. What's more, as real world technology advances the 'hi-tech' features of older movies look increasingly dated, their speculative futures arrested awkwardly in the past. Altogether, old sci-fi movies are the most 'right' to remake out of all the film categories and I say that as someone who holds the genre close to his heart as his absolute favourite thing.

Taking a quick voyage back through time I can immediately recall several classic science fiction movies that would make good candidates for reboot treatment. Of course, original visions - like Pacific Rim, Oblivion, Elysium and Gravity - are preferable, but if new ideas are hard to come by, I'd nudge uninspired Hollywood people towards the following top sci-fi-tinged flicks. For your consideration, here are a select few I reckon are ready for a remake.

The Man In The White Suit

I see so much potential for an update of the Ealing comedy in which Alec Guiness invents an indestructible type of fabric. Transplanted to today's hyper-consumerist society and played against the recession-era backdrop, the black-and-white caper could become a supreme satire and subversive social critique perfectly in tune with our zeitgeist.

In the original, Guinness' Sidney Stratton only had to contend with textile factory bosses and trade unions once the ramifications of his everlasting perma-clean clothing became clear. Today's Stratton must also handle pressure from the internet (the reviews on Amazon are horrifying), the military industrial complex and possibly also international drug traffickers who want to avoid public launderettes. To truly bring this tale into the 21st century, I'd also suggest that the remake be The Woman In The White Suit to strengthen its credentials as a progressive, creative re-imagining.

Videodrome

Study the history of cinematic idea interchange and you'll find that the geo-cultural hemispheres are out of balance. Having let 'the West' take and remake so many of its great movies for so long, it's high time Japan got to adapt an English-language classic in its own idiosyncratic fashion. I nominate David Cronenberg's prophetic, penetrative media freakout Videodrome as the first feature to be remade as an adult anime movie set in a near-futuristic Far East.

Imagine the visceral reality-distorting techno-surrealist nightmare of 1983 realised in the style of Akira, Ghost In The Shell or Paprika with even more extreme body horror and psychological trauma. Reminding audiences of the original's jarring potency while simultaneously offering an even more visually immersive alternative take, an animated Asia Extreme twist on Videodrome would be terrific. Long live the new, new flesh!

Tarantula

A case of 50s monochrome B-movie rebooted as a gargantuan modern day franchise blockbuster, I can picture hysterical audiences freaking out as a mutant mega-arachnid attacks them in hideous hyper-real high-definition 3D. If desired, subtextual concerns about the dangers of animal testing and scientific experimentation on insects could be stuck on to make it a monster movie of profound intellectual depth. Furthermore, Clint Eastwood could return to play the same uncredited role he had in the 1955 original - the jet pilot who gets to napalm bomb the supersized eight-legged abomination spreading fear across the American West.

In truth, I just really want to see Peter Jackson make a movie about a giant spider and nothing else but a giant spider.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

This remake would be all about retcon. Taking advantage of hindsight, the do-over would ideally tighten up the screws and purge the flaws that plague the first Star Wars prequel - a movie that I acknowledge has many problems even though I will happily defend it to the death.

A remake of The Phantom Menace would allow the scrapping of those bogus Midi-Chlorians (The Force is, according to George Lucas in 1981, an open spiritual technique "like yoga"). It would also be possible to recast certain miscast parts or simply axe irritating characters altogether. You know who and what I'm referring to. With a better script and more conscious awareness of the legacy, Episode I of the most-supreme space fantasy saga would be brought back into cohesive line with the Original Trilogy and the future sequels to come. Thus, the Force would be even stronger with this one.

Hell Comes To Frogtown

Hell Comes To Frogtown has the best plot of all time ever - 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper plays a virile male who's captured by warrior-nurses (America's future government) while he's wandering through the wasteland. They strap an electronic codpiece to his groin and threaten to blow his nads off if he strays or disobeys their orders. They do this because Piper's character Sam Hell has spunk in abundance and his sperm is precious in a ravaged world left infertile following atomic disaster.

Hell's mission is to infiltrate Frogtown and rescue women held captive as sex slaves by reptilian mutants so he can impregnate them and subsequently save the human race by spawning fresh young Hells to repopulate the wasted planet. It's such a brilliant synopsis that it deserves to be remade as a modern tentpole blockbuster with five times the budget, Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson playing the most fertile man on a post-apocalyptic Earth crawling with sleazy mo-cap-animated muties.

Wallace & Gromit In A Grand Day Out

The Aardman Animations short (my favourite of all the Plasticine pair's adventures) needs to be expanded into a feature-length live action movie starring Patrick Stewart as Wallace and Martin Freeman as Gromit. With more time and humanly relatable space we can truly come to identify with the wonderful world of the mutt genius and the absent-minded inventor. What's more, we can get more visceral insight into the building process of the retro-stylee rocketship they construct in the cellar of their terraced house in Lancashire.

Then we behold the moon as we've never seen it before - the cheese satellite rendered with state-of-the-art computer graphics, its dairy composition explained in quite convincing scientific terms as far as Hollywood storytelling goes. The lactose lunar body is, of course, patrolled by an artificial intelligence forced to inhabit the shell of a vintage coin-operated oven by a sinister mystery conglomerate (OmniCorp?). It has mystery, it has space adventure, it has extraterrestrial peril and it has Patrick Stewart running away from a deranged electrical appliance across a cheddar landscape. This is going to a cracking remake, Gromit.

Alternatively, let's just ask Aardman Animations to remake any (every) film as a stop-motion claymation work. Yes, even RoboCop. I'd buy that for a dollar.

James Clayton is an alarming sci-fi vision that should definitely be remade by someone with more talent and a bigger budget. 

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