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The Big Picture

One endless rerun of redone

September 08, 2009|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

Hollywood, as everyone knows, is teeming with liberals of every shape, size, creed and color. Away from work, the legions of Prius-driving actors, filmmakers and studio executives are always busy ardently promoting some desperately important progressive cause, whether it's spreading the word about jailed journalists in Egypt, saving an endangered species in Africa or helping lead a sponsor boycott against Fox News' resident bomb-thrower Glenn Beck for labeling Barack Obama a racist.

But when it comes to making new product these days, Hollywood is perhaps the most enthusiastic outpost anywhere of cultural conservatism. Judging from the announcement stories that pop up in Variety every week, the movie and TV businesses are obsessed with reliving the past, giving the green light to a deluge of projects adapted from old (and, ahem, not-so-very old) movies and TV shows.

In light of a summer that offered audiences a mixed bag of remakes, reboots and re-imaginings ("Star Trek," "Terminator Salvation" and "Land of the Lost," to name just a few), the list of upcoming recycled properties is pretty stunning, especially when you see how many top filmmakers -- who would presumably have the clout and artistic ambition to do something more original -- have embraced older, more familiar material.

Steven Spielberg, the world's most successful living filmmaker, recently announced that he's doing a remake of "Harvey," the 1950 Jimmy Stewart comedy, with that project bumping aside, for the time being, Spielberg's involvement as a director in a remake of the Matt Helm character from movies and TV that is being developed as a feature at Paramount.

Robert Zemeckis, another major league filmmaker, is at Disney, doing a remake of the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine"; Bryan Singer is now at work on a remake of 1981's "Excalibur"; while horror-meister Rob Zombie, fresh off his second "Halloween" movie, is redoing the sci-fi camp classic "The Blob" (which had already been remade once before). "Shoot 'Em Up" director Michael Davis is doing a remake of "Outland," the 1981 Sean Connery-starring sci-fi thriller, while Screen Gems is moving ahead with a reboot of Sam Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs."

There are dozens upon dozens of remakes already on the studio release slates. MGM has a new version of "Fame" due out later this month, with a remake of "Red Dawn" in the works. Sony, which just did a remake of "The Taking of Pelham 123" this summer, has remakes of "Karate Kid" and "The Green Hornet" coming next summer. 20th Century Fox has a new version of "Gulliver's Travels" coming next summer, with a remake of "The A-Team" to follow. Universal has updates of both "The Wolfman" and "Robin Hood," the latter with Russell Crowe in the lead role and Ridley Scott behind the camera.

But wait . . . there's more. Paramount already has a remake of "Footloose" on its schedule for next year, with a revamped "Beverly Hills Cop" in active development. Warners has an updated "Sherlock Holmes," with Robert Downey Jr. in the lead, coming this Christmas, with remakes of "Clash of the Titans" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" due in 2010.

TV is just as crammed with remakes as the big screen. The CW is launching a new version of "Melrose Place" this week, while ABC has "Eastwick" (based on "The Witches of Eastwick") due out soon, Fox is developing a reboot of the cult film "Heathers" while NBC is offering up a new version of "Parenthood" as a mid-season show.

The best part of this remake mania is hearing how filmmakers are forced to really stre-e-e-e-e-tch to come up with plausible aesthetic justifications for what is, in most cases, a clearly careerist move. In his attempt to explain just how his new "Blob" would be different from the original sci-fi film, Zombie insisted, "My intention is not to have a big red blobby thing -- that's the first thing I want to change," which raises the question of why he'd want to call the movie "The Blob" if it isn't going to have a nice, juicy blob in it.

And when asked about why he's turning "Heathers" into a TV show, the project's producer, Lakeshore Entertainment's Gary Lucchesi, told Variety that he'd been talking about doing a film remake, but "doing it for TV seemed like a fresh and original idea." Only in Hollywood would changing the medium be considered fresh and original.

So why is everyone so in the thrall of remakes and reboots?

(1) They work. Obviously not all the time, since Universal bombed with its costly adaptation of the "Land of the Lost" TV series, as Warners did a couple of years ago, trying to reboot the old "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" film. But in an era when studios are geared to creating self-supporting franchises, the lure of a well-known title that can be reinvented as a mass-appeal film is pretty irresistible.

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