Remakes of films, yes I deplore them as much as the next guy, the waste of resources trying to squeeze another buck out of something that was already done perfectly well the first time round, the failure of creativity and imagination implicit in their very existence, and yet I end up watching and enjoying them anyway.
Specifically then, remakes of science fiction classics.
I caught two the other weekend, and it would have been three except the disk of the Craig/Kidman version of Invasion wouldn’t play.
War of the Worlds (2005)
It’s a Spielberg/Cruise vehicle, and sfx heavy. In the George Pal version from 1953, hero Gene Barry was a scientist who wanted to save the world, but here Tom is a blue collar guy and divorced father who just happens to have custody of the kids on a weekend when the sky falls in, and he’ll be happy just to save his daughter and son. There’s plenty of bonding on the menu, emotional stuff to tug at the heartstrings and give a human angle to what might otherwise appear as a rather soulless sfx extravaganza, the kind of thing Spielberg does so well at his best (and here he is close to his best). Tom does get to play hero though, in a more pro-active manner than simply running away in the right direction, coming on like a guy who was Ethan Hunt in another life and bringing down a war machine. I don’t think the invaders are intended to be seen as Martians, and the fact that their war machines are all ready and waiting for them hints at advance planning stretching back over millennia. They appear to be harvesting blood, which adds an extra frisson of ghoulishness to the film, and there are plenty of other horror grace notes, as with Tom getting covered in the ash of heat ray victims and the scene in the cellar with the creepy guy who, it’s heavily hinted, is a paedophile with eyes on Tom’s daughter, the rather precocious Dakota Fanning. The scenes of people stampeding in fright, a whole civilisation put to rout, and the attempts to fight back all provide us with plenty of spectacle, and of course, playing true to both Pal and Wells, the invaders eventually fall prey to the common cold or similar, because they have the intelligence to cross space and erect force shields etc., but apparently don’t know about bacteria. Duh!, as Homer S might emote. It was great fun, and I didn’t notice the passage of time while watching or resent too much the obvious emotional manipulation and Cruise jingoism.
It’s been years since I saw the 1951 original and I can recall it only in vague terms, so this one will have be judged on individual merits. Keanu Reeves is the alien who comes to Earth to speak to the UN and warn us all that we are shitting in the nest and it won’t be tolerated for much longer, but ends up as the victim of the NSA or some other organisation who think he’d look great in orange coveralls inside Guantanamo. It’s up to nice scientist Jennifer Connelly to save the day by rescuing Klaatu and showing him that we naughty bipeds of planet Earth deserve a second chance. I had low expectations of this and was pleasantly surprised. Everything I hear about Keanu makes him sound like a really sweet guy, but I’m afraid I don’t rate him very highly as an actor, only here, in a role that didn’t require much from him beyond looking puzzled with a suitably alien gravitas, the kid did well. In fact his performance, along with the special effects, pretty much made the movie, as the other members of the cast appeared to be doing their best with stereotypical roles while the plot held no surprises and at moments was bordering on ridiculous. The effects were spectacular, particularly those involving the giant robot Gort, and instead of a temporary standstill, as in the 1951 version, here we seem to get pushed back to a pre-electric level of civilisation after attack by an all devouring cloud of nanobots. I liked it. Perhaps now we can proceed to something similar to the Aliens vs. Predators franchise, with Klaatu’s bunch taking on the invaders from WotW in a fight to the finish.
I guess then I’m not quite as anti remakes as I thought. All the same I’ll take a contract out on anyone who looks the wrong way at Forbidden Planet.
And, if I’m honest, there are probably plenty of SF films that might well benefit from a remake, though at the moment I can’t think of one.
Possibly you can.