I’m old enough to remember a time without constant digital access to information, a time when the word “YouTube” might be thought of as a great brand name for a rabbit-eared portable TV set, or for a bicycle pump. The other day I was making fun of a colleague who said she wasn’t keeping up on world events because she spent all her time watching videos online. I joked that she was overdosing on YouTube, but she replied, “I’m not overdosing; I’m just overinflating.”
Speaking of unchecked input of vacuous internet content, I just watched a trailer for one of Disney’s latest cinematic offerings, a live-action remake of their classic animated film Dumbo (1941). This is a great specimen of a new Hollywood genre I see emerging, called speculative superfluism: plotlines that have already been used successfully and don’t need to be repeated, but are anyway. It’s not enough that Disney assume they have the poetic license and public blessing to gussy up other film franchises like Star Wars with their own formulaic offerings. Now they are second-guessing even their own legacy by remaking their own films. And rather than try to redeem ideas that didn’t catch on the first time—does anyone remember The Black Cauldron (1985)?—they are choosing instead to reshoot their most beloved hits like Cinderella (1950, 2015) and 101 Dalmatians (1961, 1996). This strategy threatens to undermine the very fabric of family-oriented societies around the world, pitting children against their parents (and grandparents!) in generational battles over which version of Baloo the Bear in The Jungle Book (1967, 1994, 2016) is the cuddliest.
It’s easy to pick on Disney, but they aren’t the only movie makers playing revisionist gods in their own garden. I remember as a kid longing for a good Spiderman movie. Now there are at least six, including two “origin” stories that came out of the same studio a mere 10 years apart. That sounds like a Spiderman infestation.
Here are some films that I think should be remade but probably never will:
One Million Years BC (1966) — A prehistoric romance whose script consists mainly of angry, meaningless commands like “Tak! Tak!” Boy meets girl, dinosaur threatens girl, boy impales dinosaur, boy takes girl home to dad’s cave, volcano erupts, everybody flees. (A disclaimer at the beginning reads, “All characters appearing in this film are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual Neanderthals, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”) A 21st century treatment of this film would benefit from both greater paleontological understanding and better special effects, and almost any change to the storyline would be an improvement. The unintelligible dialogue could be supplemented by captions or celebrity voiceovers, like what Bruce Willis did in that talking baby movie.
The Conquerer (1956) — John Wayne played Genghis Khan in this historical biopic, and on that basis alone it never should have been filmed. A remake with a more suitable lead—Steven Seagal?—might play better.
Antarctica [Nankyoku Monogatari] (1983) — This was a popular animal film from Japan, based on the true story of a failed South Pole expedition and the abandonment of the crew’s sled dogs there. A heartbreaking story like this would not go over well in today’s cute-meets-comic animal movie environment, unless an “everybody survives” ending were swapped in and the dogs were allowed to talk. (Bruce Willis again? The film could be renamed Badass Antarctic Sled Dogs: Roll Over and Die Hard.)
Battlefield Earth (2000) — An earthling named Goodboy studies the American Declaration of Independence to learn how to defeat a race of invading Klingon roller derby disco dancers who live in atmospheric domes with Dutch-tilted floors. This film is on many critics’ “bottom ten” lists, and after giving it some thought I’ve decided it would be best not to revisit this movie in any way ever again.