Hollywood’s abuzz with remake fever, without much regard to how much sense an update would make – RED DAWN and ROBOCOP, for example, seem like really bad choices for “new and improved” treatment, the former because it’s so era-specific, the latter because the original is a perfect movie. But there are many, I think, that do make sense. I mentioned SILENT RUNNING last month, and indeed, WALL-E draws strongly from both it and IDIOCRACY, which is interesting given that our regular commenter ReJeKt actually suggested a commonality between the two before knowing that Pixar had apparently made that same connection.
And now I have two more to add, recently viewed via the awesome wonder that is Netflix video-on-demand. LOGAN’S RUN and DEATH WISH, the former reputed to be an upcoming remake in Bryan Singer’s hands, and the latter a pet project of Sylvester Stallone. In both cases, I find the originals to have many strengths, though they fall short of their ambitions…and that seems to me a pretty good reason to have another go (both are based on books, too, though I’ve read neither).
LOGAN’S RUN first. As you probably know if you’re even vaguely into the same sort of stuff I am, this movie is set in a domed city of the future as envisioned by the disco ‘70s. Everyone is pretty; every need is catered for. The only catch is that when you turn 30, you either suffer execution, or you enter a ritual called the Carousel, in which a whole bunch of people stand in a giant wind tunnel, get sucked up to the ceiling, and explode; it is believed that those who are thusly vaporized get reincarnated as new babies.
The only other option is escaping the city, but standing in the way of that route is a security force called Sandmen who, much like the Sonderkommandos in Nazi concentration camps, get maximum societal perks in exchange for enforcing the rules, usually by capturing or blasting any “runners.” Logan (Michael York) is one such sandman.
The city is run by a female voice that may or may not be a computer, and one day it assigns Logan an undercover mission: he must pose as a runner in order to find the “Sanctuary” that certain would-be escapees talk about. With the aid of a reluctant hooker (Jenny Agutter), and without the knowledge of his colleagues, Logan must try to escape…and learn a little more about the world outside. If you’re thinking there’ll be an obligatory shot of a famous Earth landmark in ruins at some point…you are of course correct.
It’s a good story with a well-defined sense of jeopardy, and appropriate performances by York and Agutter, but my most major problem is that too much is unexplained. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan of randomness, and I do like the sequence involving a chrome-plated robot who stores humans in an ice cave for no apparent reason. But never do I get any sense of WHY the society must function as it does. In SOYLENT GREEN, for example, there’s a reason why Soylent Green is people: the Earth has run out of food, and old people die voluntarily. Something like that is needed here, because there’s no compelling reason for the killing of 30 year-olds. Overpopulation doesn’t seem to be a problem, and a few good thirtysomethings could help with rebuilding the outside world. The Carousel is extravagant in its pointlessness, possibly a jab at organized religion similarly having wild theories about life after death. Yet even a critic of religion would have to acknowledge, for example, that strict “Thou shalt not” rules may well have been essential to the survival of a nomadic tribe living in the desert several thousand years B.C. Any sense of how the Logan’s Run rules came to be (other than “it’s post-apocalypse, so there”) could improve things. And who is running the city, anyway? A computer, or a person? For a computer, it isn’t very logical.
I would also like to add that anyone who thinks models are always better than CG for special effects needs to watch LOGAN’S RUN. The cityscape is quite blatantly a toy, and I would prefer even a halfway decent CG-scape to doing anything remotely like it again. Sure, it’s more “tangible,” but it looks like something a five year-old might smash on his bedroom floor by stomping on it. I don’t think it kills the movie, nor do I blame a movie of that vintage for it, but it’s something that can be improved upon today.
(Oh, and Netflix? Why is this only available on-demand in full-frame pan-and-scan?)
In Bryan Singer’s hands, a remake could be very effective. I look forward to seeing what he’ll do with it.
Moving on…DEATH WISH is downright quaint by today’s action/revenge standards, so much so that when the critical, plot-driving assault happens, it comes as a shock that one of the victims promptly dies and the other loses her mind completely; in a current movie, the violent act would have left both even more bloodied, yet we’d fully expect them to both pick up guns and kick some ass afterwards. Times do change.
Need I recap the plot of this? Architect Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson), a nominal liberal, turns vigilante after his wife and daughter are attacked by a group of robbers led by Jeff Goldblum, in what may be his first speaking part in a film. Rather than actually track down the responsible parties, however, he simply walks around dangerous parts of New York at night, and when threatened, responds with gunfire.
After the first such act, he rushes home and vomits. But this is much like the reaction of a college boy to his first taste of beer, or a junior high kid smoking his first cig…in no short order, the revulsion has turned to addiction. The cops feel obligated to stop the mysterious vigilante, but with crime rates dropping as a result, they really don’t feel so strongly about it.
In a particularly amusing anachronism, Paul’s first gun is given to him in the form of a wrapped farewell gift at an airport, right in front of the ticket counter…you know, that same ticket counter where the first thing they ask you nowadays is “Has anybody given you any unfamiliar items to take with you on your flight?”
The biggest problem with DEATH WISH, and I’m surprised to be saying this, is Bronson. I love the guy in THE DIRTY DOZEN and HARD TIMES. He’s a bad-ass. But in this movie, his performance is weak stuff. Perhaps part of that is that the way the character is written, at least for the screen, is so hopelessly contradictory: He’s a Korean war veteran, but he was a conscientious objector, and thus was assigned to medical duty (alongside Alan Alda, one imagines with a smile). He is also a bleeding-heart liberal and environmentalist, yet came away from the war he didn’t want to be in with crack shooting skills. During the course of the movie, he comes to define the stereotype of the conservative as liberal who’s been mugged, and live out the NRA fantasy of self-defense. It’s appealing, until you stop and think that maybe the death penalty isn’t warranted for a petty mugging.
But none of this character arc is evident in Bronson, whose sleepy delivery plays like a Harry Shearer-voiced bit-player on The Simpsons. We know Bronson can be a tough guy, but not so much the mild-mannered guy; he seems to be trying to split the difference the whole time, when a better choice might have been like Schwarzenegger in TRUE LIES, where it’s simply a huge in-joke that his family thinks him a mild-mannered guy. To add a modern contrast, I vastly preferred Jodie Foster’s vigilante turn in THE BRAVE ONE, and found it more convincing. That basically was a DEATH WISH remake, but a more official update may be coming with Sylvester Stallone set to star and possibly direct.
Believing that Sylvester Stallone is a bleeding heart softie may turn out to be a stretch also, but I know he won’t skimp on the rage factor.