Remaking Sci-Fi Films

People have been grumbling lately about remakes or reboots and their validity. The common gripe is that many of the remakes are unnecessary and don’t offer anything new. The new version of Total Recall is a topical example. For producers they offer, in theory, a way to bring in new audiences without trying to explain what happened in the original films and supposedly improve on the original films’ concepts. In the case of Total Recall, it’s hard to justify the remake having nothing to do with Mars and all of its outlandish mutants. But that’s for viewers to decide.

While there are some remakes that are outright duds (still cannot forgive anyone involved with the tepid Rollerball remake), some are actually excellent and outshine the original (the 1986 remake of The Fly comes to mind). Whether or not the reboots/remakes are good or add anything comes down to the talent and vision behind the scenes. But that’s not a guarantee. Look at Tim Burton’s remake of Planet Of The Apes which was a big disappointment. It had the talent but somehow it didn’t gel together. Gone was the original’s poignant social commentary although the makeup was better. OTH, years later, Rupert Wyatt, a virtual unknown, helmed the surprisingly great Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, and the film functioned as any good reboot should: it kick started the dormant franchise. Another film, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, will be out in 2014.


When successful, reboots/remakes take the franchise into a new direction and sometimes make viewers forget about the validity of the originals. Going back to The Fly, director David Cronenberg’s remake reinvented the film’s premise with  updated science and the result was terrifying. The main character Seth Brundle had his gene sequence rewritten and was morphed into a sickening human/insect hybrid that spat acid. Consider that in the original where a human’s head was transplanted onto a fly, while the human body ended up with the insect’s head; it’s obviously hokey. But the original film was very well done for its time and the horrifying reveals at The Fly’s end still work.

Unfortunately there are many remakes that are DOA. Last year, two remakes of ’80s classics (Conan The Barbarian and Fright Night) were box office failures. That wasn’t necessarily a reflection on the films’ quality. A lot had to do with marketing and when they were released. Both films were dumped into the tail end of summer when the fervor for movie going dies down. Some remakes are failures just because they are so poorly executed or the changes made to them are unpopular. Fans quickly catch on and without their support the films will die a quick death in theaters. Look at the American remake of Godzilla. Diehard fans complained about how the giant behemoth was re-imagined. Gone was his distinctive radioactive fire and force-of-nature quality. Then there are the various remakes of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. While the 1978 version was successful the ones that followed (Body Snatchers and The Invasion) produced shrugs from viewers. The same thing happened with The Thing. John Carpenter directed a superior remake of Howard Hawkes’ 1950s classic but it was remade again last year and was quickly forgotten. Other remakes are bonafide hits but reap scorn for various reasons. Case in point Steven Spielberg’s remake of War Of The Worlds and Peter Jackson’s King Kong. More often than not, remakes turn out to be unremarkable and are quickly forgotten. The list of such films is long and includes The Island Of Doctor Moreau, The Time Machine, and Invaders From Mars.

We shouldn’t automatically dismiss remakes (as some have done with the new Total Recall). There is always the chance that they will present new ways of looking at a film’s concept and take it into a new direction. They help keep franchises alive or revive the popularity of the originals. The bottom line is that with Hollywood, which is prone to run out of ideas quickly, the easiest thing to do is to recycle old ideas that worked in the past. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Lewis T. Grove

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