The Re-Make Redux
by E. "Doc" Smith, 2013-02-15
Last week's column looked at the premiere of Netflix' "House of Cards", and the American penchant for remakes of British television shows with at best, mixed results. Kevin Spacey was brilliant by the way, in the darker and grittier remake of HOC, but once again, the story changed considerably from the original BBC series; new characters were added, and the writers were surprisingly able at times, to effectively translate it to American audiences. Netflix now looks to follow through on a sequel, which could be a re-make of the second part of the HOC trilogy, "To Play the King". Although the newer version lacked the subtlety and the government-shaking gravitas of the original, the acting by Spacey and his cast, the DC and Baltimore cinematography, and the music by Jeff Beal was enjoyable.
Our American obsession with remakes isn't limited to just England or earlier made films. Oh no, many American filmmakers have tried their hands at updated remakes of classic American TV series. Nearly all of them have been dismal, miscast outings, saved by a few bright moments. Many should never have been made; others have been made poorly, yet there are a few that came close to getting the spirit of the original series right. A brief look at some of those efforts reveals a strategy and a recipe for disaster. Here's a list of just 10 such films, in no particular order, of hits, misses and bulls-eyes.
10. The Mod Squad
One of best TV shows of the late '60s and early '70s was the Mod Squad; a trio of undercover cops, "who wore a badge, but never a gun". The principal cast of Michael Cole, Clarence Williams III, Peggy Lipton, (as Pete, Linc and Julie), and Tige Andrews as Captain Greer, were great; the stories were topical, often touching, and believable, which made for an excellent series. "21 Jump Street", a show that would appear later, was never as good, (nor was the recent re-make of it). The film version, was woefully miscast, with the exception of Claire Dane as Julie, (seen now in HBO's "Homeland"), tried to follow in the spirit of the original for about a minute. As soon as they killed off one of the series main characters in the early going, (Dennis Farina as Captain Greer), they jumped the shark. A miss, which is too bad, because keeping an actor of Farina's calibre alive could have saved it.
9. Lost in Space
Who can ever forget the immortal words of the Robot shouting, "Danger Will Robinson, Danger!!", or Dr, Smith calling out the Robot as a "bubble headed booby"? One of Irwin Allen's craziest sci-fi series, (along with Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea", "Land of the Giants" and "Time Tunnel"), LIS followed the exploits of the "Space Family Robinson" as they tried to navigate their ship back to earth, despite the constant trouble caused by Dr. Smith. The film re-make with William Hurt, Mimi Rogers and Gary Oldman as Dr. Smith, even had cameos by some of the original cast. The drama of the pilot episode was re-created in the re-make, but once the cheesy, Allen-like plot twist came near the end, you wished you were watching the campier original. So close, but so far. A miss that could have hit. Nice marketing and happy meals kept it alive.
8. The Wild Wild West
One of my favorite TV series was "007 in a saddle", the Wild, Wild West. Robert Conrad and Ross Martin were superb as partners James West and Artemus Gordon, and Michael Dunn as the evil Doctor Miguelito Loveless was one of TV's best villains. The re-make could have been great, but please, Will Smith as West?!! Kenneth Branagh as Loveless?!! Michael Dunn was the Peter Dinklage of his day, and to re-invent him as Branagh in a wheelchair was just terrible. One of the worst, miscast remakes ever. Kevin Kline was great as Artemus Gordon, but Will Smith?! Smith later apologized to Conrad (who had no love for the film), for even taking the role that he'd made famous. Where's Tom Cruise or George Clooney when you need them? The film's best moment comes near the end of the film, when Smith and Kline ride off after Branagh and the theme to the original series plays for about 20 seconds... A huge miss.
7. I Spy
Another one of my favorites, I Spy was the first show in the late '60s, to have black and white co-stars: Bill Cosby and Robert Culp. Posing as a coach and a tennis pro, Cosby and Culp were actually CIA agents on a mission to save the world one day at a time, and filmed on location in Paris, Rome, London, Hong Kong, Madrid; and all to the beautiful music composed by the great Earle Hagen, (Mod Squad, Dick Van Dyke, Danny Thomas, Andy Griffith, Mike Hammer), well, you had some thing really special. The remake was a different story. With Eddie Murphy as a boxer, Luke Wilson as the coach, (roles reversed); I Spy was horrible, miscast and lacked the spirit of the original. Unlike Cosby and Culp, Murphy and Wilson never clicked. Don Cheadle and Brad Pitt might have pulled it off, but not this comedy duo. Even the music was hopeless. A huge miss.
6. Mission Impossible
Peter Graves was the leader of the "Impossible Mission Force", and his team of stars; Barbara Bain, Martin Landau, Greg Morris and Peter Lupus, did what no one else in the US government could; clandestine nation building and bad guy capturing. Methodical planning, tight spots and Barney's gadgets saved them each week. Tom Cruise and Ving Rhames updated the series through three blockbuster films. The plots are typical, the special effects are dazzling, but why did they need to make the series hero, (played byJon Voight as the Peter Graves/Jim Phelps character), into the bad guy, the traitor, and kill him off in the first film? Is nothing sacred?! A near hit.
5. Miami Vice
Don Johnson and Michael Thomas were great as Crockett and Tubbs on Miami's Vice Squad. Driving their Ferrari and shooting up drug dealers ruled Friday nights on NBC back in the 1980s; spectacular music and guest stars like Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, Bruce Willis, et al; MV was amazing until the show finally jumped the shark after they first killed off Crockett's wife, (played by Shena Easton); then gives him amnesia, which turns him into a drug dealer and eventually gets his memory back and his revenge exacted. The re-make with Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx wasn't bad, all things considered, in fact, I felt like I was actually watching an episode of Miami Vice. Close, but I'll call it a hit.
4. Get Smart
The Cold War got the comic treatment with Agent 86, Maxwell Smart and his partner, Agent 99. Played by Don Adams and Barbara Feldon, Get Smart was the brainchild of comic geniuses Buck Henry and Mel Brooks. This ridiculous show still continues to make me laugh on those late Saturday nights. The re-make with funny-man Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway is also hilarious and just as stupid, just like you want Max to be. The original seemingly jumped the shark after Smart and 99 got married and had twins, so there was no way the new version could be any worse than that. Besides, Carell is hilarious in almost everything he does; he definitely tries to pay tribute to Adams in this, as does Hathaway. Another close one, but comical hit.
3. Dark Shadows
ABC's hit series of the 1970s featured a vampire who returns to his ancestral home and all the machinations that come with it. Jonathan Frid played the original Barnabas Collins on TV, cameos in the new version; Johnny Depp brings him back to life in a hilarious re-make, surrounded by an equally crazy cast of Michele Phieffer and Helena Bohnam Carter. Still chuckling, just thinking about that silly film. A comedy hit. Speaking of comedy hits and misses...
2. Starsky and Hutch
For many of the same reasons I Spy fails, I was not a fan of the Starsky and Hutch re-make. Although original stars Michael Glaser and David Soul appear near the end of the film, and gives their implied blessings, not all these remake, drama-turned-comedies actually work. This Ben Stiller/Luke Wilson vehicle became a straight-up comedy which was unlike the original series. Starsky and Hutch had comic moments, but was for the most part, serious. Stiller and Wilson did have one thing going for them, and that is great, on-screen chemistry; something lacking in many of these remakes. It may have been a box office hit, but for me, it had none of the drama of the original series. Great as a comedy, but it's still a re-make miss.
1. Hawaii 5-0
Made famous by Jack Lord in the late '60s and '70s, Hawaii 5-0 was one of the best cop dramas on TV. "Book 'em Danno!", "Nobody gets off my rock!" were some of his best lines. The series would often jump the shark whenever "the evil Wo Fat" showed up to make trouble, but for the most part it was your typical island adventure with kingpins, smugglers, murderers, Chinese agents and crazed vets just back from Vietnam. CBS decided to revive 5-0 to some acclaim, and became one of the rarest of all re-make animals: a hit series remade decades later. The new 5-0 features a rebooting of the original characters, yet the plots are more akin to shows like CSI, NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles, all on CBS by the way. There have been a few sub-plots and secondary story-lines, but the original never had that kind of thing going on. The stories were edgy, and at times, you really felt the urgency. Lord's Steve McGarrett was a hard act to follow, as few actors had the intensity that Lord brought to the role. Unfortunately, it's so much like all the other "alphabet cop" shows, that I almost can't tell them apart, which makes "5-0" a miss for me.
Many others have tried and failed, including "Mission Impossible" and "Knight Rider". On the plus side of the ledger, Star Trek's "Next Generation", "Deep Space Nine" and "Voyager" enjoyed success, until "Enterprise" ended the trekkies TV run. Sci-Fi Channel's "Battlestar Galactica" and prequel "Caprica" were both decent updates to a franchise that had begun back in the '80s. As I look over the list, it appears sci-fi and comedies are the most successful; on second thought, the new "Green Hornet", the "Avengers" (the Ralph Fiennes/Uma Thurman remake of the Patrick MacNee/Diana Rigg series), "Kojak"(with Ving Rhames), and the "Beverly Hillbillies" weren't too successful either.
Movies made immediately after the end of a series, like the "X Files 1 & 2", "Firefly and Serenity", and "Sex and the City 1 & 2", are more logical extensions of successful TV filmmaking, because they are still fresh and relevant to their fans. For the rest, it's a matter of timing, casting, nostalgia and luck that determine the success of these endeavors.
Remakes are here to stay, for better or worse and yet sometimes, it's best to leave the originals right where we found them, with our memories intact and our hope restored.
E. "Doc" Smith is the Arts & Entertainment Editor for BeyondChron. He doesn't like bad remakes of British TV shows and terrible movie adaptations of comic book superheroes