Yesterday, I watched the following trailer:
I’m old enough to have seen the original at the cinema, as it happens. Back then, top billing went to a young buck called Kiefer Sutherland (whatever happened to him?) yet the film became notorious for him creating a relationship with co-star Julia Roberts, right up until she left him (less than a week before they were due to be married, if memory serves.) The original is, quite honestly, an extremely watchable and decent film. Long before the days of CGI, it relied on conventional shocks and clever camerawork to do the task I’m now seeing technology take over, and it makes me sad. Somehow between 1990 and here it isn’t just being young and edgy that has radically altered. I know better than to judge anything based solely on a trailer but really, honestly, this does not bode well. If I hadn’t loved and devoured the original so many times I know it by heart, maybe that would make a difference…
The 1974 version of this movie was a Christmas staple for as long as I can remember as a child. That means that I watched it once to learn the murderer, then a couple more times to get the details straight, before doing something else. Certain narratives will support multiple views: Christie’s whodunnits, not so much. In this case I briefly considered seeing the remake simply for Kenneth Branagh’s moustache, but let’s be honest, the plot’s hardly going to be a surprise… in that regard, it’ll have a lot in common with Flatliners. Yet, for the best part of four decades, I have willingly thrown money at a franchise which effectively tells the same story every 2-3 years, the only major difference being the man I have to believe is the major protagonist.
007 may hold the answer to my personal dilemma of ‘when is a remake just not worth the effort?’ I accepted Skyfall as a decent ‘episode’ of this current ‘series’ of the Bond ‘journey’ but SPECTRE was a step too far. Wonder Woman’s been around for DECADES, and yet the most current iteration of ‘origin story’ I’ll be able to watch multiple times and not get bored of. Why am I prepared to let some narratives get rehashed a bazillion times (Star Wars) but would rather others get left well alone (Blade Runner) could be personal preference, pure and simple. However, I think it is 007’s intractability that illuminates a deeper truth: Flatliners and Murder on the Orient Express aren’t simply reboots, but re-imaginations more than willing to embrace the changing face of modern audiences. Sure, they could cast a female Bond, but it won’t happen. The canon of the concept will only support a particular and fairly intractable demographic, and that appears as unchangeable as Daniel Craig’s current dislike of the franchise at present.
Flatliners, this time around, has a female lead protagonist, and two more women in the headline group of actors. MotAE has an impressively multicultural ensemble, neither ageist or sexist in their placement. Effectively these old stories can be made new not simply by effects but with smart casting choices. Bond… well, he’ll always be Bond, sexism and misogyny watered down only by a leading man who knows only too well how old and restrictive the source material has been. Here’s the problem for me: I’d love a great story that looks amazing, and is close to an original concept as possible. I know I won’t get that in modern film-making: Arrival, for instance (which I love) is effectively Interstellar with a differing plot structure. I grasp, as an adult and ex-film student, the chance for ingenuity and quirkiness doesn’t come around that often, and if you want to make money, recycling is your best bet. The problem then comes with what you pick to do that with, and then how it is marketed. It’s nearly 30 years since Flatliners, I don’t blame them for the reboot. I will hold them to account though if the CGI ruins what was a really great concept without.
Some remakes are best just left alone. I think we can all agree that there are concepts that worked better in the decades they were originally created (looking at you, St Trinians) whereas other ideas flourished and became phenomena hand in hand with the CGI that evolved with them (Harry Potter is a perfect example of this, more on which on Friday.) In between, there are the films that you see and think ‘you just green-lit this to make some quick cash, didn’t you?’ I’ll go see Flatliners in the cinema, just to see how much of a good/bad job gets done on rehashing the original, but even Branagh’s moustache won’t be enough, in the final analysis to make me part with cash. Sometimes, once is enough, and the geek in me has no real desire to compare and contrast reboots for decades to come. I’ll leave that to someone with more fans and a bigger You Tube subscriber base.
I’ll be here, praying the Bond franchise I’d love rebooted ends up doing it right.