Hello there! This is probably the first editorial I’ve written for this blog. Hooray?!! Also, just a little warning, this post might be a little opinionated, ranty, or something of a tangent at times.
Anyway, I’m a big John Carpenter fan. Granted, I haven’t seen ALL of his movies, but I’ve seen a big chunk of them. Halloween, Escape from New York, John Carpenter’s The Thing (this is to help me differentiate between his film, the original 1951 film, the comics both Marvel AND Dark Horse, the 2002 video game, and the 2011 prequel), Big Trouble in Little China, They Live, and In the Mouth of Madness. The rest of his movies I haven’t mentioned are ones that either I didn’t see or only saw parts of. Regardless, his movies are enjoyable. He is probably the definitive modern cult filmmaker, and that really goes without saying, since his movies have been landmark and influential in sci-fi, horror, and just about anything in fiction regardless of medium. Not to mention he’s a talented composer and the music in his movies are simply awesome. So why is it that his movies keep getting remade? And really, what’s the point of remaking them at all, especially with the track record of other remakes of his movies in the past?
Remakes, reboots, reimaginings, however you want to call them, are a natural part of entertainment nowadays, both good and bad. Think of it like U.S. presidential elections, especially with the upcoming 2016 one: seemingly, it sounds cautionary, but it can be something beneficial and refreshing if done right (like Bernie Sanders), or it can be disastrous and a really stupid idea to begin with and whoever thought of it should definitively have their priorities straight (like Donald Trump). So yeah, remakes in general can go 50-50, but they keep getting made anyway no matter how “big” the original was. But why focus on the ones of John Carpenter’s movies here? Yes, I am addressing this as a fan of his work, but I am also trying to address this in a general sense too.
There have already been three remakes of John Carpenter’s movies that have been released to various results: Assault on Precinct 13 (came out in 2005 to mixed reactions), The Fog (also came out in 2005 to poor results) and Halloween (came out in 2007 and honestly, while others hate it, I actually liked it, probably more than the original, so bring on pitch forks and torches). Right now, two more are in development, and they are Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China, and again, they can go the way of the aforementioned joke I said.
First, let’s talk about Escape from New York. Spoiler alert if you haven’t seen it, it’s about an alternate 1997 (the movie came out in 1981), in which crime has run rampant to the point where ALL of New York City is converted into a maximum security prison, the world is engaged in World War III, and the U.S. president is held hostage in NYC. The only hope to get him out in time for a U.N. summit is former soldier turned outlaw Snake Plissken, played by Kurt Russell (longtime collaborator of Carpenter’s). The movie was very popular and still is to this day, successful at the box office, has a strong cult following, and has influenced other entertainment mediums, in particular Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear series [insert joke about Konami here] and even the poster alone inspired that scene from Cloverfield of the Statue of Liberty’s head being thrown onto the street. It did spawn a sequel in 1996, fifteen years after it came out, and while it wasn’t very successful at the time, it is popular in a different way of looking at it as a satire of action films of the 90s, according to various critics. So why do a remake of it and why wouldn’t it matter to remake it? Well, for one thing, the remake has been in development for a LONG time, way back in 2007, and it’s been in development hell since. Recently, word is that 20th Century Fox (probably desperate to make a bankable franchise out of anything since the FF reboot tanked as expected) got the rights to remake it, so who knows when and/or if it’ll happen at any point. Granted, if it’d been made back then after first being announced, it would make sense. Have it set in a post-9/11 world, where it could be more dark and bleak than the original was. Not to mention the stealth plane would have to land somewhere else since, well, the World Trade Center is gone (speaking in a context before the new World Trade Center was built). But it’s been years since the initial announcement, and again, the movie has been in development hell since. There have been various people reportedly attached to it, but nothing concrete has come up. I know I’m not a filmmaker, but you’d think there’d be something happening after all this time. And the same can be said for any movie, regardless of whether it’s a remake or something else entirely. While it and its sequel are kinda dated given the time periods they take place in, the original can already be looked at as taking place in an alternate universe as well as one point in time (the 80s) looking at what a then-possible future could be like (the 90s) and commentary on culture and politics and other things at the time and modern times, and the same can be said for the sequel that spawned from it too (Escape from L.A. came out in 1996 and took place in 2013).
And I’m not saying a remake of this and setting it in a post-9/11 world couldn’t be done, but juxtapose that idea with another remake of another classic movie of the 80s, Red Dawn. At the time, it seemed unreasonable but later on it kinda made sense to remake Red Dawn and have it set in a post-9/11 world, because in a way the state of political affairs and other stuff is kinda more messed up than it was back in the 80s. The original had the Soviet Union and their allies invade the U.S., so maybe have the U.S. face off against a modern enemy, in this case being North Korea and their allies (originally it was supposed to be China but this was changed in order for the studios to gain access to the Chinese box office). Well, the movie was nearly cancelled at one point, the enemies were changed from China to North Korea as I just said, and when it came out it was a critical and financial failure. The story was ridiculous, the characters bland and cliched and unlikeable, and the action was so boring that even Michael Bay would look at it and say “c’mon guys, step up your game”. If Escape from New York were remade in the same way as the Red Dawn remake, then it’d be an automatic fail. Basically, there just seems to be no point in “updating” the story and it wouldn’t feel right given the current circumstances.
Next is Big Trouble in Little China. It’s about a trucker named Jack Burton (again played by Kurt Russell) helping his friend Wang rescue his fiance from an ancient sorcerer named Lo Pan. The movie was funny and awesome at the same time, even with the cheesy effects, and had plenty of comedy, action, and of course martial arts. Unlike Snake Plissken, Jack Burton was a big talker full of wise cracks, but that didn’t stop him from being cool. And like Escape from New York, it did serve as an influence for video games (other than the one based on it that came out back when the movie did on various consoles), in particular for the character of Raiden in Mortal Kombat.
Recently it’s been announced that there’s going to be a remake of this movie, with Dwayne Johnson producing and starring as Jack Burton and Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz (writers of various movies such as Thor, X-Men: First Class, and the upcoming Power Rangers movie) to write the movie. Johnson even wants Carpenter himself involved, with the latter saying that the remake is “in very early stages”. But despite that, here’s the problem, aside from the movie being remade at all: it doesn’t make sense to do it, at least not fiscally. While the movie is still popular to this day and like several other Carpenter films, it’s a cult film, it was also a box office bomb. It only made $11 million on a $20 million budget, and sure, it made a killing on home video and airs on television, but the same can be said of any movie as well. It doesn’t seem reasonable to remake a box office bomb, no matter how it went with critics and audiences. That’d be like remaking Howard the Duck (though to be fair, with his resurgence in popularity following his cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy and a new comic currently being published, I could see that happening) or Battlefield Earth. There can also be a popular reboot of a movie that sucked, like what the awesome 2012’s Dredd was to the crappy 1995’s Judge Dredd (the former of which deserves a sequel or some time of followup no matter what because it was awesome, and yet there are still sequels being made to the modern Chipmunks movies and Step Up, just saying).
And lastly, these movies being remade would be irrelevant not just because of their popularity or their influence, but that their stories are still being continued. Not in film or TV or anything live action, but in comic book form. While Escape from New York has had different comic spinoffs from various publishers, both it and Big Trouble in Little China are currently being continued in comics published by BOOM! Studios (whose other licensed titles are pretty awesome), with John Carpenter himself involved with each of them as a writer and consultant/producer. I’ve only read the Big Trouble in Little China comic (in trade paperback) so far, which is awesome, and yet to read the Escape from New York comic, and it’s exciting that they’re being done, especially with John Carpenter’s involvement. It’s also interesting to note that the announcement of the remake of Big Trouble in Little China came about not too long after the comic continuation to the movie debuted, just saying. What makes this meaningful is that along with these comics, and also the Asylum comic that Carpenter is also involved with, is that they can be looked at as a comeback of sorts for him, as well as the classics he created. And with Kurt Russell getting back into movies after a while with roles in Furious 7 and the upcoming Quentin Tarantino film The Hateful Eight, maybe they can reunite, do a new project together and/or do a continuation of sorts of one of their collaborations in a movie or something on TV. There’s already several “continuations” of cult franchises being put on TV, like Ash vs. Evil Dead with Bruce Campbell returning as Ash Williams from the Evil Dead movies. Mad Max: Fury Road and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (yes I like that movie, and I like it the best of the Indiana Jones movies, so again bring on the torches and pitchforks) also prove that a continuation to an old yet popular franchise can still be done, especially with the original creator(s) and original star involved (though not exactly with Mad Max, so [insert Mel Gibson joke here]).
Maybe I’m approaching this as being way too much of a John Carpenter fanboy, thinking out loud, or being hopeful or naive about the way things work, but that’s how I feel about it and how much they have impacted me and other people. Of course, money is a big part of the whole operation for why these movies are being remade, but that shouldn’t be the only reason to do it and unfortunately it does end up being a big part, if not the only reason. And yeah, some remakes can be done well, whether by people with lots or little experience, and they can be bad or good, depending on how they’re looked at or done. But if the originals are still popular, their stories being continued in comics and other mediums (with the original creator involved no less), action figures currently being made out of them (no seriously go to a comic or some other type of store and you’ll definitely see an action figure or vinyl figure of Snake and Jack), serving as an influence for other mediums,and the track record of doing remakes of a certain filmmaker’s work is spotty at best, then what’s the point of doing a remake? They can be remade, but there’s always the 50-50 chance they can make or break, and depending on how they go either way, the original is still the most memorable (unless it’s David Croenenberg’s The Fly or some other remake). And even if they fail, there can always be an ESCAPE from the BIG TROUBLE (yeah I know bad joke, but that’d also make an awesome crossover between Jack Burton and Snake Plissken, just saying) by just looking back at the originals.