Monday, April 12, 2010

Topper Eden

Veteran British film critic Barry Norman says in The Independent today that Hollywood's latest purse-prising strategy of remaking box office flops is basically a good one,

"It is a cautious and cowardly way of making film if you just do remakes but I'm wholly in favour of remaking films that didn't work the first time round but could work if they were made again," he said. "It makes much more sense if you have an intrinsically good idea that wasn't pulled off but could be done better. There is no sense in taking a film like Casablanca or Citizen Kane and remaking it, because it can't be improved upon."

The prompt for this examination is a proposed remake of the 1987 Goldie Hawn atrocity Overboard starring Jennifer Lopez. Mmm... ditzy vs deadpan - it might work. There was something altogether too playful about Hawn's reading of the manipulated amnaesiac. It could do with a dimmer view. It would certainly get that from Lopez. Some of the other films up for remake include the Alec Baldwin disaster The Shadow and David Lynch's Dune. I don't know that either of these fall into Barry Norman's category of 'an intrinsically good idea'. There is a very good reason why Sting didn't have a film career but he wasn't the only thing wrong with Dune, not by a long stretch.

As I've mentioned before, I like to listen to the director's commentary on good films. It's like seeing a Savile Row suit being made with all that tailors' chalk and underpinning and tacking being revealed. There is something immensely satisfying about a well-constructed conceptualisation. Deleted scenes are also illuminating. Invariably, they turn out to be superfluous in great film. Equally instructive is to listen to the director's commentary on a really bad film. It's extremely difficult to describe ill-conception. Generally speaking, the better the film, the clearer the director's explanation.

I got to thinking about other bad films that could be remade for the better with a slightly altered perspective or a different cast.

Waterworld. This film is thought ludicrous by most people. There's actually only one thing wrong with it and that's The Smokers. I'm not objecting on moral grounds, just that it is simply not credible that in a world with no dry land, there could possibly be tobacco. If it were to be remade now, the smoking would obviously go. No one smokes in films anymore unless they're set in Scotland where fags and fish'n'chips are mandatory. Dennis Hopper was good but not likely to be available. Mickey Rourke seems a worthy successor. Anyone but Kevin Costner.

Dick Tracy. You can instantly right any flop with Madonna in it simply by leaving her out. Ditto Warren Beatty. I can see Jon Hamm as Tracy and I think Gwen Stefani might make a good Breathless Mahoney.

Ishtar. See above. The problem with this film is that neither Beatty nor his co-star Dustin Hoffman were prepared to be Bob Hope to the other's Bing Crosby. I'd like to see it with Ant and Dec and a toss of the coin for who gets to be Bing.

It was widely reported that the new Uma Thurman film, Motherhood, grossed just nine English pounds on its opening weekend in Britain last month. One person went to see it in the one cinema chosen to show it. Creating a buzz with an undersupply strategy only really works with igadgets. With movies you sort of have to saturate. It would be nice also if the creators of cultural content realised that parenthood as a subject is more exhausted than the parents of a baby with colic. I suppose it's refreshing to realise that even people who are paid a lot of money largely haven't a clue what they're doing. One can at least see oneself as economical in this context.

A film I don't want to see remade is Topper but apparently Steve Martin has designs on it. I don't like Steve Martin being himself in films. It was okay for Father of the Bride but once is already more than enough. I think a blanket ban on remaking any Cary Grant film is probably in order just to be on the safe side.

The fifties TV spin-off of the 1937 film, also called Topper, was superb too. It had Leo G Carroll in it and a St Bernard dog called Neil. It was shown here in Australia in the late sixties. I adored it. Hoorah for gluggle as for years I tried to tell people about this show with a married couple and a dog who were ghosts in the house of a stuffy old man. Admittedly, I hadn't remembered the title and I'd thought the dog was a beagle. This might have been a source of confusion. Now I can buy the movie and the series and watch them in bed. Winter is a-coming.

Hoorah for DVDs and gluggle too. Life is good.