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Commentary

Back to the Seventies: 4 Unfortunate Remakes

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

1978: Matthew Bennell (a young and curly-haired Donald Sutherland), a health inspector living in San Francisco, goes on the run from a growing population of “replacements” in this creepy sci-fi film from director Philip Kaufman. In the opening sequence, we see creatures from a dying world eerily float on solar winds toward an unsuspecting Earth. Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) inadvertently introduces the creatures to her partner when she brings home an assimilated flower. Bennell teams up with friends Jack (Jeff Goldblum) and Nancy (Veronica Cartwright, coincidentally from 2007′s “The Invasion”) to outrun the clones.

2007: More than 20 years later, director Oliver Hirschbiegel takes a stab at a remake with “The Invasion,” in which psychiatrist Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman) races to protect her son (Jackson Bond). The 1978 film was successful because of an adherence to old-style horror that mystified, scared and repulsed the audience. Hirschbiegel’s version loses this element and feels somewhat hollow. The desperation in the fleeing characters is less earnest and the film ends with an “oh” feeling rather than the frightening crescendo of its predecessor (itself a remake). More importantly, there are actually no body snatchers per se, just people turning into emotionless drones. The happy ending bears no resemblance to the ’70s film, in which we see Matthew finally succumb and publicly uncover one of the last surviving humans.

Shaft

1971: This blaxploitation film is hugely tied to its 1970s New York setting. Richard Roundtree fills the central role nicely, making it completely his own as the untouchable but charismatic private detective from Harlem. His strong convictions put him in favour with both whites and blacks, enabling him to cross the divide between the two. He’s hired by mobster Bumpy Jonas (Moses Gunn) to find his kidnapped daughter. Shaft becomes caught up in a hood-versus-hood conflict and has to tangle with the Italian mob to get her back.

2000: Far removed from the context of the original, John Singleton’s version lacks any soul and credibility, preventing this from being a hit. Samuel L. Jackson is the obvious choice for the role, but the character comes off more as a parody than a principled detective on a mission. The plot has kept a small political element —a rich yuppie (Christian Bale) tries to silence the only witness (Toni Collette) who saw him beat a black man to death — but that seems too obvious and too easy a choice.

The Taking of Pelham 123

1974: A top thriller with a simple premise and a film relevant to then-current times in New York where crime was on a rapid increase and an anxious mood hung in the air. The story is one that has been used many times over in films since. A group of hijackers boards the Pelham 123 train at different stops along its route. They gather a group of passengers and hold them at gunpoint. The leader, Mr Blue (Robert Shaw), threatens to kill one every minute unless they’re paid $1 million. Walter Matthau is their reluctant adversary, Zachary Garber, a cynical police lieutenant working for the New York Transit Authority.

2009: As remakes go, this one isn’t too shabby. John Travolta reuses the crazy madman routine from his character in “Face/Off” (1997) as lead hijacker Ryder. Denzel Washington dons the honed blue-collar worker/eventual hero type but this too-familiar role, one that director Tony Scott has used time and again, is perhaps too shiny for the character. This is in comparison to Matthau, whose melancholic and downbeat demeanour fell in nicely alongside those of the passengers and the situation.

Get Carter

1971: Michael Caine is at his deadliest in this revenge film from director Mike Hodges. Cockney gangster Jack Carter (Caine) travels north to attend his brother’s funeral in Gateshead. Unsatisfied with the circumstances surrounding his death, he begins his own investigation. A revenge-fueled rampage ensues as he shakes down members of the local underworld to find Frank’s killer, arcade owner Cliff Brumby (Brian Mosely). Carter is so hellbent and unstoppable in finding out the truth that his demise at the end of the film is inevitable and perhaps even a little poetic.

2000: A redundant remake with action movie thesp Sylvester Stallone as Jack Carter. Unfortunately, there is too much dialogue and too little action for him and his performance suffers for it. The new version feels limp and is devoid of a lot of the fisticuffs action and sufficient tension seen in the original. Mickey Rourke is a highlight in this hopeless film. He’s one of Carter’s many nemeses whom he drags up from the underworld — a slimy porn king who drugged his brother’s niece so that she could appear in one of his films.

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One Response to “Back to the Seventies: 4 Unfortunate Remakes”

  1. Caran says:

    I really enjoyed the remake of shaft, yes Samuel L. Jackson is the usual person to pick … If you were a director what African american other than him would you pick???