Deja vu for kids of the 1980s
From Mr Miyagi to Col Smith and from Wall Street to Elm Street, remakes of 1980s films are about to take over the cinemas. What’s next – Russell Brand in the Dudley Moore role in Arthur? Em, yes actually, writes KEVIN COURTNEY
IT’S LIKE something out of Back to the Future– or a scene from the recent comedy film Hot Tub Time Machine. You’re on your way to your local cineplex, when suddenly your DeLorean passes through some kind of chrono-synclastic infundibulum, and you find yourself back in 1985, sporting a mullet, leg-warmers and a jacket that looks like one of Prince’s cast-offs. The cineplex looks somehow different, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. Then the penny drops. You look at the list of films on the marquee – The Karate Kid, Nightmare on Elm Street, Red Dawn, Wall Street, Police Academy, and realise you’re not in 2010 any more. You’re in some twisted Hollywood revision of the 1980s, locked into an endlessly repeating celluloid loop, and there’s no sign of Doc Brown to help you get back to reality.
For some bizarre reason – and nothing to do with the Large Hadron Collider at Cern – this year is seeing a slew of 1980s remakes, reboots and reimaginings. It began in April with Clash of the Titans, an average remake of a rather awful Greek mythology romp, and continued in May with Jackie Earle Haley donning the Freddie Krueger melty face for a new version of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Next week sees a double whammy of retooled 1980s classics: The Karate Kid(starring Will Smith’s son Jaden, and Jackie Chan as the old master who teaches him the moves); and the big-screen version of 1980s TV series The A-Team, with Liam Neeson in the part of cigar-chomping, wise-cracking Col Hannibal Smith.
In the autumn, Michael Douglas returns as ruthless Wall Street trader Gordon Gecko in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, and at Christmas, Jeff Bridges gets sucked back into a creaky old virtual world in Tron: Legacy. What next – a remake of Arthur with Russell Brand playing the tipsy toff role made famous by Dudley Moore? Er, yes, that’s actually on the cards.
So, what’s with the obsession with remaking the iconic movies of the 1980s? It’s not as if any of them are improving on the originals, just updating them a bit using the current crop of B-listers. If you weren’t a teenager during the Reagan years, you might not get the appeal of such classic 1980s fodder as Red Dawn, Footlooseand Flight of the Navigator. But to someone looking through the varifocal lens of 1980s nostalgia, these movies were the Taxi Driver, Godfatherand Apocalypse Nowof their time. It’s not a question of improving on the originals – it’s a question of living up to their enormous legacy.
“I remember seeing Tronas a kid and being blown away by the special effects, but with new technology they can now make it even more spectacular, so that’s part of the appeal,” says film producer Ed Guiney. “Another part of it is rediscovering your teenage years. For us middle-aged people it’s a bit shocking to see our youth being replayed on screen.”
Though the 1980s are defined by the Brat Pack films of John Hughes, or the teen fantasy fare of Legend, Willowand Labyrinth, there were still some great movies made, says Guiney. “Gremlins is a terrific film. And Scorsese made some great films, like Raging Bull. Then there’s Platoonand Salvador.”
Right now, the music industry is tangled up in a 1980s time warp: albums by La Roux, Goldfrapp, Killers, Hurts and Empire of the Sun, to mention but a few, are so 1980s it hurts. Now that film-makers have caught up with the prevailing trend, they at least have a ready-made playlist of throwback tunes to soundtrack their remakes.
But why has the cinema world suddenly gone dayglo leggings and pastel Miami Vicejackets? Is it mere nostalgia or is it a manifestation of a deeper malaise? “Remakes for me generally seem like a very lazy option from Hollywood,” says Aedín Gormley, presenter of Movies and Musicals on RTÉ Lyric FM. “When it comes to the 1980s, though, I think the film-makers are clever, and see that we children of the ’80s may well buy our cinema ticket for nostalgic reasons, and the teenagers of today will be queuing right behind us. Kerching!”
If the force of nostalgia is stronger in 1980s children, it’s probably because they were the first generation who could rent out their favourite movies and watch them at home with their friends. “I remember when video came in – one friend had a Betamax and another had a VHS,” recalls Guiney. “We’d go round to Metropolis video shop on Baggot Street and rent out loads of movies. We watched all those John Hughes films, Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink. We’d have marathon days watching six films in a row.”
Could the obsession with the 1980s also be a sub- conscious attempt to escape the downturn and go back to a cosy age of colour, innocence and Walking on Sunshine? The 1980s were a time when anything seemed possible, when we plunged head-first into the material world, queued up for Club Tropicana and fought for our right to party. Duran Duran were swanning about in yachts on MTV, Harry Enfield was banging on about “loadsamoney”, bistros challenged the supremacy of pubs, and pina coladas became a viable alternative to beer. We saw a better life reflected back at us through telly, film and Smash Hitsmagazine, and we wanted some of it.
Now that it’s all gone, perhaps we feel the need to go back to where it all began, reboot and hopefully start again. And where better to start than with an update of Wall Street, that ultimate 1980s homage to greed and all its works? When the economy collapses, who you gonna call? Why, Gordon Gekko, of course, the cinematic template for greedy corporate bastards everywhere. With Michael Douglas returning to the role after almost a quarter of a century, and Oliver Stone back in the director’s chair, this is a chance to redress the balance sheet and relive the unfettered joy of avarice (although word has it that Gordon has seen the error of his capitalist pig ways).
Some of the remakes – inadvertently or not – are timely reminders of how much the world has changed over the past quarter of a century. When Troncame out, the alternative universe of video games seemed infinitely magical and mysterious. The story of a man who gets sucked into a pretty basic-looking video game may seem rather quaint in this age, but there may be a sobering thought lurking in those old-fangled pixels: we’ve all been sucked in now, and are permanently trapped in the Twitterverse, only this time few of us will ever a have snowball’s hope of finding our way out.
Similarly, the idea of a kid learning to stand up to bullies by learning karate also seems a bit naive – you’d need a bit more than chop socky these days to deal with cyber bullying. A swift kick to the Facebook? I doubt it. And the sozzled socialite who’s willing to give up his vast inheritance to marry a working-class girl? Would never happen in real life.
Aedín Gormley may not be that pushed about seeing the remakes of movies she grew up with, but she does like the idea of the new A-Team. “It looks like the film will play for laughs and not take itself too seriously, which is essential. The casting seems spot on. I like the sound of Liam Neeson as Hannibal and Bradley Cooper as Faceman.”
Gormley is glad, however, that Hollywood has steered away from remaking some of the more iconic films of the era, such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pinkand Heathers. “I am praying that film-makers will go with the phrase ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’.”
“Great movies don’t get remade,” assures Guiney, “but still, I’d love to see a remake of ET – in 3D.”
Take Two; 1980s updates we'd welcome
DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELSTwo rival conmen stage a contest to see who can fleece an heiress of her fortune. In the new version, several bank executives do battle to see who can extract the most urine from a weary public.
FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFFA student fakes illness, bunks off school and is spotted at the head of a massive pageant downtown. In the updated version, a politician bunks off Dáil duties and is spotted attending the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York at the taxpayers’ expense.
ETThe cute alien buys the new iPhone 4 to phone home, but can’t get a signal.
THE BREAKFAST CLUBA group of students bond during detention. In the new version, a group of students deprived of iPhones and Facebook eat each other.
PRETTY IN PINKMolly Ringwald looks nice in pale pastel. In the new version, Sacha Baron Cohen wears the eponymous colour and stalks the surviving members of the Brat Pack.
FATAL ATTRACTIONMichael Douglas has an affair with Glenn Close, then comes home one evening to find the family’s pet bunny has been boiled. In the updated version, a golfer has affairs, then arrives home one evening to find his goose has been cooked.
THE FLYA senator invents a teleporter that allows him to be in two places at once, and claim travel expenses. But a fly gets into the machine, and the senator gets caught in his own web of deceit.
The Karate Kidand The A-Teamopen on Wednesday