Alex Massie

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three: Take Two

Text settings

Did you know that Tony Scott is filming a remake of Pelham One Two Three? If you think that sounds as though it must be a bad idea wait until you learn that the Robert Shaw part will be played by, yes, John Travolta. Seriously. Obviously. As Ross Douthat says, this is an entirely pointless exercise doomed to failure. You might as well remake Get Carter or The Wicker Man...

Ross agrees with Peter Suderman who fears that matters Hollywood are likely to get worse, not better.

But I am worried, to an extent, about the way Hollywood is trending towards recycling its properties. Yes, Tinseltown has been peddling recycled goods for a while now, but increasingly, it seems as if most major projects are sequels, adaptations, or reboots. But I’m genuinely starting to wonder if we aren’t headed toward a Hollywood that looks a lot more like the world of comics than the world of novels.

My worry is that rather than storytellers, the big Hollywood studios will become property owners, each with its own stable of recognizable icons, some brought from other mediums, some original to cinema: Transformers, Freddy, Jason, Spider-Man, Batman, James Bond, Jason Bourne, Robocop, Aliens, and on and on and on. My sense is that just as the major comic book publishers have largely spent their time and money recycling the same familiar characters for the last five decades or so, the big movie studios are trending toward a similar model. In the last few years, we’ve seen Die Hard, Rambo, Rocky, and Indiana Jones revived. We’ve watched Bond and Batman get total overhauls. A Robocop reboot is in the works. Kids shows from the 1980s seem to be hot properties: Transformers and Ninja Turtles have already made comebacks, G.I. Joe is coming this summer, and He-Man is on its way. And, of course, there’s another Friday the 13th film hitting theaters this week.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love comic books, comic-book movies, and serialized genre fiction of all sorts. But it does strike me as sort of a shame that Hollywood, perhaps the greatest outlet for popular storytelling the last 100 years, now seems far less concerned with telling stories and far more concerned with retelling them.

This seems dangerously probable. Then again, remakes have been part of Hollywood's currency for as long as the movies have existed. John Huston's Maltese Falcon was the third movie adapted from Hammett's novel. Still, the great Which Remakes Were Better Than the Original? is a perennially popular parlour game. From recent years I'd nominate the second Thomas Crowne Affair and Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven both of which, it seemed to me, had more zip about them than the orginals. But of recent remakes that's about it.

UPDATE: Just to clarify - I do know that both Get Carter and The Wicker Man were subjected to terrible, pointless remakes. That's rather the point: why bother with such enterprises when it is obvious that you're not going to improve upon the original in any way? What next, a remake of Local Hero? Also: I don't consider Daniel Craig's Casino Royale a remake since the first movie was a spoof. It's another adaptation of Fleming's novel, rather than a true remake.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleArts Reviewsfilm