Monday, June 6, 2011

We Don't Need Another Hero

In 1982, a big, beefy, buttery Austrian body builder named Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in a fantasy/action/adventure picture called "Conan the Barbarian".

Despite a confusing story line and some bad '80's hair, "Conan" became a big hit and made zillions of dollars at the box office. "Conan"s success allowed Arnold to springboard into an international movie career, which included such artistic milestones as "Kindergarten Cop", "Total Recall", the "Terminator" series and "True Lies".

The fact that Arnold couldn't act his way out of a wet paper bag didn't seem to bother his loyal fans because, well, the guy was huge! He could crack walnuts with his butt checks! And while no one would confuse "Predator" with "Citizen Kane", all of Arnie's subsequent films were a vast improvement over his cinematic debut in 1970: "Hercules in New York" where he was billed as "Arnold Strong" and co-starred with the monumentally annoying Arnold Stang.

"Conan" recently appeared on AMC, a cable channel that has seen better days. The basic plot line was Conan wanting revenge on the baddies who killed his parents and sacked his village, which seems fair enough. Before he could do that, however, Conan was turned into a slave, then a gladiator and then he was sent free. Because Conan's job skills were limited to ripping people's arms out of their sockets, he became a thief. A sub plot had Conan hooking up with some other thieves to save a princess who has fallen in with a snake worshipping death cult, headed by James Earl Jones in some freaky hair extentensions.

I would say a good 40% of "Conan" was made up of Arnold walking somewhere, Arnold running somewhere, Arnold riding a horse somewhere, Arnold riding a camel somewhere and Arnold eating lots of chicken wings. To reward the patience of the gals who let their boyfriends drag them to this flick, "Conan"s producers later strung their leading man up on "The Tree of Doom", all the better to showcase his impressively bulging package.

Memo to New York Senator Anthony Weiner: eat your heart out!

All in all, "Conan the Barbarian" is, was and remains a stupid movie. That is why I was so shocked that Hollywood will be trotting out a remake this summer.


"Conan the Barbarian" is not a movie that deserves to be remade. The world was not begging for a new version of this over hyped bone cruncher. Once was more than enough as far as "Conan" was concerned.

Besides, if a movie has been done right the first time, there is no point trying to make lightening strike twice.

Yes, "A Star is Born" was remade for Judy Garland and "An Affair to Remember" was a remake of "Love Affair". But when Babs Streisand remade "A Star is Born" featuring herself and Kris Kristofferson, it became one of the debacles of her career. And not even Warren Beatty (with an assist from Katherine Hepburn) could save his remake of "An Affair to Remember", "Love Affair", from expiring at the box office.

In fact, the roll call of remake bombs stretches farther than the eye can see.

A recent remake of the 1981 comedy "Arthur" starring Russel Brand and Helen Mirren was a dud. So was the remake of "The Razor's Edge" starring Bill Murry. Al Pacino is a great actor, but even his over the top hamminess ("Let me introduce you to my little friend!") couldn't save director Brian De Palma's remake of "Scarface". Let's also not forget Tim Burton's "re-imagining" of the 1968 classic "Planet of the Apes" was a bomb, too--even with Chuck Heston, star of the original, popping up in a cameo. "King Kong", the best monster movie ever, has been remade no fewer than 3 times: in the 70's, featuring an unknown actress named Jessica Lange (the remake almost killed the two-time Oscar winner's career); in the 80's with a pre-"Terminator" Linda Hamilton; and most recently with Jack Black and Adrian Brody. None of them were equal to the original and all did poorly at the box office.

So if remakes or re-imaginings or rebootings or whatever inevitably lead to failure, why does Hollywood insist on doing them?

I have a few theories.

First, studio heads figure if a movie has a certain level of name recognition, it has a built in audience. If viewers flocked to "Conan" in 1982, of course they will flock to "Conan" on 2011--or so they hope.

Second, a big budget remake of an action flick can make lots of bucks in foreign markets even if it bombs in the states.

Third, Hollywood views summer as their blockbuster season. They want explosions, CGI and loud music. Brains are optional. Why pester people with weighty ideas when you can crack some skulls or show a starlet in a skimpy costume?

Yet it is precisely this kind of bone headed thinking that births bone headed movies.

Maybe I'm too touchy. Or maybe I'm still simmering over Conan Schwarzenegger's mistreatment of loyal wife Maria. But one "Conan the Barbarian" is enough. The first one didn't exactly advance the art of film making to any degree and I don't think the second will, either.

Besides, what promising new films weren't made because of all the money being lavished on this unnecessary remake of a really dumb movie from 1982?

APB to Hollywood: if you want to remake something, remake your ratings system. Stop remaking your movies! In the words of Irving "Wonder Boy" Thalberg: "Don't give the audience what they want! Give them something better!"

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