Monday, May 06, 2013

From "Star Trek" to "Spider-Man": There's A Certain Way To (Re-) Do It!

There’s been resurgence in remakes of recent.  Classic television programs for the big-screen or small; classic films for the big-screen; classic concepts remade in general, whether they were remade from an original comic book or novel source.

            In the past few years there’s been small screen television re-treads of Battlestar: Galactica, The Defenders, and The Munsters.  More are on the way, as actors Vince Vaughn and Peter Billingsley (Ralphie from A Christmas Story) are partnering with Paramount to develop a new Brady Bunch, while Warner Bros. is still dabbling with the possibility of re-doing Wonder Woman (for which a recent David E. Kelly edition did not fly).

            On the big-screen, classic TV shows have shown up in retrograde fashion with, for example, director Tim Burton and star Johnny Depp’s Dark Shadows (based on the 1960s gothic soap), and the on-going adventures of Mission: Impossible featuring Tom Cruise, who is now also working on a re-do of TV’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  Into this mix, producer/director J.J. Abrams, who helmed Cruise in Mission: Impossible 3, is now promoting his second Star Trek film based on Gene Roddenberry’s original genius Trek TV series.  Moreover, Abrams is further involved with a re-boot of the Star Wars franchise, which has long been in direct competition with the Trek universe; and that development alone poses an interesting triadic dichotomy:

            1] That any Trek associate, veteran or novice, would be aligned with a direct “rival” is nothing less than intriguing

            2] That Wars never began as a television series; but in the theatre and

            3] That Abrams would not only be re-doing a stabilized television franchise, but is also now re-booting an established film franchise.

            With regard to the latter, certainly other creative sorts have found themselves in similar shoes with, for example, the likes (and dislikes) of the Spider-Man and Superman feature film worlds.  Both S-Men initially commenced in comic book form (Spidey from Marvel origins; Clark Kent and company from DC origins), and went on to become small screen animated and live actions series.  But some have questioned the wisdom of re-booting feature film editions of these two superheroes so soon after their fairly recent early retreads (if only in the last decade).  Included in this unique re-club would The Incredible Hulk, with which Universal went back to the big-screen remake drawing board (to less than stellar results) with not one but two total Hulk re-dos within a five year span.

            However, The Amazing Spider-Man, introducing the new Peter Parker, now played by Andrew Garfield proved profitable, followed in the web-steps of the ultimately success of Tobey Maguire films.  And many are hoping the soon-to-be-seen Man of Steel will do the same with the Superman feature film series (although the late, great Christopher Reeve has continually proven to be a tough super act to follow).

            Any way the retread is sliced, it is no easy task to remake a small screen classic, whether or not it began in comic book or novel form, for either television or the movie-house.  And although those involved certainly always have the best of intentions, they do not always produce the best results.

            However, there are certain precepts and “rules” that could and should be adhered to help things along the way (all of which, once more, comes in threes):

            1] The given property’s core mythology must be respected

            2] If at all, possible, any living member of the original cast or production team of the original series or conceived project should somehow be involved

            3] The correct casting is pertinent, and that does not always mean that an A-list actor or actress should be cast as a solid draw.  Ideally, remakes should not be star-vehicles; the script and the story and the characters should be the star attractions; and everything should fall into place after that.

            But what might be the most important component to consider in remaking, per se, a classic television program, in particular, is to know when and when not to take the concept seriously.

            A few years back, The Brady Bunch was made into a glorious feature film, and the camp aspect played into the scenario very well.  The original television series (which still rules, by the way!), though not intended as camp, became camp in the process, although no less loved.  Consequently, camping-it-up nicely served the feature film transition – and the Brady franchise, in general.  The Brady Bunch Movie, released in 1995, pristinely incorporated camp into its very core and, in the process, became a satire.  So that worked.

            Conversely, such was not the case in 2004 with Ben Stiller’s Starsky & Hutch movie remake of the Aaron Spelling TV series.  Granted, the original series could never be considered Masterpiece Theatre; but it wasn’t campy either.  But for some reason, Stiller decided to go the satire Brady Bunch route.  (Maybe because he married Christine Taylor, who played Marcia, Marcia, Marcia in the Brady motion picture?) 

            What also didn’t work on a big-screen level was the aforementioned Burton/Depp Dark Shadows re-do from 2012.  There was a mistaken assessment that the original Shadows TV series was a campy series.  But such was not the case.  The low budget may have invited some to perceive the series as camp, but the writing and storylines and the always-solid acting (given the allotted time-frame and live-performing aspect of daily daytime production) on that so-named gothic soap raised the bar.

            Unfortunately, Burton and Depp most disappointedly decided to turn Shadows into a joke.  The first few minutes of the film were pure genius; but as the movie continued they decided to camp it up (as they, again, had assumed the original series camped it), but things went down-hill from there.  Adding insult to injury, the four main original Shadows actors (Jonathan Frid, Kathryn Lee Scott, Lara Parker and David Selby) were poorly and disrespectfully employed on-screen (you’d have to blink to see their cameos in an entry-party scene).

            In all, Shadows was a dark disappointment on so many levels.

            But such does not have to be the case with future remakes.

            Those who in control should trust their affection for the original concept they seek to re-do; respect the original material, and proceed with remake style, classic, elegance, and sophistication.

            If such is the case, then everything should turn out just fine. 

            Make that, re-fined.

            Er, re-make that re-fined.

            Oh, you get the (big) picture.

Herbie J Pilato is the Creative Director of Pop-Culture Consultants, an entertainment consulting firm that specializes in remakes of classic television programming for the big-screen and small.  For more information, log on to or email

1 comment:

Sparky's Classic TV said...

Sometimes I think that remaking something great is like blastphemy. If you are going to remake a movie, or a show, better be better than the original. Unfortunatally, most re-makes do not meet up to the expectations delivered by the original.