Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Wicker man remake

Has Hollywood lost the ability to invent new movies? Or are we simply unwilling to rouse ourselves for something that hasn't already been established by a brilliant original or a thrilling first installment? Following a summer box-office divided between three sequels (Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Superman Returns, Mission Impossible III) and a book adaptation (The Da Vinci Code), filmmakers might be forgiven for thinking that if their project isn’t massively famous before its production, it probably never will be.

If this is the sad truth, perhaps the easiest solution (as far as movie studios are concerned), is simply to re-hash an existing movie: a particularly fashionable option in the world of horror. Case in point (and in cinemas): Neil LaBute’s re-imagining of horror staple The Wicker Man.

Wicker Again

The new spin on the 1973 classic drafts Nic Cage into Edward Woodward's original role. He’s a sheriff investigating the disappearance of a young girl from a small island, who discovers strange pagan rituals involving, yes, a large and extremely flammable wooden man.

Christopher Lee played the leader of the occult islanders in the first film, we now have Ellen Burstyn, whose horror lineage dates back to The Exorcist. Where the first film shocked with its depictions of human sacrifice, this one tones things down to a gentler 12A rating, cutting some of its nastier scenes in the final edit (Cage being stung half to death by bees – who wouldn’t want to see that!)

Is nothing sacred?

The law of diminishing returns seems set to douse the new Wicker Man before it’s had a chance to make a spark. Recent horror remakes haven’t exactly helped. Anyone who celebrated 6/06/06 this year with the new version of The Omen will have left the cinema both un-horrified and unimpressed at a follow-up that failed to live up to its name. House Of Wax, fronted by Paris Hilton, fell equally flat last year. Worst of all perhaps was the 2005 remake of John Carpenter favourite 'The Fog', which was about as entertaining as a night in with a smoke machine.

‘But what about King Kong?’ we hear you ask. This was, we admit, an impressive re-imagining of the 1933 creature feature (although we wouldn’t go as far as to call it in an improvement). Perhaps the relative underperformance of such a large-scale blockbuster is a sign of the need to return the biggest budgets to those blockbusters that carry an original idea. It will be interesting to gauge Kong’s success next to that of director Peter Jackson's newly announced remake of classic World War 2 flick The Dam Busters.

Digging up the past

Resurrecting old movies is nothing new. In fact, you might even say that the remake has had its day. Did you know that the 1959 version of Ben-Hur (tied with The Return Of The King for the most Oscar wins ever) was a re-working of its original – a 1925 silent film starring Ramon Novarro? For horror, the eighties yielded The Thing based on The Thing From Another World and David Cronenberg’s The Fly, taken from the hammy fifties version.

True, there are some good remakes out there. But it takes a vast ego to fix that which isn't broken. The Wicker Man is symptomatic of a film industry that prefers to rely on pre-established titles to get bums on seats. In the process, the creative people of the film world are discouraged by an output resembling that of a recycling plant. Perhaps now, with the scary thought of Sylvester Stallone returning to the ring next February for Rocky Balboa (Rocky 6! Count 'em, 6!), it might just be time to start dreaming up some fresh ideas.

Written by Ed Holden, Entertainment Editor - MSN UK