Thursday, 3 February 2022

Stranger days

Started this 25 years ago. Only just finished & edited, after waiting ages for genre franchises to catch up... so that song lyric's numbers all worked okay. 


12 Days of Sci-Fi 


On the first day of sci-fi 

My genre gave to me... 

A Doctor in a phone box.


On the second day of sci-fi 

My genre gave to me... 

Two STAR TREK pilots 

And a Doctor in a phone box.


On the third day of sci-fi 

My genre gave to me... 

Three Champions 

Two STAR TREK pilots 

And the Doctor in a phone box.


On the fourth day of sci-fi

My genre gave to me... 

4 Fantastic friends

Three Champions 

Two STAR TREK pilots 

Another Doctor in a phone box.


On the fifth day of sci-fi 

My genre gave to me... 

Five Thunderbirds

4 Fantastic friends

Three Champions 

Two STAR TREK pilots 

Another Doctor in a phone box.


On the sixth day of sci-fi 

My genre gave to me... 

Six mutants bleshing 

Five Thunderbirds

4 Fantastic friends

Three Champions 

Two STAR TREK pilots 

Another Doctor in a phone box.


On the seventh day of sci-fi 

My genre gave to me... 

Seven Lensmen thinking 

Six mutants bleshing 

Five Thunderbirds

4 Fantastic friends

Three Champions 

Two STAR TREK pilots 

Another Doctor in a phone box.


On the eighth day of sci-fi 

My genre gave to me... 

Eight Spectrum captains 

Seven Lensmen thinking 

Six mutants bleshing 

Five Thunderbirds

4 Fantastic friends

Three Champions 

Two STAR TREK pilots 

Another Doctor in a phone box.


On the ninth day of sci-fi 

My genre gave to me... 

Nine plans from space 

Eight Spectrum captains 

Seven Lensmen thinking 

Six mutants bleshing 

Five Thunderbirds

4 Fantastic friends

Three Champions 

Two STAR TREK pilots 

Another Doctor in a phone box.


On the tenth day of sci-fi 

My genre gave to me... 

10 Sheckley victims 

Nine plans from space 

Eight Spectrum captains 

Seven Lensmen thinking 

Six mutants bleshing 

Five Thunderbirds

4 Fantastic friends

Three Champions 

Two STAR TREK pilots 

Another Doctor in a phone box.


On the eleventh day of sci-fi 

My genre gave to me... 

11 STAR WARS films

10 Sheckley victims 

Nine plans from space 

Eight Spectrum captains 

Seven Lensmen thinking 

Six mutants bleshing 

Five Thunderbirds

4 Fantastic friends

Three Champions 

Two STAR TREK pilots 

Another Doctor in a phone box.


On the twelfth day of sci-fi 

My genre gave to me... 

12 Monkey rebels 

11 STAR WARS films

10 Sheckley victims 

Nine plans from space 

Eight Spectrum captains 

Seven Lensmen thinking 

Six mutants bleshing 

Five Thunderbirds

4 Fantastic friends

Three Champions 

Two STAR TREK pilots 

Another Doctor in a phone box.

Sunday, 16 January 2022

Krrish trilogy

Weekends are good for trilogy viewing... Never been much of a Bollywood fan but Koi... Mil Gaya ('I found someone') was the launch for Rakesh Roshan's sci-fi series, so worth indulging curiosity for. KMG is typically artless fare by Indian standards. It happily mixes lowbrow humour & witless romantic songs (the entire first hour!) with special effects for CE3K-style visitors. The director's son Hrithik almost wins sympathy playing man-child Rohit (a better dancer than Forrest Gump?), before using scientist dad's computer for contacting daft aliens. Space smurf with glowing brain does psychic magic tricks for a bunch of kids, then gives Rohit superhuman powers. Blue Jadoo enables hero's quickening by sunlight (basketball “match is getting existing” says English subtitles), but ET-culty wonders won't fool brutal authorities all the time. Time to phone home, OK? 

Priyanka Chopra brightens up sequel Krrish (2006), a mostly graceless fantasy about superhero Krishna, when Rohit's grown-up son is played by Hrithik Roshan whose dad, director Rakesh, maintains generational tale's focus on family & kids playing in mythical hideaway (rural India's Smallville?) until his mid-air 'just imagine' catch of screaming skydiver Priya. Campy romance, with first song delayed for 40 minutes, is giddy prelude to Superboy-like antics. Adventure-camp boss seems like Windsor Davis' Sergeant (from TV's It Ain't Half Hot Mum) in all but 'lovely boy' catchphrase. Amusing that Krishna's glam granny Sonia is played by famous Rekha, only 20 years older than Hrithik. Krishna visits Singapore circus where he saves kids from burning tents (did I say how campy this is?). Who was that masked man? Although dismally contrived - if compared to Singer's under-valued tribute Superman Returns (also 2006), Krrish was & remains a Bollywood mainstream milestone as entry-level genre picture that succeeds probably only as live-action 'toon suitable mostly for little sprogs. Although deceits & betrayals by mad scientist Dr Arya, before Matrix-fu action, add some vaguely mature themes to its finale. If nothing else, Krrish is a vast improvement on sickly KMG. 

Chopra returns for Krrish 3 (2013) as the Hindi Lois Lane. Hrithik plays Krishna + dad Rohit, a bit like muscly Kal-El & boffin Clark Kent. Guess which saves the stricken airliner? Main super-villains are shape-shifter Kaya (Kangana Ranaut), and disabled psychic Kaal who makes evil GM hybrids – Rhino, Scorpion, Cheetah, Frogman. Yes, it blatantly rips-off X-Men movies. Horror arrives with plague in Mumbai, spread by Kaal's gang that Krrish fights on city streets while Doc Rohit makes antidotes. Blissful smiles with inspid song & dance routines diminish any aesthetic values possibly claimed by impressive visual effects, when traditions of Indian musicals undermine modern standards of subgenre cinema, but abstract ideas like Mahabharat-mutants bring welcome diversity from DC or Marvel comic-book movies. Very like Olivia Munn's sexy Psylocke in the later X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), Ranaut's appealing Kaya steals every scene she appears in. Easily the best of its genre trilogy, K3 triumphs when it exceeds expectations of showdown menace after evil Kaal's transformation into a Dr Doom / Magneto monstrosity for city-wide battle that reflects Man Of Steel (also 2013).

Sunday, 9 January 2022

Hickman's heroes?

After enjoying Jonathan Hickman’s Marvels about the Fantastic 4 as a family tragedy blending into tales of cosmic wonder in Future Foundation, and chilling sci-fi horror building dreadful utopia in a Darwinian bubble with a core of Aldous Huxley riffs for an apocalyptic Avengers saga of moral panic, I bought Hickman’s early works, to see whether certain critics were right about him being as radical as a ‘new Warren Ellis’, for creating a strong brand with multi-verse comics. 

The author’s first solo outings, a political-conspiracy and murder-mystery in The Nightly News (2007), and the global alternate-history steered by Lefty time-travellers in Pax Romana (2009), are wholly different absurdist narratives. Yet both of them are live-wire testers, with minimalist graphic-design elements, wrapped around starkly illustrated fictions, emerging from post-millennial avant-garde formats, most notable in particular for using rather drab colours (many characters appear only as silhouettes), perhaps in order to emphasise this breakaway impressionistic styling from storytelling convention of typical comics - but especially those about costumed superheroes. 

Documentary styled book TransHuman (2009), has Hickman’s ideas for entertaining genre comedy illustrated by J.M. Ringuet, while it’s about rivalries between cyber and genetics in corporate-science for planning socio-political (re-)evolution. Unleashing a freaky parody of Marvel’s X-Men and Inhumans with wannabe heroes crashing various moral and ethical boundaries to compare with 'New Wave' SF taking inspiration from Aldiss’ themes of ‘hubris clobbered by nemesis’, where the super-villains are Big Money, and (of course) Human Nature, now following a downward spiral that, only retrospectively but also winningly, parodies Hickman’s later ‘Children of Tomorrow’ gig-writing for Avengers books.  

Hickman is teamed with artist Ryan Bodenheim for epic Red Mass For MARS (2010), a millennia-spanning sci-fi polemic about superheroic defence of Earth from invasion by alien hive-mind, while narration considers humanity’s journey in phases to utopia, or something quite like it. There’s no equality in eternity, but ultimate star-man Mars fights unstoppable fate to accomplish his destiny, so planetary civilisation can emerge after genuine freedom from religion is achieved. 

Throwaway futurism in The Red Wing (2011), with art by Nick Pitarra, forms a stylish backdrop for this bold time-travel mystery, of legacy in warfare where a century’s lost to enemy forces instead of territory. Dizzy narrative is punctuated by many surprising revelations and eight pages of blackout featuring one tiny image to symbolise a pilot’s risky encounter with oblivion. Hickman’s range of themes expands even when a focus upon novella-sized SF is offered. The potent design of sudden death-scenes is visually compelling and emotionally devastating.   

I haven’t read Hickman’s more recent East Of West saga but The Manhattan Projects (six volumes, 2012-6, again with Pitarra) seems like his very best weird genre work. A blistering array of ghastly nightmares by mad-science anti-heroes (bizarro versions of Einstein, Oppenheimer, Feynman, Fermi, and von Braun, dominate crazy plots), are perpetrated with transformative glee, while the nuclear messiah Daghlian was clearly influenced by Watchmen’s Dr Manhattan, and first spaceman Yuri Gagarin becomes a freshly iconic Flash Gordon/ Buck Rogers explorer with talking super-dog Laika. If nothing else, this chaotic story develops into arguably the greatest, most hilarious, SF satire - with Hickman’s brutally unrelenting consistency of purpose faultlessly etched by sublime caricatures, since Kubrick’s nuclear black-comedy classic Dr Strangelove.

Co-created with Mike Costa, Hickman’s God Is Dead (2013) is every meta-theological apocalypse gouged into a crumbling world-scape, where Greek, Egyptian, Indian, and Mexican deities face mythical competition from Norse and scientific gods for prayers. It’s a fatal saga of beliefs where atheists are sacrificed first. Who wins the grisly fights between Anubis and Quetzalcoatl, or Zeus and Thor? What happens after the failures, by desperate secular genius, to salvage the planet by spawning a Mammon incarnate? Is there any chance of salvation for humanity? In retrospect, Hickman’s final answers are obvious, but his rather whimsical approach supports plenty of blood and thunder.

In contrast to derivative TV show American Gods (2017) adapted from Neil Gaiman’s novel, this is a briskly forthright horror epic, that strives to avoid metaphors and euphemisms, with gleeful confrontations between savage forces of darkness and the human misery of giving up on ghosts. It never pretends we might have another Enlightenment in the future. There’s only the grim realisation that Holocaust never ended in WW2. In this, it’s a reminder that Ellis’ astonishing Supergod (2011) was the perfection of subgenre in comics. 

Hickman’s comics boast more than enough big SF ideas with grandly composed genre plots to match the best of his rivals, but Ellis demonstrates far greater skill at forming bold groups of well-rounded and sympathetic (if not always likeable) characters while Hickman usually makes do with (sometimes appealing) versions of heroic archetypes. It seems that Ellis positions his people to drive story-telling vehicles, while Hickman’s briskly sketched heroes merely populate his agenda-wise scenarios.

Friday, 16 July 2021

Top 15 Remakes of 1980s

COMPLEXITY & SOPHISTICATION: 

15 Best Movie Remakes 1980 - 1989

Commercial cinema maintains the industry and recycles past winners, breathing new life into used plots and forgotten pictures, just like a fresh coat of paint revives rooms and sprucing up homes for sale as houses. It’s often a generational practice, of course, and changes of details or in scope and scale are sometimes radical to match whatever gets attention. Zeitgeist drives ambitions, but safe bets are normally the best choices.

Tech advances are vitally important for cultural developments, especially for cinema. The crucial difference between Metropolis’ silent-film expressionism, and retro-futurism in science fiction's masterpiece Blade Runner, is 55 years, or half a century of progress. Typical reasons for movie revisionism are cultural, and/ or usually artistic, especially when older works from the B&W era get updated with colour, and other film-making tech. Remakes usually keep traditional elements, particularly those of specific genres yet frequently address modern concerns. An excellent example is William Friedkin’s dynamic ‘road movie’, Sorcerer (1977), an American updating of Cluzot’s thriller The Wages Of Fear (1953), that improves on the gritty French original, not just in colour but adding the skills of Hollywood adventure cinema that enhance many hair-raising stunts.

Another was Philip Kaufman’s definitive Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978), the paradigmatic movie that delivers urban paranoia enough to beat its small-town 1956 original. A third case is Murder By Decree (1979), arguably still the greatest Sherlock Holmes movie, although its basic plot was borrowed by A Study In Terror (1965). On the continent, Werner Herzog’s exceptional Nosferatu The Vampyre (1979), rang the changes on F.W. Murnau’s expressionist original Nosferatu: A Symphony Of Horror (1922), adding colour and sound to subtly enhance a phenomenal classic and perhaps spark off ideas for many of these top 15 outstanding remakes, during the next decade.

My listing’s in chronological order...

Flash Gordon (1980)

Created to rival the time-warped sci-fi astronaut Buck Rogers, comic-strip space-hero Flash Gordon appeared in chaptered movie serials (1936) that often seem unbearably creaky, today. After his critical success with The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976), and then following the massive box-office influence of Star Wars (1977), British director Nicolas Roeg failed to make his Hollywood debut with a lavishly conceived, seriously biblical SF drama that was, perhaps unfortunately, derived from intellectual readings of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon comics. Italian mogul Dino De Laurentiis produced Mike Hodges’ vaguely surreal adaptation, FLASH GORDON, as a cheerful adventure, that begins with UFOlogy themed attacks on planet Earth, evoking This Island Earth (1955). After their plane crash, Flash (Sam Jones), and Dale (Melody Anderson), are launched into deep space aboard a rocket by rogue NASA scientist Dr Zarkov (Topol). What happens next is brightly coloured pulp sci-fi that’s lavishly designed yet simply filmed, but its combination is often more than sum of its fantastic parts, and so Flash Gordon is almost hallucinatory at times. 

“What if it isn’t a dream?” Ming proves he is a merciless psycho with a great performance by Max von Sydow, as Emperor of shiny futurism, and quite intentionally cheesy glamour, in this fascist utopia (fascistopia?). “Show us this loyalty. Fall on your sword.” Simplistic visual effects are easy to forgive when a brisk pace with memorable set-pieces and a quotable script ensure this ultra-stylised pantomime bazaar of the bizarre has contrary standards to slicker, expensive visuals of Star Wars. Flash has courage and tenacity enough to survive a cruel death, by execution, and every other unkind attempt on his life, so “flying blind, on a rocket cycle?” sums up the heroic resistance to malevolent Ming. Re-enactment of pulp-era sensations, with a knowingly extravagant flamboyance and post-modern styling, this fabulous tribute movie celebrates its origins while avoiding the epic hyper-realism of rival space operas by embracing its own preposterously naff quality. Forty years later, Flash Gordon’s enduring appeal lies in its commitment to such colourfully charming escapism and moments of witty humour, so it’s now called a ‘cult camp kitsch classic’ by its makers. 

Outland (1981)

A fully updated revision of western heroism in High Noon (1950), OUTLAND appears to have been inspired by Battle Beyond The Stars (1980), an amusing sci-fi remake of classic Hollywood cowboys film, The Magnificent Seven (1960), a gunslingers version of Japan’s iconic Seven Samurai (1954). To celebrate inter-world futurism, character-names are borrowed from real people in science, industry, and SF... physicist O’Neil, astronaut Sheppard, author Ballard, tycoon Hughes, astronomers Lowell and Sagan. At a mining colony on Jupiter’s moon Io, trouble comes for Sean Connery’s marshal. His wife leaves, taking his young son away to Earth, and corporate management (led by Peter Boyle) hates police. Life is hard on this highest frontier, where only drugs or death provide any hope of escape from greedy exploiters. Outland is gloomy SF, with  industrial rigour, set during a time of Solar-system expansion, perhaps before Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), where freedom just seems like a liberal myth. So, it’s no wonder this space western feels like its thematic umbilical is connected to new TV series The Expanse (2015-21). Is one man with a gun the only defence against capitalist power? The lone lawman becomes a hero whether he wants his damned job, or not. Fighting oppression when any individual is powerless to change the system is quite pointless, but the marshal defeats the killers, and punches the villain, anyway. Somebody’s got to do it, obviously. Finally, playing the cranky old Dr Lazarus, Frances Sternhagen is effortlessly formidable, especially when she upstages Connery. 

Cat People (1982)

Paul Schrader transformed the mystery noir Cat People (1942), from creepy suspense into a grisly masterpiece of erotic horror. This version makes explicit what could only be suggested 40 years earlier. Virginal orphan Irena (Nastassja Kinski) finds long lost brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell) in New Orleans, discovering a shared heritage and their family’s curse. If she has sex, Irena transforms into a panther, a feline beast that must kill before she can become human again. A lesser director might have made this 1980s version a sleazy exercise in serial murder with wild-cat excuses for its werewolf styled violence. But Schrader turns both magical affect and mythic tale into a psycho-drama of abstinence, with an apparently incestuous relationship offering the haunted Irena her only escape from alternatives of a lonely existence, or a nightmare life-style. Working at a local zoo, she finds a kind of salvation with curator Oliver (John Heard). After closing time, she stays behind, sketching animals, especially the jaguar captured in a hotel room. Paul and Irena’s relationship soon changes, from peculiarly awkward to dangerous. The mysterious black cat kills a zoo keeper (Ed Bgeley Jr), then escapes while Oliver invites Irena to a bayou cabin, where she rejects his attempted seduction. Police keep finding violent crime scenes of terrible carnage. Irena expresses curiosity, frequently, but also reveals her fears of sexuality, like an unhealthy mix of shame and fragility. Eventually, feverish dreaming of her dreadful ancestry unmask a goddess of death knowing that love means freedom. David Bowie’s theme song (“putting out the fire with gasoline”) fits perfectly into this slow-burning shadowy movie’s twin moods. Unlike the original, Schrader’s version shivers and seethes with brooding intensity as its builds from an ominous beginning to erupt into electrifying supernatural hostility. Cinematic visualisations of tribal mythology in CAT PEOPLE proved so potent it was an obvious influence on after-life imagery in superhero movie Black Panther (2018). 

The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter’s masterwork THE THING succeeds where The Thing From Another World (1951) failed. Although the old B&W picture is not a bad sci-fi classic of its era, it never evokes grim SF-horrors built in our minds from reading John W. Campbell’s original story Who Goes There? (1938). Carpenter’s darkly brooding version explores the unique blending of Alien (1979), with Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978), as identity crises merge with alien monsters for a crucible of intense paranoia combined with the grotesque and yet flamboyant shock of shape-shifting transformation scenes. Lovecraftian themes explode into life-like menace when this ghastly monstrosity first appears. Isolated by wilderness in their Antarctic research base, men working on this frozen continent are confronted by howling sled dogs turning inside-out, so the weird beast of deep space can escape from its cage of mewling flesh. It develops strangeness enough to present viewers with something only imagined before in baroque surrealist artwork. 

Much more than just another live-action cartoon-creature, the changeling of Otherness easily becomes whatever ‘it’ can absorb. Proving human ID gets reduced to a crude test when blood samples evade burning. Characters are skilfully written, and memorably performed by a varied ensemble cast, staged as a microcosm of American culture. Kurt Russell as pilot ‘Mac’ MacReady, and the radio expert named Windows (Thomas Waites), forms a witty yet thinly-veiled critique of human dependency upon computers, or machines in general. The scenario puts strong individualism at its core but this body-horror theme embraces a weird conformity, so diversity means nothing. I remember seeing it first on a pan-and-scan (4:3) VHS release, only later discovering that The Thing seemed like an entirely different picture in widescreen on DVD or Blu-ray. Prequel, The Thing (2011), was just a satisfactory monster-movie, quite unable to mimic the ground-breaking intensity or cross-genre impact of Carpenter’s version. At the end of 1951’s picture there’s an iconic line about “keep watching the skies” but, for 2011’s drama, the star-gazing heroine says (perhaps, in a comment about 1982’s film) “we’ll never look at them the same again.” Insist on the best, accept no imitations.

Never Say Never Again (1983)

Updating 007 spy-fi, two decades after Thunderball (1965), this unofficial re-vision is quite dramatically superior to Terence Young’s humdrum adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1961 novel, later co-credited to producer Kevin McClory who claimed film rights after a legal battle. Origins aside, this movie’s linchpin was Sean Connery’s welcome return as James Bond, bringing some much needed self-parody to a sprawling franchise already in clear danger of descending into campy farce starring Roger Moore. NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN wins its place as second-best 1980s’ Bond movie (Licence To Kill gets my vote as #1 of 007’s decade), because of its astute casting and well-paced story. Traditionally, the Bond girls are usually talented newcomers, but Kim Basinger’s role, as the villain’s girlfriend, Domino, was just a break-through that established her as an international star. However, Basinger is almost over-shadowed by Barbara Carrera as the SPECTRE agent, Fatima Blush, whose attempts to assassinate Connery’s hero are equally menacing and playful. As a violent psycho that Bond cannot resist, she proves to be his perfect rival. Humour is an essential part of all 20th century 007 movies and the character of ‘Q’ (Quartermaster of gadgets), played by Alec McCowen, delivers the ultimate meta-fictional quip, a wry critique of how Roger Moore had made Bond soft: “Now you’re on this, I hope we’re going to have some gratuitous sex and violence!” In the field, Bond meets Foreign Office rep. Nigel Small-Fawcett, a blatantly comic-relief role for Rowan Atkinson, who later won his own brand of stardom in the obvious 007 parody, Johnny English (2003), and its two franchised sequels. 

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

“Wanna see something really scary?” It’s the Midnight Special and you’ve just crossed over into the TWILIGHT ZONE. Transforming the greatest TV anthology series into a portmanteau movie was not easy. What makes it work is the producers decision to get four genre directors to contribute, with remakes of episodes chosen for their balanced diversity of socio-political themes. One strange night, ranting racist Bill (Vic Morrow) suddenly finds he’s living under Nazi occupation, and hunted by the Ku Klux Klan, so he gets his comeuppance, repeatedly. John Landis’ quite vividly composed shocker, A Quality Of Mercy, was eclipsed by real-life tragedy after a helicopter crash during the filming of its Vietnam sequence. Starring Scatman Crothers as Mr Bloom, Spielberg’s Kick The Can should have been a lively and compassionate drama of reminiscence, in a retirement home, but the director’s tendency here drowns elderly sorrows in grossly absurd sentimentalism. KTC is most entertaining for its young cast playing amusingly juvenile versions of their adult characters. 

This movie improves with It’s A Good Life. Joe Dante directs Kathleen Quinlan as teacher Helen, who meets a bizarrely eccentric ‘family’ cringingly tormented by wishes of magical boy Anthony. Whimsy turns nasty for their creepy cartoon lifestyle where “everything’s okay” at home, or else. Monster-effects are prompted by exploring the crazily violent horrors that underlie all childish fantasy and slapstick mayhem. George Miller’s revision of Nightmare At 20,000 Feet is the best segment and it improves on the TV original starring William Shatner. John Lithgow is the ultimate paranoid passenger on a jet-plane caught in a stormy sky, as a gremlin on the wing smashes an engine. A white-knuckle ride, with fears of flying that become sweaty panic, this flits along a knife-edge between extreme psycho-terror and black comedy. Of course, it’s always the safest way to travel... but never in the movies. This exploration of that artistic realm where imagination meets anxiety remains, very much, a classic of its format, despite some flaws. If only they’d got Carpenter, instead of Spielberg to direct a remake (of The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street perhaps?), this could have been the greatest genre anthology movie of them all. 

Enemy Mine (1985)

Although it’s based on Barry Longyear’s novella (1979), this sci-fi adventure has most of the development criteria for viewing as a genre switched remake of war-movie Hell In The Pacific (1968), John Boorman’s drama of American and Japanese servicemen, stuck together on a remote island. It’s a co-operate or die story that perfectly suits SF themes of isolationism and Otherness. ENEMY MINE has spacer pilots crashing on a planet, where they are forced to abandon hostility, overcome mutual intolerance, and share to just survive. Dennis Quaid plays human, Will Davidge, well enough, but here it’s Louis Gossett Jr, as the weird alien Jeriba ‘Jerry’ Shigan, who steals the show. His amazing performance as reptilian ‘Drac’ is one of the finest in all 1980s’ SF movies or TV. Besieged by environment, misfortunes, and misinterpretation, the desperate duo eventually learn that willing co-operation instead of hate and opposition is their only chance to live, for them as individuals, and for rival species to exist in our indifferent universe. Their hard lessons mean questioning all political propaganda, and personal prejudices, and it’s most difficult for the blinkered human to understand Drac culture and philosophy, and never mind comprehending the alien’s hermaphrodite life-cycle. Moving away from their antagonisms, with taunts of ‘toadface’ and ‘irkman’, the foes wholly unlikely friendship wins an unearthly peace, after their meeting of minds, and this movie evades the blatantly racist overtones of Byron Haskin’s flawed space opera Robinson Crusoe On Mars (1964). When its castaway story avoids  sentimentality, or melodrama, with an approach to sci-fi adopted by later Star Trek TV shows and Star Wars sequels, Enemy Mine is extraordinary for masterly designs and stunningly rich images, that together create the fabulous milieu for an engaging and compelling tale. 

The Fly (1986)

“I’m working on something that’ll change the world... and human life, as we know it.” David Cronenberg updated 1958's sci-fi monster-movie with explicitly modern body-horror tropes and all the shocking impact of genre drama, including a cancer allegory. As the original B&W cult film was set in Montreal it seemed appropriate for Canadian auteur Cronenberg to write (with Charles Edward Pogue), and direct, a new visionary intelligent-SF adaptation of this cautionary tale. Cronenberg’s THE FLY has superior qualities, dropping the flashback structure of Kurt Neumann’s likeably cheesy original, and opting for a linear approach to George Langelaan’s story. It’s also a weird romantic triangle, that can only end in tragic death, with an extraordinary star performance by Jeff Goldblum as reclusive scientist Seth Brundle. He’s involved with journalist Veronica (Geena Davis) after she agrees to document his work. Instead of the silly effects seen in previous Fly movies, the new script is focused on Cronenberg’s familiar themes of biological mutation, so the transformation here of man into monster (Brundle-fly) is accomplished slowly, mimicking the grotesque symptoms of a grimly leprous disease, later explained as changes made at genetic-hybrid levels during a teleportation procedure. 

The instantaneous jump from one ‘tele-pod’ to another has spliced human DNA with that of a housefly. At first, Seth appears to have been improved by his human experiment, but, soon enough, his newfound athleticism is found to be only the initial stage of his disturbing mental and physical degeneration. Cronenberg also explores the stages of a psychosis that frightens poor Veronica, especially after discovering her pregnancy. Apart from addressing pro-choice issues for abortion, The Fly also tackles irrational fears about HIV, in a memorably poignant scene where sympathetic heroine Ronnie unhesitatingly embraces Seth’s decaying body and comforts him. Goldblum delivers his tour-de-force monologue on the hitherto unexplored subject of insect politics, as Brundle’s conscience and compassion slip away, and it’s powerfully affecting because he knows what’s happening to him. It’s a stunning sequence of psychological horror, that ranks highly among the best genre movie roles of all time and yet Goldblum was shamefully overlooked at the Oscars. Despite some impressive effects, and seemingly higher production values, Chris Wallas’ The Fly 2 (1989) simply lacks the impressive imagination of Cronenberg’s remake. 

Invaders From Mars (1986)

Tobe Hooper’s take on War Of The Worlds derivative, Invaders From Mars (1953), a movie for “scientists of all ages”, has aliens arrive, like nocturnal thieves, with remote control of humans and the very ground that people walk on. Designer turned director William Cameron Menzies presented his picture’s core message as - ‘always question authority’, even if it means breaking any rules, and it seems likely to have a profound effect upon young SF fans. But what if a dream was a premonition? This mad remake delivers an epic nightmare of impressive set-pieces with a magnificent upgrade of the special effects. Hooper’s genius for INVADERS FROM MARS offers cult-worthy pulp sci-fi revivalism, with a full-scale cosmic-horror story all wrapped up in 100 minutes. The 1953 version appeared between Heinlein’s novel The Puppet Masters (1951), and The Body Snatchers (1954) by Jack Finney. Clearly, all this SF about UFOs and aliens inspired Larry Cohen’s TV series The Invaders (1967-8), so Hooper’s remake had plenty of genre influences drawn from SF themes already toyed with, and practically exhausted.

“Everything is fine, now,” assures nodding dad George, but his anxious son knows it’s a lie. Louise Fletcher plays an evil biology teacher. Karen Black makes a great heroine as the school nurse Linda while the actress’ own son Hunter Carson plays 10-year-old radical David. As in the original, blank-faced people stroll around like puppet-drones. However, now the back of that wicked teacher’s van resembles the serial killer’s house in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Indeed, witty in-jokes are everywhere, like any Joe Dante adventure. The mega-brain of the Martian supreme intelligence is only one image from a kid’s worst dreamscape. “Hope you know what we’re doing,” says a US marine to a SETI scientist. When troops enter the tunnels under the sand-pit, this scary mystery wholly becomes a black-comedy, and bonkers menace appears at every twist. During a military evacuation, the slot-machine ray-gun is hilarious. Finally, the plot switches to, oh no, not again! If nothing else, this grisly amusement is a far better boy-meets-alien thriller than Spielberg’s corny fairy-tale E.T. - The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). Ray Garton’s witty novelisation revels in taking some literary inspiration from The Wizard Of Oz and Alice In Wonderland. Amusingly, 21 years later, Hooper’s IFM was a clear influence on Body Snatchers remake and zombie nightmare The Invasion (2007). 

Dead Of Winter (1987)

The original version for this mystery-thriller was melodrama My Name Is Julia Ross (1945), based on Anthony Gilbert’s crime novel The Woman In Red (1941). That B&W gothic that starred Nina Foch as a secretary kidnapped from London to Cornwall. She is cruelly treated for hysteria, but escapes from her captors in the cliff-top mansion, discovers  an unsolved murder, and turns the tables after a showdown on the beach. This remake benefits from North American settings (but filmed in Canada), where an opening cloak-and-dagger sequence has fatal results. Struggling NYC actress Katie (Mary Steenburgen) is invited to video auditions for a mysterious director. Roddy McDowell plays Murray, a talent-scout (actually a kidnap accomplice) for a ‘leading lady’ as look-alike replacement for movie star Julie Rose in a supposed thriller script.

Trapped in an isolated house where her resident host is creepy wheelchair-bound Dr Lewis, unwary Katie soon learns that there is no acting role, and Murray’s deception covers up a blackmail plot. After losing a finger, Katie - as Julie - discovers the house has a secret passage hidden behind her bedroom’s mirror. Suffering through drug-induced hallucinations, she switches from morbid submission to frantic desperation when local cops arrive. Another woman appears, Julie’s sister Evelyn (also portrayed by Steenburgen), and the resourceful actress fights her double. Arthur Penn (Euro actioner Target) directs with Kubrickian precision and Carpenterish scares, and so DEAD OF WINTER offers a witty blend of subgenre themes on identity crisis with clever twists, a frozen landscape as metaphorical claustrophobia, and black comedy from various moral panics. Climactic violence is a clearly decisive action that re-sets disturbances in this distorted reality in favour of our tragic heroine, but DOW has no happy ending. It’s only the case of a survivor of psycho horrors and physical trauma.

No Way Out (1987)

Originally filmed as The Big Clock (1948), then a French version, Police Python 357 (1976), both based on a post-war novel, NO WAY OUT is a Pentagon spy-thriller that begins as a romantic drama before it becomes a criminal conspiracy about the secret manhunt for suspected KGB agent code-named ‘Yuri’. Roger Donaldson directs, with escalating tensions, while US navy officer Tom Farrell (Kevin Costner) is “trying to be subtle”, when the target of an investigation is actually himself. The real villain here is US Defence Secretary David Price (Gene Hackman) whose mistress, cynical party-girl Susan Atwell (Sean Young), is killed in a jealous rage. With the help of a slimy lawyer, Pritchard (Will Patton), the increasingly desperate Price manages to circumvent CIA and FBI inquires with a political cover-up. “You have no idea what men of power can do!” Crucial to generating the pressure of suspense, in developments of this neo-noir plot, is an image-enhancement program that works (oh so slowly!) on photo evidence that’s expected to identify the killer. A clever Cold War twist-ending is also very witty. Not only was this movie a career milestone for actor Costner, boosting the Hollywood high-flyer into a superstar orbit, but its themes and unusual setting proved influential enough to kick-start the modern subgenre of ‘military justice’ - when it was followed by Peter Hyams’ The Presidio (1988), legal drama A Few Good Men (1992), murder mystery The General’s Daughter (1999), popular TV series JAG (1995 - 2005), and a spin-off NCIS franchise. 

The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen (1988)

Terry Gilliam’s lavishly staged production remains one of the top five greatest fantasy movies of all time. Its earlier versions include Josef von Baky’s Munchhausen (1948), intended as German propaganda, and Karel Zeman’s partly-animated Czech film The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1962). This updated tale is quite suitably Pythonesque and features Eric Idle, playing a supporting role, one of the powerful characters in the Baron’s own motley super-team of comic-book heroes wearing period costumes. This remake isn’t, however, a typical superhero movie, despite adventures that resemble a mission where success is rarely in doubt. The unstoppable Baron routinely defeats an army of invading Turks, saves a besieged kingdom, and magically defies ‘Death’ itself. Oliver Reed and Uma Thurman are great fun as the Roman deities Vulcan and Venus. What makes this especially notable is how easily it forms Gilliam’s auteur trilogy after the seemingly-unrelated genre adventures of Time Bandits (1981), and Brazil (1985). 

THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN is an emboldened fairytale of sorts, about a crazy hero who’s boastful enough to outrage historians or any logical thinkers with his archly conceited claims of possessing a convincing superiority over mundane reality. To reiterate and clarify, the Baron (winningly played by John Neville) is never an offensive rebel, because his formidably absurd dreaming simply challenges formal authority and entirely rational thought. His charming antagonism just rejects the Age of Reason completely, and in favour of imagination... “You do believe me, don’t you?” asks the Baron. “I’m doing my best” replies the confused little stowaway Sally (Sarah Polley). Each time his wishing triumphs over trouble, deadly adversity, or failure, the geriatric Baron regains his youthful appearance, with a sparkling, renewed vigour, as if his life-force is magically refuelled by hope. This expression of whimsy as creativity forms the heart of Gilliam’s artistry, and here the director achieves his most fantastic level of inventive novelty. The sing-along chorus (as commentary) “What will become of the Baron? Surely this time, he will not escape” just prompts bigger unruly evasion tactics so that a surprisingly indomitable willpower avoids undesirable consequences. “Those were the days, eh?” Inspirational storytelling with a pair of by-his-boot-straps twist-endings, Baron Munchausen is the essence of what ‘legendary’ really means. 

The Blob (1988)

Jim Wynorski’s trashy 1988 remake of Roger Corman’s space-vampire movie, Not Of This Earth (1957), is a typical example of how to update venerable B&W sci-fi without adding even a moment of modern genre creativity, yet displaying witless contempt for Corman’s fans. Yet another ‘first contact’ scenario, Chuck Russell’s horror movie THE BLOB marks a genuine progression from its 1958 original, directed by Irvin Yeaworth as an obviously cheesy B-movie, and best remembered as the star debut of Hollywood legend Steve McQueen. Thirty years on, it’s local bad-boy Brian (Kevin Dillon) who is the first to comprehend the big scale of new danger for his town and the unsuspecting world. To nobody’s surprise he acts irresponsibly, and only turns all heroically selfless just before the end. Before his change of heart, Shawnee Smith makes a gutsy heroine as sensible cheerleader Meg, clearly framing this remake as a ‘rebel youth’ adventure. 

Much like Carpenter’s shape-shifter The Thing (1982), and Larry Cohen’s sci-fi satire The Stuff (1985), this alien-invader thriller has an element of Lovecraftian mythos in its comedy make-up. Superbly designed and performed, various special effects for the gloopy creature spread rapidly, with results often copied from typical slasher shocks, but featuring an unstoppable killer that’s obviously... not from around here. With its blend of popular trends, the rampaging space-monster emerges from a cosmos where the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise meets Aliens (1986), for small-town mayhem and some Twilight Zone weirdness, including a loony preacher who easily believes its appearance on Earth is a sign of the Rapture. Eventually, the uncannily pink-plasmic people-eater expands so quickly, along with busy dimensions of this shrewd remake’s conspiracy plot, that it bursts up from street drains like a volcanic eruption during the climactic sequence. Considered as a form of living pollution, the Blob owes something to Hedorah from Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster (1971), and it pre-empts Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989), where a plant mutation threatens Japan. Metamorphic menace here lacks any obvious intelligence but its giant amoebic form exhibits a ferocious brutality that’s compelling as grotesque horror, if not always credible as SF. 

D.O.A. (1988)

A man walks into a police station and reports a murder... his own. This crime-story of 1950 unfolds in flashback. After he’s poisoned in some booze at a San Francisco night club, the doomed protagonist runs for his life. There’s a luminous toxin (iridium) that glows in darkness, during the briskly-paced B&W mystery with a sadly melodramatic finale. Updated for modern noir by Charles Edward Pogue (also writer of Psycho III, and Cronenberg’s The Fly), an impressive remake was directed by Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel, best known as creators of cyberpunk TV icon Max Headroom (1985). After an Xmas suicide on campus, Professor Dex Cornell (Dennis Quaid) is caught off balance, especially after he’s unjustly suspected of murdering of his wife. The toxicity of radium chloride displays luminous in a blood sample, and his doctor explains Dex has 24 hours to live. Filmed in sweaty Texas, locations add layers of cultural stress to already fraught narrative complications, bolstered by a fine supporting cast. 

Mystery is linked to a tragedy of literary ambitions and crime scandals concerning rich widow Fitzwaring (Charlotte Rampling). On his way to justice, or oblivion, Dex gets himself super-glued to student Sydney (Meg Ryan) in her Freudian slip. Running from cops, Dex finds Syd’s crush on him turning into a one-night fling. Witty ideas and startling images abound in this fascinating whodunit, where the victim investigates his death, lurching from psychological trauma and moral crisis to violent danger as he confronts mortality like an “ever darkening dream”. Although people keep dying all around him Dex manages to expose an earlier crime. There’s the first use of a nail-gun as a deadly weapon in this non-horror movie, a mainstream match for Miracle Mile with scenes of tar-pits on a location, featured here as a historical time-sink metaphor. In the end, it’s all about the graded ‘A’ homework of an unread novel manuscript. D.O.A. was not this era’s final remake of a classic noir. These upgrades continued with Peter Hyams’ witness-protection thriller, The Narrow Margin (1990), the super-charged version of 1952’s train drama.   

Always (1989)

An updated version of A Guy Named Joe (1943), Steven Spielberg’s ALWAYS is about fire-fighting pilots, who drop water bombs and foam on forest fires. Hot-shot air-man Pete (Richard Dreyfuss) is reckless to impress fellow flyers but upsets feisty girlfriend Dorinda (Holly Hunter). Pete saves pilot buddy Al (a garrulous John Goodman) from a burning plane but then he dies in a mid-air explosion. Wandering from his Afterlife, the reluctantly deceased Pete meets guiding angel Hap, played by Audrey Hepburn in her last role. Although unfairly dismissed as another silly romantic-fantasy, produced in Hollywood’s matinee mode, this aerial action movie is considerably more than just strange adventures in daredevil flying with archly feminist, albeit largely stereotyped, aspects mostly centred on Hunter’s spirited transformation from tomboy to princess.

A seemingly awkward style of theatrical unreality is wholly appropriate as time-worn tropes are explored in charmingly unfashionable circumstances. Wittily, Always flits between rom-com and aviation thriller, but Spielberg’s direction elevates the original film’s wartime melodrama to superior mystery-movie with a quiet-ghost story (rarely depending on special effects) for affecting episodes of tragedy and weighty mourning. Dorinda’s dreaming opens communication with Pete, who learns to act as a guardian angel for handsome Ted (Brad Johnson) and so, eventually, heroine Dorinda falls for this new bloke at the flight school. A climactic mission is coached by Pete but actually piloted by Dorinda, complete with the mysticism of night flying. Like Warren Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait (1978), a remake of Here Comes Mr Jordan (1941), this examines a mixed-bag of supernatural themes, focused on dead people not ready to cry ‘goodbye’. In its sentimentality, Always adopts the Capra-esque manner of It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), but playing with opposites, when farewell means freedom. Peppering comedy with quirky slapstick scenes among telepathic encounters, where love’s persistence in grief enables a psychic link with the ghost, even if dancing alone. Certainly, Always is one of Spielberg’s most under-rated efforts.

* * *

Runners-up...

AIRPLANE! (1980)

Excluded from the top 15 because it’s just a parody, not a proper remake, this comedy about disaster movies nevertheless owes a substantial debt to the story of Zero Hour! (1957). Oddly enough, the follow-up to this spoofy success, sci-fi comedy Airplane II: The Sequel (1982), is much funnier, to me, partly because it features William Shatner. 

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING WOMAN (1981)

Another spoof, this colourful sit-com and critique of American consumerism lacks the moral values and genre sincerity that ensured Jack Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) became such a classic of B&W sci-fi horror.

SCARFACE (1983)

With his update of Howard Hawks’ original Scarface (1932), Brian De Palma proves that nothing succeeds quite like bloody excess, offering gangster violence that’s now so hysterically sensationalist, it has long since lapsed into hyper-violent caricature.

THE BOUNTY  (1984)

Roger Donaldson’s re-telling of Mutiny On The Bounty (1935, remade 1962) is glossy and stylish, but hardly a great improvement as sea-faring entertainment, or historical drama, despite a good cast led by Anthony Hopkins, and Mel Gibson.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1986)

Roger Corman’s horror comedy (1960) was adapted into a 1982 stage musical, before Frank Oz directed a movie version. It’s a peculiar combination that never appealed to me, partly because I dislike any traditional screen musicals, except for Singin’ In The Rain (1952). 

AND GOD CREATED WOMAN (1988)

It’s a rarity in new versions when a director recycles their own movie. Roger Vadim’s And God Created Woman (1956), was a French showcase for Brigitte Bardot, baiting censors with liberated sexuality, then considered indecent. Vadim’s American remake had a new storyline, a sexy comedy that stars Rebecca De Mornay as escaped convict Robin, a flighty jailbird with ambitious designs on a state politician (Frank Langella). 

And finally...

In franchised media, some productions avoid easy identification as remakes - and yet the label ‘reboot’ might seem appropriate. Partly, if not mostly, this applies to various new versions of serial-films and early TV shows about superheroes, fitting very neatly into the retroactive continuity (ret-con) frameworks of comic-book alternative worlds and so Richard Donner’s epic Superman: The Movie (1978), is mirrored by TV-movie Captain America (1979), as great examples of more imaginative adventures linked to earlier screen adaptations without being just updated and obviously refreshed origin-stories. Cleverly directed by Tim Burton, Batman (1989), never feels like a remake, so it’s not on my list, but it deserves a mention here. Hugh Hudson’s magnificent picture Greystoke: The Legend Of Tarzan, Lord Of The Apes (1984) is another visionary film adaptation that was developed so differently than any previous screen adventures it’s evolved far beyond any ‘remake’ status. 

See also: Top 20 Live-Action Superhero Movies

Top 15 remakes in alphabetical order -

The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen (1988)

Always (1989)

The Blob (1988)

Cat People (1982)

Dead Of Winter (1987)

D.O.A. (1988)

Enemy Mine (1985)

Flash Gordon (1980) 

The Fly (1986)

Invaders From Mars (1986)

Never Say Never Again (1983)

No Way Out (1987)

Outland (1981)

The Thing (1982)

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)