Given remakes are a dime a dozen these days, the question beckons: what if beloved classics such as Big were redeveloped today? What problems in the original film would they need to overcome, and what would the new version look like?
Everything old is new again.
The recent appearance of The Hustle in cinemas reminds us that everything is going to get recycled sooner or later. The Anne Hathaway/Rebel Wilson comedy caper is, of course, a remake of the 1988 Michael Caine/Steve Martin classic, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which is itself a riff on the 1964 David Niven/Marlon Brando film Bedtime Story. And on and on we go.
Comedy is difficult to remount for newer audiences, though. There’s an alchemy at work in the best comedies – something ineffable and impossible to pin down arises from the interplay between script, performance and direction. The same material in different hands can yield far different – often lesser – results. Add to that changing social mores and you’ve got even more problems: what flew in the ‘60s (or the ’80, or even the ‘90s) might well crash and burn in the 21st century.
That won’t stop ‘em trying, though. It’s only a matter of time before we get contemporary redos of…
What it is: Army surgeons Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould joke and drink their way through the Korean War. It’s actually about the Vietnam War. The first film by Robert Altman, and an absolute masterpiece.
What’s the problem: Making fun of the military is a big no-no in the current American climate. Hell, it was a no-no in 1970 – that’s why Altman’s critique of Vietnam-era military bureaucracy is smuggled inside a period piece. In the age of “thank you for your service” and “support the troops,” tearing strips off the military-industrial complex is a fraught exercise.
What we’d get: A lot of people complaining about remaking an untouchable classic, even though the TV series ran for 11 years. George Clooney might be a good fit for this one, both as director and star – not only has he repeatedly mocked the military in Three Kings, The Men Who Stare at Goats, and the upcoming Catch-22, his tenure as Dr. Doug on ER might come in handy, too. Slot in Sam Rockwell as Trapper John, excise some of the odious homophobia from the original, and drop the whole thing into Iraq and you’ve got something interesting.
Blazing Saddles (1974)
What it is: Mel Brooks’ blisteringly funny Western satire sees Gene Wilder’s alcoholic Waco Kid team up with Cleavon Little’s black Sheriff Bart to save the town of Rock Ridge from greedy land baron Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman). Brooks throws absolutely everything at the wall. Most of it sticks.
What’s the problem: The N-word abounds. Brooks in general and Blazing Saddles in particular is staunchly anti-racist, but it hails from a less woke time, and what was satirical in the ‘70s can feel pretty racist in the current age.
What we’d get: In an ideal world? Blazing Saddles: A Boots Riley Film. The original savagely takes the piss out of race, colonialism, and unchecked capitalism, albeit from very ‘70s perspective. The Sorry to Bother You director would be the perfect creator to reconfigure those concerns for today. It would be funny as hell, angry AF, and would probably star LaKieth Stanfield – all good things.
The Blues Brothers (1980)
What it is: John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd are on a mission from God, putting on a blues concert to raise money to save the orphanage they grew up in. The greatest R&B musicians of all time are along for the ride.
What’s the problem: Apart from the fact that they already tried and failed to remake The Blues Brothers with the awful (but catchy) Blues Brothers 2000, the idea of a couple of white guys being our guides to the world of African-American music is not particularly palatable these days. Add to that the fact that black music has moved on, and a modern take would need to encompass that. If you can imagine The Hip Hop Brothers without cringing, you’re made of sterner stuff than us. Besides, if we wanted a movie where a white guy schools us on black culture, 8 Mile already exists.
What we’d get: Something unwatchable starring Jack Black and Channing Tatum. Race riots.
Private Benjamin (1980)
What it is: Sheltered Jewish heiress Judy Benjamin (Goldie Hawn) joins the Army after her husband dies on her wedding night and gets a rude awakening. Laughs are had, lessons are learned.
What’s the problem: Nothing. This film stands up.
What we’d get: Ideally, Kate Hudson (who is of course Goldie Hawn’s daughter) as Private Benjamin. In fact, it’s just weird that movie hasn’t been made yet.
What it is: Short kid Josh Baskin (David Moscow) wishes on a magic machine to be big. Unexpectedly, he turns into Tom Hanks. Hijinks ensue.
What’s the problem: The sexual politics of Big really don’t hold up on close inspection. While Josh is in his adult, Tom Hanks-shaped body when he sleeps with Susan (Elizabeth Perkins), mentally he’s still a kid, and the film never addresses that. It only works because Josh is a straight male character – if you want to test how acceptable the age gap is, imagine if he was a girl. Or gay. Or a gay girl. The conservative commentators would have a field day.
What we’d get: With a straight remake? Nothing of interest. So, screw it, make him gay. Picture it now: Jim Parsons is Big. Keep every plot point the same. Whether the movie is funny or not, listening to pundits tie themselves in knots trying to explain why straight Josh having sex is fine and gay Josh having sex is a bridge too far will be worth it.