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The top 5 SF remakes

December 18, 2008

It seems as SF fans we’ve been hit with a lot of remakes in TV and the movies over the past few years. Say what you will about lack of originality or Hollywood returning to the trough, my biggest beef has always been the fact that most of the remakes (or re-imaginings, to hoist the pretentious flag studios and directors frequently hide behind to get around having to cop to a lack of originality) tend to be pretty deep in the suckage. Last week’s failed attempt to reboot the classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (which, despite some weaknesses is still very much worth watching today and was in no need of a remake) added yet another splash in the great cinematic mud puddle of flops (and I’m not referring to any box office numbers here, I’m talking about the sheer lack of quality to the story). This recent embarassment has prompted many out there to highlight the litany of bad remakes. But after reading a few of those, I got to thinking about some of the remakes in TV and the movies that have worked over the years and are still worth watching. And so, this week’s list:

5. The Mummy
This remake of a black-and-white horror classic worked for all kinds of reasons: good special effects, plenty of laughs without detracting from the story, a couple of genuinely scary moments (if you wear glasses, don’t tell me you weren’t on the edge of your seat during the scene in the tomb in the first half of the movie where the mummy makes his first acquisitions), and lots of Indiana Jones-style action. The Mummy did what a summer popcorn flick was supposed to: give audiences a lot of fun. Still worth rewatching.

4. The Thing
I can’t say John Carpenter’s 80’s gore-fest is a film I want to watch often, but I can appreciate it for being a successful updating of a classic into the realm of modern horror. In typical Carpenter style, there’s plenty of tension, as well as some memorable lines: “I don’t know what that thing in there is, but it’s weird and it’s pissed off!” (perhaps not word-for-word accurate, but as close as I can recall off the top of my head after a long day)

3. Superman
For decades this comic book superhero had been featured in film and TV and pretty much done to death. But in 1978, Richard Donner and co gave wings to a movie that breathed new life into the character by retelling his origin story, and in doing so actually inspired a sense of wonder. Maybe there was something in the water in the back half of the 70’s that caused so many great SF films to be born, but despite its weaknesses (like Margot Kidder), the ’78 remake of Superman remains for me the standard by which all superhero movies are judged.

2. King Kong
Peter Jackson’s 2005 version, that is, not the titanic mistake of ’76 with Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange (both of whom deserved to be in a much, much better movie). Jackson’s film is a love letter to the original that inspired him to get into cinema and it shows. While it’s a good deal longer than the original, Jackson’s version has all the fun, toothy stuff they probably wished they could have done back in the 30’s and does a great job of flushing-out the characters so that it’s more than just a giant monster movie. With the exception of the sequence on the pond in the park, this film is a real masterpiece.

1. the new Battlestar Galactica
What sets this show apart from the other features on this list isn’t so much that it’s a TV show based on a TV show (as opposed to a movie remaking an older movie or inspired by a comic or short story), it’s the level of improvement. All of the previous nominations have been based on competent, good, or very good predecessors, but BSG was born of suckage. I enjoyed the original ’79 TV series when I was a kid – because I was a kid and didn’t see just how bad it was. But a few years ago the concept evolved, rising out of the gooey slime of its inspiration and becoming one of the best damn TV shows. Ever. And one that’s worth rewatching. Sure, there’s a lot of argument about whether it has suffered from weak moments, but by and large it’s been consistently provocative and intelligent and is always very cool visually.

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