Remake It: 5 remakes that need to happen

We asked the FilmNerds contributors to pitch us their idea for a successful (critically and/or commercially) remake that Hollywood hasn’t thought of yet, complete with cast and crew suggestions. Here’s what they came up with:

Westworld

by Ben Flanagan

“Westworld” is Michael Crichton’s own adaptation of his science fiction-thriller starring Yul Brynner as an android in a futuristic Western-themed amusement park, and Richard Benjamin and James Brolin as guests of the park.

Basically, as Ben Stark aptly pointed out, you’re talking “Jurassic Park” with evil robot cowboys instead of dinosaurs.

“Sci-fi western” doesn’t exactly guarantee box office boffo. See “Cowboys & Aliens.” But when the filmmakers and studio actually come to grips on tone and identity prior to crafting any marketing strategy, it can be done.

Released in 1973, Crichton’s “Westworld” had plenty going for it, namely Yul Brenner as the head cowboy out to get the park guests. Given the bald Brenner doesn’t look like most humans anyway, his was perfect casting that would prove tough to duplicate or improve upon. Throughout my childhood (hell, even now), my dad would so often quote Brenner’s “Get that boy a bib” line either at the dinner table or when he’d simply want to emasculate someone.

I’ve got no beef with James Brolin, but he teams with what might be the biggest pansy in supposed movie hero history in Richard Benjamin and his wretched mustache. Seriously, you want to kick Benjamin’s ass as soon as you see him wearing a turtleneck on a plane in the early going and especially when he puts on his schlocky 70s cowboy getup.

As you can see, despicable.

Benjamin’s design should warrant a remake alone, but the concept does the rest. It’s just too good not to let go. Maybe Crichton took care of it by writing “Jurassic Park” and paving the way for Steven Spielberg’s timeless blockbuster adaptation. But without “Westworld,” nobody holds on to their butts.

But should we just give up on the sci-fi western as a marketable hybrid genre? I see too much potential, personally. What do we have to show for it so far? The original “Westworld,” “Back to the Future Part III,” “Wild Wild West” and “Cowboys & Aliens.” So we’re basically 1.5 for four. Just pack the movie with the right personnel. I was on board with “Cowboys & Aliens” before they replaced Robert Downey Jr. with Daniel Craig. Talk about a night and day difference in tone.

A “Westworld” remake is not a novel concept, of course. Arnold Schwarzenegger spent years trying to develop one, and it came close in 2007 when director Tarsem Singh jumped on board with “Terminator 3″ screenwriters Michael Ferris and John Brancato attached. Thank God we seem to have avoided that.

So where do we go from where? We talked about tone. Do we send it up? How self-aware is it? Do we cast a lead like Downey who can quip with the best of them, or do we get pretty serious? And who replaces Yul Brenner as the Gunslinger?

Cast: Ideally, I’d go Willem Dafoe as the Gunslinger because he’s one guy who can suitably straddle the line of kitsch, the surreal and outright danger. Plus, Dafoe has a bit of an android quality. Of course, you don’t want to market a movie with Dafoe’s face all over it, that is, if you want to make any money. And this is a marketable concept, at least. But as we saw with the first “Spider-man” film, Dafoe can work as a blockbuster villain. But did it matter who you cast as the Green Goblin then. I’d argue not really. After all, Alfred Molina was the sequel’s villain.

Part of the success in casting Brenner as the Gunslinger was due to Brenner’s status as a movie star at that point, as if the robot was meant to look like a familiar movie star you’d see in a western. But nobody really fits that mold now given the western is an almost-dead genre. I might opt for either Kurt Russell (so great as Wyatt Earp in “Tombstone”) or even Kevin Costner, a shot at reviving the Oscar-winner’s acting career and give a nod to solid western performances in “Open Range” and “Wyatt Earp.” Maybe, if he’s up for it, Tommy Lee Jones? The guy has a penchant for southern/western twang, and made one of the better modern westerns in recent memoery with “The Three Burals of Melquiades Estrada.” And why not a larger than life “modern” performer like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson?

Casting the Richard Benjamin and Josh Brolin roles might prove even tougher because you’re basically shooting into the dark. Do you cast someone less “tough” like Benjamin to give a guy who wouldn’t normally rise to the occasion under the circumstances a shot at being the hero? If so, who? I’m tempted to go with Joel McHale (“Community”), a guy with small screen success but big screen talent. If McHale, you’re going the comedy route, though he could pass the physical test. Easy call would be to say just throw Ryan Reynolds in there and let’s be happy with our $50-60 million gross and good-enough response, though I think Reynolds could do it, too. My gut also says give a guy like Bryan Cranston a big-screen opportunity like this, though I’d be just as happy with him as the Gunslinger.

The director: Man, if only Jon Favreau hadn’t made “Cowboys & Aliens.” Otherwise, he might be my guy. Edgar Wright is another ideal choice who could successfully marry these tones as he already has in his first three films, though I still maintain you wouldn’t want to go too silly with this, given the concept is pretty horrifying once real bullets start flying. So if I’m making a final call here, I think I want Brad Bird, someone who has given us some of the modern action in years both animated (“The Incredibles”) and live-action (“Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”), and this would let one of Pixar’s MVPs dabble in a more menacing undercurrent.

 

Pete’s Dragon

by Ben Stark

Look at your local cineplex marquee and imagine squashing together two films: JURASSIC PARK and MUD. PETE’S DRAGON, a 1977 musical from Walt Disney Pictures, was a perfectly servicable and pleasant movie about a young orphan who must keep his giant pet dragon a secret from his new adopted family, as well as some stock villain characters. I enjoyed the movie as a kid, especially the wonderfully animated Elliot the Dragon, whose indecipherable and endearing mumbles were voiced by Charlie Callas.

Despite the inclusion of a great character in Elliot, the movie doesn’t age well. It’s far too long, too melodramatic, not funny at all, and just kind of obnoxious. If you look closely at the idea, however, it could work as a fascinating study on early male adolescence. Yes, this material was well covered in HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, but I think a live action remake of PETE’S DRAGON, with some great practical creature effects, a solid script, and strong young actors could be a welcome change of pace for Walt Disney Pictures’ feature filmmaking division, which struggles with transparent attempts at getting boys’ attention with movies about pirates, cowboys, and video games.

A live action PETE’S DRAGON could have the tone of a Jeff Nichols movie (TAKE SHELTER, MUD) with the effects prowress of Guillermo del Toro (HELLBOY, PAN’S LABYRINTH). In fact, there’s a perfect director/producer team right there. Imagine a serious-minded, light look at the way puberty can both embarrass and empower young males. Elliot the dragon could be a winged, chameloeon-like Velociraptor, representing the destructive and constructive duality of Pete’s masculinity. This stuff writes itself, folks. I think TREE OF LIFE’S Hunter McCracken might be the perfect age for Pete.

Here it is on a silver platter, Disney: Guillermo del Toro presents Jeff Nichols’ remake of PETE’S DRAGON, starring Hunter McCracken.

 

Cat on A Hot Tin Roof

by Craig Hamilton


Crew
Director: Mike Nichols

He’s done Broadway (SpamalotDeath of a Salesman) and film (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate).  There’s no better director adapting stage to screen.

Production Designer / Art Director: Anne Seibel
Find a stylistic compromise between the golden, warm look of Midnight in Paris and the colorful brightness of Marie Antoinette.

Costume Designer:  Jacqueline Durran
Picture the vintage menswear of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with the elegant evening wear from Atonement.

Cinematographer: Hoyte Van Hoytema

Imagine the sweeping camera movement from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with a greater intimacy and not nearly the amount of shakiness as The Fighter.  Here, the camera would simply act as the audience’s access to the drama going on in this house. 

Cast
Thomas Hardy as Brick (Paul Newman)
Hardy is the spitting imagine of Paul Newman.  Depressed by the death of his friend, the former athlete is now an alcoholic and utterly unattracted to his beautiful wife.  He cares nothing of taking over the family business from his father, Big Daddy.

Alison Brie as Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor)
Brie can do both comedy and drama.  Though there are no jokes here, Maggie repeatedly and rather light-heartedly brushes off rejections from Brick and avoids the subject of the tension between them with forced and empty conversation.  Though Maggie seems carefree, her smiles are forced.

Jeff Bridges as Big Daddy (Burl Ives)
Jeff Bridges is perfect for this.  Big Daddy is a big man who demands respect and always gets it.  He’s also dying of cancer.  The whole family, except for Brick, constantly trip over themselves trying to impress him, but Big Daddy couldn’t care less.  He has built a successful business by himself and wants to hand it over to Brick when he dies instead of his other son, Gooper.

Sissy Spacek as Big Momma (Judith Anderson)
Big Momma won’t stop running her mouth as long as serious issues, like Big Daddy’s illness and handing over the business, aren’t discussed.  She avoids reality and Big Daddy’s verbal abuse, by jabbering on and on.  Ignoring these problems, keeping the peace and maintaining that thick skin are a way of life for Big Momma.

John C. Reilly as Gooper (Jack Carson)
Reilly is the man for a character that spends most of his screen time getting cut-off, scoffed at and brushed aside (See Carnage).  Gooper is Brick’s less charming, less handsome and less athletic brother.  Though not nearly as horrible as his wife, Gooper is quite successful and has spent his entire life doing exactly as Big Daddy says in the hopes that he will take over the family business when Big Daddy dies.

Amy Adams as Mae (Madeleine Sherwood)
Mae is the horrible, vindictive, annoying, manipulative and selfish sister-in-law who will stop at nothing to make sure that her husband, Gooper, takes over for Big Daddy.  She treats Big Daddy’s inevitable death like it was the only thing standing between her and being queen of the family.  We know Amy can be annoying with a southern accent because she did it in Junebug.

 

42nd Street

by Graham Flanagan

A few years ago, I read a biography of legendary Hollywood mogul Darryl F. Zanuck: the legendary Hollywood mogul famous for founding the 20th Century Fox movie studio. Before Fox, though, Zanuck experienced an incredibly profitable and productive run as the head of Warner Brothers. One of his biggest hits was the musical 42nd Street, released in 1933 to great acclaim and box office success.

While I wouldn’t say that movie musicals are currently ‘en vogue,’ it’s safe to say that, with the recent success of Les Miserables, an appetite for musicals definitely still exists. And like Les Miserables, 42nd Street is a well-known existing property. Although the movie was a big hit in its day42nd Street, gained further notoriety in the early 80s when it was developed into a long-running Broadway show.

What makes 42nd Street appealing to me as a candidate for a remake is what I perceive to be its potential appeal for both men and women. Why is that?

In a word: Sex. This story is completely fueled by backstage romps happening among the entire production crew and cast of the fictional production Pretty Lady, around which the story is based. This would be a terrific opportunity to cast the hottest young faces that would titillate audiences of both sexes.

For the remake, however, I would shift the main focus to the character of the director Julian Marsh; a once-celebrated Broadway prodigy who has fallen on hard times due to the depression and takes the gig against the wishes of his physician who fears he might suffer another nervous breakdown.

I love the idea of a man teetering on mental collapse who is forced to endure the anxiety-inducing pressure-filled environment of an expensive stage production with all of its distractions, temptations and annoyances. As for casting the Julian Marsh role, Andrew Garfield or Joseph Gordon Levitt definitely come to mind.

When it comes to casting the cavalcade of female roles, go crazy. I would definitely make an offer to shorty-of-the-moment Katherine Webb to take on a featured, yet small, role. And I’d also pair her with her roommate Natalie Pack.

That brings me to the most obvious reason I’d want to remake 42nd Street. It gives the filmmakers a chance to pay homage to choreographer Busby Berkeley’s epic musical numbers.

 

The Deer Hunter

by Matt Scalici

Few films are more associated with the era of the Vietnam War than Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter but there’s a lot about this movie that feels remarkably relevant today. It’s certainly a film about the psychological cost of war, something many young Americans are affected by today, but it’s also about a group of young people faced with a hopeless future at a point in their lives when we are almost designed to be at our most hopeful as human beings.

That tragic collision of the promise of youth and the hopelessness of war and economic depression was originally set in Pittsburgh but I feel like it could also work really well in the rural Southeast and directed by a guy who once showed a mastery of capturing the tragic beauty of dying Southern towns, David Gordon Green. While Green has spent the most recent phase of his career collecting paychecks for cranking out dumb, charmless comedies, I’d love to see him attempt to conquer both the melodramatic intensity of the infamous Russian roulette scene and the slowly developing heartbreak of the poolroom singalong.

As with all of the remakes mentioned above, casting is key. The group of men in the film experience intense camaraderie with one another, making certain other scenes even more gut-wrenching to watch. I’d look at some of the young up-and-coming names that have shown themselves to be at least capable of that charismatic likability as well as the intensity required for the tougher scenes.

Bradley Cooper was channeling a bit of Robert DeNiro in his recent Oscar-nominated turn as DeNiro’s son in Silver Linings Playbook, so he’d be a logical choice to step into DeNiro’s role here.

Christopher Walken’s Oscar-winning turn as the troubled Nick provides probably the biggest shoes to fill in the film and since we’re going with fantasy casting here, I can’t think of anyone better equipped to handle the BIG moments in film acting today than Leonardo DiCaprio. Cimino originally cast a relatively unknown in the role of Nick while putting DeNiro in the starring role but I think today’s audiences would be expecting greatness from the role of Nick considering Walken’s Oscar-winning performance.

The John Savage role would seem to be a good fit for another brooding young male lead like Ryan Gosling while John Cazale’s role of Stosh would be an interesting fit for a similarly nervous and neurotic Jesse Eisenberg.

As for the Meryl Streep female lead role, Michelle Williams is an easy pick for the Streep of her generation and she’s got the tragic romantic female lead bit down to a science at this point.

This remake would be easy Oscar bait near the end of the year but the screenplay would need to find a way to fit the post-Vietnam malaise and existential despair to today’s climate, which while certainly depressed in its own way probably is a bit less melodramatic than the late 1970s.