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Thursday, July 14, 2011

10 Greatest Remakes of Vintage Sci-Fi Movies

The ’50s and ’60s were a golden age for science fiction movies; however, the remakes that those films inspired have frequently been dead-eyed, shuffling, Hollywood zombies. Nevertheless a few of their less blighted children have managed to get past their rubber tentacled heritage to become truly classic re-imaginings, and some have even surpassed the originals in popularity and critical acclaim. Here are some of the best.

10. Little Shop of Horrors (1986), remake of Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

You can quite simply forget the mediocre 1960 original — even if it does feature an early appearance by Jack Nicholson as a masochistic dental patient.

While both versions are about a lovable loser who acquires a killer plant which grows to giant proportions by feeding on human blood, the 1980s musical managed to be a funnier and altogether superior version. Levi Stubbs is especially hilarious as the voice of the giant Venus Flytrap, Audrey II, while ’80s staple Rick Moranis is superbly well-cast in the lead role.
From the moment Steve Martin appears to sing a song about how he became a dentist so he could cause his patients incredible pain, it’s clear which the better movie is. Feed me, Seymour!

9. Hollow Man (2000), remake of The Invisible Man (1933)

The groundbreaking 1930s original was about a mad scientist who dosed himself with a substance which made him invisible to the naked eye. The remake, which was also loosely inspired by the H.G. Wells book, was much the same except the scientist didn’t start out mad but was driven there by the power that being invisible gave him (and possibly by being played by Kevin Bacon!). If you thought the original shocker had good special effects, you should see the 2000 version (heh heh heh). Hollow Man’s invisible-skin-and-muscle effects were so effective they have actually been used to teach biology classes, even if the plot eventually turned into some standard slasher fare. He’s the invisible man, but not as Freddie Mercury would recognize him…

8. War of the Worlds (2005), remake of The War of the Worlds (1953)

In 2005 Steven Spielberg remade the classic sci-fi movie about a terrifying alien invasion with all new special effects; significantly, he replaced the 1950s’ smooth, force-shielded craft with the three-legged tripod design that we know and love from the book. Tom Cruise may be pretty scary these days, but even he has to run away when faced with a race of ancient aliens who’ve had their giant killer death machines buried under the Earth’s cities for millions of years. Were they the angry minions of Xenu? And how would the alien race know that the planet’s population centers wouldn’t move during that time?
Anyway, ignoring such questions, the remake of The War of the Worlds is a fast, highly effective re-imagining of the original movie which more than does the H.G. Wells novel justice; and some especially great scenes show just how devastating an alien invasion would be for the people at ground level.

7. The Nutty Professor (1996), remake of The Nutty Professor (1963)

The 1960s Jerry Lewis comedy was about a geeky professor who invented a potion which transformed him into smooth swinger Buddy Love. The remake featured a manic lead performance (well, seven lead performances) by Eddie Murphy, who played a number of different characters in the movie, and whose potion instead causes his chubby Professor Klump to lose over 250 pounds in weight. Murphy brings real heart to the Professor character which the original just didn’t have, but is still upstaged by newcomer David Chappelle who chews the scenery as one of the nastiest stand-up comedians of all time. The remake also manages to avoid subjecting the audience to 90 minutes of Jerry Lewis’ nasal voice, which is quite important in a comedy where you don’t want everyone to walk out halfway through.

6. The Blob (1988), remake of The Blob (1958)

The Steve McQueen movie about a blob from outer space which grows as it eats people was remade in the ’80s as a movie about a blob which grows as it eats people. Surprising? Well, what might be is that the new version was better acted, had a slightly more plausible reason for the blob’s existence (it didn’t just fall from the sky in a meteorite but was actually created as a Cold War weapons experiment) and featured far more gruesome special effects. The ’88 remake also allowed the shapeless creature to be a bit more dynamic in its movements — always helpful if you’re a pink blob. Especially memorable scenes include the character, Paul, being devoured whole by the creature and the monster wrecking havoc on the entire town during the climax. B-movie win.

5. The Manchurian Candidate (2004), remake of The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

John Frankenheimer’s satirical take on McCarthyism was remade as a spooky techno-chiller in the mid-2000s. The basic plot of both movies involves the son of a prominent political family being brainwashed into becoming the perfect assassin, with the new version substituting a corporate conspiracy for the original’s Red Peril. Denzel Washington’s performance in the ’00s version is creepily similar to the behavior of someone suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and the scenes of brainwashed soldiers chanting slogans in unison raise uncomfortable questions about the US military’s training methods. Also, Meryl Streep is a dead ringer for Hillary Clinton. The remake may not be quite as wry as the original but makes up for it by being much, much more paranoia-inducing. Anyone remember the line, “Sergeant Raymond… ‘Prentiss Shaw?”

4. Godzilla Final Wars (2004), remake of Godzilla (Gojira) (1954)

No, not the terrible 1998 Roland Emmerich version. The 1950s movie was the story of a giant monster created as a result of radioactivity terrorizing the city of Tokyo, in an obvious allegory for Japan’s fear of the A-bomb. It all started with a B-movie, and that’s the style in which the last installment in the 1999-2004 remake series ended, with the Japanese military reviving the ancient dinosaur to deal with various threats to the planet, including a horde of alien space ships and swarms of his old monster enemies. How screwed do you have to be when summoning Godzilla looks like a reasonable solution to your problem? There’s an especially good scene where ‘Zilla fights something suspiciously similar to the 1998 version and thoroughly thrashes it with one bite and a blast of nuclear fire. In your face, Roland Emmerich!

3. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Aliens are coming, they look just like us, and they replace us while we sleep… Don Siegel’s 1956 version of the body-stealing movie played heavily on the fear of communism, whilst the 1978 remake updated the story to be about paranoia and urban alienation; people felt that society had become so hollow and empty that the Body Snatchers could blend right in. The remake is especially notable for starring the lovable Mr Spock (Leonard Nimoy) as a creepy alien infiltrator, and for its iconic ending shot of Donald Sutherland pulling one of the scariest expressions it’s possible for a human face to wear.

2. The Thing (1982), remake of The Thing from Another World (1953)

The original sci-fi movie starred James Arness as a kind of blood-drinking, interstellar Frankenstein lookalike, who arrived on Earth courtesy of a flying saucer. The John Carpenter remake is a quantum leap in both special effects and suspense over the 1950s movie. Set in a claustrophobic Antarctic installation, a monstrous, shape-shifting alien infiltrates a group of researchers — and not to talk about the weather! During the course of the movie it victimizes various scientists in horrible ways, including eating one guy’s hands with its stomach, and absorbing a pack of huskies into its body while it’s unwisely locked up with them overnight.
The movie is well-regarded amongst horror fans for having some of the best and most disgusting special effects of its time, most of which hold up well even today in front of audiences used to characterless CGI monsters.

1. The Fly (1986), remake of The Fly (1958)

Based on the, to some minds, corny 1950s Vincent Price movie, the 1986 version is the classic example of a remake blowing the original out of the maggot-infested water. Jeff Goldblum gives his best performance in the new version as the scientist, Seth Brundle, whose teleportation experiment goes very, very wrong, merging his DNA with that of an insect. Rather than swapping body parts with the insect, as in the original, the effect is to gradually transform him into a giant fly. Visionary director David Cronenberg throws in tons of disturbing imagery, with the human/fly hybrid’s body gradually disintegrating until it comes to resemble Michael Jackson in his South Park appearance.
The movie has appeared on various “best movie” lists, won multiple awards, and was even made into a successful opera in 2008. Now that’s a remake!
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