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Remakes are a tough sell in Hollywood despite their recent ubiquity. I would imagine, at this point, people generally consider them a bad idea and a pretty lazy exercise in film-making. Hollywood, however, continues to develop and produce them. It seems like we get a new remake or update or reboot every few weeks nowadays. I’ve gone back and forth on remakes in the past few years. I’m currently in an “I don’t really care anymore” phase with them as I’m kind of exhausted on hatred at the moment, but as recently as a few months ago, I was staunchly anti-remake. This week’s edition of What Went Wrong? is all about remakes that failed, of which there are many. So, let’s get started.
Fright Night 3D (2011)
The original Fright Night is a nigh 80s horror classic. Featuring an absolutely brilliant performance from Chris Sarandon, Fright Night is the story of a young man (William Ragsdale) who suspects his neighbor (Sarandon) is actually a vampire. He enlists the help of a late-night cable access television host (Roddy McDowell of Planet of the Apes) as well as a goofy friend (Stephen Geoffreys) to help him expose the neighbor as a monster and end his fiendish reign of terror throughout the city. The remake casts Colin Farrell in the vampire role, which is a good thing for sure. If anyone could take over a role known for a creepy sexual magnetism, it’s probably Colin Farrell. Star Trek’s Anton Yelchin, a likeable enough sort, plays the young man, with David Tennant (of Dr. Who and Harry Potter fame – yucks all around to that) playing the television host character, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad, Kick-Ass) playing the weird friend. With a strong cast and well-regarded source material, Fright Night 3D seemed like it had the potential to succeed, but it absolutely floundered at the box office, grossing only 18 million dollars domestically. So, what exactly went wrong?
Fright Night 3D opened in theaters in August of 2011. August is generally regarded as one of the slowest movie-going months of the year, especially late August (it opened on the 19th of the month, natch). It wasn’t helpful that people who actually saw the movie didn’t find it to be particularly good. Though it earned positive reviews from critics (the only film on today’s list to do so), audiences only graded Fright Night 3D a B- on the CinemaScore, indicating poor word of mouth. Additionally, the 3D bandwagon had almost come to an end at this point, with general audience exhaustion and people not really wanting to pay a 3D surcharge for a movie that clearly didn’t need to be in the extra dimension. I continue to contend that 3D, done right, is well worth the extra money (see: The Amazing Spider-Man, for example). But unnecessary 3D in a movie is prone to backlash, and the Fright Night remake may have been a victim of this. Most importantly, Fright Night 3D is wholly unnecessary as a movie. The original 1980s version is still just fine. I watched it a few months before this remake came out and it holds up incredibly well, especially the practical special effects and the Chris Sarandon performance. Fright Night 3D was another in a long line of unnecessary movies that ended up being write-offs for their production companies.
Conan the Barbarian 3D (2011)
The movie that made Arnold famous worldwide, 1982’s Conan the Barbarian was a box office hit and went on to become a cult classic, if not an outright classic of the fantasy action/adventure genre – still well regarded after almost 30 years. One of the few actual sword and sorcery films of the era to find box office success, Conan the Barbarian is known for Arnold’s rise to stardom, brutal on-screen violence and intense imagery, and James Earl Jones’ iconic portrayal of the villainous Thulsa Doom. 2011’s Conan the Barbarian 3D features Jason Momoa in the Conan role, which is not actually that bad of a trade-off all things considered. Primarily known for his portrayal of Khal Drogo on HBO’s Game of Thrones, Momoa has the right look to play Conan. Producers tried for years to get a new Conan movie off the ground. When it finally came together, the cast seemed strong (players include Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan, and Ron Perlman) and the look of the film seemed pretty genuine to the source material. So, what exactly went wrong?
For starters, Conan the Barbarian 3D had a bit of a troubled production history. Filming was delayed by a year as producers looked for the proper main actor and director. Unfortunately, they made a huge mistake here. I think the production team blundered in choosing Marcus Nispel as director of the project. Nispel is best known as director of remakes like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and Friday the 13th (2009). It wouldn’t be unfair to state that none of his projects have been any good whatsoever. Additionally, producers found themselves in the unfortunate position of remaking a film that is still quite considerably popular and well-regarded. Schwarzenegger is an action icon, and his portrayal of Conan still looms large in the public conscience, some 30 years after its original release. Coincidentally, Conan the Barbarian 3D opened up against Fright Night 3D, fracturing the already tiny audience of people interested in two entirely unnecessary August 2011 remakes. Conan was yet another example of a film needlessly converted into 3D to shore up box office, a tactic that has failed time and time again. Despite the presence of the well-liked Momoa, Conan the Barbarian 3D ended up a considerable bust, grossing less than 50 million worldwide against a budget of nearly 100 million.
The Three Musketeers (2011)
Yet another 3D action/adventure remake from 2011, The Three Musketeers is the Paul W.S. Anderson-directed remake/update of the classic Alexandre Dumas book about three heroes and their young would-be hero friend in 17th century France. There have been various adaptations of the Musketeers over the years, most recently 2001’s The Musketeer (which was inspired by Asian-oriented action scenes and stunts and wasn’t that bad of a movie really) and perhaps most notably for modern audiences, 1993’s The Three Musketeers which starred Charlie Sheen, Oliver Platt, and Kiefer Sutherland as the titular characters (one can only imagine the debauchery that took place on that set). Paul W.S. Anderson’s 2011 update features a pretty stellar cast, including Ray Stevenson, Mads Mikkelson, and Christoph Waltz in supporting roles. It also features a young actor I quite like in Logan Lerman (3:10 to Yuma, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), who portrays the young d’Artagnan. Shot on a budget of 75 million dollars and clearly propped up to become a potential breakout hit, The Three Musketeers flopped at the domestic box office, grossing a measly 20 million dollars. So, what exactly went wrong?
For starters, just look at that poster. It’s god-awful for sure. I can’t tell whether d’Artagnan is played by Lerman, who again I find to be quite talented, or Michael Cera in drag. It didn’t help that, after Fright Night 3D and Conan the Barbarian 3D, The Three Musketeers was the third 3D remake in little more than two months. Audiences were already fractioned over interest in those movies, and they were already colossal flops by the time Musketeers hit theaters. What chance did The Three Musketeers every really have to succeed? I also question whether or not The Three Musketeers even had a decent shot at domestic financial success to begin with, regardless of whether or not two somewhat similar films were released in the months before it. How popular are these literary characters to modern American audiences? The only modern successful adaptation has been one starring Charlie Sheen, Oliver Platt, and Kiefer Sutherland, and that filmed was released nearly 20 years ago. Additionally, Milla Jovovich, Paul W.S. Anderson’s wife and co-star of the film, criticized Summit Entertainment (the studio behind the Twilight films) for improperly marketing the movie, leading to a not-so-private back and forth between her and the production company. Jovovich may have had a point in the end; The Three Musketeers grossed a ton of money overseas, where it was assumedly marketed as more of a family film than a straight-up action adventure, and flopped hard domestically.