Friday, 30 May 2014

Thoughts on The "Stargate" and "Cliffhanger" Reboots

Yesterday it was announced that director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, White House Down) and former producing partner Dean Devlin were set to make a new Stargate film for MGM, based on the 1994 film of the same name that Emmerich and Devlin co-wrote, and which Emmerich directed. The film is said to be the first film in a proposed new trilogy. The original Stargate starred Kurt Russell and James Spader. In the film a interstellar teleportation device is found in Egypt and opens a portal between Earth and an alien planet. The film also spawned several spinoff TV shows. It's still not certain whether Russell or Spader will reprise their roles or if this new film will ignore the continuity of the TV shows.

Also announced yesterday was a remake of Cliffhanger, a 1993 Sylvester Stallone film in which he played Gabe Walker, a mountain climber/rescue ranger who, a year later after a personal tragedy, finds himself in the Rocky Mountains, embroiled in a failed heist involving John Lithgow's Eric Qualen. Studio Canal and producer Neil Moritz had been planning a remake for several years and it's now moving forward. The screenwriter is Joe Gazzam, who reportedly impressed studio execs with his ideas for a remake.

News that both the Stargate franchise and Cliffhanger were getting re-launches in the same day brings up the familiar questions and concerns about Hollywood's lack of originality and its obsession with remaking, rebooting or reimagining any property with some kind of name recognition. I'm not vehemently against the idea of remakes. Originality can come from anywhere, even if it stems from an existing property. It can also be exciting to see a new interpretation of a franchise or film. But it's hard not feel burned out on the whole notion of remakes. For every John Carpenter's The Thing or David Cronenberg's The Fly, there's recent remakes like Kimberly Pierce's Carrie and Spike Lee's Oldboy. Though both remakes did have some new wrinkles, they felt mostly visionless despite the talent involved . 

Stargate feels like a more traditional franchise re-launch. The Cliffhanger remake has a bigger question mark looming over it. Some films feel more suited to being remade due to being classics but Cliffhanger isn't a film that has much iconography to it. Among Stallone's filmography it's not Rambo: First Blood or Rocky. It's plot is very basic and it mostly relies on Stallone's star power to carry the story.

Cliffhanger also feels very much like a product of its time. It's a very 90s film and was essentially part of the "Die Hard on a...." subgenre that sprang from Die Hard's success, with Cliffhanger being Die Hard on a mountain. While I'm all for throwbacks to 70s/80s/90s style action films, thematically Cliffhanger doesn't feel like it has much relevance to our time. Though that's what makes the idea of remaking the film intriguing. How do you make a Cliffhanger that means something to the modern world? I'm interested to find out.

Regarding these two revivals, we also have to consider the nostalgia factor. Hollywood is banking on people's fondness for these properties. This makes sense because I don't believe either Stargate or Cliffhanger are regarded as stone-cold classics. I've never seen Stargate or its TV spinoffs so I don't have any personal connection to the franchise. I do remember watching Cliffhanger when I was younger (probably too young to be watching it). It's telling that both Stargate and Cliffhanger are 90s properties. We've no gotten to the point where stuff from 90s carries nostalgic weight for my generation. Relying too much on nostalgia, however, is a risky gamble for both projects, especially with MGM already thinking "trilogy" for Stargate.  Even with Stargate already have been an ongoing franchise there's no guarantee the film will be a hit. Cliffhanger may be a one-off but the studio is likely hoping there's potential for a franchise. But despite having a recognizable title due to Stallone, Cliffhanger isn't one of his classic films and it's not the first in an iconic franchise.

As always there's potential for both these projects. The question is if either will be worth the money and time spent on them. A new Stargate could reignite the franchise like JJ Abrams' Star Trek did with that franchise. And the Cliffhanger remake could be a solid and exciting action picture. The complaints of too many remakes and reboots will remain but ideally these two ventures will be counted among the more successful of its kind.    

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