It's hard to believe anyone thought it was a good idea to turn 8½ into a musical, let alone Federico Fellini. But apparently the filmmaker was happy to see his best work adapted for the stage back in 1982. I guess it had worked well enough for Nights of Cabiria, though the film version of that musical, Sweet Charity, was a tremendous box office flop. I imagine the new film of Nine will have a similar fate. Yet even if it's somehow a hit, that won't excuse the fact that it's a choppy, stagy, soulless simplification of one of the most personal and expressionistic pieces of cinematic art ever produced.
Not all drama-turned-musical remakes are so awful, though the concept of redoing a movie in another genre is pretty funny ever since people started playing with the idea on YouTube. With Zhang Yimou's action-comedy take on the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple reportedly getting negative reviews in China and Nine suffering a similar critical response here, I thought I'd take a look at some of the other terrible genre-swapping remakes out there.
Most of these are unofficial adaptations, which slightly excuses them if only because they don't directly dishonor the originals. However, taking into consideration inspired and worthwhile genre-swap remakes like The Magnificent Seven, High Society, Outland and A Fistful of Dollars, I can't help but think some of the titles below could have been a lot better.
Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)
Remake of the samurai film Seven Samurai (and western The Magnificent Seven) as a science fiction movie
The concept of a western in outer space was long established by the time Roger Corman produced his sci-fi version of The Magnificent Seven (itself a remake of Seven Samurai). Star Trek had been pitched as Wagon Train in space and Star Wars borrowed many elements from westerns and samurai films, so it made sense for the B movie king to capitalize on their successes. While kind of fun in a campy, kitschy sort of way, as well as being of interest to James Cameron fans wishing to see his beginnings as a model maker and production designer, it hardly does justice to its classic source material with its atrocious acting and extremely cheap-looking sets and costumes.
Last Man Standing (1996)
Remake of the samurai film Yojimbo (and western A Fistful of Dollars) as a gangster movie
It's certainly a natural progression to go from samurai film (itself inspired by a film noir) to western to crime film, as they all contain similar characters and conventions. Yet somehow Walter Hill blew it with this period action thriller based, like Battle Beyond the Stars, on a Kurosawa classic -- somewhat by way of Sergio Leone's unofficial western remake. Slow and bloody, Last Man Standing has its defenders more than a decade later, and maybe it will one day grow on the rest of us. For now, though, I still don't buy Bruce Willis in that era and the story doesn't hold my attention the way it does when told by its previous handlers. The premise fits so well with the gangster genre that I wish it worked better here. Maybe someone else will remake it again one day. Although the next version will more likely be sci-fi.
Remake of the screwball comedy His Girl Friday as a disaster movie
Watching Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt chase tornadoes is plenty exciting, though unfortunately only due to the effects spectacle. As a very loose -- to the point of never being acknowledged, that I'm aware of -- update on the remarriage comedy His Girl Friday (itself a redo of The Front Page), it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of dialogue. Paxton and Hunt barely have any physical chemistry, which explains why their characters are separated, and they also, more disappointingly, lack the repartee we want from obvious modern equivalents (with genders reversed) of Hildy and Walter. Jami Gertz is fine in the Ralph Bellamy role, at least.
City of Angels (1998)
Remake of the fantasy drama Wings of Desire as romantic tearjerker
This redo basically just took the general premise from Wim Wenders -- angels on Earth observing people -- and one part of the original's plot -- one of these angels falls in love with a mortal -- and used them as a springboard for a simpler and far more depressing movie. And it stars Nic Cage as an angel, which makes me worried about what heaven's like. Given the title, it would have been nice for director Brad Silberling to give us more of a meditation on the city it's set in. Not that anyone would really accept a film that paid as much affection to L.A. as Wenders pays to Berlin.
The Mummy (1999)
Remake of the horror film The Mummy as an action adventure movie
Imagine if the next versions of Dracula and Frankenstein were action movies. Actually, I guess they could be like Aliens and Terminator 2, respectively, which would be interesting. Still, as much as the archeological premise of The Mummy lends itself easily to an Indiana Jones ripoff, Universal went a bit too far with this blockbuster update on its horror classic. At the very least, they should have retained or at least paid tribute to the iconic look of the original's monster rather than bombarding us with a gaudy explosion of CG.
The Stepford Wives (2004)
Remake of the sci-fi thriller The Stepford Wives as a sci-fi comedy
So what if the the 1975 adaptation of Ira Levin's novel is kinda campy? It's not intentionally funny, like Frank Oz's disastrous flop, which really didn't end up being all that humorous anyway, despite the filmmaker's aim. Part of the charm of the original is that the satire is not played up for obvious, out-loud laughs. It's also more reflective of the time in which it was made, and of course it's a lot creepier. The only thing that might give you nightmares in the remake is Nicole Kidman's ironically plasticine face.
Guess Who (2005)
Remake of the drama Guess Who's Coming to Dinner as a comedy
It seems bad for the state of American culture that a tasteful and progressive movie about an interracial couple would be redone forty years later as such a tasteless and idiotic Ashton Kutcher vehicle. Not that the subject matter has to be serious, but it shouldn't be taken for a complete joke, either. Have we really not come far enough that a black girl dating a white boy is so outlandish that the situation can be the foundation for a comedy? Especially one with so many tired gay jokes? (How long, I wonder, before we get the gay version of GWCTD?). It was bad enough when Black Like Me was similarly redone as a lame comedy with Soul Man, but twenty more years later, Guess Who is terribly dated, or else Americans really are as racist as ever.