I blame Jose Feliciano for this fiasco.
The smooth-crooning Puerto Rican guitarist appropriated the iconic Doors anthem, “Light My Fire,” and, well, ruined it. Nonetheless, its commercial success gave license to every artist who sought to modernize or speciously pay homage to a work that was already a fixture of our pop culture — acts akin to adding arms to Venus do Milo or fixing the gap in Jewel’s teeth. To borrow from a Beatles song massacred by everyone from Tennessee Ernie Ford to Meat Loaf, they all should just “let it be.”
And so goes the central theme of the “Poltergeist” and the unavoidable question, “Who the hell thinks they can do better than Steven Spielberg!?”
Spielberg, of course, wrote and produced the 1982 classic and though horror-headmaster Tobe Hooper (“Salem’s Lot,” “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”) claimed the director credit, rumor is that Spielberg was at the helm.
Dubiously credentialed director Gil Kenan (“City of Ember”) and Pulitzer Prize-winning (re)writer David Lindsay-Abaire took on the unnecessary task of rebooting the suburban nightmare of an idealized family moving into a home that is a vortex for mischievous spirits. Not sure how the home inspector missed that.
The plot remains intact. The family’s youngest daughter is lured into a portal to another dimension (fundamentally Richard Matheson’s “Twilight Zone” episode, “Little Girl Lost”) by spirits who’re disgruntled because the subdivision cemented over their cemetery. Now someone has to go in, rescue her, and clear the path for the poltergeists to find their way to the next life and the franchise’s sequel.
Kenan’s copy manages to cut and paste the attributes essential to the original’s cachet — the clown, the foreboding tree, “They’re here,” etc. — without any value-add. Worse, these come-off like anachronisms. His idea of updating adds an iPhone, drone, and TV ghost-chaser (Mad Men’s Jared Harris) whose catchphrase, “This house is clean,” is poseur alongside Zelda Rubinstein’s Tangina delivery.
Casting is also unremarkable. Sam Rockwell (typically a favorite of mine) stands in for the original’s Craig T. Nelson, and Rosemarie DeWitt for JoBeth Williams. Neither feels authentic or comfortable in the roles.
A better re-imagination for contemporary audiences (see sidebar for others) might have been more hip, not ridiculous like, say, Seth Rogen and a bewitching succubus, but stylized like the “Scream” series.
Or just, you know, let it be.
Med City Movie Guy: 1 Honk
Coming soon, “Schindler’s List” in 3D
I tolerated the recent remakes of “Fame” and “Footloose.” Their progenitors were not exactly classics or revered material. But “Poltergeist” crosses a line. What’s next? How about re-imagining these sacrosanct Spielberg icons:
Opens with Police Chief Brody (originally Roy Scheider) shooting the scuba tank inside the great white’s jaws to protect Amity Island revelers. But when PETA launches a hashtag campaign questioning whether Brody unnecessarily killed the giant beast, his actions come under scrutiny. Sample dialog, “We’re gonna need a bigger grand jury pool.”
Looters of the Lost Antiquities of Other Sovereign Nations
Shamed by a student-led social network movement, a university caves to pressure and forces a tenured professor of archaeology (Indiana Jones) to return every museum artifact to its country of origin. Plenty of action as tons of paperwork are heroically navigated. Followed by the sequel, “Indiana Jones and the Nondenominational Temple of Doom.”
John Hammond, you created a new world of prehistoric creatures but neglected to develop a healthcare system to care for them. He’s got podiatry and dermatology covered but when his Monster.com post for a dino-cardiothoracic surgeon goes unanswered, he does the next best thing. He creates one from a drop of Michael E. DeBakey’s blood preserved on the edge of an old razor.