James Woods isn’t taking the Videodrome remake news very well.
David Cronenberg‘s Videodrome, a mind-melting fresco of trenchant social commentary and nightmarish body horror, is a unique beast among the science-fiction and horror features of the 1980’s. It was the lauded Canadian filmmaker’s first studio film and also his first bonafide masterpiece. It featured amazingly gooey and horrific visual effects created by a talented team spearheaded by the one and only Rick Baker, daring performances from James Woods and Blondie lead singer Deborah Harry, and astute and chilling direction from Cronenberg – who also authored the provocative screenplay. In fact, Videodrome is the singular creation of an visionary storyteller finally hiding his stride as a director after spending years making multi-layered genre films like Rabid, Shivers (a.k.a. They Came from Within), and The Brood for indie producers and studios in his homeland.
Given almost total creative control from Universal Pictures, Cronenberg made a film that took the fascinating ideas he had been developing in his previous features and fused it with a challenging critique of modern technology and new media. The result was a motion picture experience the likes of which had never been seen before and would never be seen again, not even in the director’s later works. No less an authority than the late celebrated artistic genius Andy Warhol hailed Videodrome as “A Clockwork Orange of the 1980s”. But Videodrome opened in theaters to repulsed audience reaction and the sharpened knives of the nation’s top film critics. The version that played in the United States wasn’t even Cronenberg’s preferred cut; Universal compelled the director to pare down his movie’s sexual and violent content in order for it to secure an R rating from the MPAA. His full director’s cut would not been seen until it was finally released on home video more than a decade later.
In the years since Videodrome had acquired a massive and appreciative cult following. Images and dialogue from the film were being printed on T-shirts. Musicians were sampling the eerie sound effects in their songs. The final line spoken in Videodrome, “Long live the New Flesh,” had become a 21st rallying cry for fans of the film and films in general that never received the respect they deserved in their time. With Videodrome celebrating its 30th anniversary next year, it remains one of the greatest films of the 1980’s and deserves a high placement on the list of the most audacious genre films ever made. In short, this is the kind of movie that deserves to be respected, not remade. Unfortunately for us it appears that the latter is destined to happen and much sooner than we anticipated.
Yesterday, we reported that Universal had put a Videodrome redux into active development with untested commercial director Adam Berg making his feature directorial debut behind the camera and Ehren Kruger (Transformers: Dark of the Moon) assuming scripting duties. Berg, Kruger, and producer Daniel Bobker intend to make the new Videodrome a “large-scale sci-fi action thriller” that will update the story of the original to incorporate nano-technology. Needless to say this is a mistake of biblical proportions.
Having learned absolutely nothing from the recent disappointing release of Len Wiseman’s Total Recall remake, the same studio that treated Cronenberg’s timely masterwork like a misbegotten abortion when it was first made is now banking on the film’s name brand recognition to lure audiences into shelling out their hard-earned cash for yet another Philip K. Dick-lite yarn designed to do little more than rake in some decent money at the ticket counters and make up the rest in sales of the unrated Blu-ray at Wal-Mart and Best Buy. And why shouldn’t they? Thirty years ago when John Carpenter’s classic remake of The Thing was released it garnered the same sullied reputation as Videodrome and Universal subsequently pulled the film from theaters and fired Carpenter from his next directing assignment – an adaptation of the Stephen King novel Firestarter. The absurd controversy over The Thing permanently derailed Carpenter’s career in Hollywood.
As the years wore on and The Thing started to build a huge following thanks to home video and cable airings, execs at Universal saw an opportunity to cash in on its newfound appreciation and make an expensive prequel that did everything in its power to undermine what made Carpenter’s so unique and frightening, right down to even calling itself The Thing. It was nothing but a poor, slavish imitation of an American classic and when it was finally released after much post-production tinkering the new Thing was widely rejected but this time for the right reasons. It matters little in the end how the Thing redux was received; Universal has another catalog title they can flog to gullible consumers until the end of civilization and still reap their undeserved riches, so who cares if the movie is a piece of dog shit or not? It was a license to print money for a studio that had made so many ill-advised decisions in recent years that they had become the exclusive property of a sub-standard television network and cable company.
The same goes for Videodrome. It’s a valuable title in Universal’s catalog that has gone as far as it can go in the home entertainment market. Thus the next logical step from the studio’s vantage point is a big-screen remake that takes everything crazy and brilliant about the original and leaves them behind in the name of crapping out yet another mindless, video game-style Saturday night time waster. Maybe a worthy remake could be made, unnecessary regardless, under the right conditions – involving Cronenberg, hiring a more suitable writer and director, etc. But none of these things will happen because Videodrome is a Universal-owned property and they will do anything with it that they desire and to hell with the naysayers.
When Cronenberg made Videodrome he was commenting on the growing influence of television as more than an venue for information and entertainment and society’s oddly co-dependent relationship with the boob tube. Within the disturbing world of the film the director gave us visions of pirate TV programs broadcasting brutal physical torture, people growing vaginal slits in their stomachs where flesh videocassettes could be inserted to give them their own “programming,” and our bodies and minds could ascend to a higher level of consciousness through our television sets. Audiences in 1983 were not willing to accept these concepts and in the three ensuing decades the collective intellect of modern mass audiences has decreased so they’ll be even less accepting of them in 2013 (or whenever the Videodrome remake sees a release).
I could beg Universal to give us this foolish and desperate endeavor, but it will do me no good. The best we can hope is that the remake falls apart in pre-production and we can clutch our Criterion Collection Blu-ray and DVD of Videodrome to our chests with true joy of the human spirit….and laugh our asses off in depraved triumph. If you don’t believe me, then seek out the bold, compelling, thought-provoking original and see it for yourself. I highly encourage it.
In closing, allow me to leave you with a quote from Videodrome that perfect sums up my feelings about the remake:
“You’ll forgive me if I don’t stay around to watch. I just can’t cope with the freaky stuff.”
Long Live the New Flesh!