Bo Catlett: You broke into my house, and I have a witness to it.
Chili Palmer: What?
Bo Catlett: Only this time it ain't no John Wayne and Dean Martin shooting bad guys in "El Dorado."
Chili Palmer: That was "Rio Bravo." Robert Mitchum played the drunk in "El Dorado." Dean Martin played the drunk in "Rio Bravo." Basically, it was the same part. Now John Wayne, he did the same in both. He played John Wayne.
Bo Catlett: Man, I can't wait for you to be dead.-- Get Shorty (1995)
Remaking a classic is a tricky business.
It requires exquisite balance, because old farts like me who loved the original are very likely predisposed to hating the very idea of someone else putting their grubby mitts all over "Casablanca" or "North by Northwest", while a newer audience might not be willing to drop $12 on a 2013 flick that still moves like something from the Eisenhower Administration.
Sometimes it works and you get the "The Front Page" reassembled into "His Girl Friday", or "The Big Sleep" brilliantly transmogrified into "The Big Lebowski". Also, being a fan of "Seven Samurai" in no way interferes with my pleasure in watching Yul Brenner and Steve McQueen trying to outflank each other in "The Magnificent Seven".
But Jesus Christ with a Herbert Lom twitch, who the hell thought it was a good idea to mess with "The Planet of the Apes"? Or to let Adam Sandler within several hundred miles of "The Longest Yard"? And yet someone somewhere sitting on a load of cash looked at a gem like "The Day The Earth Stood Still" and said, "You know what this really needs? A jillion dollars of CGI and a block of wood named Keanu Reeves larded on top of it!"
Well I don't make or finance movies, but I do watch a lot of them for fun and I have observed that if want to succeed in the remake business your chances are measurably improved if you pick a minor classic -- something that a most people never saw in the first place or disliked enough during its first run that they have willed themselves to forget it -- and then borrow the spine of its plot and some of its key casting ideas, while updating the special effects and pacing enough to make it feel modern.
Hey, maybe even flip around the race or gender of a main character to fizz it up.
Say, for example, you want to tell the story of The Very Angry Libertarian who publicly takes on a wild, out-of-control President who has begun promiscuously lobbing bombs into foreign countries for Obviously Sinister Reasons!
First, of course, you begin with the original -- the classic --
-- because the template has already been worked out for you: A noble liberty-loving lawmaker named "Paul" is reluctantly forced to attach himself to whatever mob passes his way (Yes I will vote for impeachment!) despite the fact that he knows that the parade itself was corruptly conceived and executed by people he loathes (Yes, I knows the specific charges are a load of hogwash and the prosecutor is a partisan thug) but fuck that! because handy mobs that come fully equipped with tar and feathers and bloodlust who are willing to ride his hobbyhorse don't just come along every day. And if they want to impeach the Democratic President for bullshit, well, at least they're willing to impeach him over something so count him in!
Fade to black.
Unfortunately, young filmmaker, although Congressman Paul's high-altitude flyover of American foreign and military policy (fucked in the head since forever) has a lot of merit, you can't just Gus Van Sant your epic remake shot-for-shot because, sadly, the intervening years have blown a several, fairly large and problematic holes in the original story-line.
For example, while "Osama bin Laden" and "Al Qaeda" might have sounded implausibly Bond-villainish back in 1998 to the casual observer, as it turned out, Congressman Paul's assessments that there was "no threat" and that Bill Clinton had fired missiles into Afghanistan for purely nefarious and narrowly partisan motives -- had spent $200M and criminally jeopardized the lives of brave American troops (who the depraved Slick Willie had never liked anyway) for no reason other than to distract people from his personal problems -- were not strictly, as they say, true:
"In August 1998, President Clinton ordered missile strikes against targets in Afghanistan in an effort to hit Osama bin Laden, who had been linked to the embassy bombings in Africa (and was later connected to the attack on the USS Cole). The missiles reportedly missed bin Laden by a few hours, and Clinton was widely criticized by many who claimed he had ordered the strikes primarily to draw attention away from the Monica Lewinsky scandal. As John F. Harris wrote in The Washington Post:
In August 1998, when ordered missile strikes in an effort to kill Osama bin Laden, there was widespread speculation - from such people as Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) - that he was acting precipitously to draw attention away from the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal, then at full boil. Some said he was mistaken for personalizing the terrorism struggle so much around bin Laden. And when he ordered the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House after domestic terrorism in Oklahoma City, some Republicans accused him of hysteria.
Which is why, having been shown to be horribly wrong in both his assessment of threats to America and the motives which he imputed so emphatically and categorically to Bill Clinton, Congressman Paul public apologized, resigned from public office and was never heard from again.
Because, y'know, Honor!
Because, y'know, Honor!
The second major plotting problem comes when the story line moves a fraction of an inch away from presidential action and over to the question of congressional oversight. Because, whether or not the president acted in good faith and however much contempt your audience might rightly have for Democrats...who in their right fucking minds would buy for an instant the notion that the Republican Party as it exists today can be trusted to impartially investigate anything.
Remember, that once upon a time not so very long time, the actions another White House -- a Republican administration which did shit that was not merely legally sketchy but explicitly illegal and impeachable -- were actually investigated.
It took years and years and millions of dollars.
And eventually some small measure of justice was meted out.
Until, of course, the outgoing Republican president delivered a hearty, Christmas Eve "Fuck You!" to the justice system and pardoned all of his little traitor friends:
December 25, 1992This is the same party who would, a few month later, begin their eight year mission of slander, character assassination and Congressional witchhunts to overthrow the duly elected Democratic President at any cost.
By DAVID JOHNSTON
Bush Pardons 6 in Iran Affair, Aborting a Weinberger Trial; Prosecutor Assails 'Cover-Up'
Lawrence E. Walsh's Statement on the Pardons
Six years after the arms-for-hostages scandal began to cast a shadow that would darken two Administrations, President Bush today granted full pardons to six former officials in Ronald Reagan's Administration, including former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger.
Mr. Weinberger was scheduled to stand trial on Jan. 5 on charges that he lied to Congress about his knowledge of the arms sales to Iran and efforts by other countries to help underwrite the Nicaraguan rebels, a case that was expected to focus on Mr. Weinberger's private notes that contain references to Mr. Bush's endorsement of the secret shipments to Iran.
In one remaining facet of the inquiry, the independent prosecutor, Lawrence E. Walsh, plans to review a 1986 campaign diary kept by Mr. Bush. Mr. Walsh has characterized the President's failure to turn over the diary until now as misconduct.
Decapitated Walsh Efforts
But in a single stroke, Mr. Bush swept away one conviction, three guilty pleas and two pending cases, virtually decapitating what was left of Mr. Walsh's effort, which began in 1986. Mr. Bush's decision was announced by the White House in a printed statement after the President left for Camp David, where he will spend the Christmas holiday.
Mr. Walsh bitterly condemned the President's action, charging that "the Iran-contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed."
Mr. Walsh directed his heaviest fire at Mr. Bush over the pardon of Mr. Weinberger, whose trial would have given the prosecutor a last chance to explore the role in the affair of senior Reagan officials, including Mr. Bush's actions as Vice President.
'Evidence of Conspiracy'
Mr. Walsh hinted that Mr. Bush's pardon of Mr. Weinberger and the President's own role in the affair could be related. For the first time, he
charged that Mr. Weinberger's notes about the secret decision to sell arms to Iran, a central piece of evidence in the case against the former Pentagon chief, included "evidence of a conspiracy among the highest ranking Reagan Administration officials to lie to Congress and the American public."
The prosecutor charged that Mr. Weinberger's efforts to hide his notes may have "forestalled impeachment proceedings against President Reagan" and formed part of a pattern of "deception and obstruction." On Dec. 11, Mr. Walsh said he discovered "misconduct" in Mr. Bush's failure to turn over what the prosecutor said were the President's own "highly relevant contemporaneous notes, despite repeated requests for such documents."
This is the same party who would eventually impeach that duly elected Democratic President over trivia.
This is the same party who would -- without missing a fucking beat -- steal the next presidential election and then lend their full-throated support to their newly appointed President as he roared his way through eight years of crime, criminal incompetence, treasury-busting profligacy, corruption and outright treason.
This is the same party who would then convene a summit of it's top leadership on the day the new Democratic President was inaugurated in order to figure out the most effective way to block, sabotage and hopefully overthrow that duly elected Democratic President at any cost.
See the problem?
You can dress your epic remake up all you want -- exchange a "Ron Paul" for a "Rand Paul", swap the white Southern Democratic President with the strained marriage and the grabby hands for an ascetic black ex-law professor Democratic President with a family that anyone would love to share a back yard with -- but you cannot seriously expect an educated, well-informed audience to believe that the Republican Party as it actually exists here and now could possibly be trusted to police any of the activities of any Democratic President without fear or favor, constitutionally and in the best interest of the country.
So what you're going to need is an audience predisposed to ignore all of the decades of relevant history that has led up to this moment. Who somehow sleepwalked through Iran/Contra, the hunting and impeachment of Bill Clinton, the theft of the 2000 election and the first half of the Bush Era in a political stupor deep enough to believe that everything was basically A-OK and the country was "essentially on the right track" until, say, 2004:
Like, for instance, this guy (emphasis in the original):
...The whole point of the Preface was that, before 2004, I had been politically apathetic and indifferent - except for the work I was doing on constitutional law. That's because, while I had no interest in the fights between Democrats and Republicans, I had a basic trust in the American political system and its institutions, such that I devoted my attention and energies to preventing constitutional violations rather than political debates. From the first two paragraphs:I never voted for George W. Bush — or for any of his political opponents. I believed that voting was not particularly important. Our country, it seemed to me, was essentially on the right track. Whether Democrats or Republicans held the White House or the majorities in Congress made only the most marginal difference. . . .I firmly believed that our democratic system of government was sufficiently insulated from any real abuse, by our Constitution and by the checks and balances afforded by having three separate but equal branches of government. My primary political belief was that both parties were plagued by extremists who were equally dangerous and destructive, but that as long as neither extreme acquired real political power, our system would function smoothly and more or less tolerably. For that reason, although I always paid attention to political debates, I was never sufficiently moved to become engaged in the electoral process. I had great faith in the stability and resilience of the constitutional republic that the founders created.When the Iraq War was debated and then commenced, I was not a writer. I was not a journalist. I was not politically engaged or active. I never played any role in political debates or controversies. Unlike the countless beloved Democrats who actually did support the war - including Obama's Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - I had no platform or role in politics of any kind.I never once wrote in favor of the Iraq War or argued for it in any way, shape or form.Ask anyone who claims that I "supported" the Iraq War to point to a single instance where I ever supported or defended it in any way. There is no such instance. It's a pure fabrication.At the time, I was basically a standard passive consumer of political news: I read The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic: the journals that I thought high-end consumers of news would read and which I assumed were generally reliable for getting the basic truth.What I explained in the Preface was that I had major objections to the Iraq war when it was being debated:During the lead-up to the invasion, I was concerned that the hell-bent focus on invading Iraq was being driven by agendas and strategic objectives that had nothing to do with terrorism or the 9/11 attacks. The overt rationale for the invasion was exceedingly weak, particularly given that it would lead to an open-ended, incalculably costly, and intensely risky preemptive war. Around the same time, it was revealed that an invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein had been high on the agenda of various senior administration officials long before September 11.Nonetheless, because of the general faith I had in political and media institutions, I assumed - since both political parties and media outlets and journalists from across the ideological spectrum were united in support of the war - that there must be some valid basis to the claim that Saddam posed a threat. My basic trust in these institutions neutralized the objections I had and led me to passively acquiesce to what was being done ("I believed then that the president was entitled to have his national security judgment deferred to, and to the extent that I was able to develop a definitive view, I accepted his judgment that American security really would be enhanced by the invasion of this sovereign country.")....