Hollywood is not remaking Big Trouble In Little China starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I know they say they are, and they think they are, but they are not. And if the financiers put up a dime for this effort, they should go bankrupt for their foolishness.
This is not another seething fanboy diatribe…or at least, not entirely a seething fanboy diatribe.
For those who don’t know — and I suspect there are more than you can imagine — Big Trouble In Little China came out near the tail-end of the 1980s. It was the last of a string of higher-budget films from genre master John Carpenter, and its poor reception in theaters pretty much sealed that particular fate. Carpenter would return to the lower budgets, but higher inventiveness of his early years for a spate of films. (He’d be drawn back in for the Chevy Chase-starring Memoirs Of An Invisible Man, for his sins.) The film mixes Asian mysticism, gung-ho American action, loads of goofy comedy, and a hero that isn’t particularly heroic. While not one of Carpenter’s most celebrated achievements, it is lots of fun.
But it failed. Badly. It wasn’t until the movie hit home video that it started amassing its tiny but loyal fanbase, and ever since, they have clamored for a sequel. The film was initially to be a western, but was adapted to fit the times by co-writer W.D. Richter. Richter is the director of another film that shares many of the traits and loyalties Big Trouble In Little China has, The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension. And like Big Trouble, that movie has been poised for a sequel for decades that will never happen, and the specter of a reboot has brought turmoil among its fans more than once.
But again, this is not about what the fans think. If Hollywood really cared what the fans think, they wouldn’t have remade so many failed efforts like Halloween, The Fog, The Thing, all of which were Carpenter classics, and they wouldn’t have bothered with this year’s Poltergeist. That is point number one. Poltergeist was, for many children, their first haunted house story outside of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” (We can quibble, but I’m sticking to that assertion.) The very thought of the movie being remade turned people off, and anyway it missed the mark director Toby Hooper and writer/producer Steven Spielberg were making. Suburbia looks calm and serene, but what lies beneath is a cesspool of deception.
(I will have thoughts on why Hollywood is so addicted to this line of reasoning soon, but for now let us focus on this one example.)
Poltergeist was remade because it was easier to sell it, or another installment of Insidious, than to establish a new title. Yet, Poltergeist was a hit and Big Trouble In Little China was not. So why am I so adamant that, if producers and financiers aren’t utterly stupid, they’ll shut this idea off now?
1. If the regular marketplace won’t support a reboot as big as Poltergeist, why would they for Big Trouble In Little China? That means you’re really counting on original fans to create a groundswell for it, and this is the exact opposite of what they were hoping for: a sequel with Jack Burton, played by Kurt Russell, ideally directed by John Carpenter. He’s still alive, you know.
2. The character of Jack Burton was never a hero. He was, as they said in the old country, “a yutz.” It was Wang, played by Dennis Dun, who was the hero with Jack kind of bumbling through Clousseau-style, winning by accident, not by intent. He was a brawny guy, but a dork at heart, who just wanted to drive his truck and brag on his C.B. radio. In other words, he is so far removed from what we expect from our action heroes, how could we possibly get a new version to respect that explicit dopiness about the role? Isn’t Jack Burton now too old to shake the pillars of heaven? Yes, and he was too dumb to do it the first time. Trust me here — people would accept this as readily as they want to see Harrison Ford as Han Solo again. I’d go so far to say that Russell in 2016 as Jack Burton would be more of a logical step than him as Snake Plissken again.
By the way, they’re rebooting Escape From New York again, too. They’ll probably cast Bradley Cooper, I’ll bet.
3. If you cast Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Jack Burton (or whatever you now will call him), he’s not going to be a hapless dolt. He’s going to be a kick-ass, take no prisoners and no crap karaoke version of Jack Burton.
4. Without Carpenter, expect a super-slick, very expensive effort that — much like the original — will take a bloody haircut if it goes down. You have the admittedly tiny fanbase against it. You have the larger “anti-reboot” crowd against it on principal alone. You have everything riding on the considerable star power of The Rock. Make no mistake, the man can open a film, and his charisma is far and away more potent than his initial embarrassing debut in The Mummy Returns. But nobody is going to greenlight a script where The Rock has to be a clown, and the point of Jack Burton is that he is a loudmouthed, ignorant U.S. clown. In essence, you’re throwing all your money and hope on the back of one person, and he has to do the exact opposite of what made the prior version of a character charming.
By all means, bankroll this. Put your life savings into it. Mortgage the houses and raid the trust funds and your kids’ savings accounts. Don’t forget the change behind the couch cushions; get it all in there. If the only way to stop this insane psychopathy of making an audience beg for Hollywood NOT to make a movie is this, then let it come down hard. And may the brown-smear poop dragons of Lo Pan follow you all the rest of your days.