There’s no arguing that J.J. Abrams has a knack for quality reboots. His 2009 rework of Star Trek is the gold standard for how to approach a sci-fi movie, while excitement continues to build for take on Star Wars debuting later this year. With all that, he’s become the undisputed champion making universally loved classic properties and infusing new life into them. It’s no wonder that other directors would feel inspired by this, and even want to emulate it. What’s bizarre is that Chris Columbus feels as though his Gremlins reboot will be deeply rooted in Abrams’s strategy.
The official statement comes from an interview with HitFix, where Columbus discussed his greater vision for the upcoming film while promoting Pixels. The sentiment itself seems lovely, but it has some fairly fundamental flaws in the logic of it all.
When I saw Star Trek, you know, I was like, ‘this is the way you do it. You have to connect the audience emotionally to the past. By seeing Leonard Nimoy in that movie and then so obviously a few days ago seeing Harrison Ford and Chewbacca at the end of the Star Wars trailer. Eight million geeks crying their eyes out, me included. So I thought ‘well that’s a great, great thing to do.’ So we won’t…we’re going apply that to Gremlins. We’re not going to forget about the past.
Inherently, there’s nothing wrong with seeing the “eight million geeks crying their eyes out” and thinking, “Yes, I want to make them do that too.” But Gremlins is not that movie. Franchise filmmaking is a delicate business, reboot franchise filmmaking even more so. What’s important to remember is that even with the largely forgotten Gremlins 2: The New Batch, this isn’t anything close to what qualifies as a franchise.
What Gremlins is instead is a wonderfully campy seasonal horror movie from 1984, featuring some questionable use of puppets and animatronics and a halfway intriguing mystery surrounding the “rules” of the mythical Mogwai. That’s not to sell it short though. It’s still an incredibly entertaining movie that isn’t impossible to capably remake, and Chris Columbus seems to specialize in light-hearted. But if his aspirations are to inspire anything even moderately on the level of Star Trek and Star Wars levels of enthusiasm, the new Gremlins is doomed to fall tragically short of this goal.
Digging into the context, you can draw out the “you have to connect the audience to the past” as Columbus’s thesis, and set aside the Abrams comparison as merely an example of someone who’s done it well. But connecting Gremlins to the past isn’t as simple as putting Han Solo on screen saying, “We’re home.” It doesn’t possess much in the way of universally loved characters past our main Mogwai Gizmo. We never really connect with the humans of Gremlins in any meaningful way, boiling the strategy of “connecting to the past” down to simply re-hashing old, dated jokes.
The success or failure of the new Gremlins will be less rooted in their ability to wink at their predecessor from 1984, and more in simply making a solid monster movie with just the right amount of comedy. What made the original so successful was walking the thin line between the reality that the evil Mogwai are horrific, crude monsters, while also staying just light enough to sell it to a wide audience. If we’re completely missing Columbus’s meaning and that’s what he’s trying to recapture, then we say carry on. If not, it may be time for a readjustment of some lofty goals.
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