There's a nice wry moment in the new film "The Object of Beauty" that occurs as John Malkovich and Andie MacDowell are in a hotel bed watching television. We don't see the screen but suddenly Malkovich asks, "How many times will they allow `Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' to be remade? Is it an infinite number?"
Good question.In fact, Robert Louis Stevenson's classic story, or a variation thereof, has been made into a movie - are you sitting down? - at least 25 times.
Certainly we see many more sequels than remakes these days - at last count some 15 sequels will hit theaters before the end of 1991, compared to only 10 or so remakes. And, technically, I suppose one could argue that some are not actual remakes.
Is "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," starring Kevin Costner, really a remake if it's a strange variation on the theme? Well, the story is certainly a variation, but at the same time you'll see Robin, his Merry Men and Maid Marian doing battle with the evil Sheriff of Nottingham.
That's close enough for me.
Already this year we've had "White Fang," "Hamlet," another biography of Vincent Van Gogh ("Vincent & Theo"), "Cyrano de Bergerac," "A Kiss Before Dying" and later in the year we'll even get three remakes of TV series, "The Addams Family," "Car 54, Where Are You?" and "Boris and Natasha" (a live-action version of the villains on "Rocky & Bullwinkle").
It's bad enough we get movies that are remakes, but now we get remakes of old TV shows!
On the other hand, there may be a valid argument for saying that such classics as "Hamlet" and "Cyrano" should be remade, just as they are often revived on the stage. And there's value in looking at a historical figure, such as Van Gogh, from a new perspective.
But as a trend, remakes tend to stifle not nurture creativity. And it's becoming even more prevalent in television movies.
Recently there was "Shadow of a Doubt," a remake of the Hitchcock thriller that starred Joseph Cotten, this time with Mark Harmon; "Night of the Hunter," with Richard Chamberlain stepping in for Robert Mitchum; and Lynn and Vanessa Redgrave tackling Bette Davis and Joan Crawford's roles in a new version of "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?"
There's even another "Robin Hood," made-for-TV, of course, getting the jump on Costner's version by premiering Monday (7 p.m., Ch. 13, with Patrick Bergin in the title role).
And there are many other examples.
A disturbing aspect recently was an endorsement by TV Guide. In the "Cheers 'N' Jeers" column, in the May 4 issue, a cheer was given to "the recent spate of TV-movie remakes," citing "Shadow," "Hunter" and "Baby Jane" as examples.
Did the person who wrote that see those remakes?
Especially when the original versions of those movies are readily available for rent on videocassette, why should we encourage their being remade as inferior films?
All three of those original movies qualify as classics, each featuring a distinguished portrait of evil incarnate - Cotten in "Shadow," Mitchum in "Hunter" and Davis in "Baby Jane" - not to mention knockout performances by great actors at the peak of their powers. They literally threw themselves into roles that remain to this day highlights of their respective careers.
All Harmon, Chamberlain and Lynn Redgrave did was make me long to see the originals again.
Aside from the fact that each film was much weaker than its predecessor, however, wouldn't it make more sense to encourage Hollywood to come up with original material? Or how about adapting to film the hundreds of classic novels that have never been made into movies?
What should we expect next? A remake of "Gone With the Wind," with, say, Patrick Duffy and Lisa Hartman as Rhett and Scarlett? Or how about "The Maltese Falcon," with David Soul in the Bogie role (he was so good in the TV version of "Casablanca") and Wilford Brimley playuing the Sydney Greenstreet character?
I'm not one of those cinema snobs who feels all TV movies are automatically inferior to theatrical films. In fact, there an incredible number of lousy theatrical features and some very good TV features.
But remaking great films is, in general, a very bad practice all around.
Salt Lake's Avalon Theater, which shows great old movies almost every week, used to have a wonderful slogan in its ads: Good movies like good books never grow old.
Let's encourage audiences - in particular, young audiences - to seek out good movies rather than serving them up in the cinematic equivalent of "Classics Illustrated" comic books.
- DOES ANYONE ELSE out there have trouble keeping the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles straight?
I'm embarrassed that my 8-year-old son has to remind me that Donatello is the one with the red bandana . . . or is that Raphael?
- QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Michael Keaton, currently starring in "One Good Cop" and gearing up for the "Batman" sequel, interviewed by Luaine Lee for Scripps Howard News Service:
"I've got two jobs. I'm an actor and I'm Batman."