By anyone's estimate, the 1980 movie Airplane was a brilliant classic. It was originally designed as a take-off on a series of disaster films from the 70's, but it did it so well that it launched its own genre of comedy films. It so perfectly violated the rules of 'serious' film making and so flawlessly ridiculed the cliché's of American culture, that an entire generation of film makers continue ripping it off to this day. It was a spoof not a remake, and that was it's brilliance. It made fun of the visibly silly being treated as if it were serious, and laughed out loud at its success rather than trying to duplicate it too closely.
As a rule I don't care for remakes of great movies. The 1996 version of Romeo and Juliet set in gangland coastal California with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes was pretty good. I think most Shakespeare versions get a pass. But beyond that I think remakes are a waste of effort from a film industry that is as bankrupt creatively as it is morally. Remakes don't qualify as art - they aren't even honest theft of art. They're nothing but the work of a vain and shallow industry filled with hacks, trying to paint a mustache on the Mona Lisa because it would make her look more like them. Imagine a remake of Lawrence of Arabia, or Breakfast at Tiffany's. Imagine "The Godfather" redone with a wooden Ryan Reynolds as Michael Corleone, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the aging Don. I feel dirty just writing it.
So it might surprise you to hear me say that I think there might be room for a remake of Airplane today. Airplane's genius was as a take-off of popular culture. And our popular culture is at least as ludicrous now as it was during the Carter era. Think about it. We can have Al Gore radioing in from the tower demanding that the airplane's engines be turned off to lower its carbon footprint - ignoring the fact that the plane will certainly crash without them. An Al Sharpton like character can be strolling the aisles accusing everyone of racism for putting creamer in their coffee. Obama dressed for the golf course and followed by a gaggle of sycophantic reporters can show up periodically blaming everything everywhere on George Bush. And everyone on the left side of the plane can accuse Ted Stryker, the passenger trying to keep the plane from crashing, of partisan obstructionism.
It's actually the perfect model for 21st century America. An airplane in crisis full of shallow lunatics too self obsessed to realize the danger they're in, with a dead pilot and crew and rapidly dwindling fuel supply. In the meantime, some passengers will be complaining that it's discrimination not to give them a turn flying the plane even though they obviously don't know how. Others will be demanding that the plane be modified to run on wind power while the plane is still in the air. A Ron Paul like character can step up to say reasonable and prudent things now and then, only to be shouted down and pummeled by the mob. While everyone with any recognizable authority is either demanding immediate gold plated retirement packages or is waiting in line to give oral sex to the "illegal alien" autopilot. Include a Cameo from Snookie and a little T&A and it's the perfect Hollywood film for the 21st century.
Ok, It's a mish mash I know, but what do you want from me? I'm a quant dammit, I'm not a screenwriter. And unfortunately, those people who actually are screenwriters don't have the sense of humor to see what's really funny about America anymore. Liberalism has always been about self absorption and could never effectively poke fun at itself. And in Hollywood, everyone who matters is an all too serious liberal. To them only bourgeois conservatism is a suitable subject for ridicule, while even the most ridiculous aspects of liberalism must be treated with reverence. No wonder they don't have any new ideas.
The guys from south park might consider something like this, but I'd have to figure out how to get Eric Cartman and the that Jewish kid into the cast. And I think a transgender couple who insist that everyone DO call them both Shirley would be an appropriate homage.
Maybe instead of an airplane it should be an out of control high speed rail system. That opens up the potential for all sorts of 'train goes into the tunnel' punch lines. Or maybe the train stays right where it is while the rest of California goes speeding into the Abyss. That can bring back the whole 'earthquake' 70's disaster genre as well. And if there is a movie theme worthy of revival in the 21st century, it's the concept of seeing ordinary people coping with ultimate disaster.
So in a way, America in the 21st century really is life imitating art - or at least what passes for art in Hollywood. These days our films are all about the fairy tales of the past, while the disaster movie is occurring outside the movie theatre. Economic collapse, unraveling of social cohesion, even the nation's capital has been blacked out for a week or so. And all the while our 'leaders' are hanging out in Hollywood or the country club, and pretending everything would be fine if the people would just shut up and listen to them. All we need to make it perfect is for Joe Biden to go on the Sunday talk shows and demand that people stop calling him Shirley.
He does look a little like Leslie Nielsen now that I think of it.