It's been almost 28 years since Tim Burton's Beetlejuice hit cinemas and became an instant cult classic, a staple in the emo starter's handbook, reblogged on every pastelgoth's Tumblr page, and on the DVD shelf of every cinephile. It's easily in Burton's top three movies and many argue it's his best, the one that allowed him to reach those who felt an affinity with his bizarre brand of camp horror-humor and cement his status as a true auteur. After years of speculation, it's been confirmed that a sequel is in the works. What better way to commemorate a classic, so of its time and rich with heritage, than to continue its story years later, rather than leave it, a perfect piece of work of its time and place?
The sequels and reboots in Hollywood right now feel endless. Indy is donning the infamous felt fedora once more as the archaeologist-adventurer-teacher-hearthrob. Despite Harrison Ford being 73, it's never too late for a male star to be reprising his action-packed leading role, and so in 2018, we can expect Indiana Jones 5. The rehashing of old stories goes on and on, the stronger the appeal to our late 80s-90s nostalgia the better: more Batman movies, Ghostbusters, Jumanji, Full House, Star Wars, Star Trek, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and of course, Twin Peaks. In fact, if anyone's having a good old lucrative time right now, it's Ford. In addition to his Star Wars and Indiana Jones stints, he is also working on another Blade Runner movie.
Whenever a sequel is first mentioned by anyone involved in the original, little pieces of news are drip-fed out, such as Winona Ryder saying she'd like to do it, or Burton saying that he would do it. The will-they-or-won't-they game begins. For the next two to five years, pop culture fans and press engage in this inflammatory conversations, dancing around these snippets of quotes, until one or the other exhausts. The film finally reveals itself to a last hurrah of hype, to get locked away in a very separate cupboard; it's so separate from the original it barely even registers as a blip in cinematic history, not mentioned in the same breath. See: Mean Girls 2, Bring It On 2, Zoolander 2, Evan Almighty, Blues Brothers 2000, The Hangover Part II, Grease 2.
Similarly, remaking a cult classic is a habit Hollywood cannot let go of—The Karate Kid, Arthur, Fame, Conan the Barbarian, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Burton), Planet of the Apes (also Burton), Pride and Prejudice, Footloose. The seeming logic here was that the original was so good—preserved, in fact, in our collective cultural history for the rest of time, on film studies syllabuses everywhere—the remake should be made of that very original in order to grasp a monetary slice of greatness, however minimal.
Beetlejuice is one of the untouchables. Like Twin Peaks, the risk of bastardizing a legacy with a follow-up is great. The greater the film—the greater Hollywood's hubris—the more monumental the fall.
We've been dangerously close to a Beetlejuice sequel before. In 1990, Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian almost happened. The story, which was commissioned in 1990 following what appears to have been a non-serious pitch by Burton, went as follows: The Deetz family moves to Hawaii to develop a resort. Construction begins, and it's quickly discovered that the hotel will be sitting on top of an ancient burial ground. Chaos ensues. Beetlejuice comes in to save the day—but not before causing a bit of mischief! The fact that this film never came to fruition is nothing short of a blessing. Are we willing to go back to that uncertain place again? Or worse yet—could it actually be the script we're waiting for?
Perhaps Burton, finally reunited with Ryder, will at last make a decent movie again. Perhaps. But Indiana Jones, the contemporary franchise, however, is too late for saving. It's beyond all resuscitation. We've lived through the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. We saw the aliens, the CGI giant ants, Ford surviving a nuclear explosion inside a refrigerator. We saw it all. There is very little hope for what might come next. The same mistakes must be repeated ad infinitum until there are new ideas and new voices, but if these same mistakes are endlessly repeated, where will these new ideas and new voices come from?
Let me leave you with the ultimate symbol of this destructive regurgitation, a man you might know named Johnny Depp, one of the most versatile, celebrated actors of his day and star of some of the greatest films of this past half-decade. In 2003, he stars in a hugely successful action adventure about pirates, fashioning his role of Jack Sparrow from Keith Richards and is nominated for an Actor Academy Award for best actor. Alas, Black Pearl rolls onto Dead Man's Chest and plunges into At World's End. It is another full decade until he is in another very good film (Black Mass). He is the Mad Hatter, he is an animated lizard, he is Jack Sparrow yet again in On Stranger Tides, he is in a 21 Jump Street(remake), he is a vampire, he is a questionable native American warrior-type-chief, he is a wolf. And then there is Mortdecai. At the end of it all, there is Mortdecai. Once you become complicit in this bastardization, there is no respect, and when there is no respect for the content, there is no respect for cinema, and when there is no respect for cinema, there is Mortdecai.
There are three things we know about the movies. One: Hollywood will franchise anything if it made money. Two: Hollywood does not like new things. New is scary—new writers, female directors, black directors, scripts, ad infinitum. Three (and this is possibly the most important): Remakes and sequels are never very good. Think very hard of a sequel you enjoyed. Ruminate for a while on that. Was it as good—really as good—as its predecessor? It wasn't, was it. It really wasn't.
I will not celebrate any of these sequels. I will not hope for this year's remakes being trotted out with their fancy CGI and haggard stars. We must say no more. No more Harrison Ford. No more hearts on eyelids. No more white pirates with dreads. No more.
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