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Don’t Remake Baby Into A Corner

Why the Dirty Dancing remake could alienate audiences young and old.

Like many women of my generation, I’ve been bemoaning the news this week that Dirty Dancing is being remade.

I’ll spare you the references to “I carried a watermelon.” More distressing than the idea that there will soon be a new Baby and a new Johnny is the notion that this kind of film property will work as a remake.

I’m not a snob who thinks that any remake is a bad idea – some work both creatively and commercially. Look at the reinvention of Bad Lieutenant for one example.

Yet for a film like a Dirty Dancing remake to work, it needs to engage that teenage cinemagoing audience, and convincing 13-year-old girl in 2012 to go to the cinema because a 40-year-old loved the film decades ago isn’t going to do that. Even worse, the filmmakers have said they plan to use music from the 1960s and new songs, meaning they aren’t giving the project the complete reinvention and update that could actually make it work.

There is also the chance that the new film is bad enough to disparage the brand (yes, I saw Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, and I want those 86 minutes of my life back.)

The original is, of course, still hugely popular – it made about $214m at the box office, sold millions and millions of DVDs and has spawned a stage show – that’s quite a lot of viewers waiting with claws out to attack the remake. Also, the original was made for a measly $6m with low expectations and a kind of innocence. A remake feels like the opposite of innocence – trying to cash in on a personally cherished brand for a quick buck off the Glee generation.

Lionsgate, please go ahead and make a great movie about romance and dancing, but make it relevant for today’s audience. Step Up, StreetDance, and High School Musical have all successfully sprung up as new franchises in recent years, proving that audiences don’t need an old brand name to line up at the box office. All of those films feel fresher than the Footloose remake trailer.

I was speaking to StudioCanal CEO Olivier Courson recently about the disappointing box-office results for their remake of Brighton Rock. Courson upholds that “it’s a very good movie and Rowan Joffe is a real talent.” But he does admit that, at least from StudioCanal’s Paris HQ, they weren’t aware of quite how much power the 1947 version still held — “we weren’t expecting such comparisons with the original,” Courson said. Audiences weren’t willing to give it a chance because if they loved the original the new one was sacrilege, and if they didn’t love the original they weren’t drawn in as a young audience to see something brand new.

So beware, makers of Dirty Dancing redux, that you might alienate both young fans who think they are the target of marketers spinning an old brand, and diehard Johnny Castle lovers who think you are stepping on their (and his) toes. Seems hard to find a happy medium in there.

(And yes, that’s me with Patrick Swayze at the Nashville Film Festival many many years ago.)

wendy_mitchell_patrick_swayze

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