24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Short Circuit

‘Short Circuit’ director: War makes this remake relevant

April 10, 2012 |  4:42 pm

From “American Reunion” to “Fright Night,” remakes of 1980s and 1990s films have taken their lumps on the big screen lately. But the director behind the new iteration of “Short Circuit” is taking a rigorous approach that he hopes will help his movie avoid the reboot trap.

Tim Hill,  the “Hop” helmer who has been hired to direct the film, says that his take on Johnny No. 5 -- of course, the weapon-turned-cuddly-companion from the 1986 hit -- will resonate in this era of drone warfare.

“The thing that makes it so relevant is that we live in this age of robots, particularly when it comes to war,” Hill, also a longtime writer on the television series "SpongeBob SquarePants,” told 24 Frames. “We have drones that do our fighting for us, do all these jobs men and women don’t want to do. And that’s what makes this so interesting -- things like this moment in the story when Johnny realizes he’s going to be disassembled and contemplates death, and whether it’s right to terminate someone else.”

He paused, “These are heavy themes for a family movie," he said, anticipating a reasonable reader's reaction. "But I think they can have their place.”

John Badham’s comedy classic told of Johnny, a Cold War weapon who attains a form of consciousness after being caught in a lightning storm. Starring Steve Guttenberg and Fisher Stevens as the scientists who create Johnny, the film ironically takes a human turn when animal-lover Ally Sheedy befriends the rolling robot.

The new version will recast the Sheedy role as a teenager or preteen, Hill said, in part because it gives the movie a family-friendly angle but also because it adds a wish-fulfillment dimension not present in the original.

Hill said the robot protagonist will, however, retain the wide-eyed tone of his forebear -- “like an infant struck by lightning, and you see human foibles reflected in him.” (The new version is being developed at Dimension Films, the Bob Weinstein-led unit that acquired the rights a number of years ago. Hill and various writers are working on the script.)

To prepare for the movie, Hill, a polymath who is one of the more eclectic director voices out in Hollywood, has been reading up on modern robotics, ticking off in the interview a few academic texts he has been studying.

But he added that one doesn’t need an advanced degree from MIT to appreciate the issues he hopes to raise.

“If you look at kids and how they adopt machinery, it’s just getting tight and tighter,” Hill said. “We're just becoming more connected to our machines. That’s why I think this can say more about our relationship with technology than the original ever did.”

And how will the new Johnny look in an era when technology has become ever more compact (and, it should be noted, Pixar’s “Wall-E” has offered its own cinematic take on a humanoid robot)?

“I’m tempted to go back and grab the original,” Hill said. “But I think it has to be closer to what modern design actually is. There are computer models and labs developing real machines like this. We want to do something like that.”

And despite the wide-eyed qualities to Johnny, a little menace wouldn’t hurt, either.

“You’ve got to find the balance between something fierce and something endearing,” Hill. said. “The original was cute. But no one was threatened by it.”


'Titanic' & 'American Reunion:' Is nostalgia clock ticking?

From 'Hop' director Tim Hill: Our movie almost didn't make it

Dimension Films seeking a comeback by refocusing and reflecting

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Ally Sheedy and Johnny No. 5 in "Short Circuit." Credit: TriStar Pictures

'Footloose' may fizzle, but 'Police Academy' star is pro-reboot

October 17, 2011 |  1:52 pm

"Footloose" landed awkwardly at the box office this week, and plenty of 1980s comedies have taken their lumps in their 21st century guises (see  "Arthur," "Fright Night"). But can other Reagan-era hits make a more successful return?

Steve Guttenberg, who starred in an inordinate number of them, says he believes they can. And, he says, Hollywood should believe it too.

Guttenberg, who headlined the "Police Academy," '3 Men and a Baby" and "Short Circuit"  franchises (combined box office: $570 million) feels those movies would find an audience quickly if they came out now. "They're shoo-ins for $40-, 50-million [opening] weekends," he told 24 Frames about reboots of these titles.

New installments in all three franchises are in development at Hollywood studios -- Disney has "Three Men and a Bride," New Line is working on a "Police Academy" reboot  and Dimension Films is moving forward with a new "Short Circuit." The idea, of course, is that an older audience will go to these films for nostalgic reasons, while a younger crowd will discover them for themselves, especially if they feature hot young stars.

Whether that logic is enough to overcome the prevailing mood remains to be seen. It didn't exactly apply to "Footloose" -- with a $15.6-million opening, the movie is on track to take in only about half the total of the 1984 original, and in 2011 dollars, no less.  (Incidentally, if you're wondering what Guttenberg is up to, he's back on Broadway in "Relatively Speaking," a play co-written by Woody Allen.)

Of the three Guttenberg franchises, it's "Circuit" that may have the best shot of getting to the screen. This summer, Dimension Films hired director Tim Hill ("Hop") to offer a new take on the robot comedy, and a person familiar with the project said producers had contacted Fisher Stevens about reprising his role as eccentric Indian scientist Ben Jabituya. (Stevens was said to be open to it, although the character's political incorrectness may require a modern update.)

Don't necessarily expect to see Guttenberg in that one, though. He's been involved with the new "Police Academy" as it's been developed, but producers on "Short Circuit" have, he says, left him out of the process. Asked about the film's development, Guttenberg said, "I would do things differently," and then invoked a metaphor to describe how he felt:

"What happens in Hollywood sometimes is that you hear about a party, but the guy throwing it didn't call you. And you're like 'That's my best friend; why didn't he call me?' And then what happens is that they call you the day before the party and say, 'We meant to invite you.' And you're like, 'Dude, really?'"


Is a new 'Police Academy' a good idea?

Steve Guttenberg is back in the majors

'Real Steel' shimmies past 'Footloose' for No. 1

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Steve Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy in "Short Circuit." Credit: TriStar Pictures.


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