Hands off The Princess Bride! Which 80s fantasy films are due a reboot? | Science fiction and fantasy films
There will probably never be a reboot of The Princess Bride, the classic 1980s film fantasy which was adapted by William Goldman from his own novel and directed by Rob Reiner. Certainly not if star Cary Elwes has his way. The dapper face of Westley the farmhand, AKA Dread Pirate Roberts, AKA The Man in Black, confirmed this week that he remains wholly opposed to a new version, the prospect of which has been mooted once or twice over the past decade. “If a film has landed in the hearts of the public, then, to me, it is not a good idea to try and revisit it,” he told the Hollywood Reporter.
It’s a fair point. It is hard to imagine a remake of Reiner’s film ending up anything but a shallow retread. Unlike many of its contemporaries, the 1987 movie has not really aged: all its key components would look pretty much the same in 2021 as they did 34 years ago. There are no ambitious special effects and no giant beasties or fantasy landscapes that could be improved upon with modern technology. The closest thing to a non-human character is probably Billy Crystal’s goblin-like Miracle Max. It would be hard to find a living actor as out-of-this-world as the inimitable Andre the Giant to play Fezzik, and completely pointless to CGI a replacement.
And yet there are a handful of 1980s fantasies that would benefit from a modern update. The naysayers out there may demur, but while the decade produced some fabulously magical movies, it also gave us its fair share of clangers – not to mention films that just didn’t have the budget or technical knowhow to succeed in their ambitions.
Henry Cavill is already lined up to chop off some heads in a forthcoming Highlander reboot, while Netflix’s recent small-screen prequel to Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal was a heartbreakingly short-lived puppet-led gem. Warwick Davis is due to return as Willow in a Disney+ sequel to the cult 1998 fantasy of the same name. So which other titles from the vaults should Hollywood be casting an eye over?
How about Wolfgang Peterson’s The Neverending Story, from 1987? It’s a fantasy fable with an enduring charm, despite its rudimentary special effects. The Nothing is one of the most terrifying dark forces in film history, because it represents no less than the disintegration of imagination itself. Two weaker sequels were released in 1990 and 1994, and Kathleen Kennedy (now head of Lucasfilm) tried to bring a remake to the big screen in 2009, but the project has since languished in development hell. Would you want to meet heroic Atreyu and Bastian once again?
Conan the Barbarian, from 1982, is an untouchable totem of big-screen high fantasy, second perhaps only to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. A reboot foundered in 2011, despite featuring Game of Thrones’ Jason Momoa as the musclebound Cimmerian, because Hollywood gave it to the untried German film-maker Marcus Nispel to direct (perhaps unaware that original director John Milius remained alive, if somewhat eccentric.) Arnold Schwarzenegger has long mooted a return to the role in the near legendary “King Conan”, perhaps Hollywood’s most famous unmade movie of the last decade. It would certainly be a joy to see Schwarzenegger back in the role that first made him famous (No, Hercules in New York doesn’t count).
Last but not least on this shortlist is Dragonslayer, from 1981. Matthew Robbin’s moody fantasy features one of the greatest dragons of all time in the shape of Vermithrax Pejorative, which was constructed from a series of models using an updated take on traditional motion capture that helped to limit the technique’s usual jerky look. It is hard to imagine a new version using modern CGI methods would not make for a more lifelike rendition. Moreover, the movie is far from perfect: for some reason there seem to be a bunch of Americans hanging out in this dark, grim realisation of post-Roman, pre-Christian Britain, which does rather ruin the otherwise realistic tone. The film remains a cult classic, referenced by many but seen by few, which means there would be room for creative diversification in a reboot. There is something gorgeously, gothically romantic about this brooding vision of an ancient world, sitting on the precipice of history, in which magic is slowly waning away to nothing.
Which other 80s fantasy can you imagine working well with modern special effects and an updated cast? Or would you, like Elwes, prefer to see Hollywood keep its ugly mitts off your youthful memories?