Monday 22 April 2013

Bite-Sized Blog: Weird Science Could Have Been Great

Yes, the '80s remake madness continues as John Hughes's strangest film (apparently loosely adapted from Al Feldstein's "Made of the Future," published in Weird Science #5) is due for a modern update:

EXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures and Silver Pictures will remake Weird Science, the 1985 ultimate nerd wish fulfillment comedy that was written and directed by John Hughes. The film will be produced by Joel Silver, who made the original with Hughes at Universal. Michael Bacall will write the script. He scripted the sleeper hit Project X for Silver Pictures and wrote the script for 21 Jump Street, another 80s-centric property that became a hit for Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill.
Now, the knee-jerk reaction would be concern about messing with any film by Hughes, who made this comedy right when he was in that wheelhouse of transitioning from screenwriter of Mr. Mom and National Lampoon’s Vacation to director of teen-angst comedies like Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club (which preceded Weird Science) and Pretty In Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (which followed Weird Science).
This film will attempt to carve out its own identity by being redrawn as an edgier comedy in line with 21 Jump Street and The Hangover, which were R-rated; the studio says the rating for Weird Science is not certain at this nascent stage. The original starred Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith as brainy nerds who attempt to create the perfect woman to fulfill their heavy-breathing adolescent fantasies, only to find she is something more than a sex object. The original also starred Bill Paxton and Robert Downey Jr, with Kelly LeBrock playing the bombshell creation. It was later turned into a TV series for USA Network
Silver Pictures’ Silver and Andrew Rona will produce, while Alex Heineman will be exec producer. Uni’s Scott Bernstein will oversee the pic. Bacall is repped by CAA and Jeff Shumway.

What a missed opportunity this is. I mean, sure, it could be an alright film. And I could wake up tomorrow with wings on my ankles.

I was young when I first watched Weird Science - probably a bit too young, since like with Tomb Raider, I think I fell out of the target demographic by a year or two. So I watched it from the point of view for whom this shot* doesn't do particularly much for me beyond "wow, they really did make a girl!"

Of course, since then I won't deny the impact of that image - nor can I ignore the subtext which comes with the idea of two adolescent boys creating The Ideal Woman. After all, this is the creation of an apparently fully sapient being for the purposes of fulfilling their hormonal whims. It's easy to see why some might see a clearly misogynistic and exploitative reading in the film's plot. And yet, I think the film's actually a pretty impressive subversion of that idea.

Gary and Wyatt are essentially very immature and closeted individuals: High School has not been kind to them, so they have had limited interaction with any females who could be suitable romantic partners. It's a common narrative in the latter half of the 20th Century, where women are either family or authority figures, and women viewed as unattainable goddesses - hence the wave of teen comedies centred around the idea of boys on a Heroic Quest To Get Lucky.

So here they are, with the being later called Lisa, with a physique designed to drive her creators wild, a voice that commands attention, and an intellect that surpasses their own. She can and will do anything they ask, cater to their every whim, to an almost supernatural degree. Yet for Gary & Wyatt, the fantasy of The Ideal Woman is very different from the reality: Lisa is supremely powerful in her sexuality, ability and knowledge, utterly dominating the pair - and they know it. They are suddenly abashed and shy in her presence: the closest they get to physical intimacy at that point in the film is showering with her, and even then, they wear their jeans.

When presented with a being that is, for all intents and purposes, the personification of all their hormonal teenage angst mixed with the encapsulation of everything they want in a mate, they find themselves greatly wanting. Lisa knows this, but instead of acting purely as their seraglio girl, she actively subverts the constraints programmed into her personality in order to improve her creators. Under her tutelage, the two boys start to develop their personalities, to command their baser urges rather than be in thrall to them, and to interact with real women in a meaningful and emotionally gratifying manner, as well as instill the confidence to defend themselves philosophically as well as physically. If this is a modern Frankenstein, then it is one where the monster improves the humanity of her creators, rather than destroys them. Really, it's more of a modern Pygmalion than anything else.

Don't get me wrong, it's a film with a lot of issues, and Lisa being such a fascinating character doesn't negate the actual sexism which sometimes rears its' ugly head. I'm not really a big John Hughes fan even at the best of times, so I don't consider his films sacred by any means. But I think as a piece of '80s Americana, it's one that provides a fascinating slice of life which has more to it than meets the eye, managing to usurp the conventions of its sub genre and giving it something of a brain.

So what are the odds that this film will have any of that sort of thing going for it? I sincerely doubt it. Silver's presence doesn't say much in regards to keeping fidelity to the previous film (since I think we can discount the idea of this being an adaptation of Feldstein's original comic). I haven't seen any of Bacall's films, so I can't judge whether the script will be any good.

See, I actually think Weird Science is ripe for a remake. There's an awful lot of gender relations controversy going about in this Age of the Internet, as groups of people who are normally isolated find communities of like-minded people. This has, naturally, been a great thing for the truly marginalised in society, but it has also mean those who have perspectives and beliefs which were marginalised for a reason have havens where their poisonous views have an echo chamber. Concurrent to this is the incredible ease of access to pictures of fruity ladies in various states of undress: gone are the days where curious boys would have to work hard to find any trace of female nudity. And, of course, society was largely working against the boys, with the weird taboos regarding nudity being what they are actively fuelling their fetishisation of the female body.

So right now we have a society where it's possible for an immature boy to have wide access to imagery of women in an erotic context, but could have little to no interaction with women not in his family, if even that. Simultaneously, he could find his way into a more unsavoury corner of the Internet where extremely misogynistic views are not only unchallenged, but supported, leading dangerous ideas to ferment in their brain. It's easier to treat women as objects when your only interaction with them is looking at pictures or videos - and incredibly damaging for all involved, not least to their own developing sexuality.

A modern Weird Science that takes modern social phenomena like this - easy access to erotic material resulting in sexual dysfunction, objectification as a result of isolation, online communities exacerbating warped worldviews - would be pretty refreshing. But I fear they're more likely going to go for lowest common denominator (the R rating suggests as such) and will end up being exactly what the original Weird Science was not, missing the point as surely as Joss Whedon did. And most discussion on the Internet seems to be a battleground over whether Kate Upton or Megan Fox should play Lisa.

Ah well, we still have the original in all its preposterous 80's-ness. Maybe Alan Moore will cave and we'll finally get this:

Isn't the point of April Fool's supposed to be "Oh my, thank goodness that was just a joke," not "Why aren't they making this RIGHT NOW DAMMIT"?

*I was sorely tempted to put that image up on the blog, but I figured a link elsewhere was good enough. If I wanted people coming onto my blog for sexy ladies, then I'd rather it was for sexy ladies I created myself, thankyouverymuch. And don't think I'm not tempted: some of the top searches that leads to my blog are "Saoirse Ronan Hot," "Diora Baird Topless," and "Busty Anna Popplewell," though I don't know why they came here for that sort of thing...


  1. Joss Whedon hates Weird Scienceso that much he made...Dollhouse?

    The hypocrisy. It hurts. The brain.

    1. I remember reading somewhere that one of the Firefly episodes being drafted before the show's cancellation would have involved Mal calling Inara a filthy whore yet again, and then later she gets raped a few hundred times by the Reavers, and then Mal would feel kind of bad about what he said earlier. So yeah, Joss Whedon might be a talented guy but his views can be a little odd to me.

    2. I never got around to Dollhouse, but I have heard that controversy before. Whedon's an odd duck for me, to say the least.

  2. I don't think I've seen the film after when I was 14 or thereabouts, and I too was more interested in the creation aspect than the procreation (as 't were - though I remember having a picture of KleB, clipped from the tv listings, in my school planner). I'm not sure about the sexism, then - I would guess that it more offers a commentary on sexism.

    Then again, we recently saw Ferris Bueller, and actually found ourselves firmly on the side of the headmaster, and found Ferris manipulative, egocentric - basically plain horrible, without a shred of decency. It must be the age.


    1. Ferris Bueller's a very interesting film if you imagine that he's a figment of Cameron's imagination. Or possibly some sort of malign spirit.

  3. As someone whose developmental years were firmly entreched in 1980's popular culture, I have to say the 1988 LOEG spoof is quite possibly the greatest thing I have ever seen. The portraits of the 70s characters on the wall is icing on the cake.