Skip to main content

I’m a symbol of the human ability to suppress the selfish and hateful tendencies that rule the greater part of our lives.

Miracle on 34th Street
(1994)

(SPOILERS) There are sentiments in the original Miracle on 34th Street, but it isn’t weighed down with sentiment, and it has a “serious” message amid the wit and frivolity, but it isn’t overburdened by it. There’s a romance, but it’s breezy rather than stodgy, and there’s an obligatory cute kid, but she isn’t horribly precocious. And, of course, Santa Claus features, but he isn’t impossibly twinkly and ineffectual. In short, Les Mayfield’s remake makes heavy weather of everything that was sharp and inspired about the 1947 movie, and shoots the whole thing through a nightmarish soft-focus gauze designed to add to the viewer’s distress.


It’s also a good twenty minutes longer, and boy, does it feel it. You have to wonder what happened to John Hughes post-Home Alone, as he seemed to entirely lose his creative mojo, content to act as writer-producer on mostly weak/unnecessary adaptations or remakes (Dennis the Menace, 101 Dalmatians, Flubber, Just Visiting). The only reason to redo Miracle is if you can somehow put a different spin on it, rather than basing the project – seemingly – on how much Sir Dickie resembles like a Coke bottle Saint Nick. Which simply isn’t enough. Attenborough lends no weight to the role, even when enraged. He could do with a bit of 10 Rillington Place to punch up his 34th Street.


Less than a decade earlier, Hughes was still churning out screenplays filled with pep and vibrancy, but he seems intent on ensuring Miracle is as flaccid and congested as possible. Most of the principle plot points are the same, but they sprawl by ambivalently. Instead of a shrink leading Krisk Kringle into the courtroom, it’s a put-up by evil Joss Ackland (always evil, since Lethal Weapon 2, but barely in the thing –this is the kind a movie that now needs an obvious villain to work, apparently) inducing an inebriate “fake” Santa (Jack McGee) to cause an altercation leading to Kris winding up in court and likely to be put away when the judge (Robert Prosky) rules there is no Santa Claus.


As before, Kris is defended by a hotshot lawyer (Dylan McDermott), and as before (but more sickly-sweet in its foregrounding and emphasis on faith) he’s got a thing for the mother (Elizabeth Perkins) who has persuaded Kris to fill in as Santa. Did I mention that the kid (Mara Wilson, of Matilda) – the one brought up not to buy into Santa fakery – is all kinds of wrong? Smug and preternaturally confident as only Hollywood brats can be, so you never really believe in Susan becoming a true believer.


Meanwhile, Perkins is no Maureen O’Hara – she lacks that warmth –  so all you can really see in Dorey is her draconian parenting. You certainly won’t be able to fathom why McDermott’s interested. He’s okay, but doesn’t lend Bryan the sense of fun John Payne brought to the equivalent role in the original (I had in mind that McDermott was a frequent love interest in such movies, but I’m probably thinking of Dermot Mulroney). That’s the problem with this all over. It ups the treacle at the expense of the wit.


The tension between Bryan and Dorey over Susan needing castles of the air is rather plodding (“Believing in myths and fantasies just makes you unhappy”), while the idea of Santa belonging to little ones everywhere (“I don’t see any harm in her saying hello to an interesting old man”) takes a rather sinister turn when it’s suggested that Kris be locked away, “so the children of New York are no longer put at risk”. If the only way you can tackle a modern update of this story is to suggest Santa might be a paedo, you’re probably best leaving it well alone. It certainly isn’t a subject you want aired in a nice festive family movie environment (“You got a thing for the little ones, huh?”)


Even the court scenes, surely an easy victory, rather fall down, as Bryan’s evidence uses some of the same ideas as before but misses out on the broader, crowd-pleasing element. JT Walsh is as great as ever he was as the prosecution lawyer, particularly exasperated when his wife is called to testify that he told their daughter Santa existed, but Hughes undoes his case resting – as per the original – when Walsh’s Collins puts in a bid to prove Santa doesn’t exist (involving the history of Saint Nick, a colonel who explored the North Pole, and a reindeer that won’t fly). Kris offers fey, anodyne responses (his workshops are invisible – and bizarrely, “They’re in the dream world” – and his reindeer fly only on Christmas Eve). Additionally, it’s the judge who now delivers the get-out-of-jail-free speech (as a result, the playing with the consumerism/popularity angle in avoiding proclaiming Santa as a fake is far less lively and provocative), flourishing a dollar bill issued by the Treasury bearing the words “In God We Trust”, and observing it refers to “a being just as invisible and just as present”, which is somehow much less satisfying in its equivocal philosophical appeasement than the original’s US Postal Service.


Other faces popping up include James Remar, Jane Leeves, Mary McCormack, Allison Janney, and most surprisingly, and pleasingly, Arthur Dent himself, Simon Jones (he evidently had an agent attempting to get him US work in the ‘90s). I wouldn’t go as far as suggesting this Miracle on 34th Street is a terrible movie, but it’s bereft of any reason to be, sitting unwanted under the tree a week after the big day. It somehow manages to be less relevant fifty years after the original and is rightly regarded as its footnote (although, some will no doubt pick this one over the first as it’s in colour, with an even happier ending).


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

You must find the keys for me!

Doctor Who The Keys of Marinus
Most of the criticisms levelled at The Keys of Marinus over the past 50 years have been fair play, and yet it’s a story I return to as one of the more effortlessly watchable of the Hartnell era. Consequently, the one complaint I can’t really countenance is that it’s boring. While many a foray during this fledgling period drags its heels, even ones of undeniable quality in other areas, Marinus’ shifting soils and weekly adventures-in-miniature sustain interest, however inelegant the actual construction of those narratives may be. The quest premise also makes it a winner; it’s a format I have little resistance to, even when manifested, as here, in an often overtly budget-stricken manner.

Doctor Who has dabbled with the search structure elsewhere, most notably across The Key to Time season, and ultimately Marinus’ mission is even more of a MacGuffin than in that sextology, a means to string together what would otherwise be vignettes to little overall coherence…

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a noirish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Other people dying.

Game of Thrones Season Six
(SPOILERS) The most distracting thing about Season Six of Game of Thrones (and I’ve begun writing this at the end of the seventh episode, The Broken Man) is how breakneck its pace is, and how worryingly – only relatively, mind – upbeat it’s become. Suddenly, characters are meeting and joining forces, not necessarily mired in pits of despair but actually moving towards positive, attainable goals, even if those goals are ultimately doomed (depending on the party concerned). It feels, in a sense, that liberated from George R R Martin’s text, producers are going full-throttle, and you half-wonder if they’re using up too much plot and revelation too quickly, and will run out before the next two seasons are up. Then, I’m naturally wary of these things, well remembering how Babylon 5 suffered from packing all its goods into Season Four and was then given an ultimately wasted final season reprieve.

I’ve started this paragraph at the end of the eighth episode, No One (t…