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.

Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

Other monks will meet their deaths here. And they too will have blackened fingers. And blackened tongues.

The Name of the Rose (1986) (SPOILERS) Umberto Eco wasn’t awfully impressed by Jean Jacques-Annaud’s adaptation of his novel – or “ palimpsest of Umberto Eco’s novel ” as the opening titles announce – to the extent that he nixed further movie versions of his work. Later, he amended that view, calling it “ a nice movie ”. He also, for balance, labelled The Name of the Rose his worst novel – “ I hate this book and I hope you hate it too ”. Essentially, he was begrudging its renown at the expense of his later “ superior ” novels. I didn’t hate the novel, although I do prefer the movie, probably because I saw it first and it was everything I wanted from a medieval Sherlock Holmes movie set in a monastery and devoted to forbidden books, knowledge and opinions.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies.

Watership Down (1978) (SPOILERS) I only read Watership Down recently, despite having loved the film from the first, and I was immediately impressed with how faithful, albeit inevitably compacted, Martin Rosen’s adaptation is. It manages to translate the lyrical, mythic and metaphysical qualities of Richard Adams’ novel without succumbing to dumbing down or the urge to cater for a broader or younger audience. It may be true that parents are the ones who get most concerned over the more disturbing elements of the picture but, given the maturity of the content, it remains a surprise that, as with 2001: A Space Odyssey (which may on the face of it seem like an odd bedfellow), this doesn’t garner a PG certificate. As the makers noted, Watership Down is at least in part an Exodus story, but the biblical implications extend beyond Hazel merely leading his fluffle to the titular promised land. There is a prevalent spiritual dimension to this rabbit universe, one very much

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983) (SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk , and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm ’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. T

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.