Skip to main content

I’m a symbol of the human ability to supress 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

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…

Prepare the Heathen’s Stand! By order of purification!

Apostle (2018)
(SPOILERS) Another week, another undercooked Netflix flick from an undeniably talented director. What’s up with their quality control? Do they have any? Are they so set on attracting an embarrassment of creatives, they give them carte blanche, to hell with whether the results are any good or not? Apostle's an ungainly folk-horror mashup of The Wicker Man (most obviously, but without the remotest trace of that screenplay's finesse) and any cult-centric Brit horror movie you’d care to think of (including Ben Wheatley's, himself an exponent of similar influences-on-sleeve filmmaking with Kill List), taking in tropes from Hammer, torture porn, and pagan lore but revealing nothing much that's different or original beyond them.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

You can’t just outsource your entire life.

Tully (2018)
(SPOILERS) A major twist is revealed in the last fifteen minutes of Tully, one I'll happily admit not to have seen coming, but it says something about the movie that it failed to affect my misgivings over the picture up to that point either way. About the worst thing you can say about a twist is that it leaves you shrugging.

Well, you did take advantage of a drunken sailor.

Tomb Raider (2018)
(SPOILERS) There's evidently an appetite out there for a decent Tomb Raider movie, given that the lousy 2001 incarnation was successful enough to spawn a (lousy) sequel, and that this lousier reboot, scarcely conceivably, may have attracted enough bums on seats to do likewise. If we're going to distinguish between order of demerits, we could characterise the Angelina Jolie movies as both pretty bad; Tomb Raider, in contrast, is unforgivably tedious.

If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose.

Phantom Thread (2017)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps surprisingly not the lowest grossing of last year's Best Picture Oscar nominees (that was Call Me by Your Name) but certainly the one with the least buzz as a genuine contender, subjected as Phantom Thread was to a range of views from masterpiece (the critics) to drudge (a fair selection of general viewers). The mixed reaction wasn’t so very far from Paul Thomas Anderson's earlier The Master, and one suspects the nomination was more to do with the golden glow of Daniel Day-Lewis in his first role in half a decade (and last ever, if he's to be believed) than mass Academy rapture with the picture. Which is ironic, as the relatively unknown Vicky Krieps steals the film from under him.

No one understands the lonely perfection of my dreams.

Ridley Scott Ridders Ranked
During the '80s, I anticipated few filmmakers' movies more than Ridley Scott's; those of his fellow xenomorph wrangler James Cameron, perhaps. In both cases, that eagerness for something equalling their early efforts receded as they studiously managed to avoid the heights they had once reached. Cameron's output dropped off a cliff after he won an Oscar. Contrastingly, Scott's surged like never before when his film took home gold. Which at least meant he occasionally delivered something interesting, but sadly, it was mostly quantity over quality. Here are the movies Scott has directed in his career thus far - and with his rate of  productivity, another 25 by the time he's 100 may well be feasible – ranked from worst to best.

Outstanding. Now, let’s bite off all the heads and pile them up in the corner.

Venom (2018)
(SPOILERS) A 29% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes can't be wrong, can it? To go by the number of one-star reviews Sony’s attempt to kick-start their own shred of the Marvel-verse has received, you’d think it was the new Battlefield Earth, or Highlander II: The Quickening. Fortunately, it's far from that level of ignominy. And while it’s also a considerable distance from showing the polish and assuredness of the official Disney movies, it nevertheless manages to establish its own crudely winning sense of identity.

Dirty is exactly why you're here.

Sicario 2: Soldado aka Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018)
(SPOILERS) I wasn't among the multitude greeting the first Sicario with rapturous applause. It felt like a classic case of average material significantly lifted by the diligence of its director (and cinematographer and composer), but ultimately not all that. Any illusions that this gritty, violent, tale of cynicism and corruption – all generally signifiers of "realism" – in waging the War on Drugs had a degree of credibility well and truly went out the window when we learned that Benicio del Toro's character Alejandro Gillick wasn't just an unstoppable kickass ninja hitman; he was a grieving ex-lawyer turned unstoppable kickass ninja hitman. Sicario 2: Soldadograzes on further difficult-to-digest conceits, so in that respect is consistent, and – ironically – in some respects fares better than its predecessor through being more thoroughly genre-soaked and so avoiding the false doctrine of "revealing" …

The whole thing should just be your fucking nose!

A Star is Born (2018)
(SPOILERS) A shoe-in for Best Picture Oscar? Perhaps not, since it will have to beat at very least Roma and First Man to claim the prize, but this latest version of A Star is Born still comes laden with more acclaim than the previous three versions put together (and that's with a Best Picture nod for the 1937 original). While the film doesn't quite reach the consistent heights suggested by the majority of critics, who have evacuated their adjectival bowels lavishing it with superlatives, it's undoubtedly a remarkably well-made, stunningly acted piece, and perhaps even more notably, only rarely feels like its succumbing to just how familiar this tale of rise to, and parallel fall from, stardom has become.