The Alex Proyas-directed sci-fi thriller “Knowing” hit the top of the box office at the weekend, raking in $24.8M, which is pretty solid for an effects-driven feature made for just $50m.
While reviews were all over the place — ranging from Roger Ebert’s ebullient appraisal (“among the best science-fiction films I’ve seen”) to Owen Gleiberman’s derision (“so inept that you may wish you were watching an M. Night Shyamalan version of the very same premise”) — many fans have taken its angels and bunnies under their wings, signified not only by the strong revenue but also by a healthy 7.2/10 rating on the user-voted IMDB chart.
And that bodes well for two of “Knowing’s" writers, married couple Stiles White and Juliet Snowden. These guys took Ryne Pearson’s original script from being about predicted assassinations to predicted disasters for Proyas.
But what’s really had them on fanboys’ radars is that they’re the “Boogeyman” duo who’re writing not only the remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” but also the update of the beloved Steven Spielberg-produced, Tobe Hooper-directed “Poltergeist.”
Now my reflexive position is that I’m no fan of such “reimaginings,” but it’s always a position I have to temper with the admission that one of my favorite movies is John Carpenter’s 1982 “The Thing,” which was a new version of John W. Campbell’s novella “Who Goes There?” filmed in 1951 as “The Thing From Another World.” I also loved Zack Snyder’s 2004 amped-up interpretation of George A. Romero’s 1978 classic “Dawn of the Dead.”
So in the interests of fairness, and with hope that these new films might not go the way of “The Invasion” or “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” I wanted to hear what White and Snowden had to say about approaching their very tough two assignments.
“Those are treasured films,” White says in acknowledgement of the fans’ concern over new versions of “The Birds” and “Poltergeist.”
“Those are classics, those are beloved movies that go beyond just a good film. People really embrace those as part of their lives, the power they were at the moment, what was going on in their lives when they saw that movie. You know, it’s like riffing to a Beatles record: it’s more than just a record — it’s fused into your life.”
Spoken like a true fan. But would a true fan tamper with such movies?
“We actually do get offered a lot of remakes that we do pass on,” Snowden chimes in. “With something like “The Birds,” you can take the concept of birds gone crazy and put that onto a myriad of situations. Whereas with some other remakes, we really felt that those were movies that we really couldn’t think of new scenes or ideas. Some of these remakes are already-perfect movies. We’re not saying “The Birds” isn’t a perfect movie — but when we heard about that we had, instantly, a lot of ideas about what we could do [in the present] and how we would change it.’
White continues about “The Birds”: “It was presented to us as they wanted to go back to the original source material because you just don’t want to attempt to remake a Hitchcock film. But the original novella, by Daphne du Maurier, had a lot of interesting source material. Alfred Hitchcock used it as his jumping-off point and told a story that was somewhat different from the novella.
“We took that same approach and went back to the source material rather than going to his film. Ultimately, what you would get is a modern-day telling of what if a bird phenomenon happened like that again — rather than saying, ‘This person’s gonna play the Tippi Hedren role,’ and ‘Here’s the famous moment on the jungle gym.’ We really tried to avoid those things.”
Given that “The Thing” took the same approach by revisiting the original novella, White and Snowden might just pull off something interesting. Particularly as modern-day effects will serve the story better than Hitchcock tying a live bird to Hedren.
Add to that that the original screenplay, by Evan Hunter, continued on for another 10 minutes, taking the survivors into a wider world devastated by beaky apocalypse.
“Poltergeist,” on the other hand, is a much more specific story — one family, one house. So, how to “update” that without just recycling it?
“”Poltergeist” was a seminal film for us, you know, in our lives, and it’s like your dad’s classic vintage car that’s been in the garage and you’re not allowed to touch it,” says White. “It’s treasured; it’s valuable. We see “Poltergeist” as if, um, as if we’re being handed the keys to the car and we’re gonna be really careful with it.”
Obviously, the couple are keeping specifics under wraps, but what White will say is this: “Poltergeist was a real snapshot of the American family in the year that it came out –1982 — and I think what we would do with the reimaging of it is, ‘What is the American family up to today?’”
As long as it’s not a ghost-version of “Gossip Girl,” I say.
They both laugh. “No, I think that’d be the wrong way to go,” says White.