At my blog, I've been trying to keep tabs on the number of remakes they announce. I haven't been doing a perfect job, but last time I updated the tallies, Hollywood had started the ball rolling on 28 remakes this year, from An American Werewolf in London to Videodrome. I'm not a hater, I think plenty of remakes have completely justified their existence. For instance, I gave good marks to The Last House on the Left earlier this year (to my own surprise), and the recent trailer for Platinum Dunes' A Nightmare on Elm Street shows that the film will, at the very least, be visually stunning thanks to music video director Samuel Bayer. That said, having watched the 2009 TV version of Children of the Corn, I now have a solid example of the exact opposite: I can't concretely identify anything about the film -- other than everyone's desire to work -- as a driving force or reason that says it was time to retell this particular story.
After a short prologue, we're introduced to a young, tense couple on a drive across country. Burt (David Anders) has recently returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam, while no real backstory (other than a few side notes about her preacher father and the fact that she was the "prom queen") is provided for Vicki (Kandyse McClure). Amidst an argument over petty things like the radio and when and where they should stop for food, Burt is distracted from the road just long enough to slam into a young boy, and the couple stop to try and figure out what to do.
I've only seen the original once (something I plan to rectify on Blu-Ray), and I don't recall it in great detail (other than that I liked it), but I feel like I'd remember if Linda Hamilton's "Vicky" was even half as annoying as McClure's "Vicki". Vicki shrilly and loudly complains about almost everything Burt does; whether if it's a big mistake (hitting the kid) or a little one (asking her to read the map), she treats all of his decisions and statements as if he's asking her if he should punch her in the stomach and set the car on fire. The unspoken implication is that feminist revolution is in the air, but just because she acts empowered and independent, or more importantly, might be right (the pair eventually makes their way to Gatlin, a ghost town that Vicki desperately wants to leave) doesn't mean the audience will just tolerate her horrendous attitude. Then again, the occasional, unexplained, two-minute mood swings where she briefly decides to be remorseful are almost worse, because they come and go without explanation and the idea of feeling sorry for her starts to become even more repulsive than her regular demeanor. I'm not a particularly vindictive or hateful person, and it's also sometimes easy to understand the purpose of a negative character in a movie or even enjoy the way the role fits into the mechanics of the picture, but after about ten minutes of Vicki's negativity, I just wanted the Children to rise up and kill her already.
Sadly, the revolution is sluggish, and not particularly threatening. One of the few things I can remember about the original is that I thought the child acting was very good, but lightning doesn't strike twice. Preston Bailey plays Isaac, the pint-sized leader of the villainous title characters, and his pre-pubescent growl just isn't very frightening, and all of the obsessively "proper" English in the screenplay is clunky and distracting. Oddly, Bailey is one of the few legitimate children in the movie; there are crowds of people when our antagonists finally descend upon Vicki and Burt, and some of them are certainly young, but the film still might as well be called Teenagers of the Corn. In addition to the major role of Malachai (Daniel Newman) and the constant appearance of his girlfriend Ruth (Alexa Nikolas) in the background, each shot is peppered with a surplus of older actors, and there's also a sex scene in the middle of the movie with what looks like two 18-year-olds, for no real reason other than to have a sex scene in the movie. Obviously, I don't think they should be showing 12-year-olds having sex and it isn't that I have a problem with the story's suggestion that the kids are climbing under the covers (Ruth is pregnant), but even if it's straight out of King's novella, in the film it seems exploitative and unnecessary.
I wondered briefly if the major reasoning for the remake was the fact that Stephen King co-wrote the screenplay, but the movie wants you to believe that King had more to do with the project than he actually did. Mostly, the new film is supposedly closer to his original novella; the 1984 film was set in 1984, whereas this one is set in 70's. I suppose the parallels between Burt's frantic attempt to hide in the cornfields of Gatlin and his memories of hiding from the Viet Cong in the fields of Laos might have been interesting, but writer/director Donald P. Borchers stages it with the expected finesse of a television movie, showing this parallel literally rather than attempting to imply it. Borchers also tosses in ridiculously bad dialogue like "Why don't you stick that in your God and smoke it?", which doesn't even seem time-appropriate for the mid-1970s.
Ultimately, it's kind of funny how Children of the Corn 2009 is not only artistically unjustified, but almost cosmically short shrifted as well. Bob Weinstein announced recently (presuming his company survives) that there are plans to mount a big-screen remake in the next year or two, making this version seem like an awkward victim of circumstance and timing. Then again, it seems perfectly fitting that the best and most likely venue available for the viewer to see any of this movie is exactly where it already is: on the SyFy channel, where it won't cost anything to watch something you'll regret and a solution is always handy, in the form of the remote.
The DVD, Video and Audio
I was sent a screener in a paper sleeve, so I can't definitively comment on the packaging or A/V quality of this release.
The disc's sole bonus feature is a four-part documentary called "Rough Cuts: Remaking Children of the Corn", containing the chapters "New Directions" (10:51), "Cast of the Corn" (10:11), "To Live and Die in Gatlin" (11:23) and "Fly on the Wall" (12:35), with a Play All option (45:01). I guess Borchers' is overwhelmed with remorse, not vengeance, since he seems rather apologetic for all of the changes he made to Stephen King's story as a producer on the 1984 version. He seems to say that King didn't actually write a word of the remake, implying that either King had written a screenplay back in 1984 which Borchers returned to for this version, or that King's credit is just honorary. It's funny that Borchers' quest is to clear his name in King's eyes (chatting about a perceived sleight on a morning talk show), yet he credited King with a screenplay he didn't write, and the final product is kind of terrible -- not necessarily a good strategy. Borchers also speaks to the camera as if he's reading a pre-written letter, which is a little weird. Another highlight is all of the actors jovially celebrate the fact that they haven't seen the original film, before criticizing it anyway (classy!). All in all, I'd probably consider this an "okay" featurette if I had liked the movie, but since I didn't, it's kind of a tough slog.
Don't believe the hype: Stephen King isn't really all that involved in this new adaptation of his short story, and the idea that Donald Borchers has returned to rectify his mistakes is made irrelevant, since he just ends up introducing a whole host of new ones. The bonus features are also nothing revolutionary, so even hardcore King and Corn fans can skip it unless it's airing on SyFy, and even then, should avoid getting their hopes up.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.