When it comes to remakes, I’ve always been of the belief that you’re better off trying to update a movie or TV show that didn’t really work than attempting to live up to a classic. Nobody needed new versions of “Psycho” or “The Manchurian Candidate,” but there were promising ideas within the original “Ocean’s 11” and “Battlestar Galactica” that just needed some 21st century creative types to properly explore.
So if I were to remake one of the two Michael J. Fox movies released in 1985, it sure as heck wouldn’t be “Back to the Future,” as there’s almost no way to improve on that. (And which, as the uneven sequels suggested, was cinematic lightning in a bottle.)
“Teen Wolf,” on the other hand? Well, if you were the exact right age and also spent a lot of time watching HBO in the afternoons, then you may have a lot of affection for Fox as a basketball-playing werewolf. But you can also probably admit that the original had a lot of room for improvement.
So the idea of MTV doing a modern-day “Teen Wolf” (which debuts Sunday night at 11 after the MTV Movie Awards) doesn’t sound egregious on the face of it. It seems a bit silly, in that most of the people in MTV’s target audience have no idea the original movie exists, but it’s not an abomination the way that, say, the 1983 TV version of “Casablanca” (with David Soul from “Starsky & Hutch” as Rick!) was.
New “Teen Wolf” creator Jeff Davis (“Criminal Minds”) isn’t looking to reinvent the Fox movie for a new generation – to take Scott’s journey from scrawny nerd to furry hero apart, figure out what did and didn’t work and what can be applied to the 21st century. The title’s the same, and a few of the characters have the same names – notably Tyler Posey as unwitting wolf Scott and Dylan O’Brien as his goofy buddy Stiles – and even have a sports backdrop (here, Scott is a benchwarmer on the lacrosse team), but this is a pretty by-the-numbers blend of teen angst and horror. It’s an attempt to cash in on the surge of teen girl interest in the supernatural, as demonstrated by the success of “Twilight,” “The Vampire Diaries,” etc.
And on that level, it’s not terrible. If it were on the CW, it would probably be considered a poor imitation of “Vampire Diaries,” but the pilot was directed by horror movie veteran Russell Mulcahy (who also has some serious MTV roots, as he directed a lot of the channel’s iconic early videos, including the very first, The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”), and he knows how to keep things visually interesting and moving at a good clip. None of the actors register for anything other than their cheekbones, but the pilot episode – in which Scott gets bitten in the woods, then gradually discovers the powers and burdens that come with being a wolf – doesn’t drag at any point. And there are suggestions of a complicated mythology for both werewolves and werewolf hunters – an almost necessary component of any modern-day horror series.
If any of the actors had popped out more, I might even ride this thing out for a few weeks to see how things go when Mulcahy isn’t the man behind the camera each week. As it is, though, the goals of this “Teen Wolf” are so modest that, even though it meets them, I’d be more likely to listen to Mark Safan’s synth-heavy “Win in the End” anthem from the 1985 movie than I am to become a regular viewer.
But, again, MTV isn’t making this to appeal to lovers of Boof and Chubby and the rest, most of whom have aged out of their target demographic. It’s called “Teen Wolf” not because anyone involved had a take on that specific story, but because it’s a useful title for this kind of project, and probably sounds less dated than “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” would have.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org