‘Fatal Attraction’ and the misguided reboot

Paramount+ is airing a reboot of the 1987 psychological thriller film, Fatal Attraction. The reimagined version will be not another movie, but a series.

The 1980s was an era when a new movie could still fill cinemas, whereas the 2020s is the era of streaming. Series, moreover, are more profitable, and what 2020s audiences seem to prefer. I therefore understand the decision to go with a series instead of a new film.

What I don’t understand is the logic behind making this a “reboot” at all. The announced connection to the past would seem to serve no purpose here; and I’m a guy with a notable attachment to the past.

The original 1987 film, Fatal Attraction, starred Michael Douglas as a married, white-collar family man who has an affair with a single woman (Glenn Close). The affair leads to a romantic obsession. Turning the usual dynamic of the obsessive male on its head, Fatal Attraction made the female character the one who couldn’t take “no” for an answer.

This is an interesting twist, and one with endless possibilities. It is also one that audiences might be receptive to in 2023, as an analog to the #MeToo paroxysms of 2018 and the Trump era.

“Issues” movies can work when they contradict the usual narrative in this way. In 1994, Michael Crichton’s novel, Disclosure, flipped the expected gender roles with a tale about a female boss who sexually harasses her male subordinate. This was made into a movie the same year, starring Michael Douglas (yes, again) and Demi Moore.

Whereas Fatal Attraction was genuinely creepy, Disclosure strained credulity at times.  But Disclosure came at a time when we were having a national conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace. The Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings had taken place in the then recent summer of 1991. Sexual harassment avoidance training, implicitly targeted at male sexual aggression, was suddenly a part of new employee orientation programs at every organization with a sizable workforce.

The dynamics of unwanted sexual/romantic attention is, in short, a timeless theme. With both Fatal Attraction and Disclosure now decades behind us, it makes sense to revisit the idea with what the Wall Street Journal calls “a modern spin”. Much has changed since 1987, after all. What doesn’t make so much sense is to create an explicit link to the 1987 original.

Twenty-first-century reboots of twentieth-century films and television shows almost never go well. This happens partly because contemporary filmmakers are either unwilling or unable to be faithful to the source material.

The rebooted MacGyver (2016) was a mess that has since been cancelled. The rebooted Magnum P.I. (2018) is not a bad show; but it shares little more than a name and a Hawaiian setting with the 1980s original.

In 2016, Hollywood decided to reimagine the 1984 comedic paranormal film, Ghostbusters. But sticking with twenty-first-century sensibilities, Hollywood changed the genders the original actors, presenting an all-female cast. This provoked a wave of (admittedly overblown and ridiculous) online outrage, and charges of “wokeness”. Middle-age fans complained that filmmaker Paul Feig had ruined their childhoods.

But here’s the thing: Paul Feig could have made a fun paranormal film about ghost hunters without calling it Ghostbusters. Feig might even have created a whole new franchise for a new century. He might even have done that with an all-female cast, if such was his desire. Instead he chose to ride the wave of a 32-year-old movie, and the 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters performed poorly in the marketplace. Seven years later, the film is now mostly remembered for the controversy that surrounded it.

The new Fatal Attraction series is clearly set in the present time. There is no attempt at a nostalgia factor here. (Which would be weird, anyway, given the nature of the source material.) And after 36 years, audiences weren’t exactly waiting on the edges of their seats for a sequel to the 1987 movie.

Why, then, the insistence on creating a connection to a cinematic relic from the Reagan era? This will almost surely disappoint older viewers who do want nostalgia. Younger audiences, meanwhile, won’t get the reference.

I’m a nostalgic GenXer with an enduring attachment to the pop culture of the 1980s.  I’m always ready, moreover, for yet another Def Leppard album, even though I’ve been buying them since 1983.

But I don’t need to see endless remakes of movies and TV shows that I watched as a kid, teenager, and young adult. Where stories are concerned, I want Hollywood to give me something new…even if a particular tale revisits a timeless theme, like romantic obsession gone awry.