At the other end of the remake spectrum is ABC’s Fantasy Island, a brand name so blessedly content-free that it’s impossible to travesty. At first, producer Barry
Sonnenfeld’s new wrinkles seem intended to add significance; the premise is now openly
supernatural, with our host Mr. Roarke (Malcolm McDowell in Ricardo Montalban’s old part) and his henchmen doing penance for past sins by running a cosmic luxury
resort—which still looks like nice work if you can get it. Soon, though, you comfortably gather that these affectations of depth are simply au courant stylistic crotchets to justify jazzier special effects. Sonnenfeld may like to flirt with meaning, but it’s not
like he’s going to commit adultery with it.
Even so, the new Fantasy Island has wound up being about something, if only by
default—and the contrast to Rear Window is interesting, because the subject is Malcolm McDowell’s career. Not only is his role as the trapped majordomo of a kitsch paradise catering to inane daydreams a perfect metaphor for the bad movies and silly TV shows he’s been stuck in since
A Clockwork Orange, but McDowell seems to know it. Maybe Montalban did too. But while he was smooth, his replacement is caustic, relishing every chance the scripts allow him to express disdain; it may be buffoonery, but it’s sure got more edge
than the plots, which turn out to be as homiletic as the old show’s despite Sonnenfeld’s hip embellishments. Who knows, McDowell might even be able to reveal to Sammo Hung, the star of Fantasy Island’s CBS competition, Martial Law, where Hung’s other 14 minutes are hiding—I’ve never seen a vogue zip by so fast in my life.