Tobe Hopper's original Poltergeist was in many ways a socio-economic satire of the Reagan era. A bold statement about consumerism, the American Dream and the notion that the so-called "perfect life" was built upon a lie. However the central characters in the 1982 film and were benign and essentially likeable. Although they were social climbers they were tempered by some of the more compassionate aspects of seventies pop culture. The family at the heart of this remake are subtly different. The Bowen's are suffering both financially and emotionally due to the foibles of the economy. Where the original movie was about US notions of family aspiration, this remake is about the failure of retail therapy and taking comfort in "things".
Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt offer convincing performances as Eric and Amy Bowen. Their economic plight is something most people can relate to. Kennedi Clements is engaging as young Madison Bowen. Her character remains at the heart of the supernatural events and the centre of the story. Gone is the engaging eccentricity of Zelda Rubinstein and the enigmatic medium has now been replaced by Jared Harris. Carrigan Burke, a TV reality show paranormal investigator, is simply not such an enjoyable character and although Harris' performance is fine, he just isn't as interesting as his predecessor. Plus of course there's the issue of his hat.
Sadly the emotional underpinning that was present in the first movie due to Steven Spielberg’s presence, is not so prevalent this time round. Much of the updated, modern variations of the storyline and production seem just arbitrary. Beyond being just different they don't really bring that much new to the table. The original movie made sense set against the political background of the time. The fear that television is essentially a bad and pervasive influence upon society, has not been replaced with a suitably similar contemporary theme. TV sets are no longer a metaphorical conduit this time round, merely a convenient portal. If Poltergeist had swapped television for another problematic medium such as the internet, perhaps the movie would have worked better and had more substance.
For those looking for a functional PG-13 jump-fest (which remain very much in vogue at present) then Poltergeist provides an adequate fix. It is directed by Gil Kenan in a very contemporary fashion and boasts good production values for a genre movie of medium budget. It certainly does not do any harm to the franchise but sadly it doesn't do anything radically different either. More thought should have been spent on the updating of the story which focuses mainly upon the physical changes of the last thirty years. Poltergeist should have been rooted in current socio-political concerns of our time to give it more substance. As it stands the overall differences are perfunctory and the film lacks a thematic anchor.
Poltergeist is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray in both the theatrical version, rated PG-13 and as an extended edition. The theatrical release runs for 93 minutes, whereas the longer version is 101 minutes. The differences are mainly extended scenes or alternative takes and focus on the character development of the family. They offer no additional horror material and have no impact upon the rating whatsoever. For the purpose of this review I watched the extended edition, on the grounds it offered a fuller narrative and thus a potential superior viewing experience over the standard theatrical print.