Top 7 Hollywood excuses for the next remake
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7 ostensibly good reasons to leave the Hollywood jukebox on 'loop'...
A quick search online right now and you will find frighteningly long lists of forthcoming Hollywood remakes, some of which have already been, and in a few cases gone, without much of a fuss. With each re-imagining that hits our screens, there is an almost audible groan from the cinephiles, who are tired of Hollywood's general lack of imagination and apparent desire to stand on the shoulders of previous artists for their dollars; this is usually accompanied by a certain amount of whooping from the excited members of the audience, the majority of whom, it would seem, are actually unaware that what they are looking forward to is in fact a rehash of someone else's art. With Rod Lurie's take on Straw Dogs on the way in the Autumn, I ask this question: When, if ever, is a remake a good thing?
1: When it's 'important'.
As time goes by and films slip into distant memory, new generations of cinema fans arrive and, we presume, need educating; there are dramatisations of events that should not be forgotten, or movies that had such impact in their day that they need to be brought to the new crowd. At least, this seems to be the message Hollywood producers tell us, and so we have All Quiet On The Western Front on the way, supposedly to feature Harry Potter's Daniel Radcliffe furthering his serious acting career; we have Wes Craven's Last House On The Left, better produced and all shiny, and we have the aforementioned Straw Dogs, Sam Peckinpah's classic, complex exploration of not only man's breaking point and natural facility for aggression, but also desire and sexuality. On top of this, it features a performance by Dustin Hoffman that puts anything that would follow firmly into the pale.
It is all well and good, and in fact true, to say that these films, along with many more, should be remembered, whether it be because the story it tells is a crucial one, or because as a piece of cinema it is an important artefact, but quite often a big part of their impact was their time and place, not to mention the film makers' strong grasp of the themes and topics they were addressing! These remakes are often hollow and carry with them a sense that they are unnecessary. Case in point, the original Last House was an interesting and crucial piece of work, reflective of a society bombarded with images of real, horrible violence and evidence of man's inhumanity to man, but the 2008 remake turns it into a vacuous shell that leaves you feeling very little, and wondering why they bothered to resurrect the idea in the first place.
"You can polish the story up all you like...amend the theme and give it all the intelligence it needs to be acceptable - but then aren't you just making an entirely new movie anyway?"
2: When it is outdated, or can be improved.
It is also fair to suggest that, as with the above mentioned works, films such as Porky's, Mad Max, and I Spit On Your Grave can benefit from better tools, better budgets and better directors; but the question has to be asked again, why remake most of these - what is the drive?
The film has either been and gone for some time and is no longer relevant, like Mad Max; Max himself, possibly played Tom Hardy of Inception, Bronson and the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises fame, will only suffer by comparison to a class act in Mel Gibson, despite the argument that Tom Hardy is in fact a better actor. Films such as Porky's defined their time with their teen humour; we have all sorts of other films doing the same thing now, so revisiting an old story seems a redundant move. I Spit On Your Grave had no reason to exist in the first place, with its moral bankruptcy and deplorable depiction of revenge visited upon men, who could not be more stupid if the writer tried, under the guise of "feminism". Grindhouse exploitation flicks were great when they had a brain, but with those that did not, you can polish the story up all you like, you can re-write the characters, the events, and amend the theme and give it all the intelligence it needs to be acceptable - but then aren't you just making an entirely new movie anyway?
As to the proposal that John Carpenter's return-to-source take on The Thing could ever be improved? Well, perhaps slightly, but the fact it was a groundbreaking piece of work in the first instance, as far as visual effects are concerned, is one that should not be trampled on with an update.
3: When it is foreign.
It seems to have become a very popular pastime in recent years to take Japanese, Korean and European horror films and present them for a western audience. The Ring, Battle Royale and The Eye are just a small handful of the foreign horror cinema that has undergone - or is due to undergo - an American makeover. Is this because it is recognised that they just do it better? Perhaps, but it is irrelevant, because nearly every time the idea is watered down and changed to suit a cinema-going public devoid of the ability to truly think about something. The results tend to be perfectly well-executed but almost completely uninteresting shadows of the original, often missing the most emotive elements of the piece.
There's also, of course, the argument that it's good to bring a great film to an English-speaking audience, which suggests we have also lost the ability to read.
4: When it is 'classic' or 'iconic'.
Some films are simply so classic, regardless of their age, that they are like a butterfly - great to look at, but untouchable. A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho and The Birds all drove fear into the hearts of the public, and regardless of how competently made a new version might be, it will only ever suffer by comparison to the memory of the original. If you're going to do a shot-for-shot remake then it is even worse, because that is just copying; why any talented film maker wants to waste their time re-doing what somebody did before them, in almost exactly the same way, is beyond comprehension.
That Russell Brand took Dudley Moore's place in Arthur, and that we may see the iconic The Crow again, possibly with Bradley Cooper stepping into Brandon Lee's shoes, are facts which are not only disappointing and pointless, but actually a trampling of the fans' memory; are we going to see The Dark Knight in another decade as well?
5: When it was 'So much fun the first time'.
It is not classic, it is not important, it is not something anyone really holds dear to their heart, it was just amusing at the time. This is a potentially good argument, as there is not really a crime being committed against any celluloid memory or performance. The question is simply, why do you want to waste time and money on a new take on Judge Dredd, Footloose, Short Circuit or Drop Dead Fred anyway?
"The crime is to knowingly present someone else's idea, with some different names and perhaps some different dialogue, and expect it to be lapped up by the naive."
6: When we are pretending it is not actually a remake.
Altering the barest minimum of details and giving it a new title does not constitute a brand new production, it is simply hoodwinking the uninformed. A Perfect Murder, Disturbia, The Uninvited, The Family Man, Quarantine and Let Me In are again just a small handful of titles which have an extremely similar predecessor known by a different name.
There is obviously a line to draw here: Kurosawa was famously influenced by Shakespeare and the Western genre, and he in turn influenced a good amount of Spaghetti Westerns; The Magnificent Seven would not even exist were it not for him. It is a confusing conundrum to get your head around. Aronofsky's Black Swan borrows very heavily from other masterpieces of art house and horror; there is nothing wrong with influences; being influenced by other ideas is unavoidable, and artists tend to tip their hat to others all the time. Stories can have their roots in other tales, or even mythology; we can have re-telling of age-old ideas, and intertextuality. It might even be fair to suggest that there is no story that is truly 100% original anymore, and that it really comes down to how that story is presented. The crime is to knowingly present someone else's idea, with some different names and perhaps some different dialogue, and expect it to be lapped up by the naive.
7: When the remake can genuinely do it better
On rare occasion a remake might be welcome because the story can genuinely be told better, or perhaps more accurately. For True Grit, starring Jeff Bridges in 2010, the Coens did not go to the original film for influence at all; instead they went to the source and created a less throwaway, more dry version. In short, they made a better film. This is not to say you cannot prefer the John Wayne version if it is more your thing, but the Coens' intention was not to remake that movie, it was to tell the book's story as they felt it should have been in the first place.
Another exception might be David Fincher's forthcoming The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, a film to which the argument of improvement may well apply. I enjoyed the original version and believe Noomi Rapace will never be replaced as Lisbeth Salander, but if one is to read the book, one can quickly understand that it is perfect for Fincher's type of cinema: dark, gritty, violent and miserable; it is a story that, had it never been adapted in Sweden, one may well have expected Fincher to do anyway. We wait with bated breath for that one.
No doubt there are other exceptions, but generally speaking even perfect remakes, such as Scorsese's Cape Fear, do not stand up well against their original. The bottom line is surely money. Why make the effort to restore and re-release an old classic when it can be presented fresh for a new, high-paying audience? Why push foreign cinema into the mainstream when it can simply be translated, remade, renamed and re-presented on the big screen for months, as though it is something new?
"New generations of film fans are being presented rehashed material, and being asked to pay a lot of money for old rope"
Remaking films is not a new idea, but it does seem of late that the Hollywood machine has become too reliant on the technique, as the lists of forthcoming reboots will tell you. This, alongside coming up with sequels left, right, and centre, which in some cases just go too far, means the amount of truly original material being put out there seems far too minimal for a multi-million dollar-a-day business. The talented film makers and great writers who come up with original material do exist, as the cinema of 2010 in particular showed, we are just not seeing enough of them.
Instead new generations of film fans are being presented rehashed material, and being asked to pay a lot of money for old rope. With plans in motion to reboot, amongst other things, Cronenberg classics The Brood and Videodrome, Carpenter's Escape From New York, the great kids' movies Flight Of The Navigator and The Neverending Story, The Warriors (likely at least to be competently made, seeing as Tony Scott is attached to it) and Fright Night, it shows no sign of stopping. The films herein mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg; in accordance with the points previously listed, we might do well to prepare for re-incarnations of Dog Day Afternoon, A Clockwork Orange, Lawrence Of Arabia, The Exorcist and Citizen Kane anytime soon.
My advice is to do the research, find out about the roots of a film, who did it, where it was made, etc, information they are often very slow to share when it comes to a remake. Despite the sometimes better technical quality of a new version, you will generally (not always) reap far greater rewards seeing the original than you will watching the usually sub-par, second-hand edition.
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