The first Saturday film topic post is on the subject of remakes!
Remakes are a bit controversial, as some people are completely against them regardless of the circumstances and view them as unnecessary. Others love remakes and tell the haters to simply ignore the new versions and just watch the originals. While the majority of people are generally against remakes, one needs to keep in mind that some great movies such as The Maltese Falcon (1941), The Thing (1982), and The Fly (1986) are all remakes. Of course these are exceptions to the rule that remakes are inferior to the original. I think the problem most people have with remakes is that while they have almost always existed in the world of cinema, the past ten years or so have seen more remakes than ever before.
There are a couple of possible explanations for the spike in remakes (as well as reboots, prequels, and sequels). One explanation is that there is a creative dry spell in Hollywood. I find the lack of new ideas hard to believe but I guess it is possible. On a related note I have noticed that more and more people throwing out the term "rip-off" when something has been influenced by a previous work. Rip-offs and influences are NOT the same thing. Don't tell that to Harlan Ellison however, as the science fiction author famously sued James Cameron because he claimed Cameron stole the story of The Terminator from some 60s Outer Limits episode he wrote. I have actually seen both episodes and although there are some similarities in each episode (Soldier and Demon with a Glass Hand), they were at best just influences. In fact the episode that is most like the Terminator is The Man Who Was Never Born which was not even written by Ellison! Unfortunately, Ellison won the lawsuit and his name is now in the end credits of that film. I think this is a shame because it set a bad precedent. I am worried that writers and directors are afraid of their work being branded as a rip-off and getting sued, so instead of making an original film partially influenced by, say, Total Recall, it just gets remade instead. This leads into probably the most likely explanation for the increase of remakes: Hollywood is playing it safe with name franchises that will put people in the seats and make money. I guess the line of thinking is that if you liked it the first time, you will pay to see it "again."
Probably my biggest issue with remakes is that in the last 15 years or so Hollywood has decided to remake some classic films. I don't really see the point of this. Probably the biggest offender would be the remake of Psycho which came out in 1998. The reason is not just because they decided to remake such an iconic film, but because it was advertised as a shot-by-shot remake. What is the point of doing that? If it is just like the original, why don't I just, oh I don't know... WATCH THE ORIGINAL! I haven't seen the 1998 Psycho so I can't really comment on it, but don't tell me that the remake will make younger people want to see the original if you say it is supposed to be just like the original, especially when the 1998 version got bad reviews and a poor reception!
However, most remakes try to bring something new to the table and/or update themselves for a modern audience. I can applaud the effort to try to put a new spin on an old tale, but again feel that once you arrive at this point, you might as well make your own movie influenced by an earlier film. I love the original The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) which is considered to be not only a sci-fi classic, but a great film. Of course how can I forget that it was re-made in 2008 with Keanu Reeves as Klaatu!
To be completely honest, The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) was not a bad film. The remake tried to update the plot for modern audiences by not only setting the story in the present, but also by replacing the Cold War ideas with an environmentalist message. And if you need an actor to play an emotionless character, Keanu Reeves is your man! That said, it was not a good film either and nowhere near the same league as the original. Even though this remake tried to do something different, I still didn't see the point of the remake. In today's world children and teenagers are the primary film going audience. Do that many kids and teenagers know about the original and wanted to go see this? I don't know, but if remakes like this one introduced anybody to the originals then at least they are not total wastes of celluloid.
Sometimes remakes are created for a foreign audience. This is not a new concept and goes back to the days when talkies were new in the early 1930s and dubbing technology not quite there yet. Films would often be made at the same time, using the same set and even some of the same actors in order to make multiple versions in different languages. I can sort of understand this reason. Some people don't like subtitles (if you take your eyes of the screen for few seconds you will miss dialogue) and a bad dub job is painfully obvious. A recent example is the Swedish film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) based on the popular Swedish book. An English language version is coming out later this year, directed by David Fincher and starring Daniel Craig. The same thing happened to another Swedish film based on a book, Let the Right One In (2008) which had an English remake in 2010. Yet another example is Christopher Nolan's Insomnia (2002) which was a remake of the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name. Then of course there is the trend of "Americanizing" British TV shows and films such as The Office and Death at a Funeral (2007). Although I can see why this type of remake happens, I have no problem watching a foreign film with subtitles and will just stick with watching the original.
The most recent trend in remakes has been to take movies from the last 15-30 years that were pretty good and had sizable but not huge followings and remake them with a young director who has only made 1 to 3 previous films. One example is The Hitcher (2007) with some upcoming examples being Fright Night (2011) and Total Recall (2012). Now I understand that there will always be new film versions of classic stories such as Hercules, Robin Hood, or books like Alice in Wonderland. But The Hitcher?! Fright Night?! Those movies weren't even that popular when they first came out! Both movies have small cult followings but are nowhere near on the same scale as The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) or The Evil Dead (1981). I guess this isn't as bad as remaking classic films but I still don't see the point. Why can't Hollywood just remake bad movies that had some potential and make them into good films? Sure the creators of Parts: The Clonus Horror (1979) sued the producers of The Island (2005), claiming it was a remake done without their permission, but why go through all that. Oh and the Parts creators won the lawsuit!
Hopefully the recent trends of remaking classics and pretty good 80s movies will die out, as they just seem to be blatant cash grabs and are usually unnecessary. Luckily some announced remakes have been canceled, such as the Revenge of the Nerds remake, but with plenty of remakes and reboots coming soon I don't think we are out of the woods yet. Of course as long as they are good movies I don't care if it is a remake, a reboot, a prequel/sequel, or based on a book/comic/video game/board game/breakfast cereal!
Next Saturday I'll discuss some movies that I actually WOULD like to see re-made!
Tomorrow (Sunday) I'll post Part Two of my summer round-up.