Saturday, June 25, 2011


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."

          Norman Bates heard the Psycho remake sucked!

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!
Total Recall (1990) was directed by Paul Verhoeven and starred one of my favorite action heroes, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Total Recall is loosely based on the short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale (1966) by my favorite science fiction writer, Philip K. Dick. While the movie goes in a somewhat different direction, it is necessary in order to fill out a feature length running time. Verhoeven's style of humor, satire, and violence work here and make Total Recall a lot of fun. At first when I heard about the remake I was cautiously optimistic that it might go back to the original source material and follow the themes of the story more closely. For example, in the short story the hero is an everyman while in the movie our protagonist is the huge, muscled Arnold. Unlike the movie, the short story never actually shows us Mars which makes the reader question what is really going on even more than in the film. When the remake was first announced it was said to be more like the original short story. However, now that more news has come out, it seems that the remake will share aspects of the short story and 1990 movie but will be mostly original with a new plot about a factory worker who doesn't know if he is a spy for "Euromerica" or "New Shanghai." It sounds like this new version will have no mention of Mars. Characters who were in the 1990 film but not in the short story have already been cast, such as the role of Melina, so it will be hard for Hollywood to sell this as closer to the source material. Colin Farrell has been cast as the lead and he is neither an everyman or a huge guy like Arnold so I don't know what to think.

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.


  1. One of my favorite early examples of remakes was actually an Alfred Hitchcock film.

    He made the same film twice: "Murder!" and "Mary." But the first film was in English. The second was the exact same film, shot-for-shot...just with a German speaking cast.

    And then there's "The Man Who Knew Too Much." Hitchcock remade his own film. He wanted to remake it because he didn't like how the original came out. He called it the work of a talented amateur.

    So even the big boys did remakes. But I agree that Hollywood is taking things too far.

  2. Thanks, I knew that happened but didn't know of any specific examples off-hand. I wonder what Hitchcock would have thought of the Psycho remake!

  3. A weird part of me tells me that he'd be flattered, but disappointed.

  4. By the completely change the subject...

    Have you ever seen "Wings of Desire" by Wim Wenders? It stars Peter Falk as himself in what might be his greatest role. should be considered one of the top 50 films that every human should see.

  5. I haven't seen it yet but I want to. To bring this back on topic I actually first heard about it through the American re-make, City of Angels!

  6. Ha! You don't need to see "Wings of Desire" ASAP...particularly now that Peter Falk is gone.

  7. RVChris, I enjoyed your overview of remakes. I laughed out loud over what you said about the DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL remake: "And if you need an actor to play an emotionless character, Keanu Reeves is your man!" (But I did like him in SPEED, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, and of course, the BILL AND TED movies! :-)) To me, Gus Van Sant's PSYCHO remake felt like a college film class assignment in which you had to make a shot-by-shot remake of a classic. It came across as a well-made student film (if not necessarily well-cast. Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates?! You're kidding, right?). Cute little stunt, but I'll take the original PSYCHO any time! Good blog post!

  8. Thanks for the comment Dorian! I like Keanu in Bill and Ted and the Matrix. Somehow I haven't seen Speed yet. I haven't seen the 1998 Psycho so I was just going on what I heard and have no desire to see it.