(*homocinematically inclined)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

To Remake or Not to Remake

Would you remake these movies?

I am often befuddled by the knee-jerk reactions of most people when they hear about a movie being remade (or given a sequel, or turned into a stage play or TV show). They are often up in arms about the mere thought of such "blasphemy" ("I can't believe they are remaking such-and such!"), as if they themselves have a stake in the property. Granted, they have an emotional interest in the original movie, but another version of it is not (or, at least, should not) "ruin" the first film. It will still exist no matter how the remake (or sequel or stage play or TV show) turns out.

Nevertheless, some recent announcements have cinephiles scratching their heads (if not forcibly tearing their hair from them). Take the news that India is remaking Casablanca. Sounds a bit odd, sure, but what was left unsaid from all the headlines was how often this actually happens, as this list attests (yes, there were Indian remakes of such movies as Kramer vs. Kramer and The Silence of the Lambs). And that's not even mentioning the most (in)famous example, the so-called Turkish Star Wars. And why should we be surprised? American studios do it all the time.

The Wizard of Oz is another all-time classic that will soon be remade -- or should I say, re-imagined -- as both a feature film and a TV mini-series. Again, nothing new here: from The Wiz to Wicked to the Muppets, filmmakers can't stay away from that yellow-brick road. And yet, none have (or will) tarnish the original (itself technically a remake as well).

Then there is the curious case of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Like Dorothy and friends, Snow and company have had their tale told and retold several times, yet two future films are taking a crack at it again. Disney itself is retooling its own classic as a martial arts epic, titled Snow and the Seven. Meanwhile, teen queen Amanda Bynes has seven nerds instead of dwarfs in Sydney White, which seems to owe as much to Ball of Fire (itself a "reimagining" of the fairy tale) as the original story.

Oz and Snow White aren't the only oft-told tales having another go. In addition to Robert Zemeckis' animated version, Dickens' A Christmas Carol will get a romantic comedy twist with Matthew McConaughey of all people. And Kipling's The Jungle Book will get another live action attempt.

Science fiction and horror movies are particularly ripe pickings for remakers of late, especially those from the 70's and 80's. This is likely due to two reasons: the advancements of special effects technologies, and most of today's younger directors were weaned on such films (suckled at the teat of Spielberg and Lucas, as it were).

In addition to Rob Zombie's Halloween redux (opening this Friday), such other haunts from the past that will be revisited in the future include Friday the 13th, The Changeling and even another Wicker Man (lord help us all). Reaching even further back into the vaults, RKO will update its own Isle of the Dead, and there will even be a modern take on The Tingler (really, who could do it better then William Castle?).

As for sci fi, the remakes in the works range from such certified classics as Fantastic Voyage and Logan's Run to cult favorites like Death Race 2000, Escape from New York and even Barbarella. And that's not even mentioning the sword and sorcery fantasies Clash of the Titans and Conan the Barbarian.

Speaking of which, it will be interesting to see who they get for Conan; whoever is cast will have big ... furry briefs? ... to fill. Which brings up another challenge remakers have: finding actors talented enough and willing enough to take on iconic screen characters. For example, who could make us forget Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon?

On the other hand, some films have subject matter that provide compelling avenues for a remake regardless of the film's original star power. For example, Sean Connery and Dustin Hoffman starred in, respectively, The Anderson Tapes and Straw Dogs, both in the process of being remade. The former had technological aspects while the latter deals with themes of societal brutality that not only still resonate in today's world, but are probably even more prevalent.

Of course, there are also remakes that are merely being made to cash-in on a current trend (Howard Stern, who wants to remake Porky's of all things, must be really happy with the box office of Superbad).

Then there are the special cases. Footloose, like this summer's Hairspray, is being remade via the Broadway stage. Documentaries are another option, such as the recently announced fictionalized remake of Murderball. Then there is the always fertile ground of television, with Dallas being a current example.

And finally, there are the "remakes that aren't really remakes" like Seventeen, a remake by any other name of Big, only in reverse.

Naturally, there is no way one can foresee how well any of these remakes will turn out. They could be good, or they could join the ranks of the worst of all-time. However, fear not, for it looks like at least one studio is taking steps to prove wrong the old adage that there is "no original ideas in Hollywood". So there is some hope for the future. Oh, and one more thing ...

I can't believe they are remaking Valley of the Dolls!

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  1. I had a huge comment composed, and my browser crashed.

    Basically, what I said was that for every The Wicker Man we have a Dawn of the Dead, and JC's The Thing and Philip Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers should be enough to prove that remakes don't have to suck.

    And also as you alluded to, other genres get remade all the time, even if no one realizes it. Does anyone call The Good, The Bad and The Ugly good for a remake? No, it stands on its own...and most people don't even know it is a remake.

    Is anyone going to complain about Edgar Wright tackling Them!? That man has more than proven his flair for film-making and his obsessive love for movies...he surely wouldn't do anything to tarnish such a classic.

    Finally, do you have any knowledge of the source material for the Logan's Run remake? I love the original film, but I would rather see a version that sticks closer to the book. I found its themes to be more poignant.


  2. I totally agree, not all remakes are bad like most people automatically assume they will be.

    Other recent ones I liked include "Freaky Friday" and "The Manchurian Candidate" (but not "King Kong").

    I have heard that someone wants to remake JC's "The Thing" too, so a remake of a remake, which is nothing new really.

    And I read that "Logan's Run" will be more faithful to the original book.

    Aside from "Valley of the Dolls", the other remake I'm not to happy about myself is Eli Roth's redo of "The Bad Seed".