To “death” and “taxes” we can add a third certainty: If you mention news of an upcoming remake of a beloved classic (or even not-so-classic) movie, the Interwebs will erupt with cries of “Nooo! Why??? It’s gonna suck! Hollywood is out of ideas!”
We saw it a few weeks ago when zillions of folks rose up in righteous indignation over the idea of a new Dirty Dancing remake, which they’d have you believe is somehow a desecration of Patrick Swayze’s still-warm grave.
Around the same time, I was chatting with a film-loving child of the gritty ’70s and early ’80s who has no interest in movies about dancing teenagers. However, he was bemoaning the upcoming Straw Dogs remake and rumors of a new Escape from New York.
So this week (just as Baz Luhrmann begins shooting his new Great Gatsby starring Leo DiCaprio), I’m here to take the opposing position–not exactly in favor of remakes but in defense of them. Or at least a shruggingly principled stance of “eh, so what?”
You’ll still have them. And over time quality will win out. After all the initial hype and chat-room indignation, bad remakes fade away and cable TV goes back to showing the originals. Remember the Harrison Ford Sabrina? No? And how often do you say, “Hey let’s watch Gus Van Sant’s Psycho instead of Hitchcock’s?”
2) Remakes Overall Aren’t Any Worse than Most New Movies–We Just Notice Them More
Sure there are some really bad remakes (for example, the awful Nic Cage version of the absolutely brilliant 1973 original Wicker Man), but there are a lot of really bad movies out there in general.
And quite a few remakes are–like most movies in general–okay. Maybe not better than the original, but not unwatchable, either. (Case in point: The Russell Brand Arthur, which I find just as amusing as the beloved Dudley Moore version.)
It seems to us remakes are often bad because we pay a more attention to them. I’m sure Lionsgate didn’t mind all the anti-Dirty Dancing remake backlash one bit. It guarantees folks will be following and arguing about the remake right up to its release date–what more could a publicity department ask for?
3) Hollywood Hasn’t Run Out of New Ideas, but Viewers Don’t Embrace Originality as Much as We Think We Do
There are tons of really great, original scripts floating around Hollywood and believe it or not, studios would love to produce them. And there are truly original, amazing films being released in theaters and on home video every month. So sure it’d be great if some of the production money being spent on remakes instead went to original scripts.
But at the end of the day it’s a business, and especially during rough economic times, studios stick with the better odds and therefore with known properties with name recognition. Studios embrace remakes because their posters are pre-sold with a high-awareness brand name. And they know we’ll show up for them. Last year seven of the top ten highest-grossing films at the box office were sequels, remakes, or adaptations of pop-culture properties. So far this year nine of them are.
If you want to see studios make and promote better, more original films, you have to give them a financial incentive, show them there’s an audience for such quality. Go see good movies.
A familiar complaint about remakes from both critics and viewers is they take cheesy, fluffy (or cool, kick-butt) films we snuck into when we were 16 and re-gussy them up with hip-hop bells and whistles and flashy epileptic editing to make them appealing to–sputter-gasp!–16-year-olds today. And we all know that anything teenagers today watch, wear, or listen to is never as good as the cheesy fluff we were into 20-30 years ago.
News flash: Teenagers don’t want to wear their parents’ hand-me-downs. Heck, they wouldn’t be caught dead with last year’s phone, pop-star, or Trapper Keeper let alone a 25-year-old movie that still gets their mothers a little flushed or makes their fathers pump their fists. In fact, I believe the standard critical response from a teenager to such things is, “Ewwwwww.”
Some films now considered Hollywood classics were themselves remakes of earlier films, including His Girl Friday, Ben Hur, A Star is Born, and An Affair to Remember. And beloved Westerns The Magnificent Seven and A Fistful of Dollars were, of course, remakes of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai movies.
One of the best films of 2010 was the Coen Brothers’ True Grit–not only is it a stronger film than the 1968 John Wayne version (and a much richer adaptation of Charles Portis’ excellent novel), but yep, Jeff Bridges is a better Rooster Cogburn than the Duke was.
And last year’s The Karate Kid with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan is also an excellent remake, one that follows the original almost note for note, hits all the same high points, but also brings integrity and solid characterization and storytelling to the familiar tale. A few years ago we were all sure J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot was going to stink. It didn’t–in fact, it soared.
Nor are all horror remakes exploitative cash grabs. Last year’s Let Me In turned out just as chilling and even more pleasingly dark than the terrific Swedish original. The 2010 version of The Crazies is a much better film than George Romero’s 1973 original.
I love the new version of Piranha, and last month’s Fright Night is a decent successor to the 1985 cult fave. And best of all is Zack Snyder’s 2004 Dawn of the Dead–we can debate whether or not it’s superior to Romero’s original, but it’s certainly a masterful horror achievement all on its own.
Other remakes that not only didn’t suck, but also are among my favorite films of the past decade include 3:10 to Yuma, Ocean’s Eleven, and The Departed.
And then there’s John Carpenter’s 1981 remake The Thing, a film rightfully cherished by the same sci-fi horror geeks so upset about the possibility of of Carpenter’s Escape from New York being remade.
Of course, the remake of Carpenter’s remake of The Thing hits theaters next month. *
* Vicky rightly pointed out in the comments that this is not actually a remake of The Thing, but a prequel. Thus messing up my oh-so clever-clever ending. D’oh.
Agree? Disagree? And what are some of your favorite remakes?
Remakes available at redbox:
- True Grit on DVD and Blu-ray, plus the 1969 original True Grit
- The Italian Job
- Arthur on DVD and Blu-ray
- The Mechanic
- I Spit on Your Grave
- The Green Hornet on DVD and Blu-ray
- Black Beauty
- Star Trek (limited availability)
- The Karate Kid on DVD and Blu-ray (limited availability)
Hollywood remakes of foreign films at redbox: