Remakes.

They’re what happens when producers either a) don’t have any original material and can’t be bothered to look for some – producers hate reading because it interferes with their power lunches, b) have some original material but lose their nerve about using it because producing something original means courting failure, risking money, and taking the chance they’ll no longer be invited to power lunches, and, or c) go for the supposedly easy option of repackaging a previously successful movie in the sure knowledge that at least some kind of audience will show up to see it, thereby almost certainly making them enough money to recoup their investment and afford some really great power lunches. 

To be honest, c) is the approach I can understand best because going to the movies is an expensive business even for the average audience member, so there’s a comfort in going to see something that sounds like a film you’ve enjoyed before. Of course, the downside is that while producers and audiences are going for the safe comfortable option nothing new, original or interesting is getting made and, in the worst case scenario, cinema could eventually eat itself.

Okay. I’m catastrophising here. But I wanted an excuse to say ‘cinema could eventually eat itself’.

Sometimes remakes are pointless but inoffensive. I’d put a lot of the recent horror remakes in that category – ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’, ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, ‘Amityville Horror’… maybe there’s a new audience out there who won’t watch the originals because they’re not hi-tech enough or they involve too much pesky dialogue and character development between slayings so why not give those stories a quick reboot and up the gore and body count while you’re doing it? The people who love the original probably won’t bother with the remake anyway and, if they do, will almost certainly enjoy pointing out the gazillions of areas in which the new version is inferior to the previous one thereby (hopefully) encouraging the newbies to peep out of their cave in search of the better version and discover what good movies really looked like back in the day.

Sometimes (rarely) the remakes are better than their predecessor or have something new to add which makes the story worth a revisit – David Cronenberg’s ‘The Fly’, Philip Kaufman’s ‘Invasion of The Body Snatchers’, Adrian Lyne’s ‘Lolita’, and the Coen Brother’s ‘True Grit’ fall into that area for me. Actually, Stephen Sommers ‘The Mummy’ is on that list too but Mummy movies are always rubbish – apart from that Hammer one starring Valerie Leon.

And somewhere in between those two categories is a weird shadow realm called ‘Remakes of movies Michael Caine already did better’ which, if I was Michael Caine, I wouldn’t exactly be taking as a compliment: ‘Get Carter’, ‘The Italian Job’, ‘Sleuth’ and ‘Alfie’ are the prime offenders here and it’s an odd one because the originals of those movies are all classics in their own right whereas, ironically, he made a lot of stinkers that could legitimately benefit from a solid reworking, like ‘The Island’, ‘The Swarm’ and (gulp) ‘Blame it on Rio’ (who knew the writer of ‘Tootsie’ could screw up so badly?)

Just to complicate matters even further, two of the aforementioned ‘classic Caine’ remakes star Jude Law, one of them alongside Sir Michael himself, which makes me wonder why Rotherhithe’s most famous son didn’t take the opportunity to push his imposter off a cliff before he could screw-up any more entries in the Caine back catalogue. Forget all that fuss about the Mayan calendar, if they ever announce Jude Law in ‘The Ipcress File’ that really would be a sign of the End of Days.

 

And don’t even get me started on English language remakes of foreign language movies, which are pretty patronising whichever way you look at them – either from the angle that we think we can take those kooky little films set in places we don’t understand featuring people who talk funny and make them better (check out remakes of ‘The Ring’, ‘The Grudge’, ‘Dark Water’, ‘Taxi’, ‘ Les Diaboliques’, ‘Let the Right One in’ — the list goes on,  and they all prove that we can’t) – or from the angle that we in the English speaking world don’t have the patience to read subtitles. Or maybe the studios think we can’t read. Even a decent English language remake like ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ can’t compare to the original because ultimately it’s just a reworking of the original and, guess what, the original worked beautifully as it was, and the actors were pretty good too. It’s one of the reasons Noomi Rapace is starring in Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’. But Christopher Nolan made the same misstep with ‘Insomnia’, creating something that – although a worthy piece of cinema in its own right – was ultimately overshadowed by its Norwegian original. And let’s not forget Roger Vadim scoring an inexplicable own goal, remaking the English language version of ‘And God Created Woman’  thirty years after his original movie made Brigitte Bardot a star and at the same time creating a car crash that sent Rebecca de Mornay sprawling through the windshield.
And here’s a callback – remember that Michael Caine movie ‘Blame It On Rio’ that I mentioned earlier? That was originally a 1977 French film called ‘Un moment d’égarement’, and the fact that not even a writer like ‘Tootsie’s Larry Gelbart could make that work probably explains a lot: some stories don’t translate and most stories don’t need to be translated.

Very finally there are the remakes that make fans of the original incredibly annoyed, usually because the original is so well-loved that to make another copy is the ultimate act of cinematic desecration, a bit like tearing down Notre Dame cathedral and making a new one out of sticklebricks (which, in themselves, were a pants remake of Lego, and best forgotten. And the stickley bits really hurt if you accidentally sat down on them). The movies I’d put in this category include Jan De Bont’s ‘The Haunting’, Gus Van Sant’s ‘Psycho’ and Neil Labute’s ‘The Wicker Man’ proving the biggest offenders in this category are directors with one extra name (okay, that gag only works if you spell it La Bute) and just to stuff that theory up completely I’m going to include Rod Lurie’s remake of ‘Straw Dogs’ on this list as well because after I watched it I had a lot of anger management issues to deal with.

Still, while audiences keep flocking to remakes, producers are going to keep remaking them because it is a film ‘business’ after all. But I’m going to stop writing now and watch the Sam Peckinpah ‘Straw Dogs’ just to calm down and remind myself how amazing authentic cinema can be.

Because 9.999 times out of 10 nothing beats the original.

About The Author

Ian White is an author, screenwriter and journalist. His book ‘Witchcraft and Black Magic in British Cult Cinema’ was recently published by Hemlock and he is a regular contributor to ‘Paranormal Underground’ and ‘Starburst’ magazines. He’s currently writing a new book and screenplay and his embarrassingly out-of-date website can be found at http://ianwhitelondon.wix.com/ian-white

  • Last remake I was impressed with was Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead.  While nowhere near as good as Romero’s version, I was taken aback at how ferocious the pacing was, especially in the first 15 minutes.  It actually changed my mind on how to approach remakes.

  • Evan

    Well, that’s embarrassing.  *I, not “I’l”.

  • Evan

    I’ll concede that most remakes are worse than the original- but, on the other hand, sometimes originals really aren’t all that good to begin with (very common). And on rare occasion, the remakes are actually more artistic and interesting than the originals. I’ll use one of your examples- A Nightmare on Elm Street.  It was a bad movie.  Not scary, not funny; not anything, really.  Unremarkable,  yet so many people call it a classic. The remake, on the other hand, had a very in-depth, psycho-horror feel to it, and explored its characters much more than the original.  I still didn’t like it very much, but at least it had some cinematic value. And don’t say I “just didn’t get it.”  I’I understand the film, I’m not an idiot.  I just don’t like it, and I can point out the reasons one by one.  I think that people hate remakes mostly because they’re conditioned to hate them- sort of like being proud because you used an Atari when you were a kid instead of a 360, even though the Atari sucked and you had nothing to do with its creation, and you know you would have used the 360 had it been around at the time.  I’d much rather enjoy a remake than force myself to watch a horrible original.