Thursday, March 09, 2006


Enough with the remakes already

By Edward Copeland
I've long ranted against remakes, usually when they remake movies that were good in the first place and inevitably make an inferior product. I've also argued that the only ones worth remaking are movies that were flawed significantly in the first place. (Example: The remake of Ocean's 11 was better than the original because the original wasn't that good.) The only example I can think of where a remake was better than the original that was also good is His Girl Friday and The Front Page.

Anyway, enough of my repeating myself. My point is that remakemania is out of hand — no matter what the original source was. Two remakes are opening tomorrow alone. Look at this list of remakes of movies and TV shows released or to be released this year alone — and these were all I could find with a cursory look.

When a Stranger Calls
16 Blocks (pretty much a remake of Clint Eastwood's The Gauntlet)
The Pink Panther
All the King's Men
The Hills Have Eyes
Last Holiday
The Shaggy Dog
The Omen
Miami Vice
Charlotte's Web

I'm not even listing countless sequels or "reimaginings." That may not look like a lot, but there are even more in various stages of production that may or may not show up in 2006. Look at what 2005 brought us.
The Amityville Horror
Assault on Precinct 13
The Bad News Bears
The Bridge of San Luis Rey
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The Dukes of Hazzard
The Fog
Fun With Dick and Jane
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Honeymooners
House of Wax
King Kong
The Longest Yard
Oliver Twist
Pride and Prejudice
War of the Worlds
Yours, Mine and Ours

I even gave a pass to The Producers since it was an adaptation of the stage musical, not an exact remake of the 1968 movie, though it might as well have been. Then Hollywood scratches its collective head, wondering why box office is down.


You're right. I realize the following doesn't represent what Hollywood's been doing, but what do you think of remakes that cross borders (Yojimbo, Fistful of Dollars, Miller's Crossing - for example)? Or directors that do their own remakes (Ozu with Story of Floating Weeds and Floating Weeds)?
I thought "Cape Fear" was a good example of how to do a remake. I still prefer Mitchum as Max Caty, and I start hating it and stop watching by the time they get to the houseboat, but scorsese performed a real directoral coup with the remake.
I agree with you about Cape Fear -- the remake is better overall, even though Mitchum is much better than DeNiro. As for American remakes of foreign films, I usually cut those more slack because in many cases, people really haven't seen the foreign originals and the language difference makes it different. I still end up preferring the original, but I cut them a break. I think directors remaking their own is obviously their prerogative, but more times than not, that ends up being a bad idea too. Capra's Lady for a Day is much better than A Pocketful of Miracles and Hitchcock should have stuck with the original Man Who Knew Too Much.
The trend that annoys me the most is when American film companies remake foreign language films within a few years of their original release. It's one thing to attempt to bring a modern twist to something that's a few decades old - but crap like the American version of The Vanishing, to name just one instance of a film that was remade within 5 years of the foreign version, seems totally uneccesary to me. The object isn't to try something different - to modernize, reimagine or reinterpret the material - only to exploit the fact that American audiences, for the most part, can't be bothered with subtitles. I've heard that Catherine Zeta-Jones is doing an English language version of Mostly Martha, and even though I thought the German version was just okay, I wish it weren't happening.
Re: HIS GIRL FRIDAY, I really don't consider that a remake as much as just another adaptation of a classic american play. Speaking of which, allow me to perform my daily sacrilege here. I think I like the 1931 Adolphe Menjou version better, and you know what a huge Hawks fan I am. Then again, I've liked all the versions that I've seen, including Billy Wilder's. Methinks it is pretty hard to screw up that play, and I'm never going to give SWITCHING CHANNELS the chance.
Wilder's version definitely falls flat compared to the first two, but Switching Channels is so atrocious it should really be exhibit A as to why not to do remakes. I know Josh will disagree, but I think Here Comes Mr. Jordan and Heaven Can Wait are fairly equal in quality, but the reviews of Chris Rock's version, Down to Earth, were so bad that I never dared look at that one.
Remakes can be better than the original. Even classics like The Maltese Falcon was already made twice before the got it right. Or how about Hitchcock's The Man who knew too much.
I actually agree with you that Here Comes Mr. Jordan and Heaven Can Wait are equal in quality - because I think they're both pretty lame.

The 1941 veers uncertainly between comedy, fantasy and drama, never really settling on a tone; as a result, it's neither particularly funny, particulary fantastic, or particularly dramatic. I think the acting is notably weak, and that Robert Montgomery barely registers at all (Warren Beatty at least brought some of his own personal charisma to the part, even if acting-wise he was treading water). It was a big hit, however, and scored several major nominations.

Heaven Can Wait bests its predeccessor in that its tone is relatively consistent - one of sitcom banality. I'd probably group in in the same family as stuff like Continental Divide or The Four Seasons and all those other middlebrow comedies of the period that aren't really funny, but are smoothly packaged and make for easy viewing. The writing is unispired and the direction is merely competent, but they're fine if you want to sit back and turn your brain off for an hour or two.

If Heaven Can Wait seems a rather shallow excercise to me, I can understand how it might hold a certain appeal for someone who originally saw it at a young age. There are things from the 80s that I'm not fully capable of evaluating objectively, since any viewing now evokes memories of how I reacted to it as a child (and provides some of the same sensations). For example, I can't view Spielberg's E.T. as an adult - I've always suspected it has flaws, but they're invisible to me since I'm still a child in its presence. Since I saw Heaven Can Wait as an older teenager, this is not a problem. I know it was again a huge commercial hit, which probably accounts for its nominations (Jack Warden is reasonable, but I never understood how anyone could group Beatty or Dyan Cannon in with 1978's best performances) - I think in both cases, the money cancelled out the mediocrity as far as the Academy was concerned.
As I said in the original post,the only time I think it is OK to remake a movie is when the original is flawed. I never saw the original "Maltese Falcon," but I imagine that was the case there. However, I prefer Hitchcock's original "Man Who Knew Too Much" to the remake, which might have better production values, but seems bloated to me. My point in this post in general is that the sheer prevalence of remakes of late -- of good, great and lackluster movies -- is just evidence of an absolute lack of imagination on Hollywood's part.
I don't recall who, but someone once said there are only 4 original plots in Hollywood. I'm not sure the originality crisis is due as much to lack of imagination as much as it is to the fact that everything has been done before, in some way, shape or form. In the 1930s and 40s, everything was still brand new, and so there was still a lot of uncharted ground to cover. And a lot of the great films of that era - like The Maltese Falcon - were themselves adapted from novels and plays (lest we credit the Golden Age of Hollywood as being TOTALLY original). Today it's not quite the same - even the good stuff probably owes more than a little to what's come before.
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