Is there any word that creates more animosity in the minds of filmgoers than this?
“Why can’t they just make something new instead?” we complain, and justifiably so.
Most of the time.
Because, while it is as rare as hen’s teeth, every once in a while, Hollywood cranks out a remake that stands alongside it’s classic forefather, and, even more rarely, manages to surpass it. Lest we forget, Frankenstein with Boris Karloff was a remake. As was The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland. Oh, and The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart (twice over- once in 1931 and again in 1936 as Satan Met a Lady).
A more modern example is 1982’s John Carpenter’s The Thing, a remake of 1951’s The Thing from Another World. In Carpenter’s film, the giant cabbage-headed alien (played by James Arness) is replaced by a shape-shifting alien that copies anyone or anything it comes in contact with and can exist entirely within a single drop of blood. The resulting film is a masterpiece of paranoia, fear, claustrophobia, and mind-blowing practical special effects (courtesy of Rob Bottin). While the original is nothing to sneeze at, a side-by-side viewing will leave most audiences preferring the later film (I say most, because there is no such thing as a movie that everyone likes).
Another sci-fi remake worthy of its predecessor is Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), which replaces the original film’s small-town paranoia (and debatable Cold War metaphor) with urban San Francisco, as well as removes the original’s happy ending (which feels tacked on) with a more terrifying vision of the global loss of humanity. Stephen King in Danse Macabre explains why he prefers the 1956 vision of “people who you know becoming people you no longer know,” and he makes a good case for it. Again, much like The Thing from Another World, the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a great movie, one that is absolutely worth viewing along with its 1978 copy.
I would, however, avoid the 2007 version with Nicole Kidman.
Actually, maybe you should just avoid anything with Nicole Kidman.
What these two films have in common is that they take the original premise, and expand upon it, changing it enough that it becomes its own film, rather than simply trying to ride the coattails of a respected classic. When done correctly, this can vastly improve upon the original story. (To be fair, John Carpenter’s The Thing is closer to the source novella Who Goes There? than the 1951 version, so his version was more of a “going back to the well” remake.) Philip Kaufman realized that idyllic little towns no longer existed, and that we were heading into the “Me Decade” of the 1980’s, still riding the late 70’s ideals of “I’m Okay, You’re Okay,” and saw this as fertile ground in which to plant his soul-stealing pods.
Sure, it doesn’t always work. The 2008 version of The Day the Earth Stood Still was terrible, even for a Keanu Reeves movie, and that’s saying something. Gus Van Sant’s 1998 version of Psycho was 105 minutes of lip-synching. And 1976’s King Kong had a giant mechanical ape going up against Charles Grodin and Jeff “The Dude” Bridges (controversial statement- I like the 2005 version. There, I said it and I’d say it again if I had to).
John Waters in an interview once wondered why Hollywood remakes good movies, instead of the bad ones, perhaps trying to get it right this time. It is an interesting idea and one wonders what someone like Guillermo del Toro could do with Manos: The Hands of Fate. James Gunn’s Robot Monster? How about Martin Scorsese’s Glen or Glenda?
Okay, I’ve gone too far.
My advice to Hollywood when it comes to remakes is this: unless you have a director with a vision, someone who respects the original and sees areas that they can expand or improve upon, perhaps you should just leave it be. If the original was a commercial and critical flop, and you’ve got someone who know what to do with that material, proceed, but with caution.
If what made the original so great was the original director and/or cast, don’t do it (remaking The Good, The Bad and the Ugly with anyone else in front of or behind the camera).
If the original is less than twenty years old, don’t do it (you’ve done this before, mostly with foreign films. Stop it.).
If the original is not only a classic, but a masterpiece, don’t do it (let’s remake Casablanca! Shudder).
If you’re only making it to cash in on a star’s popularity, and are looking for a good vehicle for him/her, don’t do it (in I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With, Jeff Garlin’s character stresses about a remake of Marty starring Aaron Carter).
In fact, I’ll make it easier:
Just to be on the safe side: don’t do it.