Remakes: re-birth or sacrilege?

**Remakes? Nothing but money-grabbing sacrilege**

Successful remakes of the past 10 years? I’m struggling to think.

Perhaps the right choices haven’t been made. Or perhaps the concept ‘remake’ has been displaced by buzz words like ‘reboot’ or ‘reimagining’. The recent Coen brother’s True Grit is an effective example in support of the remake; numerous reviews focussed on a comparison with the original, particularly in deriding the original Oscar – winning performance of John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn (now played by Jeff Bridges). True Grit may be a fantastic film, being that it is one of those great things in life – an exception, and one only need remember The Ladykillers to know that even so talented a directing partnership as the Coen brothers should just leave some things alone.

Remaking films for the purpose of artistic intent seems tolerable, yet this is not an immediate privilege. Brian De Palma has made a substantial part of his career from remaking classics of certain genres; in the worse cases, the superior original is ignored by a new generation; Antonioni’s Blow Out or Howard Hawks’ Scarface. Films such as The Departed, despite arguably not being as accomplished a film as Infernal Affairs, perhaps mainly due to this lack of originality, is a successful remake because we acknowledge Scorsese’s fantastic eye for character and composition within the inner-city story. Cape Fear, opposingly, is not; lacking the qualities of the original – using violence and perverseness over good old-fashioned tension; hindered also by the fact that the original still feels so fresh and effective.

The argument of artistic intent is hindered by the many cases of the true nature of the modern remake. Over the past several years, the horror deluge has resurged, with slashers Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street all being remade for the intensive purposes of franchise creation and profiting from an already tried and tested successful formula, lacking the vision or creative intent of the originals. No Wes Craven, no Carpenter, instead the machine that is Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes. Platinum Dunes since its beginning in 2001 have released eight films including: Amityville Horror, The Hitcher, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Next year they release Christine. Oh you’ve heard of them? Good, Michael Bay wants your money. Six of their past eight releases have been remakes. Akin to ordering a meal in a restaurant and instead being given the recycled remains of the previous customer’s dinner.

The idea behind a remake is often lazy and belittling of the audience’s intelligence; transporting an already successful foreign-language movie, almost remaking it shot for shot minus subtitles to apparently satisfying illiterate audiences is all to frequent. There is no need for The Ring (remake of Hideo Nakata’s Ringu). There is no need for Let Me In (remake of Let the Right One In). New Statesman critic Ryan Gilby provides one of the most satisfying opinions on the concept of the remake; on Let The Right One In, announcing ‘I didn’t realise how protective I was towards the film until I caught myself grinding my teeth at the news of a forthcoming US remake.’

This has not even touched upon remaking television dramas, condensed for the big screen- the ultimate ‘no-go’ area- ultimately to fail, which anyone with a little bit of commonsense could have predicted. Why on earth would Martin Campbell want to remake Edge of Darkness with Mel Gibson when he created one of the seminal, thought-provoking television thrillers of all time with Bob Peck? It’s like watching the animated Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings after witnessing Peter Jackson’s majestic definitive trilogy.

The nagging feeling while watching any remake is the obvious pitfall of the remake; lack of originality. Originality can be achieved in adapting a book, or recently graphic novels, the image itself will appear original – which is rarely achieved in film remakes.

There is no set rule attempting a remake of a classic; even the most acclaimed directors stumble when recreating already substantial material. Yet as long as they keep trying, and failing, we can ultimately just keep going back to the originals, satisfied and smug that there are just some great films you just can’t replace.

And remember, the next time you watch a remake, you might be financing Michael Bay.

**Remake, revive**

Since The Great Train Robbery was remade in 1904, directors have fuelled a debate within the film community by continuing to remake popular classics. Some insist that original films are credible without directors interfering with the business of modernisation, while others argue that technological development has given birth to an advanced age of cinema that should be applied to much loved classics.

The discussion was at full-throttle last year, with 2010 seeing a thunderous amount of cult-classic reinventions. Clash of the Titans, Nightmare on Elm Street and The Karate Kid were all remade, to name a few, marking a surge in directors that were daring enough to update older films. But amidst all the hype, I Spit on your Grave slipped through the net; a film which provides interesting ammunition for the topical debate.

Originally made in 1978, the movie was banned in several countries for glorifying acts of violence against women, placing it in the alluring category of censored cinema – guaranteeing it a deviant following.

Stephen Monroe revisited the film last year with a budget of 1.5 million dollars; utilising the financial resources available in modern cinema to improve many of the original film’s weaker elements. The second time round, the acting improved and the revenge scenes were even more graphic, underlining that the larger budget thrown at cinema today can theoretically improve original films.

Sometimes money isn’t enough, though; despite its newfound bravado, the film was a complete flop – not even reaching the UK market. Although the original, sultry victim was replaced with the clichéd heroine who normally drives gorenography fans crazy, it retained one-dimensional characters and couldn’t compare to the original. And so Monroe was forced to walk away in the knowledge that original films are sometimes better left alone, because they’re destined to be compared with the original, unless a Blockbuster sum is available to completely reinvent them.

It was this capability that allowed Tron: Legacy to be such a hit last year. With 300 million dollars pumped into the revamped version, the grainy 1982 film paled in comparison to the neon cinematography defining Tron: Legacy. The film is communicated through visual splendour; Garret Hedlund’s bike chases along beams of light, and the luminous gaming competitions, can be viewed as cinematic pieces art detached from the original film.

It seems when film-makers invest bank-breaking sums to revitalise classics, the outcome is almost exclusively aesthetically awesome productions that distance the viewer from the original – even more so if the film is in 3D. Classics are grounded in the past, after all, while remakes are founded in the present.

But Tron: Legacy is more than a cinematic remake – it is a multifaceted example of reworking, as it was also the first film to be fundamentally based on video gaming. The concept for the first Tron film came to Steven Lisberger in 1976, when the arcade game, Pong, inspired him to synthesise cinema with video games; paving the road for other game-to-film manipulations to follow, of which last year’s Resident Evil: Afterlife provides an interesting example.

The film raked in 26 million dollars on its opening weekend alone; but this wasn’t the result of originality; and was even described by Phelim O’Neill as ‘lacking one iota of imagination’. So why do the Resident Evil films generate so much interest?

The answer is simple – there is a demand for game-to-film manipulations (and it is easier for them to succeed as the brand awareness produced by the gaming series effectively publicises the film single-handedly).

But despite all the theory, it is enlightening to view the subject from writer Kaleem Aftab’s perspective. He proposes that cinematic rebirth is one of the great joys of cinema; and that by watching remakes we are celebrating the artistry behind new technology, which allows a director to use a similar palette to create something new.

By comparing remakes with their original, we’re just distracting ourselves from the film we should be watching. As lovers of film, we shouldn’t criticise them in advance – instead, we should enter the cinema with an open mind; excited to watch the film, not eager to see how it compares with its former version.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.