The Hollywood Remake Machine: Why I just don’t care anymore

Posted on 08 April 2010 by ShepRamsey

This month in movies is one of the most remake-heavy that this year has to offer.  Last week assaulted our senses with Clash of the Titans, next week will tickle our funny-bone through Death at a Funeral, and the end of the month will scare us in our scary place by way of A Nightmare on Elm Street.  And I think I’m just about decided that I couldn’t care less.

It always seems that any news of a remake sends shockwaves through the movie-going community, with a bitter cry of “Nooooooo!!  They’re gonna ruin (fill-in-the-blank-movie)!!!”  I used to be right there with it, but lately I’m starting to not really care.  I fully acknowledge, however, that there is a time in any moviegoer’s life when remaking a revered classic is hands-down the ultimate sacrilege.

I don’t know if anyone had this qualm with Clash of the Titans, though.  I’ve never seen the original, but I’ve seen bits and pieces, and if there’s one movie that could really stand to be tried again, it’s probably that.  I saw the new one last week, and it was a fun effects-driven film very properly suited for today’s methods of blockbuster moviemaking (only I can’t dissuade you enough against the poorly converted 3D version).  But I’m sure there are many who have an undying love for the original film—what do they think about the new one?

For me, I’m trying to imagine right now if they remade Back to the Future, and even in my post-enlightenment stage that I’ve already alluded to, the thought of it is kinda bugging me.  However, on the opposite side of that, if Universal came out tomorrow and said that they were getting started on Back to the Future Part IV, I would be overcome with excitement.

It’s understandable, though—as a longtime fan, I’m far more interested in seeing a continuation of the story from where we left off than I am in some strange, modernized rehash of what’s already been told…which doesn’t even get anything right about what made the original so special in the first place!

Then again, if they could completely recapture everything that makes Back to the Future so special to me, then how special was it to begin with, save for my own personal nostalgia?

I feel like that’s probably the case for the remake-hatred of most—it’s not “you’re trampling over something sacred,” but instead “you’re trampling over something that’s sacred to me.”  It’s a bit selfish, a bit arrogant, and a bit silly when you really stop to consider it.

In no way are they actually “ruining” the original film, because the original film can still be seen in its original form, so who gives a damn if there’s some other one?  If you’re really burnt up over the fact that they’ve remade Death at a Funeral, then the best form of protest that you can make is to go watch the original and reassure yourself that it does, in fact, still exist.

Personally, I don’t think the new one looks all that terrible.  I probably won’t see it—at least not until I catch it on TV in a few years, or maybe I’ll rent it from a Redbox one night if there’s nothing else to do.  I will, however, admit that this particular instance of a remake is a very strange occurrence.

Now, it’s not unusual for an international film to be remade a couple years later for an American audience (the 2008 Swedish vampire movie Let the Right One In is currently being remade by Cloverfield director Matt Reeves as Let Me In). But in this case, the recent international film in question was in English, directed by a popular American director, and it even starred a recognizable face or two.  The existence of this movie is very weird…but does it bother me?  Not really.  Who cares?  It’s just so trivial.

Some might protest, however, and tell me that it’s not as trivial as I might think–that this unstoppable Hollywood Remake Machine just goes to show that there’s no originality in the movies anymore, and that we’ve reached the point when we’ve remade all of the older films, so now we’re stuck having to remake movies from three years ago!  But I couldn’t disagree more with this assessment.

The idea that remakes are a terrible genre and indicative of Hollywood’s lack of good ideas is kind of a joke.  Movies have been recycling and reinterpreting other people’s material since their very beginnings—and to great praise and success.

While Citizen Kane might have been an original script (albeit inspired heavily by the life of William Randolph Hearst), a massive sampling of wildly revered go-to great films were all based off of books—The Godfather, Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz to name just a few.  Hell, almost all of Alfred Hitchcock’s films were based off of previously published material, and he even remade his own The Man Who Knew Too Much 22 years after the original.

And if that’s not enough, never mind how many Best Picture winners are based off of someone else’s story (there are a lot); some of them—Mutiny on the Bounty, Ben-Hur, and The Departed—are themselves remakes.  It’s not about whether or not Hollywood is generating new and original ideas; it’s about whether or not they’re making good movies.

Now, it’s certainly reasonable to guess that some random popcorn-fare remake might end up a pretty bad movie.  Since many of them are made only to sell tickets off of the familiarity of their source material, they aren’t necessarily handled as meticulously as they could be.  For instance, I always thought that John Carpenter’s The Fog could stand to be remade, but once that happened it was clear that no one involved with the project really gave a shit.

So it’s logical to guess that the new Nightmare on Elm Street might be entirely dismissible, as well.  Judging from the trailers, it certainly looks a lot like Wes Craven’s 1984 original in many respects—especially the dream/kill sequences.

Many fans will look upon this as a good thing, but I beg to differ. It just seems strange to me that a film franchise that is so often accused of containing movies that are formulaically “all the same” would want to release a remake that is almost literally the same movie in every remaining sense—particularly when it comes to the key scary scenes.

Remember when Gus Van Sant made that shot-for-shot remake of Psycho?  Most saw the film as sort of pointless.  And I can’t help but feel like that was exactly the point.  Who wants a remake of a movie they love as an exact copy of that movie?  Just go watch the original!  While no remake truly has the power to “ruin” its respective original, that seems about as close as one can come to such an accomplishment.

And don’t think for a second that the 2010 remake train stops at A Nightmare on Elm Street.  In the coming months we’ll be treated to Ridley Scott’s take on Robin Hood as well as the new Karate Kid with Jackie Chan, and in the winter we’ll even see the Coen brothers take on True Grit.

And when the Coen brothers can remake such a well-known classic, doesn’t that sort of help validate the whole remake endeavor (like when Scorsese remade Cape Fear)?  I know most people hated when they remade The Ladykillers, but I enjoyed it a lot, and besides—peoples’ problems with that movie aren’t because it destroys the original film, but because they just plain don’t like it.

Can’t we all agree that it’s not remakes that we have a problem with?  Instead it should be, plainly and simply, bad movies in general.  And whether they’re good or bad, remakes in no way do any harm to the original films upon which they’re based.  And should they be so reverent to the original that they are practically the same movie, then why did we even bother to see them in the first place?

I say keep remaking movies!  So many different stories can be told in so many different ways—just like all the books, comic books, TV shows, short films, and plays that get adapted to film constantly.  The fact that movies have been around for over a hundred years now just means that we have a whole new wealth of art, ideas, and stories from which to draw inspiration.  Have at it, Hollywood!

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5 Comments For This Post

  1. Quaid Says:

    I am a little less forgiving of remakes than you. What gets at me is when you talk to a 17-year-old and they talk about how much they LOVE Halloween. Then you mention Jamie Lee Curtis and John Carpenter and they look at you like a deer in headlights.

    “Who’s that? ROB ZOMBIE ROCKS!”

    Then it becomes impossible to get the original Michael Myers mask, and TNT stops doing its marathon. It’s like the new movie it, literally, TRYING to take the place of the original.

    So I guess that’s the problem I have with remakes…the way they have this tendency to drive the original film out of the public consciousness. Then again, maybe the original wasn’t really IN the public consciousness to start with…it was just in mine.

    I’m sad now. But I still hope the Nightmare remake is good. Even when I hate the idea of a remake, I still pull for it to be good. Because I’d rather have a fun remake than a pointless and boring one.

  2. Rachel Says:

    I second your comment Quaid. On all points. I am not forgiving at all about remakes. Especially the ones sacred to me :) Really looking forward to Nightmare on Elm Street. Rob Zombie can eat a turd.

  3. ShepRamsey Says:

    To be fair, my argument isn’t that I think remakes should be “forgiven,” it’s that they haven’t done anything that would require forgiving, unless the one in question is just a bad movie, in which case that’s a whole other situation entirely.

    No remake is truly trampling over sacred ground–it’s just an adaptation of a story, just like one might make a movie out of a book, or–perhaps more fittingly–produce a revival of a classic stage play. The more I think about it, the more it all seems so trivial and the more I just don’t understand why it’s so trendy to hate remakes.

    And Quaid–I don’t generally talk to many 17-year-olds, so I guess I don’t really run into your problem there. But the fact of the matter is that people by nature are going to, at least for a bit, gravitate towards the movies they grow up among.

    Whereas the original Halloween is an enduring classic to you, someone who started really getting into movies around the time that Rob Zombie’s version came out might be more inclined to watch that one. It’s a shame, but it’s true.

    On the lighter side of that, however, is the fact that ultimately it will probably point that young person in the direction of the original film and give them exposure to it that they might otherwise not have recieved.

    And at the end of the day, which do you honestly think is going to stand the test of time–John Carpenter’s Halloween or Rob Zombie’s Halloween? My money’s on the former (after all, it already has). In 20 years Rob Zombie’s will seem dated and goofy (some would argue that it already does). The good remakes live on, sure, but is anyone honestly still watching the 1976 version of King Kong??

    The Halloween remake–or ANY remake of ANYTHING for that matter–might be a temporary nuisance in the most superficial sense, but does it really matter? Does it lessen your enjoyment of the original? I’d argue that in most cases it strengthens it.

    Remake hatred is just so pointless, and an overall waste of everyone’s God-given bitterness.

  4. Morris Shaw Says:

    I fall in with the camp that most of the time when Hollywood does a remake, it’s a mistake. However, the greatest argument for remakes is John Huston’s film of Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon.” It is one of the great all time classics, and the when it was made it was the third time the book had been made into a motion picture.

  5. car ramrod Says:

    The problem with remakes lies in the fact that they are piggybacking on someone else’s success. Granted, this is not as crude as retitling an unrelated script so that it can be part of a series. And not everyone can be a writer/director, supplying both the source material and direction. But this is atrocious. You didn’t write the film, and most of the memorable moments are simply waiting to be reshot. Remakes are to cinema what paint by numbers books are to the art gallery crowd. Films aren’t supposed to operate like a fast food franchise: pay franchise fee, learn ingredients of secret sauce (mayonaise), and assemble as per instructions.

    If you don’t have an original idea in your head, become a financial backer. You don’t have that kind of money? Then produce a film or fill out the permits for the film. But if you are bereft of vision, then please spare us the agony of watching your latest reimagining.

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