Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Why we're so upset about remakes
Remakes are nothing new in Hollywood.
We act as though Hollywood is completely out of ideas, but the truth is, Hollywood was always out of ideas. At least, you have to reach that conclusion about Hollywood's past if you want to reach that same conclusion about Hollywood's present.
Did bloggers scream and yell when The Jazz Singer (1927) was remade 27 years later in 1954? (And then, again, 26 years later in 1980?) Were there conniptions when Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was made in 1931 and again in 1941? The length of time between an original and a remake has even been much shorter -- the classic Marx brothers comedy Duck Soup (1927) was remade only three years later as a movie called Another Fine Mess (1930). Numerous films had multiple remakes before anyone reading this post was even born. (In fact, for a handy and close-to-complete list of film remakes, check out this page on the ever useful wikipedia.)
I think there are two reasons we consider the current spate of remakes to particularly offend our sensibilities:
1) The people with the loudest opinions on the topic -- people of my generation -- are finally getting to the point where the originals of these movies were made in our lifetime. You notice we don't get nearly so upset about remakes of movies we've never heard of.
2) The movies being remade don't really seem like classics, the way we've come to define "classic."
The remake of Point Break -- which has a screenwriter attached (Kurt Wimmer), and which everyone has been fretting about lately -- seems like a perfect example of both.
For those who can't believe they're remaking Point Break, it seems like all too recently to us that the original came out. Twenty years goes by in a flash, I guess.
But more than anything, it doesn't seem like a "classic" -- it seems like a guilty pleasure, a B movie people embrace as more of a cult film than anything else.
But who says you can't remake cult films? There are numerous examples of that phenomenon, too.
There are two schools of thought on when a film should be remade:
1) When the original was so great that it simply begs to be introduced to a new generation;
2) When the original was a good idea that was slightly botched, and someone wants to get it right.
Of course, this tends to open up the potential field of remakes to almost anything.
However, the difference these days may be that there's a third reason to remake a film: to reintroduce it to the same generation. With films like the new versions of Point Break and Total Recall in particular, the smart money is on the fans of the original films flocking to the remakes in droves. That's consistent with the general Hollywood mentality to reboot, repackage and rebrand.
I think Total Recall has caught some of us by surprise in part because, like Point Break, we don't really consider it a classic. Even though Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall is a film I love, I'd be hard-pressed to define it as a "classic." It may be one of the smartest films Arnold Schwarzenegger has ever appeared in, but it's certainly a lesser film in his canon in terms of sheer name recognition. Or maybe it's just that straight remakes of Arnold Schwarzenegger films -- rather than reboots, of which there have been many (The Terminator, Predator) -- make us feel old. First Conan the Barbarian, now this.
I think the reason these films make us despair about the state of Hollywood is that they make us ask this question: "What won't they remake?" There's an implication that if you remake Point Break and Total Recall, it's because you've gotten to the bottom of the barrel and already remade the more obvious, credible choices.
But thankfully, that's not the case. Back to the Future has not been remade, and has in fact not even had a new installment since 1989. (Let's not ponder the role of Michael J. Fox's health in that particular decision.) Ditto Ghostbusters, whose last (and, modestly, only its second) entry was also in 1989. (I'm well aware that Ghostbuster 3 is moving forward, but at least it's not a remake.) And we can even go back to older movies. Citizen Kane turns 70 this year, and has yet to be remade.
And some of the movies being remade actually do seem like obvious choices. The remake of Footloose, which comes out next month, is one such movie. I guess that means it qualifies as a "classic" in the way Point Break and Total Recall do not. While the appeal of those movies was somewhat selective, simply everyone saw Footloose. And especially with Glee doing as well as it has, Footloose meets the classic definition of needing to be introduced to a generation that hungers for it. Likewise, it does not surprise me that a Dirty Dancing remake has been greenlit.
And if it's really an issue of considering it blasphemy to remake the movies in question, consider it a compliment. Nothing commits a movie to the annals of film history more than to be revisited down through the years with new versions. With any luck, it'll actually introduce fans of the new films to the films that inspired them.
So as you are bemoaning the decision to remake films from your childhood, consider where you'd be without the remakes you grew up on: Little Shop of Horrors, The Fly, Scarface, Three Men and a Baby and The Thing.
Oh yeah, stay tuned for the second Thing remake, also coming out this fall. Actually, it's a prequel, and actually, John Carpenter's 1982 The Thing may not have been an actual remake of The Thing From Another World (1951), since both films were different interpretations of John W. Campbell's novella Who Goes There?
It gets messy. So let's just take the movies on a case-by-case basis, and see how they go.
Lord knows, we'll have plenty of opportunities to do so.