Posted October 25, 2010 by Marcia Degia - Publisher in Features
 
 

Re-Thinking Remakes


Is remaking a film always a bad thing or does it open a concept up to new possibilities?

Is remaking a film always a bad thing or does it open a concept up to new possibilities?

This month sees the much blogged about remake of Swedish, vampire, coming of age drama Let The Right One In. While fans of the original are up in arms about the American remake Let Me In undermining a film that is still fresh and unique in addressing its subject matter, it begs the question are remakes, in general, simply a way for Hollywood to cash in on a pre-existing concept or do they in fact have artistic values of their own?

There seem to be two distinct categories of remakes. The first one being a film that was deemed something of a cult classic in its time but has not dated particularly well. Take The Fly (1958) in which a scientist accidentally splices himself together with said insect in his teleportation device. The 1958 version was always intended to be something of a schlocky B-movie affair, it even contained a man wearing the head of a fly. Compare this to David Cronenberg’s 1986 version which is a full blown body-horror affair and the original simply does not hold a candle. Cronenberg takes the concept further, introducing a terrifying theme of the rot that inhabits the scientist’s obsession to become famous and better than others.

This is not the only example of such a remake either. Films such as The Thing (1951 and 1982), Dawn Of The Dead (1978 and 2004) and Scarface (1932 and 1983) take the premise of the original and make it relevant to a contemporary audience. In doing so the remakes open the ideas of the original to viewers who would otherwise not make the effort to see them, based, for the most part, on a theory of ‘it’s old and therefore doesn’t matter to me’. Crucial to this though is the overriding presence of ‘fans’.

Fans play a vital role in remakes. Not because, as is the case with Let The Right One In, they will lambast the film prior to seeing it, but because if a fan remakes a film then there is an argument it comes from a place of love. Matt Reeves, the man behind the sleeper behemoth Cloverfield (2008), was a lover of Let The Right One In. As such he was always going to address the film with a degree of reverence. He has the opportunity to take what was great about the Swedish film and inject his own stamp on the story. That both films are based on a book by Tomas Alfredson, director of Let The Right One In, has allowed Reeves to hopefully give a fresh take on the novel while remaining faithful to it.

On the other end of the spectrum are the films that are remade in order to cash in on a bankable idea. A film like Psycho (1960 and 1998), which was a shot for shot remake of a genre-defining classic, is a prime example of a film that was never going to update, expand on or better the source material. Why? Because it was a carbon copy remake, there was no attempt to further, merely plagiarise, and thus sapping the soul from the Hitchcock work. When Gus van Sant was asked why he would dare make a shot for shot remake of the original Psycho he replied “so no one else would have to”. But why would anyone else have to? You don’t see Spielberg remaking Casablanca or Scorsese buying the rights to Citizen Kane because someone ‘has’ to remake them so why not them. In other words there are some films that should be left untouched.

Pyscho '98

This point is crucial. So what distinguishes an untouchable film from one that is ripe for remaking? Well for one thing if a film, like Psycho, is deemed to be seminal in its presence in cinema then would it not be better to have that film seen by as many people as possible by either re-releasing it or sprucing it up for DVD or Blu-Ray release. Can you see Indiana Jones And The Raiders Of The Lost Ark being remade with a maturing Zack Efron in 20 years time? If you are a true lover, connoisseur or casual appreciator of films then hopefully the answer is “no thank you very much”.

Psycho '60

Of course the invention of such medium as video, DVD and now Blu-Ray is that re-releasing a film in these formats opens them up to a wider audience. It allows people to see a film they would otherwise not normally give the time of day to. A look at films like The Thing and The Fly had the benefit of being remade before the originals had a chance to be seen by new audiences on the home format. Coincidentally while Let Me In will hit cinemas shortly, so to Let The Right One In will be re-released on DVD and Blu-Ray. One can only hope that those who see the remake, re-imagining or Hollywood cash-in depending on your perspective, will be intrigued to see the Swedish original, if only for comparison purposes. Of course that is if the will to see a different, sub-titled, version appeals to them.

To an extent this is true of foreign language films, which is important in addressing Let Me In. There are some who prefer not to spend a film reading sub-titles. Each to their own. But does this mean they should not see what is otherwise a great film simply because they do not find it accessible? Certainly Hollywood understands this and so is only too happy to cash in on the act. Look at the compelling (REC) (2007) which was swiftly made into Quarantine (2008). Both have crazed zombies running around a spooky apartment building, but Quarantine appeals to a broader audience because they can engage with the film while not having to read subtitles.

Just to clarify though, foreign movie remakes are not limited to the horror genre. For example Pour Elle (2008), an intelligent character drama focusing on a husband trying to break his wife out of prison. One would think that such a film would be of little interest to the re-make mongers and yet The Next Three Days is an American perspective on the film that has the creative clout of, not one but, two Oscar winners onboard in the form of writer/director Paul Haggis (Crash) and Russell Crowe (Gladiator). Knowing the endless offers Crowe must get, not to mention the reams of creative energy Haggis has, there must be something both of these filmmakers saw in the original that drew them to have another shot at it. The answer almost certainly lies in the box-office takings of the French Pour Elle on the global market. The studios see dollar signs while the creative forces see a chance to put their stamp on a pre-existing, but little heard of, story. Bear in mind that the biggest film economy is the USA. If a film does big business there then it can tank at the global box-office without fretting too much about not making its money back.

Let Me In

So are remakes always a bad thing? In essence no. They can open up a great story to a broader audience, can allow for a different impotence to be placed on a concept and potentially lead to a rewarding cinematic experience. However, this should not give open season to any film. There are some films that are rightly considered classics and to sully them with a remake that can never live up to the original is tantamount to sinning. You have been warned. Tacky cash-ins are also unacceptable and are akin to shoddy sequels. Which camp Let Me In turns out to be in remains to be seen, but in Reeves’ hands we can but hope it will be the former.



Marcia Degia - Publisher

 
Marcia Degia has worked in the media industry for more than 10 years. She was previously Acting Managing Editor of Homes and Gardens magazine, Publishing Editor at Macmillan Publishers and Editor of Pride Magazine. Marcia, who has a Masters degree in Screenwriting, has also been involved in many broadcast projects. Among other things, she was the devisor of the documentary series Secret Suburbia for Living TV.