Today: February 25, 2024

Remakes Better Than Originals

Can remakes ever be better than their predecessor?

Can remakes ever be better than
their predecessor?

Hollywood
likes to recycle its past success, and does so in abundance. In the latter half
of 2011 alone audiences can anticipate remakes of Thinker, Tailor,
Soldier, Spy
, Don’t Look Now,
another Jayne Eyre adaptation and a
possible Wizard of Oz remake. Upon hearing this we didn’t know
whether to smile or cringe, can remakes ever be as good as the original?
Bearing this in mind we decided to examine previous remakes of movie classics,
and while narrowing down our list, which was somewhat of a
challenge given the choice on offer, it became clear that contrary to popular
belief, not all remakes are bad. Of course many are abominable, but a select
few actually modernise a classic for another generation to enjoy. Below are
some hits, misses and others still up for debate.

Successful remakes:

Scarface
(1932)

Originally
made in 1932 by director Howard Hawks
and Richard Rosson and produced by Howard Huges, it was based on the 1929
novel of the same name written by Armitage
Trail
. Hawk’s
Scarface: The Shame of the Nation is now seen as one of the most important
early gangster films of its time. In fact, critics hailed it akin to a
Shakespearean tragedy. In this version Hawks depicts the rise and fall of real
life gangster Scarface Al Capone (recreating actual events like the St
Valentine’s Day Massacre) with the history of the Borgia Family.

Scarface (1982)

Fast
forward 50 years or so and the Scarface remembered by most is Brian De Palma’s epic version starring Al Pacinio, which now claims cult
status among movie fans. It’s fair to say De Palma’s remake of the 1932 classic
was a huge success. Worldwide it grossed $65,884,703 and is always being re-released on DVD (its Blu-ray release is happening in September). It seems that De
Palma’s Scarface updated the classic gangster movie for another generation who
would undoubtedly have missed the original. He did this by increasing the
original running time from 93 minutes to a whopping 170, adding colour and more
panache.

Ocean’s
Eleven (1960)

Despite starring sixties
favourites Frank Sinartra, Dean Martina and Sammy Davis Jr at the height of his fame the original Ocean’s
Eleven is considered a massive flop. Directed by Lewis Milestone, who also directed All Quiet on the Western Front, his Ocean’s Eleven is about a Las
Vegas casino heist. It has been generally slammed by the critic with a Film 4
critic stating: ‘Considering the iconic status of all involved, the result is
disappointing.’ While the BBC’s Tom
Coates said ‘There
are just too many main characters for any of them to develop any depth, too
many shots of casino signs sparkling in the night, and too little pace and plot
to pull the whole thing together.’ However, despite it leaving a bad taste in
the mouth of many critics it is still available on DVD today

Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

Steven Soderberg opted to revitalise Ocean’s
Eleven in 2001 drawing in, like the original, an all star cast including George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon
to name but a few. Soderbergh’s version breathed life into the original story
providing all the style and much need substance Milestone failed to achieve. It
earned a massive $450,717,150 at
the box office worldwide and was made on an $85 million budget and led to a
sequel Ocean’s Tweleve. New
York Times, critic ELVIS MITCHELL said: “ It would be hard to
make a movie worse than the first ”Ocean’s Eleven,” the 1960 Lewis Milestone
film… Steven Soderbergh, who directed the remake, understood that all he
had to do was show some finesse and he could get away with this
low-blood-pressure heist picture, keeping the tiny germ of a story about
hitting three Las Vegas casinos.”


On
the fence

Infernal
Affairs (2002)

This Hong Kong film directed by Wai-keung Lau and Alan Mak and starring Toney Leung
(Hero, In The Mood For Love) is a psychological thriller about two police men
on opposite sides of the law, one who has spent 10 years infiltrating a
notorious triad gang and the other who works as their mole. Infernal Affairs
was critically acclaimed and raked in HK$55,057,176 at the box office. Due to its huge commercial success Infernal
Affairs was followed by a prequel and a sequel Infernal Affairs III.

The
Departed (2006)

Like many a successful foreign
film, America decided it simply had to have its own version and in 2006 Martin Scorsese made The Departed
with Leonardo
DiCaprio

playing Leung’s character. Scorsese, as you might expect,
lived up to Lau and Mak’s standards and brought their story to the masses,
peppering it with staggering star power in the form of Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg,
Jack Nicholson and Ray Winstone. He also won Best Picture
and Best Director at the Oscars, although this is thought to be awarded mostly
for Scorsese’s body of work (it was long overdue) and not just based on The
Departed. Beating Infernal Affairs it made a staggering $289,847,354 at the box
office, but unlike Infernal Affairs it hasn’t been picked up for a prequel or
sequel, but both versions continue to be popular today, although many fans of
the original deem that to be the better movie.

True
Grit (1969)

Based on Charles Portis’ 1968 novel of the same name, the original True Grit
– which was remade this year – was directed by Henry Hathaway, who directed a whopping 67 films in his time. His
adaptation starred John Wayne as the
gruff ex-US Marshall Rooster who helps a little girl find her father’s
killer. It grossed a very
respectable $14,250,00 at the US box office and John Wayne won a Golden Globe
and Academy Award for best actor, when he accepted his Oscar he said: “Wow! If I’d known that, I’d have
put that patch on 35 years earlier.”A sequel was made in 1975 with Wayne
reprising his role as Rooster and Katherine Hepburn playing the little girl
grown up. Empire said of the film: “Although some say Wayne’s Oscar was
given out of sympathy instead of his performance, he still acts well as the
sheriff who’s past his peak.”

True Grit (2010)

Joel and Ethan Cohen remade True Grit and it was released
earlier this year in the UK to good reviews. No doubt a daunting task but Jeff Bridge stepped into Wayne’s shoes
and reprised the role of Rooster Cogburn with unknown actor Hailee Steinfield playing the
disgruntled daughter. The film was a huge success grossing worldwide
$249,250,624 – a box office figure not to be argued with. Guardian critic Phillip French said of the remake: ‘The Coen brothers’ excellent
western True Grit is a second and rather different version of Charles Portis’s
novel, rather than a remake.’

Definite
disasters

Planet of the Apes (1968)

Plant
of the Apes is an iconic film from the sixties directed by Franklin J Schaffner and starring Charlton Heston. It tells the
story of an astronaut crew who crash-land on a strange planet in the distant
future that is home to a society of human like apes, who assume the role of the
dominant species. It was a huge commercial success gaining $32,589,624
at the international box office. It was also considered groundbreaking for its prosthetic
make-up and was well received by critics and audiences. Its success resulted in
the birth of a film franchise, including four sequels and a TV show, animated
series and comic books. In 2001, it was selected for preservation in
the United States National Film Registry by the Library
of Congress as being “culturally,
historically, or aesthetically significant”.

Planet of The Apes (2001)

Plant of the Apes circa 2001, directed by Tim Burton and starring his wife Helena Bonham Carter, Mark Wahlberg and Tim Roth, is an unusual cold turkey of a film for Burton. However, this didn’t stop it being a runaway
success at the box office. Made on a $100 million budget it grossed
$362,211,740– could this be down to the notoriety of the original and Tim
Burton’s steely reputation as a director? A lot of the critic’s dismay focussed
on the confusing ending. Even Roth, who
portrayed General Thade, said ‘I cannot explain that ending. I have seen it
twice and I don’t understand anything.’ It was, however, nominated for some
BAFTA’s but ended up winning worst remake at the 22nd Golden
Raspberry Awards. Roger Egbert of the Chicago Sun-Times summed it up by saying:
‘Ten years from now, it will be the 1968 version that
people are still renting.’

Alfie (1966)

Michael Cane is famous for playing the
promiscuous Alfie who leads a playboy’s lifestyle until several life reversals
make him rethink his purposes and goals in life. Directed by Lewis Gilbert and made on a budget of
$800,000 it raked in a massive $8,500,00 in the US alone. The critics loved it, too; Neil Smith
from the BBC called it ‘a minor British classic and a valuable record of the
hedonistic Swinging 60s’

Alfie 2004

Brave
Jude Law took on the mammoth
challenge of beating Michael Cane at playing the notorious Alfie, and he failed
spectacularly. Directed by Charles Shyer
this remake was a massive blockbuster bomb, grossing world wide a total of
$35.15 million after being made on a eye-stinging $60 million budget. Also,
starring Sienna Miller and Marisa Tomei, perhaps it wasn’t just a
bad remake but an out dated story for a modern audience; as Kirk Honeycutt from
Hollywood Reporter suggests. He said of Alfie the remake: ‘Alas,
this is a remake without a reason. Alfie can no longer shock us.’ While Jamie
Russell from the BBC comments: ‘Like its hero, the film looks good but can’t
commit, talks the talk but has nothing to say.’

Conclusion:
Remakes can modernise a film for a contemporary audience bringing new life to a
story; but this is mostly for the mainstream, and is a somewhat lazy way to
make films, by simply putting classics or foreign success through the big movie
studio mill. However, take a bad film with a good story and you can better it
and give it a new lease of life and the quality it deserves. But, by the number
of bad remakes or those that merely match its original material, it begs the
question – if isn’t broken why fix it? Surely it’s better to encourage new
scripts from the many budding and established scriptwriters.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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