Remakes – Same as it ever was, or worse?

What, you don’t remember this scene?

This is part of the Large Association of Movie Blogs’ monthly blogathon on remakes.

While it is popular to slam on the current flood of Hollywood remakes, it is not a new thing. The versions of The Maltese Falcon, Ben-Hur and The Wizard of Oz we know as classics are all remakes. Sometimes a good story needs to be told more than once, and the first time isn’t always the best. Lately remakes have concentrated on hits, or beloved cult classics- which is where the difference comes in. Some classic remakes work- like Scarface, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (not the Nicole Kidman one, doofus- the Sutherland one) and Ocean’s Eleven– but even some of the best attempts only reach mediocrity, such as Peter Jackson’s indulgent and overlong King Kong– which is still much better than soulless money-grubbing crap like Death Race.

Nowadays remakes are seen as a cash cow to get people into theaters by name recognition, and to get a script that is a “sure thing” for enough box office to cover expenses, or at least be profitable as a write-off. But not all new remakes are shit. I really enjoyed the remake of Dawn of the Dead, even though it dropped George Romero’s social commentary about consumerism and societal malaise for a more straightforward horror flick. While “speed zombies” are kind of old now, it was refreshing and different at the time, even though it had already been done in 28 Days Later.

The real test will be Werner Herzog’s remake of Abel Ferrara’s masterpiece Bad Lieutenant, with Nicholas Cage in the Harvey Keitel role. Now, I know Cage can act- he just chooses not to. If you think he can’t act, see Moonstruck, Peggy Sue Got Married, 8mm, Adaptation, Birdy, Red Rock West, Wild at Heart, Raising Arizona, Bringing out the Dead, Matchstick Men, Leaving Las Vegas or Lord of War. Yes, it’s a lot easier to remember Ghost Rider, National Treasure, The Wicker Man, Gone in 60 Seconds, and Next, but with Herzog directing him, maybe he’ll point a gun at him- as he as rumored to do to Klaus Kinski on the set of Aguirre, the Wrath of God– and make him fucking act. Terry Gilliam got Bruce Willis to drop his action-hero persona for 12 Monkeys, so anything is possible. Sometimes directors remake their own movies- Michael Haneke remade his masterpiece Funny Games for American audiences, with Tim Roth and Naomi Watts; it’s shot for shot, but still felt less powerful. The subtitles actually made the original more gripping for me. I had to pay complete attention, and since I didn’t know the actors I never thought, “hmm, that’s some good acting, Michael Pitt.”

And apparently Herzog’s remake it is being played as a reimagined prequel, “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.” The title sounds like a serial novel, like the 150+ books in The Destroyer series (best known as the books the Remo Williams movie came from). Now I could get down with that, if the Lieutenant moved from city to city, masturbating in front of underage drivers and snorting huge lines of cocaine poured on the highways. As much as I like Herzog, I wonder if this will be as useless as Gus Van Sant’s remake of Psycho. Speaking of which, IMDb shows that The Birds will be remade in 2011, I believe Michael Bay is producing. Which means:
1. It will be called Birds, since “the” is so lame.
2. It will have an environmental cause, instead of being a mystery.
3. At some point, kids will be watching Happy Feet and the token funny black guy will turn it off. Sorry, I just watched Transformers.
4. The only actor over 30 will be Jon Voight as the grizzled old guy who’s seen this before.
5. When the birds attack the school playground, the hero will drive them off with a makeshift flamethrower, and make some sort of fried chicken joke.
6. Some young woman will solve the crisis and the birds will be friendly again, instead of the creepy, ambiguous ending the original has. And then maybe the squirrels will start attacking people, as a result of global warming affecting the acorn harvest.

The majority of remakes coming out now are horror movies, and the inherent problem is the love of CG. Let’s face it, fake CG blood is just stupid. Why do they use it? So they can remove some to appease the ratings board? It never looks real to me, and ruined a lot of The Devil’s Rejects for me. The remake of The Hills Have Eyes wasn’t bad, but it seems every horror movie of the late ’70s and ’80s that anyone might remember is being remade. Prom Night, which was nothing but a bad ripoff of Carrie; Rob Zombie remade Halloween, which I’ve yet to waste time watching. My Bloody Valentine 3-D is about to hit theaters, and a remake of Friday the 13th is in the works. What they can never recapture is the gritty, cheap feel the old movies had. Eli Roth gets it- his hilarious homage to ’70s horror Cabin Fever had the perfect feel, and so did Hostel– but most remakes look way too polished. Worse yet, they’ll try to make it “look ’70s” by giving people cars and haircuts.

At their worst, the remake is when Hollywood artifice lets it slip show- they just want a name to get enough 15 year olds into the seats for a few weekends to make enough money to pay the important people. Then with foreign and DVD sales, it might turn a profit later, and people looking for the original might buy it by mistake. I think sometimes we get lucky and a director who can wrest some control from producers gets the helm, or champions the project, and that’s when we get something decent. But the fact is they’re here to stay, and getting aggravated over it is nothing new. I think half of internet discussion on movies involves Nerd Remake Rage. Let’s put it to rest and judge them individually, because not all remakes are bad.

12 thoughts on “Remakes – Same as it ever was, or worse?

  1. Hmm, overall, i’m against remakes. There’s very few remakes I’ve met that I liked. But sometimes I feel bad for the director. I mean, you do a shot for shot remake, and “what the point?” You change it to make it your own material, and “it’s too different.” Understand, I’m talking about your run of the mill director here, not the huge juggernaut that is Michael Bay. Of course, the moral is “don’t do remakes!!” but as a performer, I can understand the appeal. Afterall, how many different stage versions are there of Hamlet?

  2. i agree. i didnt know about wizard of oz being a remake tho, thats interesting. but remakes arent all bad, and just so u kno–halloween was pretty sweet. better see it before zombie’s H2 comes out this summer.

  3. OH god!!! NO!!! A remake of the birds!! What fool would ever touch a Hitchcock masterpiece!!! This just goes to show that Hollywood today is a sick disease that needs a cure….Try saving money and re-releasing the original for all to enjoy on the big screen, but alas Hollywood is afraid to do that because then everyone will know what horrible film makers they are.

  4. While “speed zombies” are kind of old now, it was refreshing and different at the time, even though it had already been done in 28 Days Later.And “Return of the Living Dead” before it.

  5. Regarding you’re Birds/Michael Bay comments, which I thought were spot on, the Hitchcock movie is inspired by true events (the birds were probably sick or disoriented) so it’s quite possible that enviroment did actually play a part in the real *attack*.

  6. Agreed, Jackson’s Kong was a tad too long, but it was definitely more sophisticated and multi-layered than the original, which is merely a giant ape and a girl who does nothing but scream. In the new version, even the relationship dynamics between Kong and the girl tell a lot by themselves.Besides, there are some films that are more affected than others by the improvements in visual effects technologies. Considering that the original Kong was nothing more than entertainment, to me it’s one of such films. Jackson’s technical excellence as well as the complexity he brings to the story makes his Kong, in my opinion, a new classic.Majority of people though, as you said, like to “slam on the current flood of Hollywood remakes” and include this one among others without doing much thinking.Disagreed, also, on Funny Games. Since it’s shot by shot it’s pretty much the same thing but the acting the U.S. one is more subtle and considered. You not being able to pay as much attention because of the lack of subtitles or the presence of Michael Pitt is something personal (which I respect but it has nothing to do with the quality of the film).Completely agreed on Birds though. Number 5. fact on the list cracked me up :) Well done.

  7. I should have been clearer- I thought Michael Pitt was excellent in Funny Games, and my reasons for preferring the original are definitely personal. It’s the kind of movie that hits hardest the first time around, for one. Tim Roth and Naomi Watts are fine actors, but it is inevitable to recognize them. I suppose this could make seeing them tortured even more agonizing, but the original felt more like a document of a horrible act to me at first, because I didn’t know the actors at the time. I hope the remake at least opens America up to more films by Mr. Haneke.As for The Birds, you’re right, Wikipedia mentions a 1961 occurrence as an influence on Hitch. The Daphne du Maurier story he based it on leaves the cause as mysterious, and so does his movie- something very unlikely. Sure, we assume pollution may be a cause, but it’s never pinpointed. In the remake, I will publicly apologize if there is not a direct environmental cause for the attack shown, as in the Godzilla remake :)

  8. I personally don’t have a problem with studios doing remakes. Yes, most of them are bad, but every once in a blue moon there’s a good one.But, the best thing about remakes is that often because of them, the originals get a release or re-release on DVD or Blu-Ray. Here’s hoping The Birds incourages a Blu-Ray release of the original :) (remastered too)That, and the remake of The Birds could be good. The main problem I have of these new horror remakes is the absence of camp/tongue-in-cheek humor. To me, they’re often dry, soulless, beasts. Hitchcock’s horror/suspense films were great because they all had a sense of humour.

  9. Wow, finally Eli Roth is getting some credit! I personally enjoyed "Hostel" and "Cabin Fever." And you're right: they are original screeplays! "Saw" is too, for that matter. For more originality in the horror genre, see "Repo! The Genetic Opera," which is actually more of a rock opera than a horror film, but is 1000 times more infectious than you'd ever expect. It practically begs to be rewatched!

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