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.