I’m a firm believer that a good movie can come from anything. Books, comics, plays, television programmes, graphic novels, true stories (and maybe one day I can confidently add video games to that list), a quality film can be made from just about anything, whatever the source material. Which is why, as much as my initial reaction to any announced remake of a film is usually more than a little tentative, I’ll generally set aside a drop of hope that “Who knows?” Maybe this is a remake they’ll do right. Maybe they will make a good movie out of a good movie.
It’s difficult not to be cynical at the prospect of an old classic, foreign film, or occasionally even a not-so-old English-language film being given the remake treatment. When this year’s Total Recall was announced there were plenty of mumblings of “Oh God, here we go again” and alas, although not a terrible flick by any means, Len Wiseman’s ‘reimagining’ of the much-loved 1990 Schwarzenegger gem didn’t really do quite enough to warrant its existence. I enjoyed it with a rather ‘meh’ level of enthusiasm, but why take ‘meh’ when you can have the original instead?
There are plenty of worrisome sounding remakes in the pipeline and I’ll get to those later, but first a hint of optimism. Along with all the needless rehashes over the years there have been a fair few film remakes that have deserved their standing both alongside their originals and are even generally heralded as superior. They may be far from shot-for-shot remakes, but without their respective earlier versions there would be no Cronenberg’s The Fly, no “say hello to my little friend” Pacino-starring Scarface, and no ‘finally an Oscar for Scorsese’ The Departed to name a few.
As long as a remake is prepared to go its own way and do its own thing to distance itself from its origins, or as long as a director or some other decent creative mind is on board to see to it that the project won’t just become a sub-par version of its original, there can be a place for remakes in cinema. I’m not sure if I enjoyed it anymore than the original, but we finished last year with David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which certainly earned its place as a worthy remake (even for that impressive title sequence alone).
So the problem that gives the term ‘remake’ a bad name is when as an audience member you’re left feeling like the movie didn’t really try, or more often than not as if it just felt needless. Like the remake was just a lazy way of throwing another film onto our screens for the sake of making a safe little profit off of an uninspired piece of work that leaves you wondering if there was honestly not a single original screenplay pitched to the studio that would have been more worthy of the cash. Again, it wasn’t necessarily a bad film in my opinion, but I was left with this fairly underwhelmed feeling after this year’s Total Recall. Not bad, but couldn’t these resources have been used more wisely elsewhere?
Even when a decent effort is made, it’s hard not to be worried by the increasing number of remakes that seem to arrive on our screens. The last few years have seen ‘updates’ to the likes of The Karate Kid, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Straw Dogs, Arthur, Footloose, The Mechanic, Fright Night and The Thing (although technically just a very familiar prequel), and adding to that remakes of foreign films like Let Me In, The Debt and 13 (any film that’s gone from a black-and-white French suspense thriller to something that can count 50 Cent among its cast has gone horribly wrong somewhere) and films I didn’t even realise were remakes of anything in the first place like Contraband. It’s hard not to be cynical and just say that Hollywood is running out of ideas and turning to tried-and-tested formulas to fill up release schedules rather than taking chances with new IPs that might come good (although for a hint of optimism on that part I’ll point you towards Jord’s hopeful piece on Cloud Atlas).
So looking to the future, is there any sign of a change on the horizon? Well, no. Looking ahead it’s hard not to notice the number of scheduled remakes that are either being planned or filmed as you read this.
Just last week filming got underway on the remake of the late ‘80s sci-fi classic, RoboCop, accompanied by the first shots of Joel Kinnaman in the ‘modernised’ suit. It will undoubtedly be coated in some layer of CGI polish, but needless to say that looking like the unoriginal love-child of Iron Man and Nolan’s Batsuit it hasn’t gone down well with fans of the original, a film adored by so many that last year a crowd-funded plan got the go-ahead to build a RoboCop statue in Detroit.
This brings up the rather important question of, is it worth updating a franchise at the risk of alienating the very fan-base you’re hoping to lure back into the cinema? It’s of course too early to judge the rebooted-RoboCop from just a couple of set-photos alone and hopefully with an interesting cast of the likes of Keaton, Oldman and Jackson it will be worth the effort, but there’s always the ever-lingering doubt that it will become the long-forgotten modernisation of its much-beloved roots. I hesitate to return to it again, but for example I just can’t see anyone trying to track down the 2012 version of Total Recall over the original in 10 or 20 years time, and I feel that is the real test of the remake – time.
3:10 to Yuma with Crowe and Bale and the Coen brothers’ True Grit are films I might well want to revisit in the future, but Stallone’s Get Carter? Last year’s Straw Dogs? 3D dud, Clash of the Titans? Keanu Reeves’ The Day the Earth Stood Still? (Remember that one? Anybody?) Will any film aficionado be hunting these versions down in years to come? Probably not.
So with the apparent pointlessness of the task of recreating something that will immediately draw cynicism from the very people you hope to sell to, then, profit aside, as a film-lover can it be worth it?
Hopefully. As I said earlier, although they may be few and far between there are thankfully the occasional exceptions that can certainly be worth your time and with a bit of luck a few remakes that are in the pipeline might just fall into this category. Along with the less-promising sounding remakes of films such as Oldboy, the ‘will they ever get around to it’ live-action/Americanised Akira remake and plenty of others, there are a few that sound like they might just end up being worth your time.
The remake of The Evil Dead that’s on its way is trying to go in a slightly different direction from the original by replacing Bruce Campbell’s cult icon Ash with a female protagonist that should help avoid some unwanted comparisons to the original, and with Campbell himself and original director Sam Raimi on board as producers they might just steer the new take in the right direction for fans of the series. Elsewhere, early shots of a blood-soaked Chloe Moretz and encouraging words from her co-stars drew some mild optimism for the Carrie remake, whilst after bringing us the terrific True Grit remake a couple of years ago that I mentioned earlier, the Coen brothers have penned the upcoming retelling of the ‘60s Michael Caine-starring Gambit, the first trailer for which hit earlier in the week with Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz in the leading roles. However probably more promising than anything is the potential for the upcoming remake of Logan’s Run. With Nicolas Winding Refn in the director’s chair reunited with Ryan Gosling, his leading man from last year’s terrific Drive (a film that went down rather well around these parts), it would be fairly hard not to be a little excited by whatever project they’re working on together once again.
So in the end with a little hope towards the future along with a fairly heavy helping of scepticism, I guess it just comes down to the same as anything else in cinema. Whatever the source material, it just has to be done right, by the right people.