Monday, April 27, 2009

Remakes — What Worked? What Didn’t Work?

It seems, as of late, Hollywood is allowing a new trend to go on and on, which I’ve been really getting tired of the last few years: Remakes.

For decades, Hollywood has allowed a few movies to get remade and it usually works, satisfying audiences who get to see an older movie get redone in a more modern era, utilizing effects or new filming techniques to make it better. The earliest Frankenstein movie was a short silent film of about 12 minutes shot in 1910 (and hard to find) that showed the monster as a long-haired Tim Burton-esque person who ran around and terrorized victims. But then it was remade in 1931 as the famous movie that we all know and love with the outstanding Boris Karloff as the monster. In that same year, even Dracula with Bela Lugosi was a remake of the silent movie, Nosferatu. These two films are examples of films that were a good idea to have them remade, seeing that they were silent films that were remade as talkies. I agree with that wholeheartedly. Even films that were in black &white that are turned into colorized pictures, I agree with that as well. What I don’t agree with is how they were both remade again; Dracula, by Francis Coppola in 1992, and Frankenstein, by the blowhard Kenneth Branhagh in 1994.

But then again…there are quite a few remakes that clearly didn’t work. Obviously, most remakes are filmed and distributed just to make money. Again, some are well done and some look like no thought was put into it. Let’s go through them and see what worked.

One of the best remakes I’ve seen in my time is the 1982 John Carpenter film, The Thing. Originally made in 1951 as The Thing From Another World, John Carpenter’s version pretty much keeps the same formula with a team of men in the Antarctic who find, through the nearby Norwegian base, evidence of a UFO finding. Somehow the alien that came to earth in the spacecraft infiltrates the camp and creates havoc. You really don’t know how things get out of hand as the movie goes on and I think that’s how Carpenter meant it to be. It’s basically a mystery of who is human and who is the alien. Because this alien is not just a monster, but a virus that goes from species to species, absorbing and copying them. I’ve said it before, this is not some guy in a mask representing the monster, but a pathogen or bacterium that goes from human to human (or dog to dog in one horrendous scene) leaving the men stumped at how to rid it. Finally, this remake works because of new special effects from the 80s that weren’t around in the 40s. It truly frightens the audience a lot more than the original film and surpasses it just with the gritty performances by the cast. Also, Carpenter’s style of directing with his ability to set the mood creates a level of fear totally felt by the viewer.

Another remake that I felt was substantial was 2007’s 3:10 to Yuma with Christian Bale and Russell Crowe. I had never viewed the 1957 original with Glenn Ford, but I felt this was warranted, being that it was 50 years since the original was made.

Now a film that had been remade twice, and which I think the last remake worked incredibly, was King Kong. The original 1933 film with the clay-mation Kong was a classic, putting aside the choppy special effects of the stop-motion ape. But the 1976 movie by the Dino DeLaurentiis company was not that great. In fact, it gets more and more unwatchable as time goes on. Granted, the special effects of it’s time was all right, but they had to rely on rear projection and miniatures to make the giant ape look like anything but a guy in a gorilla costume. But Peter Jackson’s King Kong of 2005 was awesome. Most of the film had to rely on CGI to make the ape look real and it was expected, but the use of it to make a 1930s New York was jaw-dropping. Definitely the first half was a little long in the tooth, but the second act definitely made up for it.

A remake that’s sort of a guilty pleasure for me, and has been bashed by a lot of critics as well as fans of the title character of this film, is Roland Emmerich's Godzilla. I felt that the historical look of the monster from the Japanese movies is very well known, but let’s face it—it’s just a man in a rubber suit walking around miniature sets. 1998’s Godzilla brought in a nice CGI monster that seemed more believable as a giant iguana-esque type of creature that wreaks havoc in New York. Yeah, the plot was kind of thin, but it was enjoyable. I’m sure everybody was expecting a big powerful film after the success of Emmerich’s Independence Day, so maybe that’s why the film was panned by critics and fans of the famous monster, but I liked it.

Those were a few examples of movies that are okay for remakes and how movie producers won with their choice of redoes. But what are the criteria for a remake?

I really believe that filmmakers should wait at least 3o years before they decide to remake a film and that’s perhaps if the original was not a popular movie. For instance, I don’t think anybody should ever remake Gone With the Wind or Citizen Kane. Those are films that worked because of the era that they were made in. But virtually unknown films or films that had a small fan base or maybe films that were good but suffered due to special effects constraints, these should be remade to make it better. I don’t know what it is…I mean, you can just think of a movie and know if it’ll work or not…but that’s if you know movies and audiences. It just seems that the powers that be over in the big studios of Hollywood don’t see this too clearly.

Here’s where I give my opinion of films that NEVER should have been remade.

One popular film, again by John Carpenter, is the 1978 classic, Halloween. The original film spawned seven sequels through the 80s and 90s—two of which were sort of reboots of the franchise, depending on how you look at them. But the formula for the original was perfect: a little boy one Halloween night kills his sister for no apparent reason and goes into a mental institution for most of his life, only to escape 15 years later to return to the town he lived as a boy and continue his killing. At no point during this movie does it explain why he became this way; his own doctor doesn’t even know. It’s just explained by the doctor that he’s just plain evil. Now, almost 30 years later, Rob Zombie gets the nod to remake this classic. I had my doubts, because I saw what type of movies Zombie made with House of 1000 Corpses and The Devils Rejects, so I knew it was going to be very different. Sure enough, Zombie filmed a reason for this child’s turn to wickedness and how his family was to blame a little bit for it, in their white trash ways (a recurring theme in Zombie's movies). He just gave too much explanation where it should’ve been clouded in ambiguity. All in all, it was a good film and made lots of money…so much that it’s birthing a sequel this year (2009). But there was really no need to do it besides for the motivation to make a lot of money. The first one was perfect…why remake it???

A few years ago, June 6TH 2006 to be exact (6/6/06-ooooh scary), the remake of 1976’s The Omen was released. Again, not a bad movie—I thoroughly enjoyed it—but there really was no need for it. The 2006 version really didn’t add anything new to the mix when they made this, so I don’t see why this was recreated. The 1976 version was a classic and still holds up to this day, so it’s pretty transparent that making the 2006 version was just the new movement of movie producers to find an old money maker and recycle it in order to squeeze out more money from movie-goers.

In 2007, yet a further film that was remade from a lesser known feature was The Hitcher. The original with C. Thomas Howell and Rutger Hauer was perfect and needed no changes whatsoever. The Hitcher was a perfect thriller with Hauer playing a perfect psychopath. It’s not like there were any special effects that were outdated or certain clothing fashions that look ridiculous…it was just a way to make moolah.

Now, I left the worst for last. For me, this has got to be the worst remake ever attempted…and that remake, or should I say atrocity, was Gus Van Sant’s 1998 flop…Psycho. Man, what a stupid idea! Van Sant decided to remake the film shot-for-shot, all scenes exactly the same dialogue, the same running times for each scene, nothing unique at all! Why was this greenlighted??? The only things I saw that were different was when Vince Vaugn, as Norman Bates, is peeping through the hole at Anne Heche’s character when she’s getting undressed and you hear the unquestionable sound of Norman Bates masturbating. Another scene cut in some weird shots of something that was forgettable. I don’t see what the point was about this! It was utter crap that Universal Studios should be ashamed of being a part of. Alfred Hitchcock probably rolled over in his grave twice for the dense audacity of a second-rate director trying to better or equal the masterpiece of 1960’s Psycho.

And you know what? Someone’s going to try it again in 2011 with The Birds. The 1963 original was brilliant, but it could be improved upon if done right. Another upcoming remake I really, really disagree with is A Nightmare on Elm Street. The 1984 original scared the hell out of me and still does to this day. It was an exceptional film by Wes Craven and really shouldn’t be messed with. I mean, who can replace Robert Englund (it was announced that he wouldn’t return in this remake—Jackie Earle Haley will fill in the claws in this one) as Freddy Krueger? Of course I grew up with this film and seems like I first viewed this a few years ago. But I do have to realize the movie’s 25 years old! I don’t know, maybe they’ll do something fascinating, but I doubt it. Why couldn’t they just continue with the Freddy vs. Jason franchise? And speaking of horror movie icons, how about The Wolfman that’s coming out this year? That looks like something to look forward to. It’s been over 60 years since the original, so I think this one deserves a redux. I was able to see a little bit of a trailer when I went to Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights last year when I toured on the tram ride and it looks great! I’m definitely going to be in line for that one when it hits theaters.

The list goes on and on with upcoming remakes, from Scanners, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, Bonnie & Clyde with Hilary Duff (much to Faye Dunaway’s chagrin)…looks like remakes are the thing of Hollywood’s future. I guess if it works, we have a good movie-going experience; and if it doesn’t, well then I have something to blog about.

And that’s my “bit” about remakes.

1 comment:

Zacery Nova said...

Hilary Duff, seriously? Oh god.

- Zac