Sunday, November 28, 2004

Remakes


People love to bitch about remakes.

And probably there's good reason to. Most of the time they are merely a way for a studio to cash in on a bankable name that they happen to possess the rights to use, and, in recent years, even the best have largely been rather empty when compared to the originals.

During Hollywood's golden age, remakes were common. I've never heard a rumor that anyone got up in arms that John Huston's first movie was a remake of Satan Met A Lady, which was only five years old at the time, and already a remake of the original The Maltese Falcon, which was only ten years old.

How about when DeMille decided to do a glorious color and sound version of his own original The Ten Commandments or William Wyler did the same with Fred Niblo's Ben Hur? Or the Hammer Films re-imagining the tales told in the Universal Studios Monsters movies, in many cases not even for the first time with those films...

Are these examples extreme? Possibly, but the point would be the same whatever examples I used.

Sometimes the problem is largely about phrasing. Tell five people that they are planning to make a new adaptation of Richard Matheson's classic novel I Am Legend, then tell a different five people that they are remaking The Omega Man, and see the differences in the reactions.

Mind you, too many remakes that could have been new adaptations of literary works, Robert Bloch's Psycho or Pierre Boelle's Monkey Planet, have instead chosen to mimic the more familiar cinematic works already in existance, much to their detriment, in my opinion.

Of course, examples exist, such as John Carpenter's The Thing, which wonderfully rethinks how to tell John W. Campbell's "Who Goes There?", or David Cronenberg's The Fly and Philip Kaufman's Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, which deftly rethink their cinematic antecedents for a new age.

The fact is, Hollywood studios used to make fifty films a year and now they make between five and ten. The idea of remaking films was a much more obvious way to fill up some of the many, many slots available. Now it's a much more crass enterprise, mostly just to exploit a name familiarity. This should be condemned in motive, but then 20th Century Fox developed a remake of The Fly with that exact motivation and only happened upon Cronenberg.

Would we, the films geeks and video weened, be too busy griping about the idea of remakes to notice if the next Cronenberg appears to make a remake of some revered classic favorite of ours?

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