Remakes have become the lowest form of Hollywood entertainment in an ever increasing way over the last decade. Whilst this trend has tended to veer predominantly towards the horror genre (Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Amityville Horror, Quarantine etc) there are plenty of examples of the remake infecting other genres too; Clash of the Titans, Straw Dogs and Shadow of a Doubt come instantly to mind.
That’s not to say that some remakes aren’t very good, because as with any complaint worthy topic there are some exceptions. The Fly, for example is not only a great remake, but an improvement on the original. As is John Carpenters The Thing.
But in the cases of a remake being worthwhile it is always because the film fits into one of two categories; either the director/crew are so passionate about the original material that they can accurately pay homage and/or make a subject their own, or the film being remade was relatively unknown in the mainstream, so critics and audiences are less likely to make a direct comparison to the original and are willing to take the new movie on its own merits.*
It is the latter of these two categories that I want to focus on for this piece. After all, why would you want to remake something that is so well known and loved that it is virtually an impossible task to get the audience on side? I would love to get the chance to make a big budget film someday, but if the only way I could do that was to have to remake something that already has legendary status; a classic like The Warriors, Poltergeist or The Goonies I think I’d be inclined not to bother. And yet there are plenty of film companies that are willing to hire up and coming directors to take a ‘painted by numbers’ stab at films like Total Recall, Spiderman or The Wicker Man and expect to come out with genuine results!
So what is the point of this rant? Well it’s that there are literally thousands of unknown films that are not classics and never will be; films that suffered either from lack of budget, shaky scripts or questionable casts that still contain at least a spark of great potential to be made better. So why not remake some of these? I assume it’s just that the Hollywood machine looks at the box office figures for these films and thinks “that film flopped so logic says if we remake it, no matter how much we improve it, we’ll do the same numbers or worse”. If this is the case then it is very stupid.
In any case I would say that the direct opposite of this sentiment should put people off remaking popular films. If a film is a genuine classic with huge box office and home sales, it is surely pertinent to say that such a film’s huge audience would be turned off by one of their favourite films getting remade by a cast and crew who do not yet have the cinematic status of their classic film’s heroes? They are surely set up to fail from the off and so have to work extra hard/spend much more marketing money to convince the audience that “this new version has more shocks, thrills, action, adventure, bang for your buck than its predecessor”.
So it is with humble intentions and a desire to see some films with great potential made better, that I suggest for filmmakers everywhere to dig into the archives of cinema. If you really must develop a remake then don’t just look to those tried and tested classics, in fact don’t do that at all. Those films are classics because they got it right the first time. Instead seek out films that have disappeared into the annals of time; like archeologists of celluloid you will find a myriad of ideas which will feel fresh and exciting. They may be masked by B movie budgets and hammy/wooden acting but they are there and they are waiting to be mined of all their creativity.
Yeah yeah, I know you’re probably laughing my credibility as a film enthusiast out of the door right now. But just you wait, someone will re-write Dead Heat one of these days and it will have even more terrible Joe Piscopo one liners. Then who’ll be laughing? Probably still nobody. But hey I’d pay to see it!
*sometimes a remake fits both of these categories and we get the Coen Brothers’ True Grit.