posted on January 12th, 2014
As I explained in Part 1, sequels are often used to expand or revamp old concepts. With that being said, it’s difficult to talk about sequels without mentioning remakes, which also seek to capitalize on previous films. This may include movie updates of old television shows such as Transformers and Americanized versions of foreign flicks such as The Birdcage based off the French film La Cage Aux Folles. Like sequels, these seem to be more prevalent now than ever with remakes of About Last Night, Endless Love, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles set to premiere this year. However, remakes might have an even worse reputation than sequels because either they’re thought to be just retreading old ground or people love the original so much that even considering remaking what was already perfect would be cinematic blasphemy.
One example of a remake that should have never seen the light of day is 1998’s Psycho, a near shot for shot rip-off of the Hitchcock classic. The only real differences between the two are the actors, the time set, and the sixties version being shot in black and white. Ironically, these are the only differences necessary to make the remake a far inferior film. Even if the camera angles, music, sets, and dialogue can be replicated down to the letter, the one thing that absolutely could not be replicated were the iconic performances of Janet Leigh as Marion Crane and Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. Though not for lack of trying, Anne Heche and Vince Vaughn as the leads don’t even come close to bringing the depth and subtle nuances to the characters that the original actors brought to the roles. It doesn’t help that the original 1960’s dialogue feels out of place in a 1990’s setting. In a nutshell, Gus Van Sant’s Psycho is what an Alfred Hitchcock movie is like…without Alfred Hitchcock. Remakes of other beloved older films such as 2004’s The Stepford Wives, 1999’s The Haunting, and 2008’s The Women also fall short from the originals.
On the other hand, there are plenty of remakes that are not only considered better than the original, but practically obscure the first version. Scarface (1983), Ben-Hur (1959), and even The Wizard of Oz (1939) are all famous classics that were remade from earlier versions. One of my personal favorites is the Coen Brothers’ True Grit (2010), remade from the 1969 version starring John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn. The first common mistake of remakes this one avoids is trying to imitate how the original actors played the characters, which in John Wayne’s case, was essentially playing himself. Not only do Jeff Bridges (Rooster Cogburn), Hailee Steinfeld (Mattie Ross), and Matt Damon (LaBoeuf) live up to their predecessors, they completely own their roles. The Coen’s version also takes full advantage of its’ post-Civil War “Old West” setting, being more realistic and–no pun intended–grittier than the original. This allows for a tad more violent and intense action scenes, along with some dark humor. I won’t spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it, but I will say the remake ends on a bittersweet note, unlike the standard ‘riding off into the sunset’ ending of most westerns.
So the question remains: When is a remake warranted? Just like with prequels and sequels, it depends if there’s something new and interesting that can be done with the original source while retaining the core idea, or if it’s just attempting to make a profit off of nostalgia. The assumption that we can always take “old” or “outdated” movies, no matter how great they were already, and make them better than ever likely comes with ever-changing technology opening up endless possibilities. I’m not one to say Hollywood can’t make remakes or sequels to previous films, but just because something can be done doesn’t necessarily mean it should. Before updating iconic films, I only ask creators keep this in mind: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.