Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Remakes - A Rant

Branding a remake-crazy Hollywood as lacking ideas is demagoguery of the highest degree. Some of the most celebrated films of all time were either remakes, rehashes, adaptations, or plain forgeries. We are all right with the fact that The Godfather, one of, if not the, most celebrated films of all time is an adaptation of a pulp novel. We are all right that two of the greatest epics of 1950s were remakes of previous and very successful predecessors - bearing the same name (Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments).

So why dislike the new crop of Hollywood remakes, such as the Dragon Tattoo films and the recently released, Let Me in? Here is why.

There are four types of remakes that I can think of:

1- A film that is chronologically alien to contemporary audiences. In this case, the technology has advanced or as a society we have accumulated new memes that make certain cultural and political allusions redundant and repugnant. So, remaking a film from an era that is culturally and technologically alien, by way of its temporal existence, is fine. If a story feels that it requires a re-telling, a remake should not be scoffed at.

2- A film that is so obscure that there is only one copy in a library in a small Dutch town. It is missing 2 reels in the middle and the second half of the final reel has puke marks all over it. Yet, film historians argue that it is a truly lost treasure. For example, if anyone would like to remake Greed (1922), please do. Because in its current form Greed is a half-finished mess. This kind of remake is OK, because as audiences we don't have access to this film and it sounds like a story worth telling.

3- A film that is derided critically and commercially - there is a fine story there, but in the hands of an awful crew and actors, a decent story was turned into tosh. Again, it is the filmmakers' artistic duty to society(!) to remake this and share this story with the wider world.

And then there is the fourth kind …

4- A film that is readily available in the latest format the industry is shoving down our throats, a film that is so recent that the lead actor's voice hasn't even broken yet, a film that is commercially and critically loved … there is absolutely no reason to remake that film other than bringing it all down to the lowest common denominator - the lazy moviegoer who cannot compute the idea that stories can take in other locations, with people talking in other languages.

Mind you, there is every chance that a remake can be better than the original, but can anybody convince me that the industry that we so love and hate has a motto to raise the artistic bar? If you are not reviving a lost film, retelling a great story in a proper way, or carrying the story to our contemporary consciousness, you have no right to remake the Dragon Tattoo films or Let the Right One in.

Full disclosure: I think the first Dragon Tattoo film was terrible, but I am aware that a lot of people disagree with me. And I have yet to see Let Me in - a remake of one of my favourite films of all time, but I want to make sure that this is not a jab at the individual films, but at a trend that is increasingly disturbing me.

Pablo Picasso said that bad artists imitate, good artists steal. Hollywood, stop imitating and start stealing.


DubMC said...

Oh Bru... I disagree, primarily because I HAVE seen Let Me In and recognize the purpose in its existence. I used to argue blanket statements like this... there are probably about 85 reviews that charter this same territory. But I've adapted a new view - to me, "remakes" aren't the problem - "bad remakes" are. A shot-for-shot remake of Pyscho is a ridiculous waste of time. A new version of The Maltese Falcon, 10 years after the original, and this time starring Bogart, is not...

The Bru said...

Oh, DubMC ... I'm completely with you on that one: bad remakes and shot-by-shot remakes are horrible. I'm just more concerned with the 'why'. What is the reasoning behind remaking "good" films so soon?

I will watch Let Me in with an open mind, but I don't see why it had to be remade. I know I sound elitist but I completely disagree with the notion that a film, or a story, gets legitimacy when it's done in certain way, with better-known actors, in English, set in a "familiar" location. Some of the reviews I have read alluded to the fact that moving Let the Right One in to Los Alamos NM was a great move, because it made it more familiar. No - it didn't. I have never set foot in Stockholm, nor Los Alamos NM, but I dug the Swedish story along with many other people who have yet to set foot in Stockholm.

It is disrespectful of the creators and of the films themselves. (yes, they are getting paid and yes they are getting a lot of PR). Remaking The Maltese Falcon with Bogie is a genius move, but it is improving on a previous film that was not readily available to the then movie-going public. Most of the recent crop of remakes, on the other hand, are available. And these were very, very good films to begin with - that's why their rights have been grabbed by hungry businessmen right away. We are not talking about some obscure Bulgarian student film here.

Apologies dude, this is a looooong comment. Just want to say I agree with you on bad remakes, but if the most celebrated film of the second half of the year was actually released about 18 months ago, there is an issue there.

DubMC said...

I'm not sure we can use Let Me In as a argumentive point... it's not a studio or especially Hollywood product. Fincher's flick is a more interesting scenario, and one we shouldn't judge until we've seen the product.

My point is this - does the fact that True Grit is a remake make you any less excited to see it? Probably not. But at the same time, John Wayne fans may take offense.

This camp vs. that camp, blah blah blah. I just don't think movies should be judged by blanket principles. Just because it is a "remake" or a "blockbuster" or a "horror" flick doesn't make it bad. That they are bad because they are bad. Yes, they are also reflective of society - and we can't ignore that. But if quality movies can come out of remakes, then the idea that remakes exist does not trouble me.

Which is all fine and good of me to say, until they remake Back to the Future with Justin Beiber and I go on a shooting rampage....


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