The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

When are remakes justified?

There's been a lot of criticism about "remake fever" in Hollywood. Probably justified. But the question remains: when IS a remake justified? To reinterpret for a new generation? To showcase a new star or technology? To undo errors or lacks in the original? Plays are continuously re-interpreted by new directors and... casts. Why not film? Thoughts, please

17 comments:

L.R. Giles said...

You know, I think there's always SOME justification for a remake. When we're talking about redoing a film, we're not discussing re-writing someone's religious doctrine (well, maybe for some...I'm thinking of some very vocal Trekkers around the time of JJ Abrams' film). And really, I think any justifications made (mostly by those who have a hand in the remake) are created after the fact, because saying it's just a safe bet (like buying McDonald's stock) is a bit too capitalistic for the general movie going public. I think most of the criticism about remakes comes from a "seeming" lack of balance between the remakes/reboots/reimagnings and original material (I 'seeming' because I really don't know if it's unbalanced, just feels that way).

Marty S said...

The main justification I can see for a remake is if the first movie did a lousy job. I have seen poor movies based upon really good books. A remake based upon the same book but doing a better job of translation to film would be justified.

Reluctant Lawyer said...

I'm all for a remake if the new movie is good and it is not a shot by shot recreation of the original. It has to add something...

Pagan Topologist said...

How is a remake of a movie different from a rewrite of a book? It has always seemed to me to be a little bit problematic.

Anonymous said...

You can take a single scene in a book, incorporate every line, every detail -- and film it a thousand different ways.

This means that you can take something that was filmed, and ALSO film it a thousand different ways.

MTimonin said...

I think re-makes are entirely justified. I think you sometimes have great stories which lose their appeal because they are surrounded by the trappings of an earlier age, which no longer make sense to a current audience. For instance, my father-in-law loves to tell a story about my wife watching Gone With the Wind with a bunch of girlfriends and laughing themselves silly - the movie did not match up to their mental images from reading the book. Another consideration: sci fi films are often predictive. What happens when the year that the film is set in rolls around, and none of the things predicted in film have happened? Under those circumstances, I think a re-make may well be a good idea, if the story underlying the predictions is still worth telling.

I wish that there were fewer re-makes, though. I think original stories are better, in the long run.

Bennett said...

I think that a lot of the best remakes are generational. Some characters and themes become part of the cultural mythos, and it's interesting to see how each new generation of artists will tackle it. Look at comic books--and not just the films. Every decade or so, the X-Men and so forth get a face-lift, but their core endures.

I don't think anyone minds a 'remake' of a Shakespeare play, re-imagined into the modern period, or simply updated with new actors. Even Sherlock Holmes got his update. It's a way of keeping the cultural myths going, in a way. So I suppose it's a question of how solid the remake is, how venerable the source is, and whether it's subjectively judged to be 'too soon'.

Pagan Topologist said...

I very much mind a remake of a Shakespeare play. I would never attend one which was "translated" even. And I don't like it when they are set in different periods from the ones they were written in.

I have no objections if someone wants to use a Shakespeare plot as the basis of a new play, but to call it a "remake" is just wrong, as far as I am concerned.

T.M. said...

For the most part, movies that are remade are "classic" movies -- classic, because they got it right the first time. Who remakes bad movies? I wish they would, but it's so rare, it doesn't sell. No classic movie should be "updated for the generation"-- that means taking something that acheived the universal and deliberately making it dated. In the same way that you promote "conscious writing" we must have conscious film-making, film-making for the purpose of changing the audience-- the desire to do showcase a new star, or new special effects, or otherwise do something different for the attraction of novelty for its own sake, is not conscious film-making. Plays are continuously re-interpreted because plays are always a participatory experience of the moment-- the same play with the same cast at the same location is a different experience two performances in a row because the audience is different. The whole purpose of film is to produce the best possible performace and keep it, just the same every time.

This leaves your question about "to undo errors and lacks in the original", which I want to rephrase as "to engage in dialogue with the original". A BRILLIANT recent example of this is the Russian "12". The more familiar you are with "Twelve Angry Men", the more you can see of the incredibly rich commentary on the gap between American and Russian realities and the difficulties of applying a system that's emerged from one society to another. At the same time, like the original, it's a cohesive, powerful story ready to transform a viewer who has no prior connections.

Frank Sauer said...

As Mr Barnes is fond of pointing out, it (film making) is a business. The justification for a remake is the producers have gambled their money on the possibility of making more of the same.

Film is a medium for story telling, for entertaining, for inducing a sense of wonder, or for educating; take your pick, or add some more purposes. It has its requirements and cliches, its good and bad practices. As an art form, it can still evolve. As a business, it has to please an audience and make a profit.

Who cares if someone does a remake? OK, maybe I would if someone tried to redo Casablanca ... I guess I do have limits.
Cheers,
Frank

Nancy Lebovitz said...

The idea that some movies are "justified" and others aren't sounds very weird to me, but perhaps I don't care enough about movies.

In any case, I suspect that people who complain about remakes have the background assumption that if the remake weren't made, the resources would have gone into making a good new movie.

They might have.

And I'm curious to hear from the movie buffs. What proportion of new movies are good as compared to remakes? I'm betting that the odds are somewhat better for new movies, but not strikingly so.

What proportion of new movies are great compared to remakes? I'm betting that almost all great movies are new rather than remakes.

MTimonin said...

Periodically, I attend performances by the American Shakespeare Center (http://www.americanshakespearecenter.com/). They have a policy of retaining the language and settings of Shakespeare, but altering the costuming and often the music. They contend that Shakespeare's original costuming and music were not true to his settings, but rather true to his audience. The audience was supposed to be able to recognize cultural cues in the costuming on stage, and be able to sing along with the music being performed. If changing those aspects allows a modern audience to more easily appreciate the work of Shakespeare (and it does), then I am entirely in favor.

Steven Barnes said...

Pagan Topologist--
Books are versions of stories, and stories are definitely told countless times.

Anonymous said...

http://www.pvponline.com/2008/11/18/trek-on/

Zed said...

Right or wrong, my initial reaction to hearing a good movie is being remade is to be grumpy about it. I get over it if the new movie re-interprets the original in a novel fashion. I remain grumpy if it's just an exercise in creating a vehicle for a star du jour, or a literal remake of a foreign film so American audiences can be comfortable with familiar faces and no subtitles.

My initial reaction when I heard "The Karate Kid" was being remade was to be grumpy. But the next thing I heard was that Jackie Chan was in the Mr. Miyagi role, and I figured I'd give it a shot because I love Jackie Chan. (I'm aware that this borders on hypocrisy with my distaste for remakes as star vehicles.)

Having seen it, I admired the greater depth of the mentor character and the mentor/student relationship, and its portrayal of the mentor needing the student as much as the other way around. That last could be read into the original, but wasn't much on the screen. I especially liked that in the remake, when Mr. Han was having his bad night, Dre had the compassion and wisdom to bring him out of it -- if I recall the original correctly, Daniel just leaves.

There are things I thought the original did better, but, on balance, I think the recent one improved on it -- it was a good remake and a good movie.

Steven Barnes said...

Is it legitimate to remake a film if there are offensive aspects in the original? Or is that just being PC?

Zed said...

It's a goal I can get behind, but I suppose I'd call it on a case-by-case basis. For instance, I find it offensive that Casablanca presents Renault as a lovable rogue when he's abusing his office to coerce desperate women. But if I heard that there was going to be a remake of Casablanca that aimed to change absolutely nothing but presenting Renault as an unsympathetic sleaze, I'd probably think that I'd sooner see tens of millions spent on an original story.