Salon’s Matt Zoller Seitz surveys the remake-heavy landscape and says:
We’re getting very close to the point where the phrase “Entertainment news” may have to be replaced by “Remake and Reboot News.”
What do you think about that? I’ve got mixed feelings myself, but I’ve decided to keep an open mind, even though it isn’t always easy.
Remakes have been a part of movies as long as movies have existed, of course, and it’s worth pointing out that the remake of John Carpenter’s “The Thing” that I mentioned a few sentences ago is in fact a prequel or “origin story”, and the third movie go-round for this property; Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks made a movie with the same plot back in 1951, based on the short story “Who Goes There?” And a lot of the projects I listed here are themselves based on properties created in another medium — novels, comics, plays and so forth. (In case you’re wondering, the forthcoming action movie “The Killer Elite” is not a remake of the 1975 Sam Peckinpah movie, it just has the same title.)
So what’s the big deal?
Maybe there is no big deal.
Dw. Dunphy: But the forthcoming Straw Dogs IS a remake.
You know, I don’t intrinsically have a problem with a remake/redo/(ugh)reboot if the circumstances are right. Take, for instance, this Thing prequel. Do I believe for a moment that it isn’t pretense for a virtual remake of Carpenter’s with a small amount of narrative nip-n-tuck to duck behind? No, I do not. It might be good, but I cannot trust them when they say, “This is the story from the starting point, not a remake.”
Carpenter is a good example here. The original Thing had time on it and a certain amount of cinematic innocence that a unique filmmaker could really play around with. Plus, I’d suspect that only a handful of people got the warm fuzzies over it back when, if they had been aware of it existing at all.
The modern remake landscape is different. These are little more than Chinese restaurants that get caught with cat in the freezer, close up, change business names, switch ownership to family members and reopen. (Don’t look at me like that. I know of a restaurant where this exact thing happened. Stereotypes sometimes are rooted in truth.) Both Spider-Man and Superman barely have dust on them and already they’re changing hands and names and coming out. It’s the same old egg foo yung, folks; just different titles on the door.
Worse, these “new visions” are not done by people who have anything to offer beyond workmanlike abilities. As much as I’m no Zack Snyder fan, as his work on 300 shows, he can handle a specific type of movie. He could have brought that to a Conan The Barbarian reboot. Instead we have Marcus Nispel, who could have been anyone. I think people are excited about The Avengers next year not because it is a superhero summer camp, but because it is fronted by Joss Whedon, who should bring what he does best to the fledgling franchise. He’s actually delivering something of importance to the recipe.
But as it is in all these things, people want to keep supporting the Reboot Industrial Complex, then all people will get are assembly-line reboots. If they stop the money flow, the concept will wither and Hollywood will move on to yet another safe bet.
Kelly Stitzel: When it comes down to it, what annoys me so much about the unnecessary amount of remakes that are happening these days (and, yes, I get the point that they’ve always been a part of the industry) is that it’s disheartening to think that there are so many incredible screenwriters and filmmakers out there with brilliant, original ideas for films that aren’t getting made because someone thought it would be a good idea to remake every goddamn movie from the 1980s.
Scott Malchus: Remakes have been a part of the movie landscape since the beginning of movies, true. But at one time studios were making hundreds of movies a year, providing more options for people. The studios were willing to fund smaller movies because the blockbusters helped fund them. That doesn’t happen very much any more. I suppose it’s true that with DVD and Netflix, there may appear to be more independent movies available at our fingertips (King’s Highway, watch it this weekend!), but the experience is not the same. People like to go to the darkened theater, sit in the squeaky, gross chairs, suck down 100 ounces of Coke and be taken to a new place.
Movies have become such a high risk that studios only want what they think are sure things and executives believe that remakes are as close to a sure thing as Reese Witherspoon in a rom-com.
Chris Holmes: It’s a completely cynical move by Hollywood, but I suppose from a business standpoint it makes sense. Sequels/reboots don’t require as much marketing, as people are already familiar with the franchise in most cases. And if you look at it from the standpoint of the average moviegoer, with a limited budget and an increasing number of entertainment options, franchises offer at least a little assurance that they’ll get some enjoyment.
I rarely get out to the movies since my son was born, and when I do I don’t usually take many chances. So far this year I’ve seen two movies — Source Code and Deathly Hallows Part 2 — for a sequel to original rate of 50%. So I’m hardly part of the solution here.
As much as I rail against the seeming creative bankruptcy of the sequel/prequel/reboot thing, it’s curious to me that movies seem to be the one form of entertainment where this gets poo poo’d. Book series are OK, similar-sounding albums are OK, video game franchises are OK, but somehow movie franchises are not?
Dunphy: The last movie I saw in the theater was Inception. There have been a lot of movies I wanted to see since, but none have crossed me over that threshold. They all can wait for video, and that is the logical next step in this comfort barrier you’re talking about. If I don’t want to risk spending ticket prices on a movie I’m unsure of, eventually, why bother going at all? If it’s a rerun, that’s what TV is for.
Kelly: Chris, I don’t think that it’s franchises in film that are a problem. Sequels aren’t really the issue – it’s the remakes. Sequels can be just as unncessary, but at least (most of the time) they’re continuing the story of the first film, not just retelling it with different actors, sets, directors, etc.
I personally prefer arthouse and independent films (whatever “independent” means these days) over big budget, mass-market films. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a big budget film every once in a while — I mean, I saw the Star Trek movie twice in the theater and loved every second of it (now there’s a remake/reboot that I was 100% worried about but ended up completely changing my tune about after I saw it). But I’m usually more likely to spend my money in the theater seeing some documentary or Sundance darling at a tiny arthouse theater than seeing something at the 20-screen multi-plex.
Dunphy: Star Trek was a different case, and they handled it very cleverly. Yes, it restarts the whole thing, but it does so with a “wrinkle in time,” so rather than insulting the audience and fanbase by saying, “forget that old product. Here’s the new and improved product,” it is both restart and continuation.
One of the few instances where they had the cake and ate it too. I’m hoping Ridley Scott can do something similar with Prometheus, the presumed prequel to Alien. I’m less happy about him taking on Blade Runner again, though.
Matt Springer: From a Hollywood perspective, it must be so attractive to just pick up a dusty old script, blow the cover clean, and then hand it off to some cheap young kid who will slave over it like it’s his Citizen Kane and churn out a workable version within three months.
From a viewer perspective, I can’t say I much care, except that so many of these remakes/reboots have been shitty. Hell, if Gus Van Sant had come up with something unique or original to say about Psycho, I say let him have at it. The problem is that it’s pure Hollywood pap with nothing behind it, in most cases.
It’s interesting to see the differences, too, between a straight-up remake/reboot situation and something with a franchise heft behind it, like Spider-Man or Star Trek. In those cases it’s not just that they’re remaking a movie, or rebooting a 40-year franchise; they’re basically making an investment on decades of Underoos and Happy Meals. I would imagine the math and decision-making on this new Spider-Man was very different than just saying, “Hey, let’s take that Spencer Tracey Father of the Bride and do it with Steve Martin. And Martin Short, but gay.”
I always seem to be more optimistic than my pop culture-loving buddies on stuff like this. I will give most anything a chance. I’m mildly excited for next summer’s Amazing Spider-Man even though I totally agree that the Tobey Maguire movies are still so fresh in the collective memory. I just always hope that even in the big ugly blockbuster realm, someone with some kind of creative spark will come along and not just redo a beloved thing for another group of people to spend money on, but will try to put some kind of unique stamp on it. Like JJ Abrams and Trek, which I totally adored, not just because they honored the hours I spent as a thirteen-year-old in front of a two-inch black and white TV in my room watching re-runs on Sunday nights, but because Abrams put together something that embraced the fundamental concept and took what was exciting and fun about it and reintroduced it for today’s audiences. If a director can do that, he can remake whatever he wants, in my view. And honestly, in that sense, it’s not “creative bankruptcy” at all; it’s a creative person doing what he/she wants, and it just happens to involve an existing concept.
Dan Wiencek: I know I’m completely alone in the woods on this one, but the whole time-travel/new timeline angle was the one element of the Star Trek reboot I could have completely done without. I don’t need to see Leonard Nimoy’s dentures to be assured I’m watching a “real” Star Trek movie, and it would have made for a much less convoluted plot.
Malchus: You’re not alone, Dan.
Springer: I probably could have lived without the time-travel angle too, except it was so goddamned clever, and I like that aspect of Trek. It also provided a really good context for the fact that these characters were behaving so much like Nimoy/Kelly/Shatner, which for me elevated it beyond being just a remake.
Kelly: So, there’s been a lot of discussion about which films shouldn’t be remade (I’m particularly annoyed by the Dirty Dancing and WarGames remakes, myself). But are there any that stick out that could use a fresh, modern take?
Holmes: Logan’s Run.
Wiencek: I heard recently that someone got the rights to do The Big Sleep. I’d love to see someone take this story and do it right: adhere to the plot and really get the character of Marlowe right (which the Bogart version didn’t do) while putting it in a rich, perfect-to-the-last-detail period LA setting (which the Mitchum version didn’t do). I heard they had cast Marlowe but haven’t heard anything else in a while.
David Medsker: I’m shocked that no one’s taken a whack at Heaven Can Wait. I love the original, but I think that’s the kind of property that would lend itself well to a new version.
Malchus: The original was a remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan.
Medsker: In the back of my head, I knew that. And actually you just proved my point. That material could definitely be remade again.
Jeff Giles: It was — with Chris Rock, in 2001.
Dunphy: JakeSpeed or Remo Williams?
I’m kidding…or am I?
((Yes, I am.))
Bob Cashill: As Jeff noted, Chris Rock remade Heaven Can Wait as Down to Earth, then remade Death at a Funeral as…Death at a Funeral, with Peter Dinklage playing the same part. (One of his other movies was an Americanization, another tricky prospect.)
Remakes where the premise is overhauled for changing times can work fine; there were three decent Body Snatchers movies, then a miss, but it could probably work again in whatever society we have 10-15 years down the line. And the new Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark has been effectively reimagined, even if it can’t scare you like the original did at age 8. (Which is a problem; audiences expect to get that old feeling, but you can’t get, because…you’re old.)
I wasn’t all that crazy about the Apes reboot, but that’s one way to look at these things; the Burton remake failed because it stuck too closely to a mold that the director had no feeling for. Starting from the ground up was a smart idea.
Rod Lurie told me (told Popdose) that he was remaking Straw Dogs because younger audiences don’t know the original, which is true (and true of most older viewers, too). It’s a delicate balance–you need to put your stamp on it without ruffling memories of what’s gone before, and going too overboard with homages.
Logan’s Run is the perfect story to remake–a great concept that led to a bungled but affectionately recalled original, with those miserable pre-Star Wars. But it seems like a tough nut to crack, as a remake has been mooted for years. (A period-set Big Sleep? In theory, yes, but considering the numbers, expensive to pull off, and I’m not sure where the audience is. L.A. Confidential wasn’t a huge hit.)