Remakes: The biggest ‘Why?’ in the film industry
Published: Monday, October 21, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 21, 2013 22:10
In this week’s issue of “What Hollywood’s Greed is Ruining for You,” I am going to liberally attack the concept of remakes especially in light of the most incarnation of the problem, 2013’s version of “Carrie.” As an avid Stephen King lover and cinephile, the impact of 1976’s horror classic directed by Brian De Palma’s version cannot be minimized. Often remakes especially of the shot for shot variety will fare poorly critically and often financially. However, in Hollywood’s pathetic search for a quick buck, remakes will continue to be made and the casual moviegoers will continue to see them.
When making a remake, one should always ask themselves, “Why?” In fact, Stephen King did just that when the “Carrie” remake was first announced in 2011. According to Entertainment Weekly, King was perplexed, saying, “The real question is why, when the original was so good?” The answer for many executives is of course money; yet, to maintain any sort of dignity as a movie, those behind remakes need to consider what separates them from the original. If the only updates are superficial, such a temporal update to the current time period, one should maybe pass on updating.
The definitive example of a needless remake can be found in the shot-for-shot remake of the 1960 version of “Psycho.” The 1998 version featured the very puzzling casting of Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates as “innovation.” This decision would sound more feasible if describing a “Scary Movie” parody flick. The late Roger Ebert described the film perfectly in his review, stating, “The movie is an invaluable experiment in the theory of cinema, because it demonstrates that a shot-by-shot remake is pointless; genius apparently resides between or beneath the shots.” Ebert, the greatest movie critic of all time, is unsurprisingly correct. In Time’s wonderfully titled, “Carrie: A Remake Not Worth the Blood or the Bother,” reviewer Richard Corliss notes the additions or revisions in 2013’s “Carrie” are minimal: a scene where Margaret White gives birth to Carrie, and then the timely inclusion of the posting of Carrie’s bullying incident online for viral video status. Such is a horror even Stephen King couldn’t conceive of for the novel in 1974.
What additions and revisions then could possibly allow a remake to ascend critically above the original or at least come close in success? For starters, it’s easy just to rip off a Japanese film and cast a blonde white girl as the protagonist. Looking at you, “The Grudge” and “The Ring.” Honestly, American remakes of foreign films happen quite often, with even critically acclaimed “The Departed,” serving as a remake of Hong Kong’s “Infernal Affairs.” Remaking a film no one can recall prevents comparisons to the original, an anonymity the remakes of “Psycho” and “Carrie” couldn’t hope for. However, even if the original films are well-known, as was the case with 1958’s “The Fly” and 1951’s “The Thing from Another World,” an expansion or reinterpretation of themes or genres can aid in the remake’s success. For example, 1986’s “The Fly,” in addition to containing dynamite performances from leads Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, focused more on the slow evolution of Goldblum’s character into a man-fly creature and became a strong and moving allegory for disease. While the concepts remained intact, the characters and situations were adapted allowing for a story that stood on its own. In a similar vein, John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” while still a remake of the 1951 film, more closely followed the source material while altering characters and situations from the original film. More importantly, this remake expanded on the horror tone in the film, allowing for a more terrifying feature.
Even as I become more critical and cynical of the film industry, I do understand more that the movie industry exists to make money which even remakes can do. Still many fail miserably. Just ask James Marsden how starring in “Straw Dogs” worked out for him. In the grand scheme of things, even a moderately successful remake (which “Carrie” will probably be) will receive a reaction of, “Well, it wasn’t bad, but why did you bother?” Instead of the terrible and tiring remakes, Hollywood, why don’t we continue with re-releases, just not 3D releases please? If you’re merely going to copy the original film, just save us all the grief and your production budget, and re-release the original film. It would make cinephiles like myself more pleased to go to the movies indeed.