Tuesday, August 19, 2008

why people hate remakes

John at The Movie Blog wonders "Why Do Some People Hate Remakes?" I feel like sequels can also be included in this post, since sequels are nothing but looser remakes of the original. And John offers retorts to my exact concerns:

A) There is no creativity left in Hollywood
2. Adaptation is HARD
I know a lot of screenwriters, and a many of them tell me that adapting a piece of work can actually be more difficult creatively than doing something from scratch. Doing a totally original work presents no boundaries to you. You’re free to go or do whatever you want, and so running into obstacles is no big deal because you have a million options. However with adaptations, you’re forced to think more creatively because there is an existing framework you need to stay within. I’m not saying adaptations are BETTER, I’m just pointing out that creatively adaptations can be even more challenging.
My response: There are only a few narratives possibilities when you think about it. "Beauty and the Beast" covers changing a loved one for the better, and "Prince and the Pauper" is the storyline of any grass-is-greener narrative, just to name two of them. (There are also broader plots, ranging from 1-36 basic narratives.) So in a sense, all movies are adaptations of the most fundamental plots. But the point is... The Day the Earth Stood Still does not need to be remade. Japanese horror films do not need to be remade; Americans can just rent the films and read the subtitles. Hedda Gabbler and Anna Kareninina are similar stories, but the characters and events are different enough that they are not remakes of one another (although they are, in fact, adaptations). I don't mind book adaptations coming to film because, when you think of how many books are being published, there is a lot of original work being published every year and authors are far less likely to be accused of stealing material. Pride and Prejudice is an iconic story that has many variations, but difference makes the difference. Direct remakes -- such as the recently announced Rocky Horror Picture Show remake -- don't have this difference. It's appropriation. It's making money off of someone else's characters, someone else's events, someone else's relationships. It's cinematic déjà vu, and I don't really feel like paying for the same movie three, five, seven times in one year. Sometimes I see a trailer and think, "Wait, I've seen this one... I know how it ends..."

B) It ruins the original
I hear this one all the time and to this day I have no idea what they’re talking about. It’s almost as if they believe that if Uwe Boll decides to do a remake of Sparticus, somehow Kirk Douglas’ performance in the original will mystically become wooden. Somehow the original masterpiece will melt on DVD store shelves everywhere and all we’ll be left with is the Boll rendition. The fact of the matter is that if Boll does a Sparticus remake and it sucks… I STILL HAVE THE ORIGINAL! The original hasn’t been touched or soiled or sullied or “ruined” in any way shape or form. As a matter of fact, a remake will get people talking about the original again and maybe even influence more people to check out one of the best films ever made that they never would have thought about had the remake not come along.
My response: I think John misses the point of arguing that "it ruins the original." This argument actually revolves around the laziness and ignorance of the American audience. Why remake the The Ring when you can just help distribute the original Ringu, which almost everyone agrees is better? The reason these horror films are so excellent in their Japanese form is because of the cultural difference. American horror is founded on shock and quick scare tactics. It's rarely psychological, and when it is, people find it to be boring or slow-paced. But in its Japanese cultural context and its different ways of editing the suspense, the movie is set apart from the rest. It's refreshing. I feel like remakes of foreign films are lazy on the producer's part (why spend months developing a new storyline and characters when someone else has already done it?), and I think that, by reproducing an Americanized version, they are limiting our cultural awareness of foreign films. Do you think a post-WWII It's a Wonderful Life remake would translate well to Japan? Of course not. Similarly, I think it will deter people from watching the original. Why watch the 1933 version of King Kong when you can watch Peter Jackson's 2005 CGI-filled remake? Only true lovers of film want to watch "those old black and white movies" because they want to.

But I am in agreement with his thoughts on remakes being complete crap:
Now… do the majority of remakes suck? YES! They absolutely do. But guess what… the majority of movies that get released in general suck, so why should remakes be any different?
If you have the time or are looking to procrastinate at work, check out Wikipedia's extensive list of remakes. The sheer size of the list will push any fence-sitters to my anti-remake side.

Update, 4:05pm: John at Points in Case also makes some good arguments (mostly because I agree with them, although his film choices are a bit obvious), and Obsessed with Film offers remakes that don't suck, like Ben Hur (1959 remake of the 1925 original), Mission Impossible (1996 film based off of a TV show), and of course, Battlestar Galactica (the best TV show ever made reimagined from its 1970s former self). Obsessed with Film offers other categories, like Remakes that Should've Been Good but Sucked, Remakes that Never Should've Been Considered in the First Place, and my favorite, Good Remakes that Aren't Quite Remakes but Sort of Are.


Goddessdster said...

I think it goes without saying I am anti-remake. But I do enjoy adaptations, I think for the same reason I enjoy well-written fanfiction. It's kind of a meta-discussion about the original.
For example, High Society will never be of the same caliber as The Philadelphia Story, but I enjoy it in its own right.

I haven't read the article you link to yet, but remakes bother me due to the sheer unapologetic laziness of their makers.

Dee said...

The only remakes I've ever liked were The Birdcage [although La Cage Aux Folles was awesome] and I am Legend. If they can remake a film and improve it, or even just make it AS interesting as the first one, I'm fine. It's when they take an awesome movie and trash it that I get ticked. I heard they were remaking The Rocky Horror Picture Show - aaaaargh! Now that stinks!

keyser soze said...

Dee, those are interesting movies you chose. Although I enjoyed both movies, I hesitate to actually call them good in their own right. With the French-Italian movie La Cage aux Folles, I feel like I can distance myself culturally and historically because it was released in 1978, just one year after Studio 54 opened. It was a time of free love and adventures in drugs, but more than that, the Stonewall riots occurred less than ten years previously. I think people were ready to see gay representation on film. People actually enjoyed the non-ambiguous characters because, prior to the 70s, homosexuals were represented as "the sissy" or a Latin male (of screwball comedies). So when I watch The Birdcage, I laugh but I feel guilty for laughing because they are caricatures, they are stereotypes. It came out the same year as Rent, so I can't help but feeling like The Birdcage is more offensive and damaging than the original simply because of the time and culture differences.

I know. If I've seen the original, I absolutely cannot watch the remake as its own film. I always have to compare them. But with The Birdcage, I feel a comparison is more relevant than say, Dawn of the Dead.

As for I am Legend, I actually really liked the film... until the CGI. Loved Will Smith, though. He broke my heart twice.