I don’t understand why everyone has such a hard-off for remakes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard: “Hollywood is running out of ideas,” “Why can’t Hollywood be original anymore,” etc. But that’s all bullshit, for a few reasons. For one, we’ve run out of ideas centuries ago and have been regurgitating the same stories since.
Remakes can also transform stories that are otherwise good, clever or original, but weren’t executed right — whether due to budget constraints, limited effects technology, a more censored era or what have you. In fact, a remake can take a classic film and find a new way to look at it, or improve what was already working. While rare, it still happens more often than you’d think.
I’m actually willing to bet there are a lot of films that are remakes that you wouldn’t know or think were. For instance, “The Maltese Falcon” starring Humphrey Bogart (1941), considered the first true film noir, was actually the third remake of that particular film (the second one, “Satan Met a Lady” (1936), was a comedy). Speaking of crime films, did you know that the Al Pacino classic “Scarface” was a remake of the 1932 Howard Hawks film? Or that the Clint Eastwood classic “Man with No Name” debut, “Fistful of Dollars” (1964), is actually a remake of the Akira Kurosawa film “Yojimbo” (1961)? No, you didn’t, hypothetical person. But now you do.
And even if you knew all that, the list of great remakes goes on and on from there. For instance, horror classics like John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982) and David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” (1986) were remakes of ’50s-era horror films (“The Thing from Another World” (1951) and “The Fly” (1958), respectively). Both of these remakes were amazing films that far surpassed the originals in suspense, acting, horror and overall story-telling. And while those horror films were based on original films that weren’t quite classics, the seminal ’50s horror flick “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956) was and the 1978 version starring Donald Sutherland (Jack Bauer’s dad) is still considered by many to be the superior version. There is also the 1939 “Wizard of Oz”, which is the eighth remake (the original coming out in 1910), and Tony Scott’s awesome “Man on Fire” starring Denzel Washington, which was a remake of a film with the same name from 1987. Even the recent “The Departed,” directed by Martin Scorsese, is a remake of the Hong Kong crime drama “Infernal Affairs” (2002).
Now, of course, which version is actually “better” is obviously pure conjecture and subjective to a viewer’s opinion. But the point isn’t that all remakes are better than the originals (as the 2001 Tim Burton “Planet of the Apes” and the 2005 bomb “Invasion” — the newest and worst “Body Snatchers” remake — can attest to), but more that it isn’t a necessary detriment. In fact, many of these films probably couldn’t have gotten made without the name recognition, or filmmakers might not have had the epiphany or insight to make the film without the original in the first place. Would the world really be a better place without John Carpenter’s “The Thing” or Judy Garland’s “Wizard of Oz?” What if studio execs just went “Ah, it’s been done already. Screw remakes. Let’s not make that film.”
And, as I mentioned earlier, many stories are universal. How many buddy-cop movies, stoner comedies, romantic comedies and alien invasion films exist? So, in an ironic twist, remakes can create the originality everybody claims to crave. Going back to “The Thing,” or the more recent “The Ring” (based on the 1998 Japanese film “Ringu”), we have original horror films that may not have otherwise been seen by general audiences. Would you have rather had another teen slasher film that would’ve been “original” for all intents and purposes, since it wasn’t based on an otherwise existing film? Of course you wouldn’t … unless you have terrible taste in movies.
And I don’t want to claim remakes are inherently good either. They can be terrible, derivative and downright unnecessary. But that’s true of everything. For every “Fright Night,” there’s the tense Robert DeNiro starrer “Cape Fear,” for every Vince Vaughn “Psycho,” there’s the surprisingly awesome “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” for every shitty “Lord of the Rings” cartoon from the ’70s, there are the awesome Peter Jackson “Lord of the Rings” films, etc. You have to take the good with the bad. People just seem to forget that there’s any good to begin with. In fact, the mother of all remakes, “Batman Begins” — a remake of both “Batman” (1966) and “Batman” (1989) — has a second sequel out that’s the most anticipated movie of the year.
And, oh yeah, for all you “Star Wars” fans: it’s pretty much just a rip-off of Kurosawa’s “Hidden Fortress” from 1958.