Friday, February 20, 2009

The film remake or: How I learned to stop worrying and enjoy the show

Leave it to a trashy remake of an, albeit not so amazing but entirely classic horror film, to get the general public thinking about film remakes again; or maybe not? Considering that the average college student, aside from the film majors and movie buffs alike, probably hasn’t seen the original Friday the 13th, what then is the point? The film remake is about as old as narrative film itself, Hitchcock did it with his own remake of his film The Man Who Knew Too Much, and so did DeMille with The Ten Commandments. But some have gone so far as to say there isn’t anything original left in cinema. I wouldn’t go so far, but you don’t have to look far to see how many remakes have come out within the last few months. The Day the Earth Stood Still, My Bloody Valentine 3D, and The Uninvited are just some of the recent plethora of remakes taking over screens around the world. But why? Really is there some story of storytelling shortage within Hollywood? And why do they usually fail to live up to their originals? That isn’t always the truth, and considering that both The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Uninvited are actually quite good, it is possible for us as an audience to see how hard it really is to create a great remake.

For every remake that achieves the lofty goal of being a great film, there are at least three which fail miserably. Most of the general population probably doesn’t know that last years critically lauded film The Departed was actually a remake of the widely successful Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs. While these great films can be counted on one hand, the number of bad ones goes on and on, take the horrible Halloween remake, or how about Mr. Deeds, Planet of the Apes, and who can forget the horrendously insulting Psycho? So what’s all the trouble then? Frankly it seems that Hollywood is more concerned with turning a quick profit than anything else (but really, tell me something we didn’t already know). Almost all remade films are based on either a foreign picture, or an ageing one. What the industry seems to be saying is that today’s audiences are either unable or unwilling to watch a film from another country, or an older one. Thankfully or not, sometimes the new ones work. The Day the Earth Stood Still for example is a mildly successful update of the classic film, which is able to re-create the same ideals for today’s audience that the original was able to produce; its seems more a re-envisioning rather than a remake. And it is in the horror genre where Hollywood has had more than its fair share of success when remaking films. David Cronenburg’s The Fly is widely regarded as superior to its classic, but easily overlooked, original of the same name starring Vincent Price. While not to diminish the cinematic value of the first incarnation, what Cronenburg did was take an essentially b-movie, and transform it into a horror classic which retains the barebones of the storyline, but elevates it to something truly Cronenburgian. A terrifying tale of human genetics gone horribly wrong, with hints of all the boundary crossing elements (among other things) we’re come to expect from the Canadian filmmaker.

Another film, though not as highly regarded as The Fly, but one which equally holds its place in cinematic history, is John Carpenter’s The Thing. The film contains one of the most shocking and intense sequences in the genre’s history, the blood-test sequence. And it is this scene which is easily able to still shock audiences today. So what do we say to those naysayers, up in arms over the remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or the soon-to-be update of The Birds? It is impossible to not question a lot of contemporary remakes, but what some filmmakers are able to prove, is that with the right balance of skill and creative license, a remake can succeed. So maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all?

-Jake Gorman

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