Saturday, 1 February 2014

Remakes - Cancer of the Film Industry?

This is a subject which came to mind over a conversation yesterday: The subject of cinematic remakes. Whenever you go to a cinema and watch a trailer for some beloved franchise being remade or film being revitalised, you're likely to see an audience groan. We've become extremely cynical towards almost any attempts to remake genre classics, whether they be adaptation of stories or original material. More than a few people seem to have taken to describing them as the cancer of the film industry, bringing out sub-par cash grab after disappointing revitilisation while choking out any original ideas. However, are they really this bad?

Many know of the good remakes which have hit shelves, with True Grit and the like, but few seem to recognise that many of the best in the industry were remakes of old ideas. Take for example John Carpenter's The Thing. Often considered one of, if not the, best example of how to do science fiction horror and practical effects, it's a classic which is beloved by. Well known for its intelligent writing and strong acting atop of many strengths, what is often forgotten is that it was both a remake and adaptation itself. One which took the ideas presented in The Thing From Another World and the short story Who Goes There? and brought them to life on screen.

The same goes for Wener Herzog's Nosferatu the Vampyre,  Martin Scorsese's Cape Fear, the remake of The Fly and, just to show how widespread this is, Rob Marshall's remake of Annie. Even some less well regarded remakes with some notable flaws like 2007's I Am Legend are still not viewed as necessarily bad films.

So, despite this success, why are they regarded so badly today?

This is just speaking personally from what I have seen, but it does appear to come down to two details: Firstly, lacking the talent and innovation to make a return to these stories worthwhile. Secondly, relying too heavily upon the nostalgia and success of the original.

Many remakes of classic films, especially in the horror genre, are all too often handled by people who lack the talent and vision of those who make the original. It's not a universal truth nor a slight against all filmmakers, but when it comes down to it a huge number of these classics being redone simply don't have the calibre the originals featured.

Platinum Dunes is a very well known offender on this list. The vast majority of the slasher films which they have revisited all too often lack the meaning or focus found in the originals, or even the experience when it comes to the cinematography. In an effort to distance themselves from the original, and not simply be an out and out replication, they end up losing what made those films so effective to begin with. As a result not only do they lack what made the originals so effective but they also fail to create anything of a comparible quality.

Take for example 2011's version of The Thing. Yes, it was advertised and made a prequel but it had exactly the same name, exactly the same setting and followed through with a good majority of what was used in John Carpenter's version. The only reason it was a remake was likely because the production company saw the negative reception to horror remakes in recent years. While the director obviously understood that body horror was a major draw to the tale, Heijiningen failed to retain the element of creeping horror found in Carpenter's film. Instead of a murder mystery style setting, what audiences got was the thing acting more like Jason Voorhees, jumping out and attacking everyone at the drop of a hat. More a violent combat monster and less the quiet ambush predator which had been featured in the prior installment.

This also counts for many American remakes. The reason so many people roll their eyes when an American company announces it will be redoing a film which was successful abroad is that it all too often loses what made it so great to begin with. The most infamous among these, or at least the most frequently cited example, is The Ring. In comparison to the Japanese original, it lacked so many of the talented methods of building up characters and atmosphere.

However, while the talent behind the film may be a major part, the second point is as important if not more so. The vast majority of remakes will share very distinct similarities with the original, whether they be the setting, characters, mythology or minor plot details. This cannot be avoided usually and is an acceptable point within the film. However, far too many films take this a step too far where they are less reinterpretations of the story and more riding on the coattails of the predecessor's success.

You'll probably have seen at least one production like this. The ones which are full to the brim of nods to the audience, easter eggs and just moments saying "eh, remember this don't you? remember how much you loved seeing that?" One of the more infamous films to do this in recent years, despite vast differences with the original, was the remake of Total Recall. Going for a much less tongue in cheek angle and a very different version of the films, it was trying to be its own story but none the less contained countless of these moments. These only served to weaken the film's standing, because it was constantly reminding people of how much they loved the original. Not giving audiences reasons to love this version.

This said, the problem extends beyond just the production angles. Many of the films selected for remakes seem to be done because of nostalgia for the classics and fond memories rather than because they know they can do the remake justice. We've seen this time and time again with the big names and films which did perfectly fine the first time. The aforementioned The Thing was one, Nightmare on Elm Street was another, and people are already beginning to say this about Robocop from trailers. Hopefully they're wrong about that last one. This isn't something exclusive to remakes, sequels are often far more guilty of this, but it does seem to be the case far too often.

These are ultimately the major reasons why, speaking personally, remakes seem to be derided by the public. Not because they are a bad idea in of themselves, but because all too often it seems unlikely they will do the original production justice and are purely done to make quick cash. As a result, it seems unfair that the public should deride remakes immediately as they do these days and instead reserve judgement until they have at least seen a trailer. After all, this opinion has cost far too many good films the success they so desperately need.

Still, these are just personal thoughts, if you have opinions or differing ideas of your own please feel free to give them.

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