Art of the Remake

Remakes suck. That is the consensus with most the viewing world. However, there are a few that are forgiven, even praised: David Cronenburg’s ‘The Fly’ starring Jeff Goldblum, Chuck Russell’s ‘The Blob’ starring Shawnee Smith, and the most beloved John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ starring Kurt Russell, and more than likely one or two more of your own personal favorites. But why are these few so good (besides being well written, acted, and directed)? I believe there are certain rules to follow in the event a remake/reboot should happen, and if a movie falls into at least 2 of these, I think it’d be safe to remake.

1) Property is not well known/isn’t a classic
Never mess with a praised movie considered a classic by not just audiences, but by film institutes everywhere. Nothing reeks more of a desperate cash grab than riding on the coat tails of a famous movie. However, a lesser known movie is ripe with potential for being remade. Casting more popular actors and a good marketing campaign could work wonders for a film originally gone unnoticed under the radar.
The Crazies and The Town That Dreaded Sundown follow this rule fairly well. The Crazies was a flop that became a cult classic and Town was an unknown success.

2) New technologies to update the film/better budget
Technology is improving all the time, sometimes within the same year. I’m not just talking about CGI; practical effect technique and materials are more creative and more realistic than thought possible. Remote camera rigs give us angles and shot only ingenious cinematographers were able to do. And set design can really take us to a different time and place without having to suspend our disbelief.
The Dawn of the Dead and Invaders from Mars remakes are vastly superior visually to their predecessors. Zombies were no longer grey painted people with strawberry jam on them, but various degrees of mangled and rotted corpses not having to cheat the camera with only makeup effects. Martians were no longer flat-colored rubber-suited men, but grotesque, inhuman, slimy creatures with articulation and added personality.

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3) The film is awful or dated, but the story is good enough to save
Sometimes a movie is just too entrenched with the time period it was made in; with it’s version of establishment, disestablishment, and it’s own brand of cool slang. And sometimes the writer just didn’t know how real people spoke, the actors didn’t care or were amateur, or maybe the director had no clue what they were doing, and a dozen other thing that could possibly ruin a perfectly good story.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers ditched the whole “anti-communist” agenda of the original to focus on realistic performances and genuine scares. Bedazzled, likewise, ditched the British Mod vibe it’s original went for in favor of a contemporary, more timeless feel

4) A new direction could really change the impact/franchising
When remaking a property, it’s sometimes beneficial to significantly change aspects of the movie. A character’s age, race or even how talkative they are could give a whole different outlook on the character. A change in setting may yield a new dynamic between characters, and even audience attitudes and expectations. These changes could lead to spin-offs, sequels, or tie-ins with additional properties.
A Fistful of Dollars is a retelling of the samurai Yojimbo story, with the obvious difference being it’s a western about a roaming cowboy who gets two sequels his own. Red Dragon is a remake of Manhunter which is based on the book Red Dragon, the first in the Hannibal Lecter trilogy, the latter two books having been previously adapted into Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal with Anthony Hopkins; remaking Red Dragon to fit more inline with those (a likable protagonist, more time to Lecter, etc).

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Now, these are not foolproof. It still takes a good writer or writers, actors, and director to seal the deal. And there’s also the fact that not all the remakes I listed are considered great or that some of the originals aren’t bad. But I tried not to talk about bad remakes or originals that are fantastic because this is supposed to keep a positive outlook on remakes. So I’m going to do something crazy: I’ll be pitching my idea for a remake of one of my favorite movies following my guidelines and listing how it would be different. See you next time in: My Remake of Planet of Dinosaurs!

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Robbie Rowe

Good article, cheesy!

You make some good points about remakes and I couldn’t help but think of recent Disney remakes when you mentioned easy cash grabs.

Sure, I’ll likely still watch them and probably enjoy them, but given the great success and quality of the originals, there’s little reason to remake them.

I could do with more dinosaur films. I can only think of a few I’ve watch, like Land Before Time films, Jurassic Park films, or Dinosaur from Disney.