What Will's Watching: The rebirth of the remake
Published: Wednesday, April 4, 2012 - 11:24pm
This is What Will's Watching, a weekly column about developments in film media and the expansion of the culture surrounding it. If you have a suggestion for a topic for Will to discuss, leave it in the comments section or email Will here at WhatWillsWatching@gmail.com
With the recently released trailer for "Total Recall," a remake of a cult-classic sci-fi action film from 1990, I think now is as good a time as any to discuss the growing trend of remakes and re-imaginings in modern filmmaking.
Along with "Total Recall," other remakes of long beloved sci-fi classics from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s are emerging. These remarkable and unique films such as "The Fifth Element," "Robocop," and "Dune," have often been considered untouchable, and yet they are being remade much to the distress of longtime fans and film purists. Even more shocking, remakes are being planned for classics of other genres, including fantasies like "Highlander," Horror like "The Evil Dead," and foreign masterpieces like "Oldboy."
The reason this trend is persisting and growing in strength is that Hollywood is, at its core, a business. When producers can guarantee a returning audience of dedicated fans, they are much more likely to receive a return on their investment. This is essential in this troubling economic time, when a risky project that doesn't succeed could lead to the downfall of many careers.
While many understand this motivation, it can be easy to become frustrated with the trend. Many people often ask me about my opinion of a remake and remakes in general. They see the trend as inherently flawed, in that it attempts to recreate the artistic achievements of other unique concepts.
While I understand how the average consumer can build that opinion of remakes from what they have observed, I think that remakes hold a much greater potential. To understand this, we must understand what separates an effective remake from a pointless one.
A pointless remake exists only to benefit from the financial safety of a reliable audience. The film will either reiterate the already existing themes and events of the source material or oversimplify it in order to reach a wider audience. This is the remake that is seen most often in modern film: a creatively devoid affair that serves no real purpose other then achieving financial success. The epitome of this concept is 1998's "Psycho," a remake of the Hitchcock classic of the same name. The film recreates the original shot-for-shot, and does nothing to give the characters or ideas more depth.
The true potential of the remake is in expansion of the source material. The film does more than just recapture the setting and characters of the original, but also looks deeper and expands upon them. A great example of this would be the new critical success of Batman in film, as the characters are used to explore complex emotional and societal issues rather than just provide action escapism.
Another way a remake can expand upon the original is by adapting the setting or characters in order to comment on recent cultural events or ideas. This is well shown in the action classic "Scarface" starring Al Pacino, which few seem to remember is a remake. The original is also about a gangster who achieves success through ruthlessness.
The remake expands upon the original by changing the roots of the character, making him a Cuban immigrant during the great migration of anti-Castro peoples. This allows the film to still be about the same thing, and yet make a different comment on the world in which it exists.
Remake should not necessarily be a bad word. There is much artistic potential in this style of film making, especially when remaking older or more simplistic stories. "True Grit" can be taken from a very cut-and-dry story of a heroic cowboy and a little girl's quest for vengeance into a story about the flaws of humanity and the pain that obsession can bring with it. Although many remakes seek nothing more than a big payout, we should support those who seek to improve through reiteration, and show producers that we expect more from this style of media.
If you have a suggestion for a topic for will to discuss, leave it in the comments section or email Will here at WhatWillsWatching@gmail.com