Remakes Done Right

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Remakes Done Right

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The seemingly never-ending stream of remakes continues rushing down Hollywood’s pike in the coming weeks – Paul W. S. Anderson’s Death Race (eviscerated by Todd here) and Alexandre Aja’s Mirrors premier in August, while September brings another tragic Nic Cage hairpiece to screens in Bangkok Dangerous. When a film is judged as suitable remake fodder, it’s likely there was something to the original – maybe a kernel of transcendent storytelling or an exciting spin on something shopworn – which marked it as special. That something tends to be lost in translation, but every so often a remake gets things right, parlaying what made the original special into something intriguing in its own right. This ToM will look at a few remakes which do just that – managing a fresh take on revered material.

The Thing - John Carpenter’s icy look at paranoia by way of a relentless shape-shifting alien was reviled in its day but has come to be revered not only for Rob Bottin’s ground-(to say nothing of chest- and face-)breaking FX work but JC’s assured, calculated direction and trademark evocation of mood. Hewing close to Howard Hawks’ original Thing from Another World, Carpenter contemporized the scenario and expertly rendered the all-male cast’s frustration and fear of becoming “the other.” That the film draws sneaky parallels to the then publicly nascent AIDS epidemic further cements its reputation as a clever, thoughtful re-imaging.

Scarface - lifting the spine from Howard Hawks’ ’32 original and little else (beside the title), DePalma’s completely over-the-top examination of reckless personal abandon in flashy Miami still polarizes critics and audiences to this day. A defining performance from Al Pacino and a laundry list of gonzo set-pieces highlight the story of a small-time hood’s rise to and fall from power. A universal concept, to be sure, but DePalma’s at-times out-of-control stylistic touches push the film in to the realm of a sort of hardboiled fever dream, turning it into a sort of very distant and rough-around-edges cousin to the more outré noirs of the ‘50s and ‘60s.

The Fly - another classic horror trope infused with state-of-the-art effects work and dashes of modern political and sexual commentary, one of David Cronenberg’s first forays into studio filmmaking yielded a potent, putrid masterpiece of modern anxiety. Anchored by an amazing turn from Jeff Goldblum, the film retained the love story at the original’s core but amps it up by digging at the literal animal instincts unleashed when Goldblum’s naive scientist is fused with a common housefly after testing a prototype matter-transference device on himself. Cronenberg’s trademark fascination with body horror receives perhaps its best distillation here.

The Ring - the forbearer of the J-(and K- and HK- and T-…)horror remake frenzy, Gore Verbinski’s dread-soaked meditation on meta-physical evil smartly stays true to its roots by eschewing added jump scares and bland teen protags. A smart cast – including always-reliable everywoman Naomi Watts and chilly, cameo-ing Brian Cox – elevates the proceedings, as do a moody score and lush, rain-soaked set-design and cinematography. By working from all of Hideo Nakata’s touchstone instead of simply ripping out the central conceit and starting over, Verbinski and company were able to re-tell a now-classic modern ghost story with unsettling aplomb.

Funny Games - Haneke would probably cringe seeing his treatise on what’s wrong with violent films listed next to a handful of legendary gore-fests. Even if you don’t dig the film’s at-times preachy tone or the auteur’s smug sense of self-righteousness, there’s no denying he transferred the ferocious impact of his own original work in this re-imagining. Popping up again, Naomi Watts turns in a shattering performance alongside an outstanding Tim Roth. By telling a nearly-identical story but directing it at an almost entirely new audience, Haneke reminds us of the importance of self-reflection in the face of ever-escalating media sensationalism.

There are plenty of other examples - I count myself a fan of The Departed, The Blob, 3:10 to Yuma, Blow Out... the list could go on . Any you're a fan of that I missed? Do you hate remakes with a passion and wish they'd stopping clogging up cinemas? Sound off below!

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The VisitorAugust 5, 2008 11:26 PM

the Ringu remake was terrible! every single frame had to be ominous in some way. and the remade cursed video is an incredibly laughable NIN music video. nope, can't agree on that one.

SwarezAugust 5, 2008 11:28 PM

I'm a fan of the TCM remake actually. Doesn't touch the original in terms of shear terror and grittyness but is an entertaining and gory teen slasher.

Collin ArmstrongAugust 6, 2008 12:07 AM

No love for THE RING?!?!

marcelbAugust 6, 2008 12:58 AM

The Ring? No, thanks.
I really enjoyed the remake of TDM, and even Dawn of the Dead.
The Magnificent Seven is also truly excellent.

The list of atrocities should really include The Vanishing.

Imran JafferyAugust 6, 2008 1:02 AM

I'm with you Collin, Verbinski made the best Ring film out of the lot.

AirchinapilotAugust 6, 2008 3:29 AM

The Zoltan Korda version of the "Four Feathers" is a classic over the original one and itself is much better than the Shepar Kapur version with Heath Ledger.

Michael Mann's "Last of the Mohicans" is a nice update to the 1936 version (note: I've never read the book) and has a lot of subtleties that previous film versions couldn't have approached because of the times they were made in. Plus Mann had a lot more resources to back up his attempt at historicity.

Mann also remade his "L.A. Takedown" TV pilot / movie as "Heat". I think everyone would agree that "Heat" was a great improvement.

Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much" has the cast that makes it the classic over his earlier version.

There are quite a few versions of Les Liason Dangereuse and my favourite is still the Stephen Frears version with Glenn Close and John Malkovich (I've seen two other versions).

This may get me flamed but I thought that "Sorcerer" by William Friedkin would have been a good movie in its own right if there had been no "Wages of Fear". But "Wages of Fear" is one of my all time favourites; it took balls to even try to remake it. That said, I actually liked "Sorcerer" quite a bit.

I don't know how the copyright sorted out but Spielberg's "Munich" on its own was quite a bit better than the TV series "Sword of Gideon".

Again, not asking to be flamed, but "Twelve Monkeys" I think is quite a good movie on its own. And it doesn't take anything away from Chris Marker's "La Jetee". Obviously two different approaches and way different scale.

ChevalierAguilaAugust 6, 2008 4:26 AM

That list lacks Happiness of the Katakuris and A Fistfull of Dollars, which along with Scarface, The Thing and The Fly are the only examples i can think of remakes done right.

J HurtadoAugust 6, 2008 4:38 AM

Katakuris is a great remake, but both films are excellent in completely different ways. Cape Fear eclipses the original, but only just.

jo3yAugust 6, 2008 6:44 AM

so nicholas cage Gone in 60 seconds was a remake? or was there a remake of the nick cage version?

bro_moleAugust 6, 2008 7:52 AM

I really liked The Grudge. It is what got me into horror movies, and foreign ones as well. I will admit that it isn't perfect, but I liked it. Vanilla Sky was a pretty good remake of Abre Los Ojos.

ZombiwolfAugust 6, 2008 8:11 AM

I also like Body Snatchers (the Abel Ferrara one). Day the Earth Stood Still looks awful but I just noticed on imdb that there is going to be a remake of 'The Man Who Fell to Earth.' Talk about bad ideas.

BradAugust 6, 2008 8:24 AM

I liked Juon and so while I couldn't find the US version scary, it did have higher production values and basically cleaned up the original flick, so...better in my eyes.

One film I know people won't agree on is Pulse.
I did not like the original 'Kairo'...it was too confused and bland but the U.s one was more solidly done and while, not scary...definitely was better shot.

No to Departed....all that extra junk crammed in there was useless filler.
Yes to Doomsday [basically a retread of Escape from New York].

Collin ArmstrongAugust 6, 2008 8:51 AM

You guys have come up with some good ones - SORCERER is a great film. Needs a proper DVD release.

Nice catch on 12 MONKEYS, too - didn't cross my mind. Wonderful expansion of Marker's ideas.

'78 BODY SNATCHERS is a classic.

Does Sam Raimi remaking EVIL DEAD with EVIL DEAD 2 count? I'm going ahead and saying yes. And both kick ass.

cpa314August 6, 2008 12:05 PM

didnt know they did a remake of Kairo. I thought Kairo was a bit confusing as well. Wasnt really scary either. As for Departed, I agree. IA is head and shoulders above it. I'd take Tony Leung over Matt Damon any day. The only reason it one an Oscar was because Scorsese was the director. Plus the people at the oscars were too stupid to even know that Departed was a remake of a Hong Kong film(not a Japanese film like they announced).

IEDPartyAugust 6, 2008 2:26 PM

Was personally amused too in how this one went through the religious stuff, by simply LAMBASTING it. Very amusing. ( I didn't get that whole Bhuddist aspect of hell thing in ' Infernal Affairs '; it didn't stand out quite enough, much less helped ...)

momodotcomAugust 6, 2008 2:49 PM

I always liked the remake of the Thomas Crown Affair and a Bug's Life

max404August 6, 2008 8:20 PM

can't 'the limey' be considered as a (far better than 'payback') remake of 'point blank'?

btw 'point blank' is based on a book

do 2 films based on the same book even count as a remake?

no one would consider every new stage version of (say) a Harold Pinter play to be remakes right?

BradAugust 6, 2008 8:43 PM

It does such that Hollywood jumps to the remake first before thinking up new things or taking more risks but that's just the nature of the beast.

As long as the original gets it's dues and the remake isn't flamingly atrocious, then it's all good.

By all means, Remakes Done Wrong sounds great...maybe a top 10 instead of 5 due to the possibilities?

Kurt HalfyardAugust 6, 2008 9:11 PM

A remake rarely wrecks the original, in fact for some of the more obscure films being remade, it brings a fair bit of awareness and often a R1 DVD of the original. Look at Inglorious Bastards for one.

The other side of the coin is of course the whole Quarantine/[REC] situation where the original is actively suppressed in North America until the hyper-soon remake runs its course.

Oh, and because it hasn't been mentioned here, I really dig Frank Oz's remake of Roger Corman's Little Shop of Horrors.

sarkoffagusAugust 6, 2008 9:46 PM

Yeah, but look at something like THE VANISHING, with a twist ending. I was lucky enough to watch the original first. If I'd seen the remake first, I don't think the original would have had as much of an impact. The first film has a superior ending, but since I'd be anticipating it, it might not work as well.

The VisitorAugust 6, 2008 10:42 PM

the problem with The Departed is that it simply took all the fun out of Infernal Affairs.

IA wasn't a "deep" thinking man's movie, to begin with. it never pretended to be anything more than an engaging cat-and-mouse game. but Departed is full of that smugness i talked about earlier. it's like Scorsese was saying "heck i can do it better!"

Departed is just a bloated movie with overbearing psychological pretensions, overbearing right down to the last silly frame (of the rat scurrying across).

and it's surprising how someone of Scorsese's calibre can let Wahlberg and Nicholson get away with such bad, hammy performances.

Christopher WareAugust 6, 2008 10:57 PM

@jo3y

The Nic Cage flick was a re-make of a low budget indy production from the 70s.

kinkybobAugust 6, 2008 11:02 PM

OK... The Ring? Nonsense! As a few already said, the japanese version was WAY scarier then the american remake. I feel remakes are a waste of time because half of the movies they remake ends up becoming junk. I tend to avoid remakes and movies even remotely close to seemingly be a remake. Remakes are just the devil.... lol

Oh Dae-SuAugust 6, 2008 11:31 PM

Re : The Departed.
As they say in The Simpsons "The rat symbolises obviousness!"

What got to me when the film came out was that even periodicals that should have known better were saying things like "ending of the year - all we'll say is it involves an elevator" -- excuse me?! That would be the same ending as Infernal Affairs then! Monaghan or Scorcesse, I forget which, made out that it wasn't a remake really ; "I haven't seen it, all I did was read the screenplay" ; so a remake is only a remake if it's shot for shot / visually the same?!

Oh, and IED ; with your post after post in a row diatribe against Infernal Affairs (one wasn't enough?!) ; we get it. You love Heroic Bloodshed movies, you feel like IA is the opposite and you don't like it. Fine. But Infernal Affairs is NOT supposed to be an 'action movie'. Sigh.

I also agree that Mark Wahlberg shouting a lot is NOT an improvement on.......anything! In fact the world needs less Mark Wahlberg, especially when the 'character' is written like that. Dignan?! They called him Dignan?!? Scorcesse is supposed to be a massive fan of Bottle Rocket - by my lights, calling THAT character DIGNAN is an insult to Wes Anderson, not a tribute!

shamrock33August 7, 2008 12:28 AM

fair enough - friends?

DrBaltarAugust 7, 2008 12:42 AM

Friends.

How refreshing, compared to what I see when I read AICN.

I can't believe I ever bother reading the TalkBacks in Ain-It-Cool-News. I rarely bother commenting though: if the discussion is a really hot topic, at the end of the day your one sane comment becomes a grain of sand... surrounded by a sea of bile!

JahsoldierAugust 7, 2008 1:04 AM

Twelve Monkeys was awesome, which was essentially a remake of La Jetée.

SaltonerAugust 7, 2008 1:13 AM

DrBlatar, that's so funny you mention AICN when it comes to these sort of posts. I actually posted on there last week about childish everyone seems to be over there. It's nice people can have their opinions and not get bent out of shape when other's express their's. 3 cheers for Twitch fans!

Collin ArmstrongAugust 7, 2008 1:24 AM

Seriously, you guys are on to one of the things I've always loved about Twitch and consistently tout - it's home to very respectful, considerate discussions between passionate fans; no bullshit name-calling or flame wars.

Momo the CowAugust 7, 2008 8:13 PM

Second Michael Mann's HEAT.
Second that Verbinski's RING remake completely missed what was scary about Nakata's videotape footage.

THE DEPARTED belongs here, because it takes inspiration from the original and refashions it into something exhilaratingly personal, though whether INFERNAL AFFAIRS remains superior depends on which scene you're watching. I count SOLARIS in this camp too. It's a laterally different film from the original, like the same song played in another genre of music, in a different time period.

I haven't seen the original, but how about Imamura's own remake of THE BALLAD OF NARAMAYA?

The greatest shame about remakes is not that they exist but that they are so rare (or that so few stories are rich enough to warrant another reading). Theatre is so creatively invigorating because there are dozens or even hundreds of different interpretations of the same text playing at the same time throughout the world, each a unique prism through which the spectrum of those artists' experiences can shine through. Film is just too damned expensive to do that.

sitenoiseAugust 27, 2008 1:04 PM

OMf'inG! ... BRAV-the-f'in-O.

I'm sorry the above comment makes me feel like swearing, but you took the words right out of my mouth. You sort of remade them and used different words, but still.

I've always felt (beyond many reasonable accusations of cash grab) that the general hysteria against remakes is nothing more than posturing. Thank you momo!

"The greatest shame about remakes is not that they exist but that they are so rare (or that so few stories are rich enough to warrant another reading). Theatre is so creatively invigorating because there are dozens or even hundreds of different interpretations of the same text playing at the same time throughout the world, each a unique prism through which the spectrum of those artists’ experiences can shine through. Film is just too damned expensive to do that. "