Are The Originals The Best?

Published on June 20th, 2012 in: Movies |

By Charlie M.

poltergeist carol anne

There’s a rumor going around the Internet. So bad, I don’t want to believe it. I plug my fingers in my ears, but I can’t block out the “grrrrrs” of fellow horror fans across the globe in protest. Whisper it. They’re going to remake Poltergeist.


I know.

Ghastly, unnecessary, and yet as soon as I say it you hear the ring of truth and you know it’s going to happen.

The film celebrates its 30th anniversary this June, and in honor of the television-mediated devilry-seeking world apocalypse, Flickr is encouraging photographers to recreate the moment; you can peruse the best here. Given that the original has a cult following sufficient to inspire rational adults to pose their children in front of the TV (smile for the camera and say,”I’m possessed!”), it seems that a remake is hardly necessary to increase awareness of this classic. In fact, I could write an article just about the criminal blindness that inspires people to remake a film that was perfectly fine to start with, but someone has already done so.

But there are other remakes planned.

Peruse the rumor mill, have a look here, and I feel certain you’ll find, somewhere on the list, something that will outrage you. (You might want to have a look at the I Hate Remakes Facebook page while you’re at it.) For me, it was the notion of Westworld, An American Werewolf in London, and Battle Royale. For you, it might be Dirty Dancing, The Crow, or Barbarella. I will stand by you in sympathetic wrath, and support your outcries for whatever remake causes you the most outrage.

While we’re contemplating the bastardizing of legendary film, let’s broaden the net: Let’s agree here and now that there’s no point in remaking a cult classic. It’s impossible to come to this conclusion without giving a nod of sympathy to the long-suffering Michael Caine, who has suffered disproportionately in the remake zeitgeist: surely Alfie, The Italian Job, and Get Carter could have been left respectfully as they were. And don’t get me started on why on earth anyone thought revisiting The Wicker Man with Nicolas Cage was a good idea (no aspersions on the man himself meant).

But I don’t want to sign up completely to being a grumpy old lady just yet. There must be some good reasons for a remake.

the seven samurai
The Seven Samurai, 1954

In some cases, it’s a question of special effects—granted, if you are going to model apes of any kind, the lure of latex masks and a lexicon of CGI may be too much to resist. Watching Burton’s Planet of the Apes and Jackson’s King Kong, I must admit to a thrill of excitement at seeing big hairy creatures stomping around and being all anthropomorphic; in the UK you usually have to go to a pub for that. So yes, there is certainly a plus in rendering your lead beasts more animate.

This is perhaps the rationale for why horror and sci-fi continue to be so spectacularly plundered by the remake artists. I like truly freaky aliens with digitized insect-style limbs along with the best of them. And it’s great when you can get bats to morph into vampires without visualizing bits of string or cutting to a wobbly dark shadow. But isn’t the primary thrill watching the reactions of the humans rather than the graphics of the creatures? To some extent, it’s all matter of balance, and if there is a bit of me that feels more brownie points are deserved by actors who can give screen credibility to the lumps of glorified plasticine we loved in yesteryear, I’d still agree that the technology adds something.

Then there are films that, amongst thriller, horror, or romance, have been remade due to their criminal attribute of being too antiquated for the modern audience: The Lady Vanishes, The Fly, or Sabrina, for example. It’s true that not everyone shares my love of black and white film (though in the case of the above three, I would sincerely recommend the originals) but I wonder at what point we decide something is “too old.”

Look at remakes of The Thomas Crowne Affair, The Day of the Jackal, or The Karate Kid—yes, the newer versions aren’t bad, but the first versions were sublime. Surely the younger generation isn’t so alienated from their forebears that they can’t watch a film without product placement? Is romance only credible if the leads can text their affections? I have a much greater faith in the youth of the world and feel certain they wouldn’t go into shock at seeing vintage first time around.

the magnificent seven
The Magnificent Seven, 1960

I have somewhat more sympathy for foreign language remakes, the classic example being The Magnificent Seven, remade from The Seven Samurai which is well worth a night in with takeaway and beer if you haven’t already indulged. The core idea—seven skilled warriors defending the vulnerable—withstands cultural adaptation and demonstrates that not everything is lost in translation. At its best, remaking a foreign film can enable the spirit of the original to charm a whole new audience and even pave the way for viewers to discover the original.

This is not, sadly, a universal truth. La Cage Aux Folles starts with the premise that a gay couple raising a straight boy are baffled at their son’s love affair with a girl. It’s hilarious in French (no, really) but the American remake feels a little forced. You’re left with the sense that the film-makers are not entirely comfortable with the set up, and much of the filthier humor (to my mind, the best bits) has been throttled back to appeal to a mainstream audience.

The real question is which films should we want remade?

For me the answer is simple: Films that had potential, films that could have been brilliant, but were undermined by poor direction, bad scriptwriting, miscasting. And they are legion. What’s on your list to be remade?

One Response to “Are The Originals The Best?”

  1. JL:
    June 20th, 2012 at 10:20 am

    Excellent piece!

    My initial thoughts to your question – and mind you, this is off-the-cuff:
    1. Any movie that starred William Hurt could be re-made. I never got his mumble-mouth, dry-as-lint acting.
    2. “Sunset Boulevard” (which was fine to begin with) could be re-made ONLY if in the right hands.
    3. An update of Hitchcock’s “The Birds” – again, original was perfect – COULD be done, but with the same proviso as above.

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