Some Of My Best Friends Are Remakes

You could be easily forgiven for holding the view that movie remakes are a bad idea. The name-recognition factor’s beautiful compatibility with the brand awareness-driven mentality of modern corporate filmmaking has lead to an explosion of rushed, unneccessary and awful remakes in the past few decades.

The torrent of bland horror retreads generated by Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company alone (Friday the 13th; Nightmare on Elm Street et al) make a strong argument for a total moratorium on remakes. But let’s not write off the concept in principle please. I realise this isn’t a revolutionary point of view, yet I remain compelled to share it.

Last week I talked about how I’ve never had a problem with the way director Brian De Palma constantly ‘borrows’ from earlier films by other directors. I guess this point-of-view informs my open attitude toward remakes – everything that comes before in cinema is part of the language. Which is to say, I’m okay with any director using anything from cinema history, and that extends to entire movies. I was even kinda on board with Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot Psycho remake. A failed experiment sure, but a bold one nonetheless.

Hollywood’s been remaking movies for as long as they’ve been making movies – the 1941 classic The Maltese Falcon was a remake, and Hitchcock even remade his own film The Man Who Knew Too Much. Like any grouping of films, some are pants and some are great.

While I maintain a hearty degree of skepticism for upcoming remakes of classics I hold close to my heart – Robocop springs to mind – I can’t help but also be a tiny bit excited for the possibilities. I will now share with you some of my favourite remakes, each of which can function as an argmument for the artistic viability of remaking films.

Phillip Kaufman’s 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is technically a remake, but it can also function as a sequel. It’s also one of my all-time favourite movies. Donald Sutherland, in one of his best roles, plays a San Francisco health inspector who comes to realise that spores from space are replacing humans with alien replicas grown from organic pods. The stellar supporting cast comprises a very young Jeff Goldblum (developing his schtick early on), a surprisingly effective Leonard Nimoy (playing nicely against type as a pop psychologist), genre staple Veronica Cartright (Alien) and the incomparable Brooke Adams (The Dead Zone) as Sutherland’s friend/love interest.

Nimoy was left unable to father any children

Where the 1958 original functioned as a commentary on McCarthyism, Kaufman’s film is more interested in the alienating aspects of urban sprawl. He utilises the anonymity of living in a big city to infuse the film with an excruciatingly ominous tone. Some impressively gooey practical special effects and one hell of an ending make this an absolute must-see for anyone who hasn’t.

The film has been remade twice since: Bad Lieutenant director Abel Ferrara’s 1993 version (simply titled Body Snatchers) benefits from the naturally conformative military setting, but doesn’t hold a candle to Kaufman’s work. 2007′s The Invasion, starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, is an incoherent mess.

The artistic (if not commerical) success of John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece The Thing (a remake of 1951′s The Thing From Another World) begat a mini ’80s trend of ’50s horror remakes. A common element among them is that the original films weren’t necessarily all that awesome. This isn’t mandatory for a remake to succeed, but it generally helps:

David Cronenberg’s 1986 film The Fly (based on the campy 1958 original) remains my favourite work among his impressive body of work. The director’s career-spanning obsession with body horror gells beautifully with the story of a scientist (Jeff Goldblum in a bravura lead performance) who accidentally fuses his genes with that of a household fly. I watched The Fly again recently, and was struck by it’s continued power. It’s hard to imagine such a simulateously gruesome and thoughtful film being made today.

Chuck Russell’s underrated 1988 remake of The Blob is worth watching for several reasons: 1. You get to see Entourage’s Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) play a dramatic leading role. 2. Master storyteller Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) contributed to the screenplay back when he was still just a writer, and it shows – the victimology is great! 3. It features yet another gruesomely undignified death scene for character actor Paul McCrane (the toxic waste guy from Robocop). 4. It is awesome.

There has been some talk in the past few years of another Blob remake, most recently with Rob Zombie attached. That is a film I would see.

(Update: My learned co-blogger Nicki Brough has a look at the 1958 Blob here!)

I (and probably some other people too) contend that The Ring, Gore Verbinski’s 2002 remake of 1998 J-horror classic Ringu is better than the original. It uses the concept in a more coherent manner and features some of the coolest horror imagery since Dario Argento was in his prime. The unique look of the film promised great things for Verbinski, who sadly spent most of the following decade mired in the Pirates of the Carribean franchise. His new CGI animated film Rango, currently in theatres, delivers on some of that promise.

Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of George A Romero’s 1978 cult classic Dawn of the Dead is a rare exception to the recent string of horror remakes in that it is pretty great. For some reason a lot of critics thought that the consumerism subtext of Romero’s film was lost in Snyder’s version. Which is crazy. It’s set in a mall. Subtext = sorted. And if I hear one more person complain about the fact that the zombies can run, I’m going to get my shotgun.

Snyder’s film is an unrelenting action horror tour-de-force. A off-kilter cast (Sarah Polley?) helps greatly, and none of the subsequent zombie films it helped to inspire (along with 28 Days Later) have lived up to it.

When it was announced that revisionist 2008 Swedish vampire movie Let The Right One In would be remade in America, film fan arms were thrown up in disgust the world over. But just like what occurred with the American version of The Office, everyone mellowed out a bit, watched the movie, and realised it was pretty good. Let Me In, the 2010 version (directed by Cloverfield‘s Matt Reeves) is it’s own creature, and can sit respectfully beside the superior original.

So there. Some decent remakes. I’m not saying there should be more remakes, merely that the principle isn’t a flawed one, and that they can sometimes be awesome. Sometimes.