Commenting on the Critics with Simon Columb…
In an article praising Paul Verhoeven’s original RoboCop, Tim Robey writes…
“RoboCop was a smash hit 27 years ago … And it has become an iconic touchstone of pulpy, provocative, giddily violent mainstream cinema, so much so that news of a remake – which reaches our screens this week – prompted widespread howls of dismay in the fan community, as if sacred ground was being trampled on.“
Read the full article here.
Prompting these howls may be a sense of loss. The inevitable loss of credibility a film has when optioned for remake status. Watching The Godfather last night, I realised the film could never be remade. Of course, in the warped mind of a film studio perhaps we will see a foolhardy statement claiming the remake is under consideration, but it’ll never happen. Considering the purpose of remakes, I don’t believe The Godfather fits the bill. Indeed, other landmarks of cinema hold the same cultural quality. Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Vertigo and Pulp Fiction all hold a certain credibility that could never be repeated.
Maybe this is what defines a ‘Classic’ film. Breaking a film such as The Godfather down, it’s clear that literally every element is unique to the 1972 film. Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Talia Shire, Diane Keaton – are all at a point in their careers whereby it is fascinating to simply see the ensemble work together. Study the iconic score by Nina Rota and Carmine Coppola; the deep, dark shadows from Gordon Willis’ cinematography; Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo’s script. “…it means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes”, “it’s nothing personal Sonny – it’s strictly business”. Not a single hair on Brando’s head is out of place.
Now imagine the boardroom meeting as the remake is pitched. The economics prove the brand is worth reviving. The young actors keen to play Michael Corleone – the potential older actors to play The Don (Robert De Niro could play the older man…). Then producers would highlight what “defines” The Godfather. “We can’t have a Godfather film without the iconic score”… “We can’t have a Godfather film without ‘those’ lines” … “we can’t have a Godfather film without…” and it continues. Ultimately, every element is so perfect; there is no need to reproduce it. A remake accomplishes nothing – and it would never supersede the original. It would only lure audiences back to their comfy sofa’s and watch the original at home.
But the boardroom conversations that green-lit the RoboCop remake was different. Same as The Italian Job. Or The Thomas Crown Affair. The conversation resulted in producers realising that the original could be remade and, potentially, could be better than the original. The very fact that such a thought entered the mind of filmmakers – we could make it better – by definition, implies that the original lacked something. Citizen Kane lacked nothing. Pulp Fiction lacked nothing. Vertigo lacked nothing. You are welcome to prefer the originals – and most do. But “like” does not mean indisputable classic.
Of course, sequels are different. They extend the story opposed to rewriting the story. I would also argue that the shot-for-shot remake of Psycho by Gus van Sant in 1998 is an experiment, and not with the intention of improving on the original. Instead, it is an open tribute to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 staple of horror. By the same token, an established property such as Batman is equally void in the argument as Christopher Nolan didn’t “remake” Tim Burton’s Batman. As remakes and reboots are commonplace, maybe this is a way to irrefutably define which films are truly timeless. Check it yourself, scan your eyes over your DVDs – can you imagine a remake of a film to “modernise” the characters? A “new” version to attract a younger audience? If so, it may not be a special as you think.