This week, Neil Calloway questions the wisdom of remaking classic films…
In the 1980s Frank Oz, the man who is both Miss Piggy and Yoda, asked Michael Caine if he wanted to star in a remake of Bedtime Story, a 1964 film that despite starring David Niven and Marlon Brando, was not a success. Why Caine asked, would anyone want to remake a film that nobody liked the first time around? Oz replied that there was little point making a new version of a film that was good the first time around, as it couldn’t be improved on, but with a bad film, you could make a better version of it.
Caine signed up, the film – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – was a huge hit, he was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance and the film lives on as a musical to this day.
I thought of that this week when the news came out that AMBI films had acquired the remake rights to Memento, saying “‘Memento’ has been consistently ranked as one of the best films of its decade”. Yes, it has, which is why any sub par remake wouldn’t be as good. Memento is an interesting, much-loved and admired film because it was unexpected; a low-budget indie film from an unknown director that surprised and unsettled us all; a remake, where a huge chunk of the potential audience has seen the original, won’t have that at all; it’ll just be a sad shadow of the original;a black and white photocopy of a classic painting; a supermarket own brand soft drink.
This week, while he was promoting the final Hunger Games film, Donald Sutherland attacked the proposed remake of the classic 1973 film Don’t Look Now, in which he starred alongside Julie Christie,. Talking in a way that only Jack Bauer’s dad can, he described the remake as “bullshit. It was a piece of work indelibly written by Nicholas Roeg. Why would they do it? It’s just people trying to profit off the back of something that’s very beautiful. It’s shameful. They should be ashamed of themselves.” It’s worth noting that Sutherland liked the original that he named his son – Roeg, now a Hollywood agent – after the director of the original.
Don’t Look Now was originally shown as part of a double bill with The Wicker Man. Anyone who wants to remake the former should take a look at the fate of the remake of the latter. While the original Wicker Man continues to inspire and terrify, the Nicolas Cage starring 2006 version only attracts derision and a had a brief afterlife as an internet meme. It wasn’t worth the effort to remake.
Gus Van Sant is a highly acclaimed director of indie films; he made Good Will Hunting, To Die For and Milk, among other films; movies that are just on the other side of the mainstream; they’ll get awards but have fairly low budgets and will star big names who are out to increase their credibility. Looking at his filmography, however, one project sticks out like a sore thumb; in 1998 he remade, shot for shot, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. If you haven’t seen it, don’t bother. It’s as bad as a remake of one of the most important films by one of the most acclaimed directors could be, and they got Vince Vaughn to star in it too. It was not a success, just as The Wicker Man wasn’t, and as Don’t Look Now and Memento won’t be.
You like Memento? Great, so do I. Remaking it – remaking any film that got it right first time round – is pointless. You can’t improve on the originals, so don’t try; you’ll just expose your lack of creativity to the world and make people remember that someone did it better, and probably cheaper, years before. Yoda and Miss Piggy were right; you should only remake bad films.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future instalments.