Edward Gardiner on why it’s okay to prefer remakes…
If it’s not a sequel, it’s a remake.
Always a hot topic in film discussion, the phenomenon of film remakes is something many of us still can’t entirely wrap our heads around. It’s been going on for decades, to varying degrees of quality, but only in recent years has it become so common, much to the ire of large portions of the audience, as big studios running low on ideas exploit previously sold titles for guaranteed ticket sales. In fact, I’m not even convinced it’s because they’re running out of ideas – films like Whiplash and Blue Ruin prove there are more than enough budding writers and directors out there just bursting with talent and original ideas. It’s because the studios know they have to put considerably less effort and money into selling a title that people already know. Even if it looks terrible, audiences will generally flock to see something they already recognize, if for no other reason than morbid curiosity.
Horror has been hit the hardest, with practically every 70s and 80s slasher flick being reconstructed by a big Hollywood studio eager to wrap their fingers around the big bucks – Friday The 13th, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Halloween, Dawn of the Dead, The Hills Have Eyes, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Each and every one of them has been ‘re-imagined’ with a contemporary vision in one way or another, and then themselves gone on to spawn multiple remakes. As an audience member, it’s hard not to scrutinize every time it happens. I get that it’s a money business, but I mean, when there’s already a perfectly good film there waiting, why must we pay to sit and watch a soulless rehash made by some committee that clearly sat around a table and asked, “So what can we do to extort their money this time”?
Who cares if there’s a shinier version of Total Recall when the rest of it has positively 0% of the fun, flippancy and class of Paul Verhoeven’s original? I like Colin Farrell well enough, but he ain’t no Arnie – heaven forbid if they ever go near something like Die Hard. It all becomes especially irksome when a film is put in front of us which blatantly has no heart; a film clear in the knowledge that all it’s doing is praying on the honest, hard-earned money of dedicated film lovers by splurging out inert, apathetic re-dos of pictures by filmmakers who once took so much pride in their work. I’m looking at you, The Haunting.
But of course, as ever, that’s only one hand of it. The prosecution must stand against the defence. The argument against the endless slew of remakes is valid and compelling in many cases, but it’s not always the answer. I’m a strong believer in objectivity (it’s what makes debating film so wonderfully compelling), and here, as anywhere else, there must be a degree of open-mindedness; like the open-mindedness I felt when I realized I prefer the remake of The Amityville Horror to the original James Brolin/Margot Kidder version, or felt that 2002’s The Ring was every bit as creepy as Hideo Nakata’s original. In both cases I suppressed the urge to pretend otherwise because that’s what I was ‘supposed’ to think.
True, though, it’s not considered so controversial to enjoy a remake in some capacity. George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is one of the most revered horror classics out there, but it’s not uncommon to hear people praising Zack Snyder’s remake, which really is quite fun and fresh. Like a good cover of a song, rather than copying it note for note, it took the basic premise of Romero’s seminal zombie flick and developed it into a free-wheeling film with its own identity (on that note, is preferring a remake really so different to the widely accepted act of preferring a cover?). What you’re unlikely to hear, though, is someone saying ‘Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead is better than the original’. Because we’re not allowed to prefer a remake of a great film, are we? Doesn’t that show our true, uneducated colours?
Depressingly, that’s often the reaction. Admittedly the line is somewhat blurred because in certain cases I’d be inclined to think the same (if you preferred Jan de Bont’s The Haunting over Robert Wise’s chilling masterpiece, for example, I’d think you’d been possessed by some horrific, tasteless demon), but the reality is there’s no reason we shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy an updated version as much if not more than its original, even if it can be hard accept sometimes. The bad eggs out there (Psycho, to add another) should die with fire, but who am I to criticise when I openly prefer at least two 00s remakes of highly revered classics. A lot of you out there who love the ’79 Amityville Horror will think I’m an absolute nutcase.
The point of this article (to me, at least) is not to sit atop some figurative high horse spouting off Gandhi-like wisdom and judgement. It’s some kind of an attempt to further demonstrate why film can be such a diverse, rewarding subject with room for everyone if we keep prejudice at bay an accept that we all have different opinions. For the same reason I wrote my defence of the jump scare recently, I find myself growing increasingly disillusioned with the levels of cynicism in today’s culture. That arrogant ‘I’m better than you, my opinion is worth more than yours’ attitude really gets to me, and while you could argue there are more important things to get upset about than people complaining about films, it is my one true passion and it upsets me to read so much vitriol and hate vomited at others for having a different opinion.
Hollywood certainly isn’t letting go of its current squeeze, anyway, so expect more of the good, the bad and, indeed, the ugly.
Eddy Gardiner – Follow me on Twitter