Remakes of classic or at least popular films are almost as old as filmmaking itself, it seems. After all, if something worked once, why wouldn’t it work again? Right? Right? Okay, maybe not. When I was a kid I can remember my parents now and again talking about films they remembered from their childhoods (or even from before they were born) being remade by (then) modern directors and the popular actors of the day. Just like today, some of those remakes proved to be very popular and often quite good while others, well, not so much.
In some cases, as a kid, I was well aware that a particular movie may have been a remake of a film that had come long before it. Naturally I had seen the 1933 film King Kong multiple times on television by the time the Dino DeLaurentis remake was released in 1976. That travesty of a film starred Jeff Bridges and a very young newcomer named Jessica Lange (it was her first film. Look it up). Even at eight years old I knew it was a piece of shit. I had no great love for the original (it was made more than thirty years before i was born, after all), but I found the remake to be nearly has hokey as that old film was. The original Kong used Ray Harryhausen-style stop-motion animation effects for its titular ape while DeLaurentis had claimed in advance of making his take on the classic Beauty and Beast tale that he would have a huge fully functional mechanical Kong. After having his effects people construct a fully functional mechanical ape hand for Ms. Lange to be photographed in and seeing the cost of creating just that one appendage, DeLaurentis opted for the next best thing: a guy in a monkey suit stomping around a miniature New York.
King Kong was remade again in 2005 by director Peter Jackson, the man who managed to bring The Lord of the Rings to the screen. Naturally Jackson chose to do his ape-effects in CG and had Andy Sirkis play the primate. Sirkis had also played Gollum in the Rings trilogy and, while its clear that he’s a gifted actor, it seems less and less likely that we’ll ever see much of him acting without wearing a mo-cap suit. The Kong example serves to show that having the correct people behind the camera can make all the difference in the world. While the DeLaurentis King Kong comes off as trite and contrived and just awful, the Jackson version is powerful, emotional, and moving.
The best laid plans of mice and men, no? Apes and men, perhaps?
Nevertheless, the tradition of Hollywood re-creating its former glory (or attempting to) continues to this day with the same hit-and-miss success rate. A few of my favorite films have been recently remade, for example, some multiple times. Case in point: George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead has been remade a couple of times, once by make-u[p effects legend Tom Savini Tom Savini (did I say “recently?” Sorry about that.) and again in 2007 by some hack called Jeff Broadstreet with a piece of crap called Night of the Living Dead 3D… I suppose a film that has famously passed into public domain could have fared worse.
Savini’s 1990 remake of Night took considerable flack from fans and critics alike (it has a measley 68% on Rotten Tomatoes) and with good reason. It is not a good film. Fans didn’t care for a lot of liberties Savini took with the story while in many ways attempting a shot-for-shot remake (it isn’t, at all). When I first saw Savini’s version of Night, I hated it for many of the same reasons other fans did. I must admit, however, that over the years it has grown on me. One flaw with Romero’s original (which broke a lot of ground in various areas, including casting an African-American actor in a lead role written for a white man), for example, was the weakness of the Barbara character who, for all intents and purposes, is the female lead in the film. Savini took the whimpering and terrified Barbara and made her a much stronger, determined, fighting woman who survives in the end (spoilers, for a film released over twenty years ago). In the original Barbara becomes lunch.
More recent remakes have included Total Recall with Colin Farrell starring in the Schwarzenegger role, Dawn of the Dead directed by Watchmen and Man of Steel’s Zack Snyder (I LOVED the Dawn remake and recently watched it yet again), and Michael Bay spearhedaded reimaginings of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the Thirteenth, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Bay did not direct these himself, but acted in an executive producer capacity. I enjoyed all three of those films, despite my seething hatred of almost all things Bay.
What spurred my interest in film remakes for this post (he gets to the point a thousand words in) is the recent release of a remake of Carrie, Brian DePalma’s fondly remembered 1976 film based on Stephen King’s first published novel. Overall I enjoyed the Carrie remake. Sure, Chloe Grace Moritz (best known as “Hit Girl” from the Kick Ass movies) is no Sissy Spacek, but Julianne Moore is delightfully over the top in her portrayal of Margaret White, Carrie’s mother. She lacks some of the religiously charged bat-shit crazy provided in the original by Piper Laurie, but she still does an impressive job with a powerful and demanding role.
I suppose the real reason for my ramblings on this topic is just this: if one of your favorite films is being remade, don’t sweat it. Maybe the “new” filmmakers will do a good job that honors the source material and maybe they won’t, but surely that doesn’t need to detract from your enjoyment of the original film. When Kubrick’s The Shining was released, it was the first film treatment of King’s novel and it was not well-received by fans of the book due to differences in the story, missing plot elements, and a significantly altered ending. In 1997 The Shining was made again as a television miniseries starring Steven Weber (of Wings fame) and Rebecca DeMornay (Risky Business, The Hand the Rocks the Cradle) the the roles of Jack and Wendy Torrence. It kept very true to the novel, but is actually painful to watch in my opinion. It certainly lacks the genius that Kubrick and Nicholson (Shelly DuVall not so much) brought to the 1980 film. But I wasn’t expecting a faithful remake of Kubrick’s film. What would be the point? I’ve seen that movie already and can watch it nearly any time I like.
So, don’t worry. Even if you hate the remake of Robocop that is set to release in 2014, you can still watch the Peter Weller version and enjoy it as much as you ever did.