In Defense of Remakes
I ran into an episode of At the Movies where Gene Siskel says “by definition, a movie should be pretty good for someone to try to remake it, but then the question becomes why bother to remake it?” I disagree with his statement on a fundamental level, especially in regards to the idea that a movie needs to be good in order to be considered for a remake. Growing up, I watched a lot of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and there were a bunch of episodes where I thought that the movie featured had great a concept but shoddy execution. They were the perfect candidates for a remake strictly because those concepts deserved a better movie to be featured in.
When I say a bunch, I mean, like, more than I care to admit. There are lots of movies out there that aren’t considered good by any metric, yet you can see glimmers of what they might have been. Siskel and Ebert’s popularity seem to have instilled a very black and white, thumbs up or thumbs down, attitude when it comes to evaluating films’ worth. Making films requires many moving pieces, and it's not hard to break them down to see which parts were worthwhile; such as excellent acting despite terrible dialogue, or great production design despite a stilted, forced plot. But if you’re willing to sift through what might not be great, you might be pleasantly surprised and see potential in something considered trash.
That’s not to say that every bad movie deserves a remake, but why not remake a movie that has a good concept but fell kind of flat due to financial issues or hackneyed script? Worked for Michael Bay when he made The Island, which some of you might remember from Mystery Science Theater as Parts: The Clonus Horror. The makers of Parts tried to sue Bay when The Island was released, claiming that it was a remake of their movie whether Bay thought so or not. Turns out Michael Bay thought not. Because Lord knows he’s such a bastion of originality.
Much of the movie-going public is fine with, or at least indifferent towards, mediocre movies getting remade. What they are up in arms about are the classics–the movies that were received well when they were first made anyway so there should be no reason for a new one. Except that recreating things we like in our own way is exactly what humans do. We emulate styles, we digest influences. We cover songs we like, and do new renditions of theatrical work. Why should remaking someone else’s project in their own way be seen as such a diss as opposed to an homage?
Declaring that some movies should never be remade is absurd. There are several remakes that eclipse their predecessor and if there was no such thing as remakes then some truly excellent movies wouldn’t exist. Before you start listing all the abominations out there like the endless parade of Godzillas and, I dunno, the Amazing Spider-Pigs, let us discuss those endeavors that are as good or better than their originals. You know, the remakes that were so good they also brought the original to the attention of a whole new generation of fans. Yeah, paging about 75% of Tarantino fans before Inglorious Basterds came out. No, you didn’t see the original. I’m sure some people knew it but I’m even more sure that a whole lot of people were like, “oh, this is a remake? Well this one’s okay but all the other remakes suck.” Except for John Carpenter’s The Thing*, except for the 70's version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Cronenberg’s The Fly or Some Like It Hot or True Grit or Little Shop of Horrors or True Lies….
See? There are a lot of good remakes. People don’t want to admit it, but some of their favorites movies might even be on the list and just because you didn’t know something was a remake doesn’t not make it a remake. Are there a lot of terrible remakes? Goodness yes, but there’s also just a ton of terrible content in the world in general. That’s life. Bitter with the sweet and all that.
So much comes down to context in movies as well. Scripts and characters that jump off the screen and implant themselves in moviegoers’ minds are often able to do so because they were lucky enough to be in a movie that has great art design, an innovative director, beautiful cinematography etc. Others are not as lucky. Why not give them a second chance in a more thoughtfully rendered work? Give them a chance to be part of a movie that people can really get into. If the movie isn’t perfect, don’t just dismiss anything that might have been good within it. I mean, Tarantino movies work because of the full package–the idea of scumbag types wearing suits all the time and speaking in pop culture references isn’t exactly brilliant on its own. Movies aren't made just by the director, but the director can certainly steer the ship into an iceberg if they don’t know what the strengths of the production are. Just because a movie falls flat doesn’t mean there wasn’t skill behind it.
If we say some movies are fine to remake while others aren’t, who gets to make that choice? Me? Michael Bay? Do we put it to vote? What if the electoral college fucks it up? This is really an all-or-nothing situation: we either accept all remakes coming out or we accept none of them. I know tons of people who would prefer the latter, but I would argue that we can accept things we don’t like without fully embracing them. If there’s a remake coming out that you think is unnecessary then just don’t go see it. If you think mainstream cinema releasing endless remakes, and sequels, is some sign of the death of creativity, I invite you to look at some of the bizarre and beautiful films outside the norm and remember that everyone’s been bemoaning the end of new ideas for about fifty years now.
*Author’s note: That movie is god damned amazing. Wanna fight about it?