Early this week I took part in a discourse on the subject of film remakes. My view is below– you can find the rest here.
The act of remaking a film, whether it’s Bonnie and Clyde or Ghost Rider, implies that the original film can be improved upon in some way. While this may be true of a film like Ghost Rider (although actually, I doubt it, because you likely can’t make a silk purse out of a poorly executed Nicholas Cage vehicle), I can’t comprehend the mindset of any filmmaker or producer who watches Miracle on 34th Street and thinks, “Huh, I could do a better job.” What I can comprehend (and deplore) is the mindset of the producer who watches Miracle on 34th Street and thinks, “Do this in color, replace Natalie Wood with that kid from Mrs. Doubtfire and release it on Thanksgiving, and there’ll be a miracle in my bank account.” Thus it is not only the hubris of remaking a classic which bothers me, but also the inherent greed behind it.
I also don’t buy the excuse that many a lazy filmmaker has used to explain why they decided to remake a particular classic—that they’re making a modern, ‘updated’ version of the film, for the current generation. Who gets to decide that a certain classic film needs to be updated? It’s a cinematic masterpiece, not a damn Wikipedia page. And what exactly makes this generation different from any other generation that enjoyed the original animated version of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas? Was Dr. Seuss’s sweet, simple story made more enjoyable by the addition of Jim Carrey, mugging away in frightening greenface? I think not. Is there some reason that this generation won’t appreciate Gene Wilder’s creepy, eccentric Willy Wonka? Give this generation some credit. They may have been raised watching Lizzie McGuire, but that doesn’t mean they’ll mistake Hilary Duff for a real actress.
While I most vocally take issue with remakes of classic films, I also would never condone a film remake of a bad movie like Xanadu—the original was such an epic, transcendently bad film, that a remake would undoubtedly fall short. Still, I wished Xanadu well in its transformation from screen to stage, partly because I was curious to see whether a terrible movie might make a decent musical. In fact, I have nothing against turning a film into a musical, since it involves a conversion into a completely different artistic genre, which requires a lot of hard work and a meaningful vision. It also means that someone watched the movie and said, ‘This would work well as a musical,’ and not, ‘This would work well as another movie, made by me.’
The remake frenzy has hit an all-time low with the currently-in-production remake of the cult documentary film, Grey Gardens. We now have Drew Barrymore, of Charlie’s Angels fame, cast to play Little Edie Beale, the star of Grey Gardens, who was played in the original film by, well, Little Edie Beale. Ladies and gentlemen, what kind of a cosmic joke is it to remake a documentary, and cast actors to play actual people who originally played themselves? In any event, I’m not laughing.
Grey Gardens sacrilege aside, my main issue with film remakes is the idea that even a well-loved classic film, which has earned critical acclaim, gained devoted fans and shaped countless lives through viewings over the years, is still not safe from tampering. This does not appear to happen in the world of fiction. Any fool can read As I Lay Dying and think, ‘I bet a sassy talking pig would really liven this story up’, but their vision will never be realized. For whatever reason, unlike classic films, classic literature is inviolate. I guess I should be grateful for that small favor.