I know the title is probably overly harsh, but as a film fanatic let me tell you there is nothing more awful than sitting through a shitty and unnecessary remake/reboot. It’s as if all the creativity and original ideas have gone extinct and now we’re left with a version of Hollyweird that profits off the back of constant regurgitation. Taking a once successful property or franchise and using it as a template to modernize whatever the given story is for people who may not have seen the original is a dangerous and slippery slope we seem to have slid all the way to the bottom of.
A good remake or reboot, in my opinion, should take the title (obviously), the base premise of the story and try to do something inventive and original within the sandbox it’s playing in. Very rarely have shot for shot remakes been a success financially or creatively. The biggest target for this particular injustice would be the 1998 remake of Psycho starring Vince Vaughn. As directed by Gus Van Sant, it is quite literally the same movie as the 1960 original. If watched in parallel, you would notice that everything from plot structure, character arcs, shot composition are completely the same between both movies. I don’t know if Van Sant was trying to make a statement, but the whole experiment was a complete and utter failure. Psycho (1998) stands as the poster boy of what to avoid when trying to remake or reboot any sort of film franchise successfully. It didn’t add or bring anything new to the table at all; it was just a soulless attempt to steal money from the movie going public based solely on name recognition. Many recognize Hitchcock’s original as a master class in suspense film making. Why bother tinkering with a remake when you don’t change the format or attempt to modernize it in any way. What worked and scared audiences in 1960 simply doesn’t translate in the same way 38 years later.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom in the confines of the remake machine. One of the better examples is the Dawn of The Dead remake directed by Zack Snyder, which was released in 2004. While not nearly as good as Romero’s 1978 classic, it took the title and premise and fastened its own identity while still honoring the film it was remaking. Whereas the ’78 version was a slow moving and deliberately paced critique of humanity’s growing obsession with consumerism and the zombification of the masses in terms of product placement, the ’04 version is a much different beast. While it also takes place in a mall, it’s not the focal point of the film. Snyder’s remake is a much faster paced and action packed modern day horror film that places emphasis on suspense and gore. It doesn’t at any point attempt to stand toe to toe with the original Film and instead blazes its own path to artistic integrity. Though there are certainly gripes to be had with this particular remake, the entertainment value and tightly plotted nature make this film stand on its own two feet as a worthy remake to Romero’s Classic.
In certain, but extremely rare cases, remakes can even transcend the originals. If given the right talent, behind and in front of the camera, a remake can highlight the best points of the first film. The remake can also bring so much more that it becomes even more of a classic than the film it was based on. One of my all-time favorite movies, and one of the only flicks that prove this point is John Carpenter’s 1982 remake The Thing. This film is so well received and revered that most people who have seen the movie don’t even realize it’s a remake of a 1951 movie The Thing From Another World. It’s lightning in a bottle type of situation that I can’t honestly remember any other remake or reboot capturing.
It’s not quite a shot for shot remake, but the ’82 version stuck rather close to the original plot while still maintaining its own identity. Upping the ante to reflect the time in which it was released. It features a classic performance from Kurt Russell. Transcendent practical special effects that still can’t be matched to this day. The movie boasts one of the most finely plotted suspense stories with twists and turns that even the most hardcore and jaded film fan couldn’t predict. This is truly the perfect storm of perfection that every remake after this should strive for and hold up as a benchmark on what to do successfully.
These two movies are, to varying degrees, good examples of how to properly revisit an existing property. While the original Dawn of the Dead was a classic and didn’t really beg to be remade, Snyder knew this and didn’t try to make something that people could parallel with the older film. The original Thing From Another World is a cult classic but hardly as revered as Dawn. So when Carpenter decided to remake this (keep in mind this was released right around E.T. Another sci-fi alien movie.) He didn’t have a holy grail to work around. What he did was nothing short of a miracle and is, in my opinion, a monument to a master filmmaker at the height of his powers.
Before I wrap this up, I want to address something I’ve heard circling around the internet lately. Apparently there is some major traction on an upcoming remake of The Craft. Now, I personally don’t have strong feelings either way about this. I didn’t enjoy The Craft back in the day, so I don’t really see how this is anything worth being on my radar. However, I know The Craft has a rather sizeable following (mostly among women), so I’m sure there’s a huge chunk of fans either chomping at the bits for this or eerily avoiding it. I’ve always felt The Craft be a product of its time. It’s a film that’s trapped in the cultural zeitgeist of the mid to late 90’s goth movement. It struck a huge chord back then because it was an outcast movie for those who felt like they were rejected by society due to their “out of the box” beliefs. It was a film that stands as a sort of rallying cry for the freaks and goths who were just looking for something to cling to in the public eye…. Something they would call their own.
This is where we begin to run into problems. While I’m not going to write off this particular remake yet, as I’ve been proven wrong in the past, there are a few things that make me pause for concern. This can’t be one of those shot for shot remakes like Psycho because the message of the movie back then I feel would be utterly lost on a contemporary audience. In this age, we live in of unparalleled acceptance over an individual’s life choices, a movie of this type might seem like a step backward. While there will always be a struggle to conform, that struggle is not nearly as pervasive as it was back then. Also, let’s not forget that this movie was made when most of its target audience was still in high school. So who’s this movie for? I’m sure a few fans of the original will see it for nostalgic purposes but to make the most financial gain on this, the studio would most assuredly have to target this at a younger audience. Would they accept this as a good movie? I’m sure they could market it towards the Twilight crowd as goth-lite, but then they risk ruining what made the original unique. The satanic cult overtones of the original don’t hold as much weight in this world of shirtless tween boys masquerading as sparkly vampires. That time has come and pass, and I’m not sure this movie has much of a chance at recapturing what made the first one successful.
The only way for this to be even somewhat redeeming is for the filmmakers to follow in Snyder’s and Carpenters footsteps. Take the name and baseline concept and create something entirely new that belongs to this generation the way the first one did back then. Don’t try to piggyback on the success and name recognition of the first one, because your efforts will truly be lost on the people who live in the current cultural climate. If it were up to me, I’d say leave this and any other film alone. Put all your energy into finding original talent with original ideas instead of strip mining our youth during a time when film making was in its golden age. You’ll thank me later.