In Defense of the Offense of Remakes

In Defense of Remakes

Even in the midst of Remake Fever, original ideas still dominate

You won’t metaphorically hear a louder collective groan on the Internet these days than when news comes of another film or television remake.

Whether it’s “Carrie” on the film side or such TV projects as “Murder, She Wrote” — or the remake-that-isn’t-a-remake-but-might-as-well-be, “How I Met Your Dad,”  these projects justifiably inspire cynicism about their motives and skepticism about their value.

Yes, it often seems like the primary inspiration for every reboot is money — welcome to the entertainment business. No, it doesn’t seem likely that they will improve upon the original, or even come close.  Most craven of all is when the projects take the title but almost nothing else, thus sullying the memory of the original without any seeming creative justification.

But amid all the pillorying, which I myself have joined in on, let me just make a few points in support of the remake impulse.

  • Remakes are done all the time in theater, and no one seems to mind. You know when you go to see that new local production of “Twelfth Night” or “Death of a Salesman?” That’s a remake. The genre is so blessed that the Tonys even give awards for the best revivals of the year. Now, it makes more sense in theater, where the opportunities to see the original are few and far between, especially if you don’t have a time machine. But the idea for the producers (or “The Producers”) is otherwise the same: This is good source material, and we’d like to see what we can do with it. Strip away all the financial trimmings (it could take a while, but we’ve got time), and the people in film and television are artists, and the desire to put their own stamp on something already beloved is understandable.
  • “There are no original ideas anymore.” Really? Actually, even in the midst of Remake Fever, original ideas still dominate. The problem is, most of them don’t become that good either. Yeah, “Ironside” was a flop, but so was “We Are Men.”
  • Sometimes, the remakes are good, even great. There may be a few diehards who think the U.S. version of “The Office” never, at any moment, held a candle to its U.K. ancestor, but let’s be real: The TV world is a better place because Michael Scott and friends existed. “House of Cards” won David Fincher a directing Emmy for its pilot. “All in the Family,” anyone?

So while many of these remakes might be bad ideas from the start, a knee-jerk negative reaction to every one is a bitch too far. I don’t really need to see “Broadchurch” redone for the U.S. as Fox’s “Gracepoint” after having enjoyed the British version, but is it so hard to understand why creator Chris Chibnall and star David Tennant might want to take it for another ride, why showrunners Dan Futterman and Anya Epstein might welcome the challenge of moving beyond the original or why Anna Gunn and Jacki Weaver might want their spin? I mean, besides the fact that they’re getting paid for it?

The remake might be good. Hell, there’s even a small chance it could be better than the original. I’m not holding my breath, but still.

It’s time to shrug these remakes off until they launch. They’re part of our world but aren’t taking over our world, and there’s nothing to be gained by trashing them prematurely. Let them sink or swim on their own merits when they arrive. Trust me, the legacy of Jessica Fletcher can take it.

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  1. harry georgatos says:

    I rarely remember a remake being as good as the original. The only remake that stood on it’s own merits was THE MALTESE FALCON which was a remake of an inferior movies. Remakes have been happening since the beginning of cinema and will continue. 99.9% of remakes aren’t as good as the original. The TOTAL RECALL remake was slick and excellent visual effects and cinematography but wasn’t as subversive and smart as Verheoeven’s original. The acting was by-the-numbers and workmanlike. Scripts are coming out of an assembly line then genuine authors. TV remakes into feature films have failed. The MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE films have excellent production values but scripts targeted to 15 year old kids! The only tv remakes to make an impression was THE UNTOUCHABLES and THE FUGITIVE. There have been so many stinkers the list is endless. The problem are that scripts are written with a teen mentality. I got nothing against remakes and tv shows into theatrical films if the standard is a masterpiece. THE PERSUADERS, THE CHAMPIONS, NOWHERE MAN, LOST can be made into great films if the writing is smart and sophisticated, unfortunately that isn’t the case! I still have nightmares with what Hollywood did to THE AVENGERS, WILD, WILD WEST, LOST IN SPACE and CHARLIES ANGELS plus many more turkeys.

    • Cian Nolan says:

      In fairness, the first Mission Impossible was incredibly slick and a great modern update to the TV series. Remember some audiences even complained that the plot was too complicated for summer blockbusters. It did dumb down a lot for the sequels with varying degrees of success. However the first installment was solid.

      • harry georgatos says:

        What disappointed me withe first Mission was they took Peter Graves Jim Phelps and turned him into a post-Cold war traitor and murderer. That’s paying disgusting disrespect to fans of the iconic tv show! I got nothing against good agents turning bad but not with Jim Phelps. Peter Graves turned down the role. It is like turning Captain Kirk in STAR TREK into a villain. One simply does not do that! Also the premise to Mission 1 does not seem real. CIA would not implicate Ethan that quickly without recovering all the dead IMF agents in Prague first. Unless Jim Phelps and Claire’s bodies were on a morgue slab Ethan would not be easily implicated. The CIA would have recovered Jack from the elevator shaft, Kristin Scott Thomas stabbed, Golitsyn stabbed and Hanna detonated in the car leaving Ethan, Jim and Claire unaccounted. The CIA does not work that way and the film seemed false. The first Mission film did not resemble any of the mind bending scenarios of the vintage tv show and has a thin resemblance to the tv show. The film also needed another huge action set-piece and is light on action. MI2 I refuse to merit as Woo’s initial cut was 3 and 1/2 hours long. 1 hour and a half of footage was taken out and damaged the film. Hopefully a director’s cut will find it’s way quickly on Blu-Ray!!!

  2. Vladdy says:

    Theatrical revivals aren’t remakes. They use the same script; they are just a new staging of something that has gone away completely, unlike movies and tv shows. No one needs another “Carrie” because they can still see the first two. I can’t go see Laurette Taylor in “The Glass Menagerie”, but I can go see Cherry Jones. Next year, no one will be able to see Cherry Jones in “The Glass Menagerie”, so someone somewhere will do it again. With the same script.

    • Jon Weisman says:

      You’re correct in a literal sense, but you’re missing the larger point. It’s not just about the people seeing a production, it’s also about the people doing a production. It’s about the act and the potential.

      I’d also argue that a new staging, even if you’re keeping the same script, means that it’s something new. I just saw Evita 10 days ago at the Pantages. It was 98% the same on paper as the original I saw 30+ years ago, but different in so many ways. It wasn’t as good, but do I really need to begrudge them for doing it? Of course not.

      I’m just saying the film and TV remakes should each be judged on their own merits, rather than dismissed out of hand, because you never know when you might be negatively prejudging something great.

      • Jon Weisman says:

        Trinity, we can argue ’til the cows come home who’s missing whose point, but your first paragraph shows you’re clearly missing mine if you’re arguing that certain projects should never be remade.

        Take Casablanca. I have no desire to see a remake. I see no need for a remake. But if someone’s inspired to do a remake, who am I to prejudge the outcome? If in the end it’s lame, then it’s lame – and meanwhile, the original still survives. How is it harmed?

        But what about the rare occasions when the original inspires a remake in the best ways. I don’t think many people wanted to see a remake of “The Office,” but look what they got. A great show.

        I also don’t see how your second and third sentences aren’t in conflict with each other. It’s all part of the same equation.

        Meanwhile, as far as theater, again, I think you and Vladdy are both being too literal.

        I don’t see the harm in saying “just wait until you see it before you judge it.” Is that really so controversial? I don’t expect the “It’s a Wonderful Life” sequel to match its predecessor, but I’m also not so arrogant to say someone shouldn’t be allowed to try.

      • I think you’re missing the point, though, Mr Weisman. People aren’t groaning at the individual remade property. People are groaning at the fact that they are remaking, often, what shouldn’t be remade in the first place, or at the fact that it’s been poorly cast etc. etc.

        And Vladdy is right. Theatrical revivals are NOT remakes.

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