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.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more
Comments 7