5 remakes that are better than their originals
My parents, right, they made one kid, which turned out fine. But a decade after their first hit they fancied a sequel and lo, there was me. Technically, I’m a remake. But I’m better than the original. I’m cooler, smarter, and I stand up to repeat visits. What’s been done once can be done again, and better.
As a living, breathing remake, then, I present five films that are cooler, smarter, and more watchable than their older sibs. So since order is no indication of greatness, here are five randomly ordered remakes that prove original ain’t always best.
#5. True Grit
Henry Hathaway’s 1969 original is a typical Western: galloping soundtrack, horses, hats, guns, John Wayne… It’s watchable, sure, but the fact is nothing in the original is a match for The Coen Brothers’ 2010 remake. Nothing. While Jeff Bridges’ drunkard accent is difficult to decipher at times he owns the role of Marshal Cogburn, hired by 14 year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) to help find her father’s killer, like John Wayne never did. The Brothers turn the search undertaken by Mattie and Cogburn into a significant chapter of life for each, rendering their journey a sumptuously photographed epic and emotional undertaking in which Mattie grows up and Cogburn grows old. In Hathaway’s version the duo are much the same at the end as they were at the beginning, apparently unchanged by all they went through; Kim Darby’s Mattie is pretty unaffected by the horrors she witnesses for someone of 14, and the land before pavements (the film is set in the late 1800’s) is too clean and glossy, and exists in almost perpetual midday, which detracts from any sense of journey or passing time. You could tell the remake was going to better just by looking at Mattie’s costume. She wears trousers. You know an 1800’s chick means business when she dons male attire.
We all know the story. Handsome, educated Humbert falls for the 12 year old daughter of his landlady. Cue illegal activity. Nabokov apparently loved Stanley Kubrick’s film of his novel, but this was in 1962 so he was probably high when he saw it, so let’s ignore him. Kubrick was limited with what he could show onscreen, and the quick cuts and fade-outs at potentially intimate moments mean the affair upon which the story turns is effectively missing. The gargoyle that is James Mason’s Humbert seems wracked with worry as to what the critics will think, while Sue Lyons’ Lolita is about as zesty as pistachios. The pair lack chemistry, and the film feels awkward and unbelievable.
If Nabby had just waited another 20 years before popping his clogs, I bet he would have well preferred Adrian Lyne’s 1997 Lolita. With its dappled green gardens, softly lit interiors and hazy American landscapes the remake oozes the sensuality, the lyricism, the hopelessness and the love within Nabokov’s heart breakingly beautiful prose. Ridiculously well cast with Jeremy Irons a handsome Humbert and Dominique Swain a lissom Lolita, the remake does the impossible: makes a peado love story beautiful. Erm… good?
You know a remake is good when you haven’t even heard of the original. Next!
#2. Ocean’s Eleven
52 minutes into the original and the back-story for (every single member of) the Rat Pack finally gets over and only then does the heist, i.e. the film, begin. And goes on for another 75 minutes. Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 remake cuts all excess, chopping the number of casinos hit from five to three and eliminating unnecessary back-story. The result is a film that moves much faster, despite only being 11 minutes shorter, is funnier, way, way cooler, while managing to retain the clean and classy front of the clean and classy, but undeniably weaker original. The writing is fabulous, with the effervescent dialogue bouncing between the ensemble of lip-smackingly talented actors, (George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck et al) like baseballs off bats and, best of all, they never stop for a musical number. Not once. Which makes for a remake slicker than a brylcreemed Rat Pack.
Cuban refugee Tony Montana (Al Pacino, as if you didn’t know) rises to the top of the Miami cocaine empire. Then falls. Originally made in 1932 with Howard Hawks helming and Paul Muni as Tony, the original suffered at the hands of the censors, though it didn’t go down without a fight and is pretty bad-ass in its own right. But the remake had the good fortune of being green lighted in the 80’s, the decade of greed and excess, which made its content, greed and excess, awfully timely and relevant. Which it was. And still is. Scarface is disgusting, but it should be; it’s about disgusting people. With the freedom to tote chainsaws, swing grenade launchers and swear gratuitously left, right and centre (something the original simply couldn’t have), form was free to match content and the result was a glorious exploration of the twisted, coked up hearts we all know lurk in the sewage of the American Dream.
And Al Pacino owns.
So there they are. My maths is crap but I think that’s five. Five films that were nothing worth writing about, remade into films so good you wish you’d made them yourself. So it ain’t all hand wringing and face clasping in remakeland. This is my philosophy, and as long as nobody touches Fight Club, it stands.
By EJ Robinson