Dos and Don’ts of Remakes
Well, the new version of Straw Dogs is on its way, leaving everybody muttering angrily under their breath about unnecessary remakes. And you can see exactly why. For instance, let’s compare us some marketing!
LOOK AT HOW DIFFERENT THEY ARE! The trouble is, complaining about how it represents a creative bankruptcy in Hollywood is really rather missing the point. There have always been, and always will be, remakes. We’re not just talking about some academic ‘all Shakespeare’s plays were remakes of earlier stories and legends, wah wah wah!’ No, we’re just pointing out that remakes have been happening since before movies had sound, more so, since the ‘Pre-code’ era kind of took the Wild West approach to film making (or film rustlin’, as they called it back then).
How else do explain the 1928 remake of the 1914 The Battle of the Sexes. Or Errol Flynn starring in a new version of The Dawn Patrol a scant eight years after the 1930 original. Or The Lost Patrol, released in 1934, not even five years after the original was dead and cold.
There are lots of reasons remakes happen, not all of them bad. So let’s have a look at the Dos and Don’ts of remakes:
DO: Change the name
This one is absolutely key if you’re remaking any film of a decent quality. Keeping the name the same may guarantee some free marketing, but it will almost certainly make people hate your film, because now your film has to be not just good, but BETTER than the original. If you’re going after a classic, this is going to result in some serious critical beat-downs, because now a poor movie isn’t just a poor movie, it’s an insult to the original. Meanwhile, if you do an awful remake with a different name, no-one really notices, and if you do a good remake with a different name (say you change the name from Infernal Affairs to The Departed) you can win an Oscar. Also, having multiple films with the same name wreaks havoc with Google searches. Sort it out.
DON’T: Half-heart it
If you’re going to keep the name, keep it. If you’re not, adding or subtracting a space is just not good enough. Nor is simply browsing a thesaurus: If you desperately want to remake 1963 classic(?) Blood Feast, try to think up something a touch further afield than Blood Diner. Not something that’s really going to make or break a film, but tends to imply a laziness than tends to infect the rest of the film, regardless of the amount of blood.
DO: Keep trying to improve on the book
A good book will often inspire a movie. A mediocre book will sometimes inspire a movie. A mediocre book with strong concept will occasionally inspire several movies. This is actually a good thing, since it means writers and directors are more willing to mess around with the book in order to create a great film. It also means that any previous films work more as influences than as a source text, leading to more diverse interpretations that can often be a pleasant surprise. Just look at all the films that Asimov has sort-of-inspired, or the insane myriad of Dracula films.
DON’T: Keep trying to improve the special effects
Have you ever looked at a classic film and squirmed slightly at how dated the effects are? Of course, we all have, Planet of the Apes was a bunch of dudes in mediocre chimp masks. Remaking is not the answer, though. Updating it without having anything further to say about it except ‘better greenscreens!’ will result in a phoned-in junkheap. Plus, it’s often the technical limitation that lead to an emphasis on atmosphere: Jaws was an appalling shark, but you tell me that post-Spielberg shark films were better because of superior CGI. Oh, and don’t update the existing films either. We’re talking to you, Lucas!
DO: Change the setting
Isn’t Seven Samurai good? Let’s set it in the wild west! Isn’t The Magnificent Seven fun? Let’s set it in space! That is the right way to do it. It keeps the core essence that makes the original special, while putting the ball entirely in the filmmaker’s court as to how they want to make it even better. Plus, let’s be honest, space is really cool.
DON’T: Change the language
Let’s get this straight. If you take a movie from another country and do it again in your language IT WILL NOT BE BETTER. At best, you’ll get a movie that’s about as good, such as Let Me In, but the other 99% of the time you get Breathless, you get One Missed Call, and if you’re really, REALLY unlucky you get The Next Three Days. Even The Ring is a bit poor compared to the original Ringu. It’s patronising to assume that people are unable to read subtitles, and if they’re genuinely put off a movie because of that, they deserve to miss out on a great experience.
DO: Remake your own movies because they’re a bit shit
So you’re a rookie director with big things ahead of you. You’ve had an excellent idea for a movie and have done quite well given your laughably small budget, amateur cast and half a camcorder. Yet, even after hitting the big time, you can’t help but wonder what that first film would have been like if you had the budgets you do now. So do it! Tarting up special effects is a waste, but a full re-do can lead to some excellent things: look at Evil Dead 2, which was far more remake than sequel. If the concept was strong enough to launch your career, it’s strong enough to stand being done again, but better.
DON’T: Remake Oldboy