Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Arguments for and against movie remakes

This article was ranked #1 on helium.com:

In the last few years, Hollywood has been flooded with so many remakes and sequels that the popular perception that Hollywood is out of original ideas is being rapidly reinforced. With that in mind, if mainstream Hollywood wants to avoid perpetuating the image that its output is overly commercialized and looking in substance, it must be very careful about allowing too many remakes to be greenlit. In addition, the Hollywood studios must be sure that the films are quality pictures and have a good reason to be made.

There are many good reasons to remake a film but a good reason not to is because it seems like an easy money idea because it relies on a familiar brand. Although this is counterintuitive, remakes don't always lead to success at the box office: In the last four years, "The Bad News Bears" grossed an abysmal $32 million, "Invasion" grossed $15 million, "Alfie" grossed $13 million, and "Slueth" grossed less than a million dollars domestically.

As these figures show, films need to have something else to offer beyond the standard "this is a remake" ploy, because that isn't enough to bring viewers in. If a remake isn't that much different than the original than what prevents moviewatchers from just going out and renting the original? So the first thing a remake must do is seperate itself from the original and provide a new take. This could involve updating the remake for modern times. "Manhurian Candidate" for example, replaced the villain from being a Communist military sect to being an oil company with a stake in the affairs of the Persian Gulf, which made a poignant political point. "You've Got Mail" was a loose remake of the 1940's film "Shop Around the Corner" and updated the concept of two penpals in love to two email pals in love.

The present state of filmmaking also offers greater opportunities than the past so there is also the ability to do more in the present. For example, Peter Jackson's version of King Kong was a resounding success because it was able to attract the best actors of its day and it was able to employ 21st century special effects into the story. At the same time, the limited ability of the past might also be the appeal of the story. The 2003 film "Down with Love" is a loose remake of the screwball 1960's comedies of Doris Day and Rock Hudson it sought to make use of the fact that more sexually explicit dialogue can be used today, but the film came off as an unspired because the charm of the originals were there innocence.

However, the best way to avoid issues of comparison that plague reviews and attendance figures is not to make remakes of popular films. They were already done great the first time so why fix something that isn't broken? Some remakes attempt to realize the potential of a subpar film within a great genre. Examples incluide Casino Royale from the Bond genre, 3:10 to Yuma for the Western genre, or the Shaggy Dog from Disney films. Other remakes do a great service by reintroducing younger audiences to an underwatched classic such as "Guess Who" (remade after the 1967 social issues' film "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?"), "Sabrina," "The Manchurian Candidate" or the Adam Sandler film "Mr Deeds" (based off of the Frank Capra film "Mr. Deeds goes to Town")

Remakes are a tricky minefield to navigate but if the filmmakers because they have already lost points for originality, but there is room for at least a couple of them a year if the filmmakers have purpose and passion behind them,

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