MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Remakes Galore

I generally shrug when I hear about this or that film being remade or “reimagined” or whatever buzz word that is supposed to make you forget that you’re seeing a retread. I know a lot of people get upset when they hear about one of their favorite films being remade and how it means that Hollywood is out of ideas and they are sullying the classics and all that jazz. I, however, have never felt that way.

I’ve always felt that just because some schmuck wants to remake a classic, it doesn’t somehow make that original film any better or worse nor does it change my feelings about the original. I think the merits of the original film are usually untouchable and that remaking that film, it’s just going to be an uphill struggle for the filmmakers behind the redo. In other words, it’ll be much harder for those filmmakers to make me forget how much I loved the original than it will be for me to forget the remake.

But (and you knew that was coming)…it’s getting a little bit ridiculous, isn’t it?

When I went to the movies recently, there was a promo for the remake of Death at a Funeral and my friends and I were amazed by it. First of all, there is zero point in remaking a film that just came out three years ago, but especially since it was, you know, in English. It’s not like you could use the excuse that it was a foreign film that had subtitles and people are too dumb to read subtitles, so we have to remake it in English. No, this is a film that was in English and directed by an American and for some reason, it needed to be remade? And based on the trailers and the promos, it seems to be the exact same film except for the fact that much of the cast is African-American.

(A couple more things about Death at a Funeral: 1) what the hell happened to Neil LaBute? Remember when he was supposed to be one of the great American filmmakers? The Wicker Man, Lakeview Terrace and now this remake of Death at a Funeral? I don’t want to call the guy a sell-out, but let’s just say that I bet none of these films were “personal projects.” 2) Remaking a three year old British film is bad enough, but Death at a Funeral was a pretty mediocre one. I’m all for remaking mediocre films in order to improve upon them, but like I said, this one seems to be almost identical. They even got Peter Dinklage to reprise his role. 3) I love Chris Rock as a stand-up comedian. He’s one of the brightest, funniest guys working in that realm. But the guy is just not a movie star. He just isn’t able to carry a movie and my friends and I had a long discussion about why that is and my buddy Jack came up with a great theory: he can’t do deadpan. He’s too over-emotive. When he’s doing stand-up, that’s a plus, but in film it’s okay to be subtle because the camera picks up a lot. Okay, end of digression.)

Looking at the calendar, however, the upcoming slate is littered with remakes. There’s the remake of Nightmare on Elm Street, Clash of the Titans, Chloe (a remake of the wonderful French film Nathalie…), Robin Hood, and that’s just the next month and a half. And don’t forget about the remake that currently owns the box office: Alice in Wonderland. And look at how talented some of these directors are: Tim Burton, Atom Egoyan, Ridley Scott (okay, maybe not Ridley Scott).

That’s one of the biggest struggles for me as a film lover; the fact that by choosing to sign on for a remake, talented filmmakers and actors are spending months and years of their time making films that I’ve already seen. Instead of watching Johnny Depp create a character out of thin air, I have to watch him fill the shoes of Gene Wilder. Instead of seeing Amanda Seyfried break out with a performance I’d never seen before, I have to settle for watching her play a role that was already perfectly played by Emmanuelle Beart. The original films will continue to play just as well as they always have when I go to revisit them – and in fact, will probably play better in comparison to the remakes – but I can’t stand the fact that Tim Burton is spending his days remaking everything that isn’t nailed down instead of creating something unique and original. We want our artists to create things, not mimic or “reimagine.”

Sure, part of me is interested in seeing Jackie Earle Haley play Freddy Krueger, to see what he can do with such an iconic role. But, again, it is an iconic role for a reason and that reason is because Robert Englund imbued the character with a particular sensibility. The filmmakers and the studio are betting on the fact that the character is bigger than the actors who play him, which may very well be true, but I know that I will always think of Robert Englund no matter how good Haley is.

But I suppose the filmmakers are hoping for that kind of generational divide. Therefore, all the people who loved the original will check out the remake for comparison purposes and all of the people who never saw the original will either rent it or buy it in anticipation of the remake or go see the remake or both. And a large portion of the audience that will be sneaking into Nightmare on Elm Street will not have seen the original and will then live their lives thinking that Jackie Early Haley was the definitive Freddy Krueger. And I’m okay with that. I prefer Christopher Lee’s Dracula to Bela Lugosi’s, so I suppose that’s okay. But I also know that Lee owed a lot to Lugosi’s original portrayal.

I was reading recently about how Ridley Scott plans on remaking the Red Riding trilogy for American audiences. Steven Zailian is writing the script and they’re moving the action to the US. Now, for me, this doesn’t make me like the original films any less, but it sure makes me like Ridley Scott a lot less (if that were possible). Again, the Red Riding films are in English. But not only that, they are so uniquely tied to the location of Yorkshire and sewn into a narrative that features a real-life murder case. David Peace, who wrote the novels, did an enormous amount of research over a number of years in order to make sure that everything fit together just so. And the filmmakers similarly worked diligently to bring those novels to the screen. Now Ridley Scott rolls in and is like, “yeah, that six hour trilogy that is set in England and is so uniquely British…I’m going to make it a two and a half hour flick set in the States!” The point being: there is no way that the film could possibly be as good as the original and so what is the motivation there? It must be: wow, good story, I’m going to make it into a smash hit. Which is, you know, not the best way to make a quality film. But please, all of you Ridley Scott apologists, defend him.

So ultimately I get just as frustrated by remakes. I suppose my biggest problem is that I see a lot of movies. Therefore, almost nothing I see nowadays seems original to begin with. When I saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I enjoyed quite a bit, I couldn’t help but see callbacks to almost every other mystery film, whether it was Chinatown or The Long Goodbye or The Big Sleep. So when a film actually sets out to be a remake, it makes it even less fun for me. I know Broadway puts on a lot of revivals and people enjoy them, but I can’t relate to that. When I see a remake, I’m not enthused by the prospect of seeing it. Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised and I wind up really liking or even loving a remake (Scorsese’s The Departed is a great example), but it’s more difficult to drag myself to the theater to see a remake of a film I’ve already seen and enjoyed.

When great filmmakers attach themselves to remakes, I think there must be some kind of ego involved, that there’s this desire to improve on greatness, that they are talented enough to overcome the flaws of the original, etc. But if they really want to challenge themselves and their egos, then the greatest achievement is to take a blank page and a single great idea and turn it into a great film. A lot of people complain that Tarantino is a filmmaker who takes past ideas and repurposes them, but I can honestly say that each of his films seems completely original to me. He has never taken a past film and decided to flat-out remake it because he knows that it would handcuff him. Other filmmakers like Arnaud Desplechin and Lukas Moodysson operate the same way. And of course, Woody Allen and Spike Lee have never directed a remake. And I think a good motto for all filmmakers is: what would Woody and Spike do? The answer: not a remake.

Noah Forrest
March 22, 2010

Noah Forrest is a 26-year-old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon