Sunday, July 16, 2006

Let's go over this one more time

The art of cinema is now over one hundred years old, providing entertainment for generations of people all over the world.
After all this time, are we really running out of ideas?

It is often said that there are only so many stories to tell, and these are just regurgitated over and over again in different fashions. True enough, boy meets girl has been covered, but this doesn't stop people trying to tell their own version, just as you don't give up living your life simply because it's not totally unique - other people get up and go to work, meet friends, watch TV, share a fascination of early thirteenth century Hungarian pottery, for example.

But the idea of a limited number of basic story structures does little to excuse the insipid occurrence of the re-make.
There are economical reasons to support the re-make, simply being that if an idea was successful before then it can be again, but rarely do people consider the opinion that if you remake a pre-existing success, the inevitable comparisons are going to be that much harsher. By all means re-do flops or interesting films that didn't quite gel, but deciding to cover old ground rather than create something new just seems lazy and stupid.
A case could possibly be made for the director-as-artist, seeking to honour their favourite works like recording artists doing a cover, but a film is so much more of a collaborative effort and involves so much more work than recording a song that this idea smacks of selfishness and again a lack of creativity.

To give an idea of the prevalence of this epidemic, this is a smattering of re-makes made in less than ten years:

Assault on Precinct 13, Adventure of Greyfriars Bobby, Amityvill Horror, The Haunting, Phantom of the Opera, When a Stranger Calls, Taxi, Godzilla, King Kong, Stepford Wives, Ghost Ship, Anna and the King, Pink Panther, Ladykillers, Longest Yard, War of the Worlds, Around the World in 80 Days, Moulin Rouge, Psycho, Omen, Time Machine, Oliver Twist, Italian Job, Dawn of the Dead, Manchurian Candidate, Freaky Friday, Ring, Ring 2, Grudge, Dark Water, Bourne Identity, Planet of the Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fun With Dick and Jane, Alfie, House of Wax, The Hills Have Eyes, The Fog, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Poseidon Adventure, Flight of the Phoenix.

This has always been an issue in Hollywood, but it does seem that more recently the remakes have been escalating in number like a disgusting self-replicating alien slime. With the Wicker Man on the way and remakes of Oldboy and Infernal Affairs planned, it would seem like the problem isn't going away.
Often the impetus appears to be that film makers see a film and wish they made it, so rather than try harder to make their own decent films they just decide to put their own spin on what they liked.
Often the reruns of Hollywood fare will be of films made decades ago so that there is sufficient distance, temporally as well as stylistically, so that the remake doesn't feel completely redundant. But more recently the success in the West of the East Asian film industry has led to remakes of films that have barely made it into the cinema, often in an insidious attempt to Americanise the films for a broader Western audience rather than the smaller audiences that are prepared to put up with subtitles.


In more bad film news, I continued my sideline interest in director's cuts, extended versions and such today.
Bladerunner is arguably the most famous to be treated with differing versions, and with the advent of DVD it has been increasingly popular to provide one or more alternate versions of movies, everything from painstakingly restored classics such as The Wild Bunch to the "Extended cut by design" releases of current comedy and horror pics exploiting the home market with promises of "the version not seen in cinemas".

It is always interesting for fans to see what could have been, whether in these cuts or from deleted scenes, and it was with this mood that I watched the Daredevil director's cut. I'd seen it before and thought it a bit crap, but this version was a big improvement, developing the characters and fleshing out the storyline, almost making it a good film. Still not great, but the newer cut is a noticeable improvement.

So how is this more bad film news? Today I watched the extended cut of Underworld. I didn't notice any extensions, apart from a brief snip of Scott Speedman's Michael telling Beckinsale's Selene how his wife died.
I did notice it was still crap. To be fair I remember quite liking it when I first saw it, but what I probably liked was seeing Kate Beckinsale in skintight leather.
No, I did like that.
And I liked Bill Nighy as the elder vampire Viktor. Nice bit of hamming and not taking himself seriously.
But the film itself is one in a long line of the "bullet-time copycats", films that feature a large part of slo-mo combat and a stylised 'dark' mood, most recently rearing up as Ultraviolet and Aeon Flux.
A lot of effort has been spent on creating the style and mood of Underworld, but it still manages to be anonymous and homogenised, similar to dozens of such films with a neo-gothic feel.
The story does have a smidge of potential, but like Aliens vs. Predator this doesn't automatically make for a good film.
Selene is meant to be a battle-hardened killer of werewolves who out of nowhere gets doubts and falls for some guy seemingly based on nothing but him being a but hunky and having floppy hair. It's meant to be set in 'Europe' but may as well be in an alternate-America, with nothing indicating any sense of place. Said floppy hair Scott Speedman is crap, his character has little to do but it's still crap. The double-crossing Kraven is played by a low-rent Travolta and is also crap, in fact the only other lights aside from Bill Nighy are the bloke who used to be in Desmond's and Michael Sheen.

Gah, I can only shudder at the thought of what Underworld Evolution is like, but I still have that morbid curiosity about it.
Oh, and Len Wiseman, the director of (only) Underworlds 1&2 is the guy who married Kate Beckinsale soon after she split with Michael Sheen. They all worked together in Underworld 2. Ouch. And Wiseman is in talks to direct Die Hard 4.

Ah, I've just changed the settings so that anyone can leave a comment. So if you wanted to laugh at my eyepatch without having to go through the annoying registering thing, now you can. In text. Like hahahahahahhahaaha!


  1. I see remakes the same way I see cover versions. I saw today on a music vdeo channel Ronan Keating doing a cover version of that limp boo-hoo GooGoo Dolls song that was huge about ten years ago. He's brought nothing to the song. He wants it to be the same crybaby shit it ever was. It sold for the PooPoo Dolls, it'll sell for him. It's mercenary and uninspiring. Find me a succesful song, that's been out of the charts for a while and I might pass it off as mine to idiots. Cue most shitstain pop-acts releasing singles of three cover-versions and one original off any of their albums..

    But then take something like Faith No More covering I'm Easy. It's affectionate, they play with it a little. It's not done in such a money-minded fashion. Re-makes can be like that. Some of your list are adaptations (War of the Worlds), and I don't fault them being made - I don't even count them as remakes, Peter Jackson's LOTR isn't regarded as a remake of Ralph Bakshi's version. Assault on Precinct 13 is a remake of a re-working, but it's still one hell of a film. But as long as a remake is made well, I'm not going to poo-poo it. A bad original film is no worse than a bad remake in most cases.

  2. Heat is a remake. So is The Magnificent Seven. And Scarface. The Beat That My Heart Skipped. Many more.

    I don't have a point, or anything. Just saying.

  3. Which is the worst remake? Or worst idea for a remake? From your list, I single out Ladykillers. This is why

    a) The original is considered one of the best british comedies ever made, and features awesome figures including Peter Sellers and Alec Guiness, whereas
    b) the remake features Tom 'spank' Hanks and a Wayans brother
    c) the original gleaned its comedy from the fact that all the crims have to do is snuff out a poor defenseless little old lady, but manage to stuff it up, and its message is that might does not make right, but goodness will always win out, because evil will betray itself
    d) The original replaced the little old lady with a strapping momma who could physically woop all the other characters. They also replaced the comic edge and message with, well, moments where people get hit on the head.

    Oh, and another for your list: Criminal, remake of nueve renas, which I saw on the plane and weren't bad (but hey, not as good as the original).

  4. Heat, the Magnificent 7 and Scarface fall outside the timeline catchment area, and I forgot about "The Beat...", which serves as a nice little reversal of the foreign-to-Hollywood remake.

    Ladykillers is bad, but I don't think it's fair to say that Tom Hanks makes for an automatic black mark.

    My list is largely from memory so any additions are encouraged. Good remakes especially.

    The Inside Man feels like a remake, something about bank heists...

  5. You seem to be missing the point. Films aren't just about telling a story - sometimes it's more about the telling of the story than the story itself. Moulin Rouge, for example, it may well be a remake but it has significant artistic merit. Not only that but it has transferred the themes of an earlier generation and made them palatable to a modern audience.

    Obviously I’m not saying all remakes are worth watching – they aren’t – but you can’t discount a film simply because it is a remake. While some may simply be high-budget repetitions, others are serious adaptations which genuinely attempt to reinterpret the original.

  6. Obviously I don't completely dismiss remakes, the Bourne Identity and Dawn of the Dead off the top of my head strike as films that successfully appear as films that are about more than a cash-in or re-tread. There is room for the adaptation of previous film work just as there obviously is for adaptation of pre-existing novels and short stories, it would be crazy to suggest that each film must be based on an original concept.

    What distresses me is the sheer number of remakes and the proportion of which that are little more than a waste of time. The way in which many tell these stories again is bland and soul-less.
    That list I compiled isn't exhaustive and it just covers the last 6 years or so.