Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Remake, Reuse, Recycle

     Hollywood long ago realized how to milk a great movie into long-lasting cash flow: sequel it until theater owners stop buying it; squeeze out another sequel or two straight-to-video; release a “new” collectors edition DVD every 9 months; etc.  The other infamous maneuver for the industry that shuns creativity and novel concepts is the remake.  The frame is there, so let’s just slap on some new paint, replace the windows, and viola!  Instant cash.  
     I’m not totally against the concept.  It’s only when a studio goes cheap and quick on a classic that I’m irked.  Why would you even mess with these films?  Shouldn’t it be telling enough that George Lucas couldn’t rework his own Star Wars trilogy without alienating fans?  Cardinal Rule #1:  Don’t Mess with Perfection.  Would you want to be the poor sap trying to beef up The Godfather?  What director would you get to add something to a Hitchcock, Spielberg, Coopola, or Scorsese film?  If a film or performance is forever ingrained into our hearts, leave it be.  The greatest testimony to this should be Gus Van Sant’s abhorrent remake of Psycho.  Daring to step in (and on) Hitchcock’s shadow, messing with the benchmark for all modern suspense thrillers, as well as asking Vince Vaughn to follow Anthony Perkins’ master performance: none of these are recommended ventures.  Topping it all off, Van Sant chose to simply add color and ask his cast to imitate what was in the original.  It’s the cinematic equivalent to what Ashlee Simpson covering Celine Dion might be like.  Oh, and PCU?  I realize you’re an Animal House remake with slightly different packaging.  I’m not impressed nor am I pleased.
     Still, revisiting an old film can be done well.  Ocean’s 11 and Scarface are examples of remakes that far outshone their predecessors.   The trick seems to be nabbing a film that was a good idea but wasn’t done well or fixing up a film with significant weak points.  The recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre upset some purists, mostly because it was done at all.  However, the original did have several glaring rough spots that Marcus Nispel cleaned up.  Two primary points were the hitchhiker scene early in the film (weird and ultimately pointless in the first) and the hasty slayings of the friends in the original.  Nothing was lost, Nispel had the fortitude to re-imagine without destroying, and a classic film got a nice tune-up.  For another example, King Kong is about to land on us.  When I first caught wind of this, I winced.  Upon further review, I have a good feeling about it.  Peter Jackson’s involved, which is a major plus; you can count on sci-fi geeks to protect babies like this.  Also, the 1933 original has issues that could be addressed, in particular the stop-action effects which never looked good.  Plus, does anyone have reservations about Jack Black being featured?  Fantastic director with vision, real budget, strong cast, check-check-check.  Unlike the forgettable ’76 remake attempt or 1998’s Godzilla disaster, this one has the look of a revisiting done right.
     What would I greenlight as an exec?  In a grand attempt to forever erase the bad taste of The Wiz and Return to Oz out of the world’s mouth, I’d jump all over the rights to Wicked.  Roadtested, doesn’t tread on the original’s genius, and it’s hilarious too!  Can’t see anything wrong with that.  Grab Ron Howard and let’s do this.  A classic I wouldn’t be afraid to tackle: Citizen Kane.  True, it’s AFI’s pick for the greatest movie of all-time, but let’s face it: it’s a bear to sit through.  Despite being an all-time masterpiece, it released as a box-office flop and didn’t fare to well in limited re-release back in ’91.  Now, I wouldn’t try and remake the film per se, but why not capture the essence, give it a more current (or even better, a more timeless) setting, a new title, and let a visionary loose with it?  Forget revenue, this is a movie that needs to be re-imagined and open the doors for mainstream America to finally understand what Welles gave them 64 years ago.  William Hearst isn’t going to connect with people today; it barely registered then, but that shouldn’t be allowed to strip the greatness of Citizen Kane.  Maybe we’ll call the re-visioned version something like Rupert Fox.


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