Play It Again Sam – Remakes, Reboots or Rehash?

NEWSFLASH: Claude Monet’s ‘Waterlilies’ is to be repainted by a budding new artist who hopes to reinvent the masterpiece. “We just felt that there wasn’t enough made of the algae at the corner of the pond, we want to see a new take on Giverny” a spokesperson told us in France.

Preposterous? Pithy? Pretension?… Probably but it doesn’t make it any less plausible even if I did just make it up! Sorry I got a bit alliterate with the P key there but nothing shouts consternation more than a spittle-fuelled P sound, and today I’m ‘consterned’.

Gremlins & Mogwai Terror by 179 - Jeannie Anderson Flickr

Gremlins & Mogwai Terror by 179 – Jeannie Anderson Flickr

I read the news today, oh boy and saw that one of my Top 10 films is being remade. After the fear that the quirky style and horror of Evil Dead which I was worried may become a new boob-fest flick like Piranha 3D and then the graphic lines and post-nuclear vision of Akira which was due to be anglicised and watered down as the next Tron: Legacy but now isn’t happening I’d forgotten to be scared of remakes. But now (as confirmed by BloodyDisgusting) the nostalgia of Gremlins is ripe for the reboot and will no doubt star the latest teen heartthrob in a 90 minute advert for their new album! My life and some of my true silver screen eureka moments all set to be remade in front of my eyes in Digital 3D with bankable names attached. Crushed doesn’t begin to explain it, but….

John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ is another of my favourite films; it is one of the perfect horror films and a real turning point for me as a youth to understanding the roles of screenplay, narrative tension and director. It’s also a remake of a classic 50’s horror, one I’m sure was as important to people in the post-war era as Kurt Russell, flame-throwers and dismembered heads or stomach jaws were to me. I’d be a hypocrite to tarnish remakes with a bad brush as I can see the business sense for companies to work with established properties to ensure a return on investment. Sequels tie into this too with a lot of big franchises only realising a significant monetary return through sequels like the Ocean’s or Pirates of The Caribbean films. The quality of the subsequent films may be up for discussion but in these times it would be wrong as a lover of cinema to begrudge producers, writers, actors and directors a chance to gain profit through recognised material. So why only now are myself and the message boards of film sites constantly aghast at the tide of remakes and sequels?

I think the issue for most of us ‘cinephiles’ is that although we agree that using bankable stars and properties has it’s upsides for the industry a lot of the decisions made are sometimes a wee bit off on the artistic front. Companies like Platinum Dunes, whose business plan cleverly focuses on consistent remakes of previously banned or controversial films with a lot of gore and/or nudity, aren’t openly concerned with visual flair or intuitive scripts. Critics berate their output but the box office returns on very modest budgets speak volumes and in a time where studios, film councils and projects are struggling to stay afloat you can’t blame them for ingenuity. My issue is when business plans infringe upon the artistic integrity of a decision. I have no problem with hack-job remakes of previously hack-job films allowing a new director a modest budget and a familiar premise but I have an issue with original, artful cinema being treated to slapdash updating for profit. That’s where the difference between Platinum Dunes’ remake of Friday 13th and John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ is apparent, one is turning a profit the other is a labour of love.

GremlinsHow would you feel if your favourite painting was redone by a new artist who was just doing it for profit? How would you react if someone rewrote a novel you loved just to get a name for themselves rather than because they respected it? I know I was devastated when a cover of a cover of a Leonard Cohen song came out and it was clear that the original meaning of the song had been overlooked in an effort to sell records and be sexy. It seems to happen in music and film a lot more than in other areas of the arts and I think that’s because of the way those industries have evolved over the years.

The infringement of large companies making crucial decisions and forcing money issues into the creative process feels much more prevalent in the film and music worlds. A novelist or painter may decide to tackle an interpretation of a classic work like Jeff Noon’s ‘Automated Alice’ or Rolf Harris’, ‘Mona Lisa’ but it’s usually their decision. With film remakes it feels more like a studio decides an idea will be bankable because it’s similar to another film which did well rather than think of any of the other factors that caused the success. This is no more apparent at the moment than the wave of films based on popular board games or comics just because some other films based on these did well. Just because a film about an Alien directed by Ridley Scott with incredible designers, a talented cast and an intuitive screenplay did well doesn’t mean every other film with an alien will make money and be acclaimed, it’s about the whole artistic package not just what the film’s about!

I love film and that includes many remakes (The Thing, Cape Fear, Annie) sequels (Toy Story 2 & 3, Dawn of The Dead, Look Who’s Talking Too) and films based on novels (The Diving Bell & Butterfly, Wag The Dog, Babe). I don’t feel that working on something you have passion for or can see an artistic way of adapting to show another side of it is a bad thing and if it makes more money for the industry that’s fantastic. I think we need to get away from viewing things as trends and profitable just based on their face value. David Cameron naively believed we should tap into films that will make money but as many critics pointed out it’s impossible to determine this as who would guess a film about speech therapy would do well? We should be more focused on allowing directors, producers, writers, musicians and artists the opportunity to fully explore their ideas rather than impeding them with business rhetoric or forcing them to put a speech therapist or bespectacled wizard in every film just because they’re cool!

I’m off to watch Akira and listen to Easy Star All Star’s Dub Side of the Moon but I’d love to know how you feel about art being updated or which works of art, literature, film or music are too precious to touch?

Dark Side of The Moon - by pablockdc Flickr

Dark Side of The Moon – by pablockdc Flickr

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