Remakes are often looked upon by movie fans with scorn. Whenever one comes up, inevitably there are those who think of it as a sign of the demise of creativity. Most recently, the soon-to-be-released “Ghostbusters” remake has the Internet in quite an uproar, the trailer having become the most disliked video of all-time on YouTube. There are videos of people being publicly humiliated which have fewer dislikes! Whether because the trailer doesn’t come off as especially funny, its CGI seems a bit too cartoonish, the fact that the Ghostbusters are all women this time, or some other reason, many have already decided they won’t go see the movie.
It’s that last bit (the one about the cast) that’s been particularly divisive concerning the new "Ghostbusters," with supporters accusing the film’s critics of sexism. While that’s sadly going to be true in some cases, most just aren’t finding anything the movie is offering to be of greater value than what is already present in the original. I personally had a similar reaction to the trailer for 2014’s “RoboCop,” not to mention most of the endless barrage of horror remakes which have been paraded onto the big screen since the turn of the century. Yet there are many considerations as to how remakes are both a valid and necessary part of film history.
1. Remakes raise awareness of the source material.
Though it may come as a shock every once and a while, not everyone has taken the time to see our favorite movies. We even run across those who've never heard of them. So, when the inevitable remake does come along and longtime fans of the original dismiss it, the open-minded among the current generation may decide to see what all the fuss is about. I know that when the remake of "Dawn of the Dead" hit theaters in 2004, I was skeptical at first... though not out of any sort of loyalty to the 1978 original. Up until that point, not only was I unfamiliar with the George Romero classic, but I was also largely indifferent to zombie films in general. I didn't know until then how clever such stories could actually be. Additionally, without seeing the 1978 "Dawn of the Dead," I doubt I'd be an avid follower of AMC's "The Walking Dead" today. An American remake of a film from another country can also be helpful for someone who might otherwise never have known such a movie existed. Indeed, I wonder how many people who have seen the 2006 Best Picture winner "The Departed" had previously heard of Hong Kong's "Infernal Affairs" (2002).
2. Remakes are nothing new (pun intended).
Contrary to what the current trend of remaking 'everything' would tend to suggest, remakes go back further than just a couple of decades. In fact, they've been a part of our viewing experience since before the dawn of the 'talkie' era. One of the earliest examples is probably the 1918 silent film "The Squaw Man," legendary director Cecil B. DeMille's remake of his own 1914 film of the same name. DeMille would later remake "The Squaw Man" again, this time with sound, in 1931. Some movies go back far enough that they've been remade more times than "The Squaw Man." For example, "The Great Gatsby" has been filmed as a theatrical feature no less than four times between 1926 and 2013, once as a made-for-TV movie, and two other times in what can best be described as loose adaptations. How many times have the plays of William Shakespeare been filmed over and over again? Too many to keep score. It makes the older versions no less interesting, and the newer ones worthy of note either for quality or comparison's sake.
3. The originals aren't going anywhere.
One of the biggest arguments I've heard (and have been guilty of) against remakes are that their mere existence is somehow tarnishing the good name of what came before. Some even go to the extreme of saying that remakes by design do little else other than to wipe from memory the existence of the originals. This is just crazy talk. While it may be true that older films can seem less enticing because of the viewer's inability to connect with the time period, it's also true that the invention home video prevents those older films from falling into obscurity. As long as there is an audience, the film lives on. So, no matter how many times a remake is put into production, the original is still out there to be found and enjoyed.
4. Remakes can be inspired by more than just $$$.
There can be no denying that the motion picture industry considers profit to be one of its top priorities. Why should we think anything different? No one in their right mind enters into a project with the express purpose of losing money. That's hardly a revelation. But what about the directors who, like us, have a film which had a profound impact? For some, it even became the driving force behind why they chose their profession. Every now and then, one of them is able to fulfill a lifelong dream by creating their own version of the film they love. This is something to be celebrated, regardless of the outcome of the project. On one hand, you have genuine nice tries like Peter Jackson's elephantine "King Kong" (2005), defeated by its three-hour running time among other things. On the other hand, we also have "The Thing" (1982), John Carpenter's loving tribute to the 1951 classic which manages to be superior to the original in many ways. Finding a great remake like this makes sifting through the bad ones worthwhile.
5. The older generation is stubborn.
We know what we like and we're sticking to it. Not changing for anybody. Never. Nope... A lot of the outcry against remakes comes from those for whom the originals have been a part of our lives for as long as we can remember, often dating back into childhood. This definitely has an effect on our decision as to whether or not to see a newer version of an already familiar story. As a counterpoint to #1, where I argue that something old can be a treasure to be discovered by youngsters, the opposite is also true. An open-minded adult can perhaps discover something about the newer film that they find just as personally relevant as the one they've been able for years to quote from verbatim. Or, they'll just be miserable for 90-120 minutes. But we won't know for sure unless we try.
6. Some of our most celebrated films are, in fact, remakes.
It's easy to look back into recent history to find films we didn't realize were remakes. But what about some of the all-time classics? The ones which routinely make the lists of greatest films ever made? Yes, even some of these are stories which had been filmed once or twice before, sometimes even more! 1959's "Ben-Hur" starring Charlton Heston is such a classic, yes? It is not immune from the remake bug, having been done again in 2003 as an animated film (once again with Heston, in his final role), as a 2010 TV miniseries, and is set to once again grace the big screen in 2016. But the 1959 Oscar-winning version is far from the first film adaptation of the Lew Wallace novel. Originally filmed in 1907 as a silent short, "Ben-Hur" was also realized as a feature-length silent film in 1925, at the time the most expensive movie ever made.
How about "The Wizard of Oz"? I would be surprised if there is a man, woman or child who is not aware of the 1939 musical starring Judy Garland. To call it timeless is not doing it justice. L. Frank Baum's Oz books were being adapted long before Garland first stepped into Dorothy Gale's ruby slippers. "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" alone was filmed previously on four separate occasions in 1908, 1910, 1925, and 1933 before the one we all know and love came into our hearts.
So, as much as one may fight against the idea, remakes are and will always be both historically and culturally relevant. It's frustrating when they are initially released, because we can't see the big picture. Sure, I can turn on the TV, catch a few minutes of the 2013 remake of "Carrie" and then quickly change the channel in disgust. But it's wrong to assume that all remakes will make you want to lose whatever your most recent meal was. Remakes, like all movies, teach us just as much about where the movie industry has been as it does about where it's headed. They help guide us towards genres we should have always been exploring, and to learn how to look for foreign films when those in our native language fail us. Even when they are beyond horrible, remakes will always serve a purpose.