As previously stated, a film should not be remade unless the present technology is far enough beyond that of when the original was made that the present technology would lend itself to a far enough better film. There is another reason – which is when the original film was poorly adapted from another media. Or when a director or producer just plain did a bad job. That, as well as the techno-reason, are the bases of the remakes that not only needed to be made but were made well enough that we no longer need to see the original.
Adam West. That’s all I have to say. Until the reincarnation of the Batman franchise in the very-late 80’s with Michael Keaton, Adam West is about the only memorable Batman we’ve had, and he sucked. “Campy” is not even close to the “corny” it really was. Sure, we enjoyed it, but we were laughing at him, not with him. Not only was there the television show, but there actually was a Batman movie, in which the only worthy moment was a kick-ass Batboat, custom made by Glaston. Anything else attached to that incarnation of Batman was just plain stupid, but we were too stupid to know how stupid it was. People seemed to have forgotten what Batman was all about – vengeance.
Fast forward to Michael Keaton. Okay, maybe not George Clooney, but dammit if Christian Bale didn’t rock the cowl like anyone could have ever hoped, most notably for me in Batman Begins. If there’s anything I enjoy about superheroes, it’s not what they can do but why they do it. What made it all happen? Where did the drive come from? I want the details about the spider that bit Peter Parker and the tragic murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents. If he or she is reclusive, narcissistic, claustrophobic, or chiroptophobic (fear of bats, not chiropractors), then I want to know why. Batman Begins gave a beginning plausible enough to look over my shoulder next time I hear fluttering in the air behind me. Not that I’d be doing anything wrong to deserve it.
PS. Gary Oldman
Superman (1978) Man of Steel (2013)
Want a good laugh? Watch Superman (Christopher Reeve) catch a falling Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) as she plummets from an office building. Then watch her die in an earthquake, only to be brought back to life when Superman reverses the Earth’s rotation, turning back time so he can save her from her conveniently stalled car right along the San Andreas Fault. Listen to the corniest of dialogue that seems like an intentionally bad parody instead of an intentionally good superhero movie. And don’t forget watching Marlon Brando embarrass himself as Jor-El, Superman’s father, speaking with an affectation that sounds like it belongs in The Untouchables instead on Krypton.
If it weren’t for Valerie Perrine, it would have been a complete waste of time. Not until more than an hour into the film do we finally see the Superman uniform. Until then, it’s a lot of double entendre and Clark Kent trying not to smile too much because he knows that he’s really Superman, and the rest of us are wondering, “How the hell is it they can’t tell he’s really Superman? Those glasses aren’t much of a disguise.” Director Richard Donner (The Goonies, all three Lethal Weapon films) put a little too much comedy and not enough hero into what was the first superhero movie. Luckily, others who followed went in a little different direction.
I don’t know why it took so long, compared to all the other superhero films, for Man of Steel to be made. We’ve had several incarnations of Batman and Spiderman in a very short amount of time compared to the 35 years it took for Jor-El redux. We won’t even talk about the special effects. That’s a given. What’s important for me is that in the original, once Pa Kent died, Clark just somehow knew what he was supposed to do. He somehow knew he needed to get to Metropolis. On the way, he caught a falling helicopter and airliner. How did he know he could even do that? In the new and improved version, there’s more time spent in which Clark does some soul searching. He wanders, works as a day laborer, and examines himself and his own abilities. There’s an evolution, a discovery, as opposed to being handed a cape and tights with some kind of ingrained understanding of who, what, where, when, why, and how. Many of us need that – the genesis of the hero. We need more than just, “Oh, here’s your hero. I hope it fits. The color work? No? We can change the suit, don’t worry.”
PS. Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner
The Great Gatsby (1974/2013)
I have not fallen asleep in many movies. However, if anything is going to help me with insomnia, it’s Robert Redford in a newsboy hat and tennis whites. Looking every bit the Hamptonite, but as equally crusty as a Hamptonite. No offense to Hamptonites, except all of them. One of the pitfalls of the ’74 version is that the script, written by Francis Ford Coppola, was too faithful to the novel. Sure, if I’m trying to film what many (wrongly) consider the greatest novel ever written, I have to figure I can’t lose if I just connect the dots and follow the map. But novels are novels, and screenplays are not novels.
The (alleged) beauty of the novel is not what is written as opposed to what is not written, and I’m going to guess that Coppola didn’t “get it” any more than I did. The subtle suggestions of what Gatsby wanted as opposed to what he had were what drove the (lack of) story. Hey, no question I hated the book, but I didn’t automatically hate the movie until I realized it was a mirror of the book. The beauty in the novel is the unfulfilled wishes that money can’t buy. In the ’74 film, director Jack Clayton and producer David Merrick made sure that everything money could buy appeared on screen. Cars, houses, bigger cars, and bigger houses were everywhere. A little more story might have been nice.
I can’t seem to look at Leonardo DiCaprio without thinking he’s only about 17. Putting that aside, I didn’t want to enjoy the remake as much as I did, but I have to admit that this time they did far better with a book I didn't like anyway. I guess there wasn't much to lose. This time, you know exactly who to admire and who to dismiss as insipidly egotistical. You know whose appearance is their attitude as opposed to just a costume exterior. While the rap music didn’t thrill me, it at least made sure I didn’t fall asleep.
While Sam Waterson has played some fabulous roles in his career, his Nick Carraway lacked the dimension from and empathy needed for Tobey Maguire. Some of the script changes drifted from the book, but it seems that writer Baz Luhrman kept a little bit of Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet in his back pocket and brought them to the set. Lucky for us he did. For my own selfishness, I would have preferred Emma Stone to Carey Mulligan as Daisy, but it would not have been a significant difference.
PS. Isla Fisher
Romeo and Juliet (1968) Romeo + Juliet (1996)
I know, I know. Olivia Hussey. I, like any other guy in the 80's, had the VHS and played it in slow motion, then freeze frame, then – well – Shakespeare! I don’t care about two Oscar wins and two more nominations. It wasn’t much more than a very good re-telling of the Bard’s best. Nobody cares about costume design, unless it’s something like The Lord of the Rings. Nobody cares about cinematography unless it’s something like Saving Private Ryan.
Occasionally the dialogue sounded as if it were dubbed, and so did the sword fighting. I would rather wear tights at a renaissance fair, and maybe I have, but you’ll never know unless you were the one buying those steins of ale. The film could have used a few more ales because it was very sterile, too clean, too exact and matter of fact. Kind of like that clean version of “Because the Night” by 10,000 Maniacs instead of the more hungry version by either Patti Smith or Bruce Springsteen. Either one, but I prefer Bruce, of course.
Just as West Side Story turned Romeo and Juliet sideways, so did the ’96 version, but clearly not with as much flair as Rita Moreno. To pick up R+J and drop them in South Central was brilliant. Reason being – both pairs were kids. They were teens in love, like meeting at a high school dance and you can’t take your eyes off her. Then you find out she’s the sister of the guy you hate and who hates you. Then your posse sees his posse, and now you’re meeting in the parking lot after school. Anyone who thinks it was a bad film is just too stuffy to realize that you can take Shakespeare and shoot him through a time machine to see what happens with the space-time continuum.
Jon Leguizamo shows just how talented and underrated an actor he was until that point. There is nothing he can’t do in front of a camera, and this solidified that. Leonardo DiCaprio was kept in check. Even though he was Romeo, he was less of a standout as the two families fought around him, which was necessary. Claire Danes was a non-factor and could have been played by anyone, but what helped is that she is not a supermodel. No offense to Ms. Danes, but for her to have been someone too stunningly beautiful, the camera would have been all over her like a Capulet on a Montague. Toss in the flamboyant Harold Perrineau as Mercutio, and the rumble is on.
PS. Paul Sorvino versus Brian Dennehy
The Lost World (1925) / Jurassic Park (1993,1997)
What? Jurassic Park was a remake? But it was filmed from the Michael Crichton book of the same name. Yeah, well, about that. Crichton very much borrowed his book from The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Right, the guy who wrote all those Sherlock Holmes stories. Same guy. In his book, a group of scientists trek to the Amazon where they believe there could be creatures from another era still living. With Crichton, they were still living, but he put them there. Not close enough? Would it help if one of Crichton’s sequels to Jurassic Park was titled The Lost World? Thought so.
CGI had been done before JP, but it had not yet been done as well. We saw CGI animals running around a small New England town in Jumanji, but they weren’t nearly as believable as the ones Spielberg put on screen, as if that’s a surprise. I had zero trouble believing that was an Apatosaurus snacking on leaves when Laura Dern freaked out fromt her first dino-glimpse.
The original The Lost World had the same “technology” as the original King Kong. The only thing that separates that from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is color and a singing snowman. I suppose a few elves too. It’s actually quite surprising that it took so long (and plagiarism?) for such a fabulous concept to hit the big screen. Once you toss in Steven Spielberg and John Williams, then it’s pretty much over.
PS. Jeff Goldblum
A Night to Remember (1958) / Titanic (1997)
I dare you to name one well-known actor from the earlier version. Just one. I can name two, but that wasn’t until I looked through the full cast. How about 25-year old David McCallum and 28-year old Sean Connery? Yes, both of them, but you never would have known it if I hadn’t said it, and I wouldn’t have known it had I not just looked it up four minutes ago. The original was more like watching a stale documentary (and I love documentaries) instead of a film. It was like one of those boring films you’d watch in school when you were in 6th grade back in the 70’s when we would be lucky enough to get out of class only to watch a short film about how trumpets are made or where lightning comes from.
What was good about the original is what is not there – color. The black and white allows the water to look like death, like blood, with eerie reflections of the ships lights rippling in the waves and the lifeboats scramble away from the sinking ship. The passengers are kept far enough out of the way that the ship is the real story, but it causes us to care more about the floating metal than the families and the real people who are tragically trying to find their way to safety.
Remake ahoy! Eleven Oscars. I’m sorry, what? Yes. Eleven. Even a crappy movie can get one or two, thanks to costumes and music. But eleven? That’s no fluke.
Once again, Leonardo DiCaprio is here for another comparison, his time as a literal starving artist who befriends and is smitten by an aristocrat’s daughter. Scene after scene contains at least one frame that you’ve probably seen before, especially the happy couple standing at the front of the ship and riding into the horizon. The movie was not pure brilliance, but it was far better, and far necessary for a story that had not been told well enough because they just didn’t know enough 50 years earlier. The separate stories of Rose and her society against Jack and his people. Once the ship is sinking, Rose’s wealth no longer mattered. Human was human, and privileges no longer mattered. For the most part.
PS. Kate Winslet
Remakes should not be taken, or given, lightly. It’s important enough that a committee should be formed to make sure there are no future stupid remakes.
I propose a control board to oversee remakes. We can call it FUCCER. Film United Control Committee for Every Remake. If you want to remake a film, you must ask FUCCER and prove why that film should be remade. What was wrong with the original? How will you improve it? How will this version be different? Why are these differences important? How hard did you laugh when you learned you had to get FUCCER approval? Good luck, and please vote for me to be the chairperson of FUCCER.