After having recently watched the new versions of Day the Earth Stood Still and Sleepy Hollow, I started thinking about remakes. When is it worthwhile to do a remake?
In my own opinion, it’s worth remaking a film if it makes significant improvements over previous versions or looks at the story from a new angle. Remakes shouldn’t just re-shoot the same movie with different actors and newer cameras, and they shouldn’t be made just to tear down the ideas that the original put forth (e.g. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, 1991; State Fair, 1962; and Pride & Prejudice, 2005). These were poorly cast, stiffly acted, clumsily written, and in some cases poorly edited. Also, too many remakes are made just to say “what if we wrote this beloved, heroic character as a flawed, horrible person that did good things in spite of him/herself.” Simply turning a hero into an antihero lacks originality of thought.
Sometimes, films are probably just remade to draw in a big profit through the casting of popular actors, the use of special effects, and the inclusion of considerable amounts of nudity. Actually, that’s equally true of original films. Nonetheless, it seems like film studios are attracted to remakes because filmgoers are more likely to see a movie that uses familiar themes or elements. Movies like I, Robot (2004), which used the title of a famous science fiction story for a film with an unrelated plot, rely on the consumers’ familiarity with a story, character, title, or actor/actress to draw in viewers. Similarly, a film named after a previously popular and successful film is more likely to draw in customers, based on their love of the older version or their wish to see that same story from a different perspective.
There have been some good remakes (e.g. The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938; Pygmalion, 1938; Treasure Island, 1950; Tarzan the Ape Man, 1932; His Girl Friday, 1940; and The Scarlet Pimpernel, 1934). These films all brought something new and enjoyable that didn’t copy or subvert the idea behind older versions. Actually, there are some films that I would very much like to see remade. For example, I would like to see a remake of Hound of the Baskervilles. There has never been a version of this story that I liked and I don’t think it would be very difficult to do it well. The Jeremy Brett version came close, but it was still heavily flawed. I would also like to see a remake of any of the Edgar Allen Poe movie adaptations. As much as I like the ridiculous Vincent Price versions, I would very much enjoy a less silly (and truer to the written work) version of The Pit and The Pendulum or The Tell-Tale Heart. If I were to do a remake of any film myself (as a director, for example), I would probably remake The Spiral Staircase (1945). The ending… just… bothers me… so… much! Actually, I would probably change several things about that film. Then someone else could complain about my remake. Ah, criticism.