Remakes Done Right
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The seemingly never-ending stream of remakes continues rushing down Hollywood’s pike in the coming weeks – Paul W. S. Anderson’s Death Race (eviscerated by Todd here) and Alexandre Aja’s Mirrors premier in August, while September brings another tragic Nic Cage hairpiece to screens in Bangkok Dangerous. When a film is judged as suitable remake fodder, it’s likely there was something to the original – maybe a kernel of transcendent storytelling or an exciting spin on something shopworn – which marked it as special. That something tends to be lost in translation, but every so often a remake gets things right, parlaying what made the original special into something intriguing in its own right. This ToM will look at a few remakes which do just that – managing a fresh take on revered material.
The Thing - John Carpenter’s icy look at paranoia by way of a relentless shape-shifting alien was reviled in its day but has come to be revered not only for Rob Bottin’s ground-(to say nothing of chest- and face-)breaking FX work but JC’s assured, calculated direction and trademark evocation of mood. Hewing close to Howard Hawks’ original Thing from Another World, Carpenter contemporized the scenario and expertly rendered the all-male cast’s frustration and fear of becoming “the other.” That the film draws sneaky parallels to the then publicly nascent AIDS epidemic further cements its reputation as a clever, thoughtful re-imaging.
Scarface - lifting the spine from Howard Hawks’ ’32 original and little else (beside the title), DePalma’s completely over-the-top examination of reckless personal abandon in flashy Miami still polarizes critics and audiences to this day. A defining performance from Al Pacino and a laundry list of gonzo set-pieces highlight the story of a small-time hood’s rise to and fall from power. A universal concept, to be sure, but DePalma’s at-times out-of-control stylistic touches push the film in to the realm of a sort of hardboiled fever dream, turning it into a sort of very distant and rough-around-edges cousin to the more outré noirs of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
The Fly - another classic horror trope infused with state-of-the-art effects work and dashes of modern political and sexual commentary, one of David Cronenberg’s first forays into studio filmmaking yielded a potent, putrid masterpiece of modern anxiety. Anchored by an amazing turn from Jeff Goldblum, the film retained the love story at the original’s core but amps it up by digging at the literal animal instincts unleashed when Goldblum’s naive scientist is fused with a common housefly after testing a prototype matter-transference device on himself. Cronenberg’s trademark fascination with body horror receives perhaps its best distillation here.
The Ring - the forbearer of the J-(and K- and HK- and T-…)horror remake frenzy, Gore Verbinski’s dread-soaked meditation on meta-physical evil smartly stays true to its roots by eschewing added jump scares and bland teen protags. A smart cast – including always-reliable everywoman Naomi Watts and chilly, cameo-ing Brian Cox – elevates the proceedings, as do a moody score and lush, rain-soaked set-design and cinematography. By working from all of Hideo Nakata’s touchstone instead of simply ripping out the central conceit and starting over, Verbinski and company were able to re-tell a now-classic modern ghost story with unsettling aplomb.
Funny Games - Haneke would probably cringe seeing his treatise on what’s wrong with violent films listed next to a handful of legendary gore-fests. Even if you don’t dig the film’s at-times preachy tone or the auteur’s smug sense of self-righteousness, there’s no denying he transferred the ferocious impact of his own original work in this re-imagining. Popping up again, Naomi Watts turns in a shattering performance alongside an outstanding Tim Roth. By telling a nearly-identical story but directing it at an almost entirely new audience, Haneke reminds us of the importance of self-reflection in the face of ever-escalating media sensationalism.
There are plenty of other examples - I count myself a fan of The Departed, The Blob, 3:10 to Yuma, Blow Out... the list could go on . Any you're a fan of that I missed? Do you hate remakes with a passion and wish they'd stopping clogging up cinemas? Sound off below!