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5 Great Genre Remakes & 5 Terrible Ones

5 Great Genre Remakes & 5 Terrible Ones

Is this week’s “Dredd 3D” a remake? It’s a murky question. It’s not the first time the popular 2000AD comics supercop has made it to the screen, with a less faithful, famously terrible Sylvester Stallone dropping into cinemas in 1995. Some would argue that it’s merely the second adaptation of one piece of source material. But given the proliferation of adaptations, we’d argue that it does indeed qualify as a remake.

Fortunately, reviews, including ours (which is a little more middling than most) agree that Alex Garland penned, Karl Urban starring movie hitting theaters this weekend is definitely superior to the first stab at the material. To put the new film into context, we’ve decided to pick out five other remakes from within the genre world that surpassed or matched the source material, and for good measure, five others that fell way below the bar set by their predecessors. Agree? Disagree? Got your own suggestions? Let us know in the comments section.

5 Great Genre Remakes

“Invasion Of The Body Snatchers” (1978)
For a film that was so much of its time, and was tied so closely to its McCarthy-era subtext, 1956’s “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers” (or, more accurately, Jack Finney‘s 1955 novel “The Body Snatchers“) has remained a remarkably resilient tale. Even aside from the many rip-offs, it’s been remade directly three times — most recent being 2007 Nicole Kidman vehicle “The Invasion” (more on that in a second) which comfortably could fit on any “worst remakes” list, with Abel Ferrera‘s “Body Snatchers” in 1993 before that. But neither came anywhere near the second go-around, Philip Kaufman‘s 1978 “Invasion of The Body Snatchers,” which might surpass the original in sheer terror and execution, if not necessarily in richness of subtext. The set-up is mostly the same, albeit transplanted to San Francisco, following a health inspector (Donald Sutherland), his colleague (Brooke Adams) and his friends (Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Leonard Nimoy) as they discover that some kind of alien race has surreptitiously invaded Earth, and are replacing humans with exact replicas. Kaufman takes the potent premise and cranks up the fear factor, thanks to half-grown creatures, dog/human hybrids, taken bodies crumbling to dust and one of the bleakest and most terrifying endings in sci-fi history. Some of the swinging ’70s stuff hasn’t aged so well, but even so, this is by far the most effective take on the tale we’ve had to date. 

“Nosferatu The Vampyre” (1979)
Remakes always have a stigma attached to them before they’re even out the door, with fans holding certain films tightly to their bosom as if they were delicate, precious offsprings. If there was one production that was not only completely bereft of those feelings, but instead lathered with excitement, it’d be this Werner Herzog/Klaus Kinski joint. Taking cues from Murnau’s classic, Herzog makes a masterpiece of his own by neglecting the “Dracula” source material and cracking open the silent film to see what made it work. This newer version contains the same premise, following estate agent Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz) on his visit to see Count Dracula (Kinski) in order to settle a property sale. After a few perturbing nightmares (also shared by his wife Lucy, played by Isabelle Adjani, back home), Harker discovers Dracula is a vampire and will use the land to wreak terror on the surrounding area. Unfortunately, Dracula takes off in the night to claim his newly purchased land, leaving Harker locked in the castle and everyone else completely vulnerable. Herzog’s powerful command of the material elevates it above your standard vampire fare, allowing the gorgeous locales of Czechoslovakia and the Netherlands to devour every frame. The story is told both quietly, with an undercurrent of foreboding dread, something that is immediately snapped once Kinski’s confident possession of Dracula sneaks onto the screen. A highly successful union between a genre picture and an epic, “Nosferatu the Vampyre” is such an engrossing and satisfying experience that it makes the director’s newer, more satirical romps that more disappointing.

“The Thing” (1982)
In John Carpenter‘s classic “Halloween,” some of the kids and babysitters are watching a television airing of “The Thing From Another World,” a Howard Hawks production from 1951 about Antarctic researchers who unleash an extraterrestrial evil. A half decade later, Carpenter would get the chance to remake one of his favorites, this time as a claustrophobic, paranoid, downright apocalyptic tale about male distrust and insecurity, updating it with the drippiest special effects money could buy. Carpenter’s creature not only copies the human members of the research team (a ragtag group of roughnecks led by Kurt Russell), we also get to see the weird-ass alien monsters the creature impersonated on his journey across the galaxy (brought to life through the special effects wizardry of Rob Bottin and Stan Winston). Unrelentingly bleak, “The Thing” took an entirely different approach from the original, going for more explicit violence and a more somber tone, and the results are just as unforgettable and brilliant.

“The Fly” (1986)
David Cronenberg, who adapted this high-tech revamp, knew better than to mess with some classic. Instead, he took a crummy B-movie that starred Vincent Price and featured some pretty ludicrous make-up effects, and chose to make it an ooey-gooey showcase for cutting edge visual effects while slyly commenting on the AIDS epidemic that was ravaging North America at the time. Jeff Goldblum, in a still-career-best performance, plays Seth Brundle, a mad scientist working on a teleportation pod, whose DNA is accidentally jumbled with that of a housefly. He begins to exhibit exceptional strength and heightened abilities and then things get uglier, turning into a surprisingly poignant melodrama as his partner (a journalist played by Geena Davis) is forced to watch him physically decay. It’s powerful, frightening stuff and still one of Cronenberg’s best.

“Let Me In” (2010)
Many cried foul when Matt Reeves, director of found footage monster mash “Cloverfield,” decided to remake the Swedish vampire film “Let the Right One In” only two years after it was released, abandoning the Morrissey-indebted title and swapping out windswept Sweden for equally blustery Los Alamos, New Mexico. But naysayers (ourselves included) were silenced when we actually saw the film, which retained much of what was so amazing about the original (the ’80s setting, the gender politics, the shockingly straightforward depictions of violence) while also offering a more streamlined and emotionally satisfying storyline. It got rid of all of the junk from the first movie (like that awful cat attack sequence and the overlong subplot involving a neighbor figuring out about the vampire) and kept everything that worked. It was all killer, no filler, and the rare example of a domestic remake besting its foreign counterpart.

5 Terrible Ones

“Rollerball” (2002)
Remakes aren’t necessarily a bad idea in theory, especially when applied to films which weren’t all that to begin with. And Norman Jewison‘s 1975 film “Rollerball” was never all that — a decent, but fairly unexceptional future sports picture. But it’s a positive masterpiece compared to the 2002 re-do, a phenomenally awful, misguided movie that pretty much crippled the Hollywood big-screen careers of everyone involved, not least director John McTiernan. While moved, somewhat inexplicably, to the very near future (the then-distant lands of 2005), the set up is vaguely similar, with three players in an ultra-violent super-sport (Chris Klein, LL Cool J and Rebecca Romijn) who come against its corrupt controller (Jean Reno). But hampered by a PG-13 rating, a spectacularly dim, vacuous script by Larry Ferguson (“Highlander“) and John Pogue (“The Skulls“), and performances that range from hammy (Naveen Andrews‘ henchman) to barely conscious (Klein, whose career never recovered), the whole thing felt dated — a representative of that dark, nu-metal era of our culture — even before it was actually in theaters. Most depressing of all is that it came from McTiernan, the man behind action classics like “Die Hard” and “The Hunt For Red October.” His handle on geography and editing is nowhere to be found here, resulting in a film that is an incoherent mess.

“The Omen” (2006)
Say what you like about Gus Van Sant‘s shot for shot remake of “Psycho,” but at least the director was aiming for something close to art — the pointlessness of the exercise was, in a way, the point.  When 20th Century Fox came to remake “The Omen,” it was a purely commercial exercise, inspired mainly by a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to release the film on 06/06/06. But even given that, it’s a remarkably cynical, lazy exercise, one that should perhaps have been tipped off by the fact that the film departed so little from the 1976 film that original writer David Seltzer ended up with sole credit on the film, despite never having worked on the remake, or even met director John Moore (“Eagle Eye” writer Dan McDermott was the man responsible for copying and pasting the original). Moore (the upcoming “A Good Day To Die Hard“) follows predecessor Richard Donner‘s template in assembling a fine cast — Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles as the Ambassador and his wife, British character actor stalwarts Pete Poselthwaite, David Thewlis and Michael Gambon stepping in for the likes of Patrick Troughton and David Warner. But aside from the sly casting of Mia Farrow as demonic nanny Mrs. Baylock, no one seems interested in anything other than cashing a check, and Moore is content to retread through the same set pieces as in the original film. Must unforgivably? It’s never, ever scary in the least.

“The Wicker Man” (2006)
One day, we look forward to sitting down and explaining to our children and grandchildren that, once upon a time, Nicolas Cage was a proper actor, who did films like “Raising Arizona,” “Leaving Las Vegas” and “Adaptation,” rather than one who would take any low-rent job that would keep the taxman at bay. And when we do so, we’ll point to 2006’s “The Wicker Man” as the point at which everything changed. Cage had done his fair share of crap beforehand, but virtually everything he’s done since Neil LaBute‘s baffling remake of the British horror classic has been cheap and shitty, a motif firmly established by this film. LaBute and others have tried to claim that the film was intended to be funny — and to be fair, it surely wasn’t meant to be scary. Or interesting. The provocative misogyny of the rest of the writer/director’s work comes to the forefront as LaBute turns the pagan community of the original into a matriarchal island in search of the return of their bees (cue: “No, not the bees!”), but Cage’s generic backstory and “personal” connection by placing his own daughter on the island only goes to prove how hacky the redo really is. And for all the YouTube montages in the world, the film’s simply too dull to serve as an unintentionally funny cult classic.

“The Invasion” (2007)
If Kaufman’s “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers” was an example of a remake gone right, than Oliver Hirschbiegel‘s “The Invasion” as a good counterpoint on how to do it all wrong. The German director’s first foray into Hollywood following the acclaim of his WWII, meme-spawning drama “Downfall,” is almost a textbook example of the intersection of foreign filmmakers and studio meddling. By all accounts the production was a mess, with the director and studio having two different visions for the movie. According to a Vanity Fair profile on Nicole Kidman at the time, she related that she signed on because Hirschbiegel had envisioned the movie with little to no special effects. Of course, this didn’t jibe with WB who wanted a summer popcorn movie. After screening what the helmer had put together, the studio hired The Wachowskis to rewrite the script, with their pal James McTeigue tasked to direct the reshoots, and thirteen months after production first started, the movie rolled again. The result? A rather lifeless hybrid of two halves of a movie that just didn’t sync up. The interior work by Hirschbiegel which is compellingly claustrophobic never works with action fare by McTeigue, and the movie is rather anonymous in the end, with a diluted political message coupled with half-baked performances in which no one involved comes out a winner. 

“The Day The Earth Stood Still” (2008)
Robert Wise‘s 1951 film “The Day The Earth Stood Still” is generally deemed to be one of the first bona-fide classics of the science-fiction genre, so any remake was always going to face a tough crowd. As it turns out, going into production on the 2008 remake of “The Day The Earth Stood Still” was the equivalent of walking into a lion enclosure having rubbed your torso in raw meat. It’s well meaning enough — latching an economic message onto the anti-atomic original, and so sincere and po-faced that it would almost be likable, if it wasn’t so damn boring. Director Scott Derrickson (“The Exorcism Of Emily Rose“) misjudges almost everything, from the casting (John Cleese playing it straightish as a scientist! Jennifer Connelly trying not to fall asleep!), to blockbuster friendly, Roland Emmerich-esque CGI money shots, to the inclusion of a cute kid — namely Jaden Smith — as a foil to Keanu Reeves‘ Klaatu. Hectoring, mostly incompetent, and entirely misguided, the film was beamed to Alpha Centurai as a publicity stunt. If we’re wiped out by aliens a few years from now, we’ll know why.

— Oliver Lyttelton, Drew Taylor, Kevin Jagernauth

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