We tend to think of remakes as an unfortunate thing: a byproduct of Hollywood’s ongoing refusal to forge a path for more potentially unique creative voices by retreating to dusty, shopworn cultural properties that are financially reliable and proven to have a built-in audience. Don’t listen to Paul Feig and the rest of the creative brain trust behind the upcoming “Ghostbusters” reboot when they tell you it’s not about the money: there is literally no reason for a studio to dredge up an ancient property like “Ghostbusters” unless their explicit aim is to make a ton of cash and potentially lay the foundation for a future movies.
This begs the question of why would anyone make a remake at all if the goal is not strictly monetary. Well, in some (rare) cases, the remake can turn out to be every bit the equal of the original film. I will go on record as saying that Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed,” for instance, is a much more interesting and engaging piece of cinema than “Infernal Affairs,” the Hong Kong thriller that served as the director’s primary inspiration. There’s also the case of David Cronenberg’s update of the 1958 creature feature classic “The Fly,” wherein the Canadian body horror auteur took everything that was campy or dated about the older film and made it tragic, visceral, and ugly. There are a few cases where you wonder why the filmmakers even bothered, such as Spike Lee’s ill-conceived re-thinking of “Oldboy,” or Gus Van Sant’s notoriously maligned shot-for-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” But every now and then, a remake goes on to transcend its original source material, illustrating Roger Ebert’s old maxim that “it’s not what a movie is about, but how it’s about it”.
This old pearl of wisdom gets dissected to an even deeper degree in this new video essay, which takes side-by-side looks at original films and their subsequent remakes. Many films go as far as to mirror the exact framing and execution of the original (particularly “Funny Games,” which makes sense given that Michael Haneke was behind the camera for both movies). What’s particularly interesting here is how certain directors can’t help but leave their authorial fingerprints on a pre-existing story. I’m thinking of the Coen Brothers‘ update of “True Grit,” which operates more in their slightly ominous register when compared to the 1969 original, and also Cameron Crowe’s “Vanilla Sky,” an update of the Spanish erotic thriller “Abre los Ojos” (“Open your Eyes”) that’s somehow also another one of the director’s earnest, emotionally-charged passion projects.
In any case, remakes aren’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future — we’re still getting the totally superfluous remake of “A Prophet,” as well as another “Charlie’s Angels” reboot, among other things, but it’s good to know that for every two or three cynical cash-grabs, we’ll get at least one big-screen remake that was worth the effort. Or will we?
Sound off in the comments section and check out the video below. [No Film School]