In Defence of the Remake


In Defence of the Remake
Chris Peckford examines why remakes aren't necessarily a bad thing...
“Hollywood must be out of ideas.” “Whatever happened to creativity?” “Oh great, another remake.”

We’ve all heard it.

Total Recall, a sci-fi action film very loosely based on a Philip K. Dick short story called “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” was released in 1990, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and directed by Paul Verhoeven. It was a success, capitalizing on the bankability of Arnold and also the popularity of Verhoeven’s previous film, Robocop. Both of these films have retained a cool factor with people of my generation for over twenty years, solidifying themselves as staples in the genre. Is it unnecessary and insulting, then, that both of these films are being remade for a new generation of filmgoers?

If you trawl the internet’s myriad of movie websites, you’ve probably read about the backlash towards the Total Recall and Robocop remakes in forums and comment sections. These films stand as a couple of the most fun, violent, over the top sci-fi flicks of the 20th century, and their stamp as pillars of sci-fi is undeniable. Unfortunately, revisiting them in the form of remakes has raised the ire of the internet army, and the logic these keyboard warriors use when rallying against them is unfortunate and misguided.

“Thanks for ruining my childhood,” is something we hear so often it’s become a cliché, and this is where they lose me. How is a remake of a story we love so much going to dampen the impact that the original film had on us? Even if the remakes ultimately turn out to be pieces of trash, the originals will still be there waiting for us with open arms to remind us of how they got it right the first time. For argument’s sake, let’s assume that the remake turns out even better, because it does happen.

People are so worried about having their memories tarnished that they’ll complain and fight and argue and debate, and they’ll still see the movie, entering the theatre with a cinematic chip on their shoulder, predisposed to hate it. If you’re not into something then why subject yourself to it? Better yet, why fight against the possibility of revisiting these stories from another perspective, using better technology, different skill sets and significantly better marketing?

And this notion of there not being any creativity in Hollywood is ludicrous. There are plenty of sequels and remakes out there, there always have been and there always will be, but people are so focused on the negatives and the bombs that they fail to realize that the following generations generally don’t have the same dispositions we did when the films first came out. In order for these stories to remain relevant, even if you don’t agree that the originals tend to be dated and even products of their time instead of simply being timeless, they have to be updated, repackaged and presented in a new way.

While not a remake, it bears mention that there are kids out there who think the Star Wars prequels are significantly better than the original trilogy just based on the crazy effects. They never experienced the theatrical magic the same way we did, and the prequels very much lend themselves to the youth of today. The prequels essentially replaced the limitations George Lucas had in the 70s and 80s with CGI, allowing the artists to expand their creativity beyond model-making, puppetry and makeup effects. People who grew up on the original Star Wars sometimes forget that some audiences today are easily distracted and taken out of films that are populated in ‘man-in-suit’ monsters and puppets on strings.

Most remakes generally do well at the box office, sometimes with varying degrees of success. If people pay to see them it creates room for everything, and I struggle with having to hear people treat remakes like the violation of their last shred of childhood. Armchair filmmakers seem to forget that it is a business after all, and retelling tried and true stories has been a standard across all media, from television to comic books and video games. The world is rife with creative, original indie and studio films that release every single week in theatres and for home viewing, but if people continue to focus only on what they see as a slight to their intellect by having to pay for material they’ve already seen twenty years before, then I fear that criticism will ultimately dictate the films we have to choose from, and not creativity.

The take-away here, I suppose, is that remakes aren’t going anywhere. Spider-man, Batman, the Hulk, they’ve all been rebooted, re-tooled and reworked, and without reboots and remakes we would have never had Christopher Nolan’s vision of the Dark Knight. Without the remake we wouldn’t have had the Cohen Brother’s True Grit. We would have never basked in Robert DeNiro’s cold-blooded villainy in Cape Fear. Martin Scorsese would have never won his first ever Academy Award for The Departed. We would have been left with no Brundle-fly in Cronenberg’s The Fly. Ocean’s 11 through 13 or even The Magnificent Seven simply wouldn’t be. We would have never had Scarface.

Try not to rage against the remake, folks, because you never know what movies we grew up with and loved will end up being something the whole world will embrace years later in a completely different way.

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