Remakes are by no means automatically good or bad, but these five test the usefulness of this Hollywood craze that has seen countless classics recycled, often for minimal justifications and even smaller successful return rates.
5. “Funny Games” (Original: 1997, Austria. Remake: 2007, US)
Okay, I guess if the studios are going to absolutely insist on a remake of your film, it makes sense to take it into your own hands. But brilliant as Michael Haneke usually is, it still feels deeply gratuitous to have a shot-for-shot remake of the same film only a decade later. I mean, let’s be candid here: it’s not as if Naomi Watts and Tim Roth’s relatively convincing performances provide any kind of justification for a whole new film. If this was all an attempt to assist viewers in avoiding reading subtitles, maybe the audiences are the ones in need of adjusting – not the original Austrian film.
4. “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (Original: 2009, Sweden. Remake: 2011, US)
Much as David Fincher holds a treasured place in my heart and can often do no wrong, the timing of this remake seemed completely arbitrary. Released a mere two years after the stunning Swedish original, the new “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” has also has a tough time avoiding comparisons with its predecessor because of its replicated setting and the fact that its mostly all-American cast is essentially trying to be Swedish. It’s about as bizarre as Jude Law playing a Russian soldier with a British accent in “Enemy at the Gates” – it just doesn’t make sense. Though Rooney Mara pulls through with an amazing performance and the film is by no means a bad thriller, it just feels unfair that this American remake should obscure the brilliance of the original so quickly. The gaps between originals and remakes are growing ever smaller and this can only mean less room and time for independent international cinema to breakthrough the mainstream.
3. “Fame” (Original: 1980, US. Remake: 2009, US)
This classic 80s teen drama about a group of performing arts students was disturbingly re-envisioned as a high school special musical for our generation in 2009. The remake is a classic example of how films now are pandering to audiences and taking raw, brutally honest storytelling from earlier times and sugarcoating them for a wider audience, repositioning narratives in order to make films that will sell and appeal to a larger demographic. In this case, story lines that had previously involved harrowing scenes exposing sexual blackmailing and dysfunctional relationships are now reworked into the kind of happy-go-lucky setups that started Zac Efron’s career. The same can be said for “Footloose,” and at this rate it unfortunately seems like only a matter of time before classics like “Flashdance” are plundered for their market value.
2. “Breathless” (Original, 1960, France. Remake: 1983, US)
I don’t even… I can’t… I… just make it stop, please. This 1983 kitsch rollercoaster of a film (and not in the positive sense) stars Richard Gere and Valerie Kaprisky in what is perhaps the most overt assault to French cinema through an American remake… which is saying a lot, considering how often French films are plundered for their engaging and fierce material. The 1960 iconic and game-changing pillar of the French New Wave is here relocated to the US and stripped of its intelligent dialogue, subtlety, aesthetic innovation, and playful tone. What we’re left with is a rather appalling collection of bad 80s outfits and hairdos and a decidedly American emphasis on violence that is as frustrating as it is trite.
1. “Psycho” (Original: 1960, US. Remake: 1998, US)
Simply listing the elements of this film should solidify the argument for me: shot-by-shot remake. Full color. Vince Vaughn playing Norman Bates. Need I go on? This misguided homage has plenty of good intentions and the ever-innovative Gus Van Sant at its helm, but remaking Hitchcock is the kind of project that is set-up for failure, or at the very least for endless comparisons in which the newer rendition will be found wanting. These inevitabilities aside, Van Sant’s “Psycho” feels confused and poorly put together from the very first frame; the color and casting (the most obviously different factors distinguishable from the original) stand out like sore thumbs and sap out all of the suspense that is so intrinsic to the original. Instead, we are left with an awkward and artificial film that recreates ideas instead of generating them, butchering (pun most definitely intended) a simple story that had otherwise been considered flawless. As if that weren’t enough, we’d best brace ourselves; a remake of “The Birds” as a teen horror flick is on the film development horizon, and is sure to provide another example of why some directors’ oeuvres should be left untouched and perfectly preserved.