It is a truth universally acknowledged, that these days Hollywood does too many remakes. And while I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment, my aim here in the Remake Room is to try for some introspection about the nature of remakes and how to tell if you should be okay with any given attempt at one. I hope to convince you that sometimes a remake can be necessary and/or better than the original. (Feel free to get the torches and pitchforks ready.)
For me, when considering if I should reject or accept (or even embrace) a given remake, it all boils down to one question (well, sort of one question in two parts), and it will be the focus for any future columns:
Did the original film leave room for a remake, and did the remake properly fill it?
Some films so perfectly cover a concept, or do it in such style, that there really isn’t anywhere left to go with it. But that’s a pretty rare film. Maybe 2001: A Space Odyssey fits that bill, even if it’s a film I don’t totally get (but then, that may be its point). Usually, though, there’s some room for a remake (a.k.a. Remake Room) to squeeze into. But that doesn’t mean they’ll do it right.
In order to dig a bit deeper into what kind of Remake Room is left by an original, and how successfully a given attempt fills it, we’ll need to have some criteria by which to judge it. Here’s what I, personally, want to see:
Break new ground
I doubt I’ll ever cover a shot-for-shot remake here, because frankly I don’t see the point of them. (I consider them tacit admission that there wasn’t room for a remake.) But in general, we’ll see the remake blaze its own trail. What was it going for? How successful was it in accomplishing that? Sometimes I’ll criticize a remake for not taking any risks, and at other times I’ll ding one for going too far. Kind of having my cake and eating it, too. (For the record, I’d rather have my cake and have it actually be pie.)
But a remake should also know where it comes from, which leads to my next point:
Pay homage, but don’t go overboard
This is one of the easiest ways to ruin a remake. If a film nods to its predecessor a bit, it can delight fans of the original while not hampering the story it’s actually telling. But if it leans too hard on the original, it can end up a confused mess of a film. Worse yet, it might just remind the audience of the superior film it’s mercilessly ripping off. (Looking at you, Star Trek Into Darkness!)
I’m talking about a pretty fine line here, and it’s going to take some exploration to refine what I’m talking about. How far is too far when it comes to referencing an original film? Is there a line beyond which a simple nod turns into something else?
In the end, though, even if a film breaks new ground and respects its source material, there’s one thing left:
Make a good film.
When it comes down to it, the film must stand on its own. And that’s pretty much all I have to say about that.
So that’s how it’s going to work around here. We’ve got a long history of remakes in science fiction. I’m looking forward to digging into some of the more famous ones, but I can think of no better place to start than with Planet of the Apes, a franchise that features both a remake and a reboot, and one of them is actually good. So look for that post in the coming weeks.
Feel free to weigh in here. Anything I missed that I need to keep an eye out for when delving into specific films and their remakes? Are you opposed, in principle, to remakes? Any remakes I absolutely must cover? And did anybody get the Pride and Prejudice reference?
Seth Heasley is co-host of Take Me To Your Reader, a podcast covering adapted science fiction.