“What do you think makes a remake work? Why do so many fall on their face?”
The problem with remakes is that they have to justify their existence. The pragmatic perspective of most movie going individuals is that of, “We already have this film, why do we need another?” To be fair, this is a very apt statement. Not to defecate all over the remake parade, but more often than not remakes kind of blow. They usually take a film that found its own audience, was successful, and made a lot of money in its time, and try to update the visuals to make a quick buck. Unfortunately, because these remakes are usually after the same audience that saw the original, they usually receive more criticism. To illustrate my point, lets look at two remakes that took different approaches to the remake process and were both criticised for it.
The first film is Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Psycho, being an interesting film with a large viewership, was selected for a remake by Universal Pictures (again, to make a quick buck). Because of his interesting approach to film and unique visual style, Gus Van Sant was selected to steer the ship of what is now considered to be one of the most pointless remakes ever made. Why? Because Gus Van Sant’s Psycho is a shot-for-shot remake of Hitchcock’s classic. Not a single thing was changed outside of the actors and set pieces. Performances were delivered the same way, camera angles were duplicated, and the film concluded on the same narrative implications. Critics, as you can imagine, tore this film apart. It was labeled as being “trite,” “pointless,” and “a work of plagiarism.” Van Sant made the atypical pedantic artist’s explanation, stating that he made a shot-for-shot remake of a classic “so no one else would have to.” At the end of the day, it demonstrates why a near-identical remake is incredibly unnecessary.
The second film is Craig Gillespie’s 2011 remake of Tom Holland’s Fright Night. Recognizing that the original Fright Night was considered a horror masterpiece of its time (and ignoring the awful Fright Night II), Touchstone decided in 2010 that a remake should be penned and produced. For this task, they employed Marti Noxon (previously a primary producer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) to make alterations to Tom Holland’s original script. With all due respect to Ms. Noxon, whose contribution to one of my favourite television series could never be ignored, all of the changes that were made to the original script were for the worse. The story had somehow become more obtuse, the script now followed many original contemporary vampire conventions, Jerry does not work well in the villain role (he looks too pretty), gore was stylish yet overplayed, the narrative isn’t funny anymore and the film is less engaging as a result, and the entire feature just panders to the 3D whores in the audience. Touchstone thought they were going to be smart and make numerous changes to make the film more original, but it ended up souring the picture for fans of the series and was seen as being “too serious and flashy” by modern audiences.
All that said, there are a few decent remakes – mostly because they took a different approach. True Grit (2010), The Thing (1982), Scarface (1983), Heat (1995), The Fly (1985), and The Departed (2005) all got it right, but that was mostly because they had visionary directors and writers at the helm that took these projects on as labours of love. They weren’t expressly made because they would easily turn a profit; in many cases, the parties involved in production had to fight for these films to be made. That’s the differences between a good and bad remake.