Some movies are classics–destined to be remade. We never tire of watching the same old story told over and over every few years with different actors. Other movies, however, are so iconic it would be blasphemous to even consider remaking them, and if there have been remakes, who remembers them?
Let’s take a look at a few from each category, why they do or don’t lend themselves to remakes and the pitfalls to avoid with an otherwise foolproof classic formula.
Remake = Green Light
Anything by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice tops my list of hard to mess up movies. I growl at and sigh over every Mr. Darcy (David Rintoul—1980, Colin Firth—1995, Matthew Macfadyen 2005) and root for every Elizabeth Bennett (Elizabeth Garvie—1980, Jennifer Ehle—1995, Kiera Knightly—2005) no matter who portrays them. All that’s necessary to kindle my affection is for Darcy to be a “great tall fellow” with a prejudicial attitude and Elizabeth to be a sharp-tongued beauty with an excess of pride. Darcy and Elizabeth are the ultimate antagonistic lovers in denial. He is the consummate snob who, despite his better judgment, falls for a woman with deplorable relations. When Darcy finally declares himself, Elizabeth gives him a boot up the ass until he proves his worth. How can you go wrong with that? For the most part a filmmaker can’t and won’t so long as he or she remains faithful to the original material and follows a few edicts:
- Thou shalt not modernize the dialogue, embellish or abridge the story.
- Thou shalt not beat the viewer over the head with subtleties hinted at but not necessarily focused on by Ms. Austen.
In violation of these edicts is the 1999 version of Mansfield Park, starring Francis O’Connor as Fanny. This is a story of a woman adopted into wealth who witnesses the romantic maneuverings of her foster siblings while facing her own challenges. The movie depicts shocking scenes of the heroine walking in on an adulterous couple in flagrante delicto. I like the sexy as much as anyone else, but not in a Jane Austen movie. Sorry, but, no. In addition, the film’s heavy underscoring of slavery was another misstep. Slavery, while a reality in Ms. Austen’s time, was merely hinted at in the book. Ms. Austen did a bang up job with her tales of societal mores and manners by circling what needed to be circled and subtly tilting her head at what she preferred to leave unsaid. Keep your crayons between the lines please.
Comic book heroes translate exceedingly well to film and usually improve as computerized and other special effects grow in sophistication. We want these movies to be made over. No diss intended to the late Christopher Reeves, but I’m looking forward to seeing Henry Cavill as the Man of Steel, not only because he’s a delicious bo-hunk of a man but because I look forward to the special effects. Superman in 2013 for the win!
Speaking of special effects, the 2011 version of Green Lantern, starring the ever-tasty Ryan Reynolds featured remarkable computer effects. For much of the film Ryan’s head was superimposed on a computer-generated body. So as a pitfall to beware, it is possible to take CG a little too far. Mr. Reynolds’ body is his best feature. Green screening it into oblivion was just wrong.
Another key to keeping comic book hero stories on the winning side of the coin is to stick to the tropes established in the comic books. Don’t dress Superman in silk boxers and a fishnet t-shirt or give Clark Kent wire-rimmed aviator glasses. Batman’s sidekick is his male ward, Robin, not a smart-alack street urchin. Comic book readers are pretty persnickety about their heroes. Filmmakers should avoid flipping them off.
Remake = Red light
Please Mr. Producer, please, please, never remake any of the following movies or I will haunt you from beyond the grave.
The Technicolor Classics:
The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland (1939), is noteworthy as one of the first motion pictures in color (most of it). One of the best-known films of all time, the L Frank Baum classic infused its DNA into our popular culture. Who hasn’t said, “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto” or “I’ll get you, my pretty!” Though Broadway spawned an adaptation called The Wiz (1974, which was later made into a film in 1975), the differences were significant enough to avoid a jihad. I’ve never seen a remake of The Wizard of Oz nor do I wish to.
Gone With the Wind(1939) is another Technicolor movie starring Vivienne Leigh and Clark Gable and is based on the Margaret Mitchell novel of the same name. With a heroine equally admirable as she is detestable and a virile blackguard hero with enough logged Stairmaster hours to sweep a woman up a tall flight of stairs for some ravishment, what’s not to love? Throw in breathtaking settings and costumes, and you’ve got an epic full of win.
A more modern induction into Claire’s “Break the Mold, Please” museum is This is Spinal Tap(1984). If you’ve never seen this film, I will personally come to your home and make you watch it. I’ll even pop the corn while you queue up the DVD. Parody at its finest by some of comedy’s most elegantly subdued but brilliant, this “mockumentary” about a heavy metal hair band brought all new meanings to “eleven” and “Stonehenge”. I cannot even bear to imagine this film in the hands of any other than Rob Reiner, Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer and a huge cast of cameo actors.
Alas, the older I get, the more I see remakes of movies that debuted in my youth. I can be a curmudgeon and shake my fist at the infidels, or I can assess my level of sentimental attachment to the original, and determine if my love is for the story or for its depiction. If the former, remake with my blessing. If the latter, well…I think I’ll stay home and read a good book instead.