Holy Remake, Batman! Movies That Work. Movies That Don’t


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.

Green light, top view (Photo credit: mag3737)

Remake = Green Light

Anything by Jane Austen

pride and prejudice

pride and prejudice (Photo credit: Apostolos Letov)

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.
Cover of "Mansfield Park (1999)"

Cover of Mansfield Park (1999)

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.

Superhero movies


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!

Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters

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.

Red emergency light (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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:

Cropped screenshot of Judy Garland from the tr...

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.

Cover of "Gone with the Wind"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.

Cover of "This is Spinal Tap (Special Edi...
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.


What Is a Darkly Romantic Curmudgeon?

A curmudgeon is:

  • A bad-tempered, difficult, cantankerous person. (Dictionary.com)
  • A crusty, ill-tempered, and usually old man (Merriam-Webster.com)
  • An ill-tempered person full of resentment and stubborn notions. (Answers.com)

You get the idea.  Examples would include House (Hugh Laurie’s eponymous character), Andy Rooney from 60 Minutes (RIP), Hallmark’s Maxine, and The Grinch.  Amongst up and coming curmudgeons I’d include Sheldon, the physicist nerd from the Big Bang Theory, which also goes to show that not ALL curmudgeons are old.

Being a curmudgeon is a glass is half empty attitude. It’s the little old lady (played by Clara Peller) demanding “Where’s the Beef!” in the famous Wendy’s commercial of the 80s. It’s bracing for the worst (because everyone wants to rip you off) but secretly hoping for the best. It’s crusting over the outside to protect the tender, gullible insides.  I’d go so far as to say that within every curmudgeon is a sensitive but bruised soul.

So what is a darkly romantic curmudgeon? Isn’t romance the antithesis of curmudgeonliness? Well, yes and no. They are indeed yin and yang, opposites, but together they are pretty terrific. Let me explain.

People often say they “fall” in love, as if it’s not a natural state.  For curmudgeons, it’s not, but when we fall, we plummet.  Personally, I love reading stories where the hero or heroine stands atop a lofty perch built on arrogance or hubris, greatly increasing the distance of their forthcoming fall into the waiting arms of love.  The farther the fall, the greater the thrill in my tummy as I read.  I love to see the main character flailing about in mid-air, trying desperately (but failing) to grab hold of something familiar to check his or her fall.  It’s scary; it’s dark; it’s sarcastic; it’s grouchy; it’s curmudgeonly!  That character will fight tooth and nail denying love matters to them because they are deathly afraid no one will catch them before they strike the ground. Wise readers get that it’s all a front with a kind of smug omniscience, especially if they’ve been treated to the object of the affection’s point of view and know those arms are open and ready to receive…or will be if the object looks up.

So, favorite fictional romantic curmudgeons who demonstrate that reluctance or grouchiness I’m talking about?

  • Kate Daniels from Ilona Andrews’ urban fantasy series (who put up a hell of a fight against her eventual love interest)
  • Mr. Darcy (and probably Elizabeth Bennet too) from Pride and Prejudice (“Pride goeth before the fall”)
  • Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights (such evil that grew from love thwarted)
  • Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre (Boss of the Year award recipient…NOT!)
  • Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol (ok, so he found a different kind of love at the end but that’s still what it was)
  • Margaret (Sandra Bullock) in The Proposal (another meanie boss but you just knew she was all gooey inside didn’t ya?)
  • Elizabeth Perkin’s character Joan in the 80’s brat pack movie, “About Last Night” (Ok, I threw that in there because Elizabeth and I were born on the same day and I really did like her snarky character in that movie)
  • Mr. Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) in Remains of the Day (remember what he was caught reading? a ROMANCE!  I rest my case.)

But how does the “darkly” part fit in?

All my heroes have dark hair?  Well, that’s true, but that’s not what it means.  Darkly, within my writing context, means I may (usually) include elements of dark humor in my stories, mostly sarcasm or snark.  The bad guys get to be funny occasionally, maybe even crack a few jokes.  At least that is what I’m striving for.  Humor is always subjective, of course.  I enjoy a happy ending as much as anyone else though, so I don’t see myself ever having the main character wiped out by a bus on her way to her wedding.  That’s a different kind of dark that I don’t mess with.

The best news about declaring myself a lover of darkly romantic curmudgeons and claiming the title for myself?  I am now a certificate-bearing member of the International Society of Curmudgeons:

I’d love to tell you more about the ISOC, but I’m currently angry with them for having the most annoying website I’ve ever visited.  When I calm down, I’ll tell you all about it.  Suffice to say the ISOC agrees with my self-designated title of Master Curmudgeon.