We all have opinions that are controversial, outlandish, unpopular, and misunderstood. That’s what makes us unique. Change My Mind is a column where a member of the Diabolique staff will share one of their unusual opinions and welcome you, the reader, to change their mind in the spirit of fun and respectful debate.
If there is one thing that polarizes film buffs it’s remakes. Whenever blasts from the past are given that inevitable modern update, reactions tend to oscillate between dread and curiosity. On one hand, there have been enough successful remakes to justify their existence; on the other, many have been underwhelming or just flat-out abominations and it makes you wonder why they even got made in the first place. My colleagues here at Diabolique are predominantly of the opinion that remakes are terrible and shouldn’t exist at all. Then they remember how much they enjoy some of them and are forced to eat their own words while I laugh smugly from the shadows while standing tall on my pro-remake pedestal. If you’re familiar with this brand then you know we love and cherish our classic cinema. We spend most of our time championing the gems of yesteryear after all. That said, just because those movies are perfect as they are doesn’t mean that modern redos can’t exist alongside them and carve their own legacy.
Given that reboots are associated with films people know and love, they often arrive on the back of a wave of controversy and high expectations. They also face the scathing wrath of unforgiving fans should they fail to do the original film justice. It’s tough being the new kid on the block at the best of times, but when your forefathers have a respected history then living up to that lineage is a challenge. In the contemporary cinematic climate, you could argue that remakes oversaturate the market. But if you hop in a time machine and travel through the annals of film history, you’ll find they’ve been around since the inception of the craft. However, while you can dispute that they stand in the way of innovation and undo an artist’s original vision, the reality is that these criticisms are not true.
A common grievance among the naysayers when it comes to remakes is this idea that the new version will somehow taint the original. Remember when they gender-swapped Ghostbusters in 2016 and all the angry fanboys took to the internet to state how Paul Feig had ruined Ivan Reitman’s classic and raped their childhoods? That was silly, wasn’t it? The truth is that if a remake destroys your relationship with the original property or poisons the memories of your youthful years then it’s highly likely that your bond with the original film wasn’t strong in the first place. No matter how hard a remake fails, it will never change a frame of the original offering at all.
Granted, it is inevitable that modern counterparts will be compared to their predecessors. That’s natural. But they’re still separate entities at the end of the day, connected through namesake and nothing more. However, is a brand spanking new attempt at a movie any worse than another subpar sequel? How many beloved movies have spawned a series of crappy follow-ups that pale in comparison to their acclaimed inaugural entries? Lambasted sequels like The Next Generation (1994) didn’t diminish the power and influence of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Neither did the 2003 Platinum Dunes remake which, in this writer’s humble opinion, is a fantastic flick in its own right that provides the gore-drenched thrills Tobe Hooper’s classic lacks. That’s not to say the remake is a better movie (I prefer it though), but it does contain numerous enjoyable elements which the original isn’t concerned with. Think of the original as Yin and the remake as Yan.
Remakes also serve as gateways for modern audiences to discover the classics. Some critics argue that reboots ruin the relationship between original installments and younger audiences, but it must also be noted that some attest to redos introducing them to their original counterpart in the first place, thus establishing that special bond a fan can have with a film. If it wasn’t for me falling in love with Gore Verbinski’s 2002 remake of The Ring when I was a budding movie enthusiast in high school, I wouldn’t have discovered the original — or Japanese cinema in general — when I did. All it took was one little remake to open my eyes to the bigger picture and change my life forever. Such is the power of a well-done remake, though.
When a reboot is the topic of conversation, it inevitably shines a spotlight on the original and re-establishes its presence in the contemporary zeitgeist. In some cases, this can serve as a reminder of how relevant the original still is. For example, when Zack Snyder unleashed Dawn of the Dead remake, it served as a stark reminder that the consumerist themes emblazoned in Romero’s movie were still pertinent. Occasionally, reboots have managed to transpose themes and issues of a bygone era onto contemporary culture, revealing themselves to be just as important in modern times as they were back in the day. Snyder’s Dawn is also a prime example of a remake that took the core concept of the original and cannibalized it beautifully with the inclusion of fast zombies, more action, and plenty of splendid blood-letting.
But the themes and ideas behind countless stories have longevity, so why shouldn’t they be revised, re-envisioned, and retold from time to time? Just look at Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), which has another remake in development at the time of writing. The idea behind that movie will always be relevant as long as sections of society fears the threat of foreign invaders. Considering that tensions in regards to this topic are always boiling, the concept begs to be recycled because it has proven to be timeless.
Of course, not every remake needs to reflect the world at large. The reason why Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes, Batman, Bond, Dr. Who, and King Kong will always be brought back is because they each possess regenerative qualities that have ensured their continued popularity for decades. The beauty of art is that it inspires others to remould it in their own image. No one asked Johnny Cash to cover “Hurt”, but when he did he made the song his own and now we have two very different — and excellent — versions to enjoy. The same logic can be applied to remakes. The very best ones strive to do something different and the end results are movies which share the same DNA but are so stylistically different that they essentially become a refreshing alternative. A prime example is the 1999 version of The Mummy, which gave the franchise a new lease of life as an Indiana Jones-esque adventure yarn that is so far removed from the entries that came before that it ends up providing a different kind of thrill.
At the same time, some of the most enjoyable remakes are abominations that don’t respect the original at all. Black Christmas (2006) immediately springs to mind, a film that completely disregards the gripping suspense of its predecessor and replaces it with camp hyper-violence and mindless schlock. Personally, I love the remake more than Bob Clark’s holiday classic because I prefer my slashers silly, sleazy, and over the top. That movie stole my heart as soon as the villain of the piece banged his own mother then ate her for Christmas supper with a big glass of milk. But even if I didn’t enjoy the remake I’d still respect it for at least establishing its own bastardised identity.
It is understandable why many people are frustrated with reboots. Some movies are barely given enough time to breathe before the next iteration is in development. As soon as The Amazing Spider-Man 2 underperformed, Sony returned to the drawing board immediately and Spider-Man: Homecoming was born a couple of years later. That turned out to be a wise decision on their part — not only did the decision pay off because Homecoming was successful, but it’s an entertaining movie that gave our favorite arachnid ass-kicker the adaptation fans had been waiting for since Sam Raimi moved on to other projects in the mid-2000s. Living in a world without Spider-man — and other pop culture icons, like Dracula and Godzilla — gracing our screens on a recurring basis just wouldn’t feel right.
Sometimes remakes do warrant the criticism they receive, as does any piece of entertainment that’s terrible. The Cabin Fever remake was released a mere 14 years after Eli Roth’s movie — and two years after the last original sequel — and no one was asking for it at all. The fact that the remake was also a pointless scene-for-scene retread of the original did nothing to dispel the idea that redos are products of creative bankruptcy. Lots of remakes are guilty of the same lazy crimes, but plenty of ‘original’ movies are just as guilty of being unoriginal. How many times have you watched a random zombie movie and been unable to differentiate from the rest of its kind?
Without remakes we wouldn’t have A Fistful of Dollars (1964), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Thing (1982), Scarface (1983), The Fly (1986), The Blob (1988), Cape Fear (1991), The Mummy (1999), Happiness of the Katakuris (2001), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), The Departed (2006), 3:10 to Yuma (2007), True Grit (2010), 13 Assassins (2011), and countless other movies that are just as good — if not better — than their predecessors. That’s only an example of a few of the more well-received ones as well. If I were to list all the remakes I endorse we’d be here all day, but that’s another article for another day.
I don’t just support the idea of remakes, I love them. Not simply because plenty have been good enough to warrant their existence. I love them because I think seeing new ideas brought to established properties is exciting. If someone decides to attempt an upgrade of Goodfellas (1990) — my all-time favourite movie — then power to them. I’ll go in with an open mind and if the film fails to deliver anything worthwhile it won’t change the way I feel about Martin Scorsese’s Mafioso masterpiece. That goes for everything else, too. I’m all for original ideas, but we still get them constantly despite what the anti-remake brigade would have you believe. Why can’t originality and reinterpreting — or even impressively regurgitating — pre-existing art co-exist?
I now welcome you to change my mind.