Not all remakes are evil
"Not another remake!" The distress call of the greater-spotted cinephile is set to reverberate around the multiplexes again, but it's not only hearing the threat to cut loose, Footloose, that's prompting fans to emulate the Kevin Bacon dance of rage.
Footloose is just one of three big-name remakes dancing into cinemas this month, along with the umpteenth adaptation of The Three Musketeers (in 3D!) and Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark. Next month sees Straw Dogs and Wuthering Heights revisit the big screen, while Christmas' big hitter is the English-language version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Just this week, movie studios have just announced they'll be kicking the dust off ancient TV hits Perry Mason and Mr Ed.
And - admit it - you already secretly suspect that some, if not most, of these films will be terrible. So why do remakes have such a bad name? Certainly a few of them have been genuinely, hilariously awful: Guy Ritchie's Swept Away (we weren't), Sly Stallone's Get Carter (we didn't) and Neil LaBute's deliriously OTT The Wicker Man, which saw Nic Cage's screams of "Not my eyes! My eyes!" replicated throughout mostly empty cinemas on its way to going viral.
But being staggeringly bad isn't limited to remakes – on the evidence, most remakes are as good, bad or meh in direct proportion to the rest of the release schedule. So why are they treated with so much more suspicion? One reason is the affection that the original is held in. To interfere with someone's sense of nostalgia – reality bites, apparently - can make them touchier than Nic Cage next to a bee hive, so tinkering with what people already regard as perfection is deemed to be an instant folly.
But the idea that some movies are untouchable doesn't stand up. The Coen Brothers' True Grit is one of this year's best movies and arguably an improvement over the stone-cold classic original, as was the 1964 do-over of The Killers. David Cronenberg's biologically brutal assault on The Fly took a swat to the much-loved 1950s original, making it look utterly naff in comparison; ditto John Carpenter's The Thing. Brian De Palma's Scarface? Well, 500,000 gangsta rappers can't all be wrong.
For the sniffier movie fan, the remake's biggest crime is that they take those favoured small cult or foreign flicks and give them massive exposure. This makes the movies – and the pub bores, by association – less exclusive and cool.
It must have been particularly galling for them to see critics and audiences laud the likes of The Departed, Let Me In, The Ring and Insomnia, all adaptations of beloved word-of-mouth foreign fare. I'd rate Zack Snyder's pulse-shredding version of Dawn Of The Dead just as much as George Romero's fanboy favourite – and the box office figures concurred.
Better yet, the remake can gives lousy movies or missed opportunities a do-over. Frank Oz's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988) outfitted a so-so David Niven flick with a sharp set of suits and an even sharper tongue. Haven't seen Sinatra's original Ocean's 11? There's a good reason for that. Michael Mann's cheapo TV movie LA Takedown? It eventually looked all shades of awesome when it was called Heat.
You can date that damning charge that lazy Hollywood has run out of ideas back to around 1904, which incidentally is when (probably) the first remake was made – an 'adaptation' of the hit Grain Train Robbery, made all of one year earlier. This is a tradition though that dates back long before movies: even Shakespeare and Mallory were fond of 'reimagining' other people's stories.
The truth is that genuine originality has always been a bit of a grey area in The Dream Factory. Most ideas for movies are directly adapted – or discreetly "recycled" - from books, plays, articles, news stories, biographies and sometimes wholesale bits of other movies. What matters more on screen is whether that material – whether by scriptwriting savvy, directorial flourish or even good old-fashioned star power – can be made fresh and engaging enough to entertain.
So maybe its time for all the haters to cut loose a little slack on the remakes – and start saying something more original themselves?