On a recent episode of The Highlight Reel, myself and Matt got into it (and by ‘it’ I mean a discussion which only came to blows after we went off the air) on the subject of remakes. It’s a topic that’s been brought back into sharp focus by the considerable, still-churning backlash against the Robocop reboot. Yes, the one where they paint Robocop black for literally no other reason than to make him look cool. No, really, they explicitly say that in the damn trailer. It’s this kind of attitude that means remakes, much like sequels, are an often-unfairly maligned branch of cinema. They suffer from many of the same problems as sequels (needing to be different enough to justify being made without being so different that they alienate the fanbase), only these problems are exacerbated a thousand times by the fact that they are, well, remakes. You have literally seen it all before. So why bother?
Well, that’s an interesting question, and one with no easy answer. I know why they do bother, of course, because Hollywood is run entirely by moustache-twirling Scooby Doo villains, but from the perspective of the fan, the mucky-faced plebeian crammed into a cinema screen, the matter can be a delicate one to touch. As a film fan, whenever you watch a film, it is a unique experience to you. Any film is subject to your own personal checklist, and the more boxes it ticks, the more likely it is that you’ll remember it and take it close to your heart (unless of course, it is a truly terrible film, in which case you remember it in the same way you’d remember a bout of malaria). If a film that you like is being remade, then there’s absolutely no way you’re going to respond positively to it at first. How could you? It’s like Hollywood went right into that brain-checklist and fiddled with it, changing and tweaking everything about that film until it’s nothing like you remember. If you liked the actors in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, there’s pretty much no reason you’d want watch the exact same film again with different actors in, right? Get the brain-eraser out and scrub that off the checklist. That’s one black mark against the film before you’ve even watched it.
What I’m getting at, in my own torturously metaphorical way, is that a remake is onto a loser from the start, purely because it takes something you liked anyway and then changed it. It’s adding tabasco sauce onto your favourite meal. Depending on what it is and how much you spice it up, your remake can be a disaster or a roaring success. Take The Haunting for example. The 1950s original was a brilliant exercise in horror, namely because it showed restraint. The plot begged questions of the characters and the audience because you didn’t know whether there was actually spooky shit going down, or whether it was all in the sleep-deprived minds of the characters. The 1990s remake, however, didn’t have any time for that subtlety crap. Didn’t you know? By the 90s, that shit was totally gay, man. Using the Babby’s First CGI brand of special effects that plagued films in the 90s as filmmakers took to this exciting new technology like a child would take to an annoying novelty ringtone , the rejigged version of The Haunting was like an exceedingly cheap ghost train. Gone was the creeping psychological horror, replaced by Owen Wilson doing awful comic relief and shoddy, shocking-but-not-in-that-good-way pixellated ghoulies that wouldn’t even scare Shaggy from Scooby Doo. It completely missed the point of the original, dumbed it down hopelessly and added things where they did not need to be added. This approach, used by many remakes during this time (and in present day, actually) is one of several solid reasons why remakes are treated with such scepticism by audiences around the world. Hollywood doesn’t care about you, and it certainly doesn’t get you, so if it can replace subtlety and craftsmanship with waving a shiny new toy in your face for 90 minutes, it will.
Or is it? See, within the sprawling hellmouth that is the modern Hollywood landscape, there lie a selection of noble artists. Sleeper agents, if you will, embedded, deep cover, within enemy territory, fighting the good fight for the simple moviegoer that they once were themselves. I have a lot of time for filmmakers who are obviously big movie fans themselves – I know all of them are probably big fans to some extent, but I’m talking the weirdly obsessive, student of the game sort of fan here – and that’s why I’m a huge fan of guys like Rob Zombie (I list The Devil’s Rejects among my favourite films of all time without shame) and his work in the Halloween franchise. Now, the two new Halloween movies he made are far from perfect, but they’re a hell of a lot more important than people give them credit for. You can hardly accuse Zombie of not getting his source material when the Halloween franchise itself had descended into campy self-parody over the years. It’s little wonder John Carpenter himself looked on Zombie’s remake so kindly, as he’d seen his creation bled to a more painful death than any of Mike Myers’ victims (and people who watched The Love Guru). Hallowee-make (shut up) modernised and reinvigorated the character of Myers and almost threatened to start a new franchise all of its own, for a time. It was never going to match the original, but what it did do was provide a gateway to a generation of moviegoers who knew nothing of the original classic, and instead might only know the character of Mike Myers from his pop-culture footprint, which had largely been spoiled and demystified by years of crappy, knock-off sequels. Hell, much of this could apply to horror films in general – as the best horror films are very much a product of their time, it makes sense that they might need to be updated from time to time. The need for a new lick of paint only becomes more vital after said horror film has suffered a series of dodgy sequels, which is ultimately the fate of every successful horror film.
At the end of all that, my not-very-revelatory conclusion is simply that, like all film (and indeed all art forms) remakes need to be made for the right reasons. If they’re made for genuine reasons by an artist who genuinely wants to add something to the original, then it at least deserves a chance. Take remakes on their own merits, and don’t tar them all with the same brush, and you could be in for quite a treat. Or, at the very least, you get to like a film that everyone else hates and get a smug feeling of superiority from doing so. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to defend the new Robocop on Youtube. You filthy mainstream casuals.