When is a remake something new?
I've been thinking a lot about remakes recently - haven't we all been forced to lately with release upon release of remake? - and lately, while writing about the remake of Akira and Oldboy, I wondered at what point does a remake become something different, does it begin to offer something more or different than the previous film, and which films have done that successfully?
It stems from film makers saying things such as re-imagining, re-visitation, re-working, update, whatever term they want to use to what is essentially a remake. However sometimes they're actually right and there's something new and worthwhile in it.
I'd been thinking about this for some time now, but the news of the Akira and Old Boy remakes really did get me thinking about the whole idea. When is a remake really a remake?
Akira seems to be a live action version of the cult manga film, and from reading the early blurbs and write ups there only seems to be a few differences, one is that it's live action, and the other is that it's been moved to America, although by means of a plot device it's going to be called New Tokyo and governed by Japan. Otherwise it's the original.
Then we're just been hearing about Old Boy, and note the space in the title for this isn't the remake of the Asian cult film, oh no, this is a Hollywood adaptation of the comic books from which the idea came for the Oldboy (Filmstalker review) film.
Subtleties perhaps, but adaptation of the original source material is somewhat different from a straight remake isn't it? Is it then too much of a stretch to say that Akira isn't a remake but a re-imagining? It's all in the words, but what do they really mean?
I worked through a number of films which have been remade, and remade somewhat differently to the originals, and perhaps they hold the answer to whether there is a point where a remake becomes something different.
Ocean's Eleven and Ocean's Eleven
How different are the two Ocean's films? One was made in 1960 and the other in 2001. Interestingly they both share something more than just the film, there's the cast. Both films brought together a group of friends who are riding high in the entertainment world, they hang around together and are known for being big star friends. Okay in the past they were up to much more mischief, but the casting idea is still the same.
The story is somewhat changed in the technicalities of the heist and with the ending, but the idea of a slick and stylish film is still there, the friends getting together for the big heist which is actually based on revenge. The new one has most definitely been updated to keep with modern times, but there's still a sense of style, perhaps even a sense of swing, and some idiosyncratic characters.
Is it a remake? Has it moved that far away from the original? I don't think so, that's definitely a remake, but is it a lazy one? Not really, there's a strong sense that they really have worked hard to make this something new, something different, and capitalise on the cast, and if it wasn't for them I doubt this would have been made.
The Thomas Crown Affair and The Thomas Crown Affair
I think this film is another clear example of a film being remade, not changed that much, modernised, but using great casting and delivering something which can stand on its own feet as a film of its own rather than a remake of such a classic original.
One again the film-makers have worked on developing something different, as well as modernising the film without destroying it.
Remake most definitely, but could there be a case for calling this a re-imagining? Does it fall into the category of remakes that are acceptable because they're different enough?
The Italian Job and The Italian Job
Comparing the remake of The Italian Job against the case of the remade Thomas Crown Affair raises an interesting question - just because a remake isn't better than the original, or even as good, does it mean it shouldn't have been made?
The original film of The Italian Job is a classic, with great performances and mixing the English common criminal stepping themselves up to try and score the biggest heist of their lives, led by Michael Caine and backed by Noel Coward no less. The original is a fantastic film with loads of style and fun.
The remake does something I particularly hate about remakes, it updates for the sake of updating. However, the film isn't that bad and has some enjoyable moments, nods to the original, and manages to make some sense of the location changes. Plus there's Donald Sutherland.
Comparing it to the original it doesn't hold up as well, but it is a fun standalone film. It's been heavily changed though, and despite keeping the minis, there's not a lot else that really ties it with the original.
So is this remake in the true sense of the word? Is it fair to say it's an entirely different film cashing in on the title? Can we really have a go at Hollywood remakes for this film when it is so utterly different?
There's absolutely no argument here, this is a straight remake, and of such a classic film there's absolutely no need for it. It fits nicely into the remake category without a doubt.
Abre los ojos and Vanilla Sky
There's a certain breed of Hollywood remakes that this film falls firmly into, those that are remade purely to translate them to American, both in language and setting. Yes, that is the prime reason for this film, but also as a starring vehicle for Tom Cruise, and one that he does rather well in too.
Of course it doesn't do as well as the original and seems to lose a tiny bit in translation, and unfortunately that's a very important part right at the heart of the story.
Yet it is a bit more than a remake, sure it's almost scene by scene to the original Spanish film, wavering slightly in the ending and the character of the doctor, but there's something a little more than transplanting the actors and the location, there's a moralistic tale that probably applies more to America and Hollywood than it did with the Spanish setting and audience.
So is this a remake? Undoubtedly, but is this a remake that does have something to say, much more so than the remake of Psycho. Is it more than just putting it in a language that's acceptable to the western audience and allows the message to be heard by more? That brings me to another film.
Funny Games and Funny Games U.S.
No question, a direct remake. However can this be said to be a justifiable one? Well the original and the U.S. remake are identical in all aspects bar that of language and distribution. In fact the director, Michael Henke, said that he remade his own film merely to ensure that the audience that the film was really directed towards saw it.
Whatever the reason, it is a remake much in the same vein of Psycho, but is there some forgiveness for its intentions, but it's still a fully fledged, no holds barred, remake.
Planet of the Apes and Planet of the Apes
Now here's a good comparison, the original film against the Tim Burton version, remake? Absolutely not I'd say. While the original Planet of the Apes might be the one that is ingrained in the cinematic memories of most, it is not the original story. What Burton's version does is revisit the original source material and the original story. If anything it was the first film version of Planet of the Apes that remade the story. Burton brings the original story back to life.
Is it fair to say Burton's film is a remake? Or because the original story was altered to produce what is a great cinematic story, it is a new film and it's more that the original film remade the story?
The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven
The Hidden Fortress and Star Wars
Are these examples remakes? The U.S. versions were inspired by the original films, and more than that the Western films have actually turned out to be much more successful than the originals, in fact they have become classic films and all time great movies. Does that get them out of the remake category though? If they are successful you shouldn't care so much about the remake moniker?
I don't think better success does excuse a remake, and the fact that the film is a remake of another should be celebrated, and the original seen by a wider audience. That's really that's been happening in later years with both of these films.
However are they really remakes because they take much more care and work at redeveloping the original idea. They aren't as lazy as some we've talked about where the location is just up and moved and the script changed to English.
Are these really remakes though? Are they genuinely what would be termed reimaginings?
It's interesting to see that remake has become a dirty word regarding film, even saying it gives you that cheap feeling and when using it in reference to film it really does make you think of the poor and unintelligent remakes out there.
It has become synonymous with a certain type of remade film, and some of the examples I've cited above do suggest that perhaps there's a lot more to it than a simple remake. Are we doing film-makers an injustice when we instantly baulk at the very use of the word?
Before I wrote this I thought that film-makers and producers were just doing anything they could to use a word that meant remake but didn't sound like it, but actually I wonder if they are right to use these other categories of remake. Looking at the list above there are certainly cases for re-imagining, adapting the original material or re-working, re-visitation, modernisation, and so on.
Is a remake being unjustly used in a negative way, and should we really start using some of these other words to re-categorise films that are being branded remakes? Should remakes have more of a chance and not be written off so quickly?