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Remaking Film History

Remaking Film History

Articles - Directing

It’s been said that necessity is
the mother of invention. In the case of Hollywood, however, it can
more aptly be said that necessity is the mother of reinvention.
Has the industry finally run out of original movie ideas? Probably
not, but it’s certainly drawing from a very limited pool of resources.
And to make matters worse, great original works such as last year’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Mulholland Drive didn’t
make a dime at the box office. So with a shortage of good ideas
(at least good ideas that can generate revenue), Hollywood must
resort to the oldest of moneymaking tactics: thievery. That’s right,
we’re speaking of a film purist’s worst nightmare: the remake.


Sure, today’s entertainment machine exhibits a fondness
for revisiting old flicks and formulas, but in fairness this is
not a new tendency. The Maltese Falcon was filmed twice prior
to the Bogey version, while The Front Page has been attempted
a total of six times (including once as His Girl Friday and
most recently as Switching Channels). And with such recycled
fare as Ocean’s 11, The Bourne Identity and Mr. Deeds racking up box office dollars in recent months, it’s unlikely
the trend will stop any time soon.


But can remakes be all bad? If the job of our Hollywood
players is to entertain the general public, the whole remake trend
cannot just be financially motivated, can it? Perhaps it just plain
makes good artistic sense to revisit the films we loved so long
ago. Maybe Hollywood is just sticking to the old “if it ain’t broke,
don’t fix it” theory of moviemaking—and giving us what we’ve already
proven we enjoy. We loved Father of the Bride when Vincente
Minnelli did it in 1950, so why not let Charles Shyer serve up a
second helping 40 years later? Younger crowds who missed Jane Fonda
as Barbarella the first time around should be thrilled to
learn that Drew Barrymore will be donning the bikini in 2004.


See, Hollywood isn’t trying to cheat us with remakes.
They’re trying to comfort us by tapping into our nostalgic tendencies;
they want to help us remember the good old days. When The Silence
of the Lambs
franchise ran out of books, producers were quick
to remember the movie that got it all started in 1986: Michael Mann’s
deft psychological thriller, Manhunter. Even with last year’s
$40 special edition DVD still warm on our shelves, we’re being given
the chance to experience the magic of Manhunter once again—only
this time under the book’s original Red Dragon title, and
featuring an all-star cast who will actually sell tickets. Similarly,
when we saw Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia earlier this year,
it made us recall, in vivid detail, the fondness we had for the
original over five long years ago—and yearn for the innocence of
1997. (Plus, all us non-Swedes got to see another great conflicted
cop role for Al Pacino, and Robin Williams without a clown nose
or robot suit.)


Movie fans, then, should be gratified to learn that
there are countless remakes being released: Guy Ritchie’s Swept
Away,
Gore Verbinski’s The Ring, Mark Waters’ Freaky
Friday,
Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris and Marcus Nispel’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre are just a few of the titles
that are coming (again) soon to a theater near you. Some
are opening this fall, some are still in production and some are
just rumors, but they’re all sure to pique the curiosity of the
general moviegoing public.


So now that we’ve established Holly­wood’s new
motto as “when all else fails, create something old,” we at MM have
devised a list of rules for achieving remake success:


1 You can’t remake a timeless classic, so don’t even
try. Citizen Kane, Gone With The Wind and Casablanca should,
under no circumstances, ever be remade. The same goes for The
Wizard of Oz
, Sidney Lumet!


2 You’ll never make an Oscar (or Emmy) award-winning
remake of an Oscar-winner. Just ask those who tried with Rebecca,
From Here to Eternity
and Double Indemnity. Plus, do
you think anyone needs to see Jason Biggs and Seann William Scott
as Ratzo Rizzo and Joe Buck in an American Pie-ified Midnight
Cowboy
?


3 You can’t remake a sequel. Fans of The Two Jakes and Breaking 2: Electric Boogaloo will just have to sit tight
for eternity.


4 More importantly, you can’t make a sequel to a remake. The Father of The Bride II is example enough.


5 As a matter of fact, you can’t have any more remakes
featuring Steve Martin in any capacity. The Out of Towners was the last straw.


6 There are three seminal films that must never be
remade: Jaws, Star Wars and Ishtar.


7 The only person allowed to remake a Penny Marshall
film is Nora Ephron.


8 The only person allowed to remake a Neil LaBute
film is Todd Solondz.


9 The only person allowed to remake a David Lynch
film is Oliver Stone. (Unfortunately, David Lynch is the only one
who would understand it.)


10 John Sayles and James Cameron must never remake
each other’s films. Sayles’ scaled-down Titanic remake, featuring
a styrofoam iceberg, would enrage Cameron—prompting him to remake
the hell out of Passion Fish, complete with pyrotechnics,
karate and a cyborg or two.


11 Only veterans of a body switch-a-roo flick can
remake a body switch-a-roo flick. For example, Kirk Cameron can
remake Vice Versa and either Fred Savage or Judge Reinhold
could remake Dream a Little Dream, but Clint Eastwood and
Ron Howard cannot. We hope this will eliminate the likelihood that
any of these movies will ever be remade unless Jodie Foster feels
the need to remake Like Father, Like Son anytime soon.


12 Erotic films like Two Moon Junction and 9 1/2 Weeks can’t be converted into claymation.


13 A “rerelease” is actually a “remake” if there are
computer-generated modifications made to the film. You see,
once a film is released it no longer belongs to the director; it
belongs to the public. Steven Spielberg has no more a right to mess
with E.T. than we do.


14 From now on, Hitchcock is off limits. We know The
Birds
is just begging for an ILM zap-bang makeover, but no.
Even if you promise not to use Anne Heche.


15 And you definitely cannot remake a remake
of Hitchcock, so a shot-by-shot remake of Gus Van Sant’s shot-by-shot
remake of Psycho is entirely out of the question!


16 You cannot remake two films at once in a vain attempt
to double your money. While in theory this “Super-Remake” may bring
in a larger audience, imagine the disastrous artistic consequences
when films like D.C. Cabaret, My Fair Ladyhawke, Breakin’ the
Waves, Howard the Duck Soup
and Stop or My Mom Will Shoot
the Piano Player
are released.


17 Intimate foreign films will never translate
to Hollywood blockbusters, especially if they star Robin Williams.
So if the people that brought you Dude, Where’s My Car? and Gone in 60 Seconds propose Dude, Where’s My Bike?—a
revved up, Michael Bay-directed version of The Bicycle Thief—you
better close your eyes and swallow hard on the temptation, because
that sucker will sink faster than you can say Breathless. MM

NOTE TO PRODUCERS
Based on the success of HBO’s Project Greenlight,
we at MM would like to propose an idea that takes
full advantage of the current popularity of both remakes and reality
television. Here’s how it works: we will give Kevin Costner
a shot at remaking one of his directorial duds—either Waterworld or The Postman, the choice is his. He gets
a budget of $5 million, and if the movie fails to generate any sympathy
with critics, he loses the right to ever direct again. This one
comes complete with its own reality TV series that follows his progress
(or lack thereof) entitled Can Kevin Do It? Runners up
for this project included Kenneth Branagh and Joel Schumacher, who
would be remaking Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Batman Forever, respectively.

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