Remakes: Cultural Re-iterations for Make Benefit of America

With Baz Luhrman’s new adaption of The Great Gatsby due in May, I got to thinking about the notion of the filmic remake and why Hollywood seems to be so saturated with things of the past that it tries to polish and transform into things of the future.

If I am honest, most times I see that a film is being remade, I roll my eyes and ask why Hollywood didn’t just get it right the first time?

But the other day in my British Romantic Poetry class (which is a lot more intense than it sounds, believe or not), my professor told us that the role of the poet was not to invent new truth, but rather to create a new iteration of truth that resonates with modern cultures.

And isn’t that what a remake is?  A new, culturally resonant iteration of old truths?  As I sat in class, my former negative views towards remakes began to fade away.  Although many remakes fail to be half as good as the original, I thought I’d highlight some that in my opinion are better.

1. Ben Hur (1959)

While, in my opinion, any talkie is going to be better than its silent counterpart, this contribution by Cecile B. Demille highlights the best of the best in the Golden Age of Hollywood and especially Hollywood ‘Sword and Sandal’ films.

2. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

After viewing several of his films, I would say that I have definitely acquired a taste for Steven Soderbergh.  If you haven’t seen any of his work (he’s also known for ‘J.Lo’ and most recently the surprisingly dark and gritty ‘Magic Mike’) the Ocean’s franchise is probably his most accessible to date.  Like many of his other films, it is very self-contained, non-meta, and visually seamless.

Okay, Soderbergh gushing over.  The reason I think this film improves upon the original, is that it creates its own self-contained team dynamic, whereas the original relied upon an extra-textual dynamic of the Rat Pack franchise.

3. Pride and Prejudice (The 1995 Version with Colin Firth in the best wet T-shirt scene in history)

Yes, this film was re-made ten years later with Keira Knightley (which seems waaaay too soon in terms of cultural updating.  Honestly, how much do British period films change in ten years?).  However, much like the upcoming Hobbit re-boot, this film is very, very long and its length does justice to its source material.  There is also a simplicity to this version that I find refreshing.  While I am a HUGE Keira Knightley fan (Is there a film that she doesn’t look stunningly gorgeous in?) I found that the story was second banana to the Keira Knightley brand, the great score, and the stunning visuals.  I was less focused on the story/characters and very aware of the fact that I was watching a film.

4. Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Talk about cultural relevance.  This film took something that I don’t think had been culturally updated for five hundred years and gave it Hawaiian shirts, love at first sight through the fish tank, and 9mm ‘broadswords’ that could do more damage than any stage weapon ever could.  Good move, Baz Luhrman.  I am looking forward to every film you ever make (and commercials too).

5. Hairspray (2007)

A vast improvement upon the original film (although the 2006 version was more of a Broadway-to-Cinema adaption.  In terms of directors, it moved from Jon Waters to Adam Shankman.  In other words, the story moved in terms of cultural appropriateness, from ‘Pink Flamingos’ to ‘A Walk to Remember’.  I think this was a turn in the right direction.

Did you know these were adapted?

1. O Brother Where Art Thou? (Homer’s Odyssey)

2. West Side Story (Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet)

3.  Clueless (Jane Austen’s Emma)

4. The Lion King (Shakespeare’s Hamlet)

5. Strange Brew (Shakespeare’s Macbeth)