Sarah’s Five Rules of Remakes

As my girlfriends and I eagerly await the release of the Keira Knightley-Jude Law studded remake of ‘Anna Karenina’ and mourn the pushed back release of ‘The Great Gatsby’ remake (originally slated for December, now pushed back to May), I got to thinking about what makes a great remake and what makes a bad one.

Sarah’s Five Rules of Remakes (for anyone considering a jaunt on the Remake Train)

1. You Must Wait at Least Twenty Years After the Original

I truly admire Keira Knightley’s ouevre, with the exception of Pride and Prejudice (2005), which I remade the 1995 BBC version with the Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle power couple of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.  While I truly adore Knightley and constantly wish that my life mirrored her perpetually period-costume wearing one, I couldn’t help but wonder why the filmmakers deemed it necessary to remake something that was still making waves for its overall merit and especially its famous wet-shirt scene.

2. Remaking a Movie You Previously Starred in and Reprising the Same Role is Lame…

Even if you are Clark Gable, reprising a young, swash-buckling adventurer when you are way beyond your swash-buckling prime is not a good idea.  In 1953, roughly twenty years after the original Red Dust, Clark Gable reprised his lead role that he had previously played alongside Jean Harlow in 1932.  The 1953 remake, Mogambo paired him with Ava Gardner, who was young enough to be his daughter.

3. Your Remake Must Be an Improvement Upon the Original

I gushed about Steven Soderbergh last week, but I am going to gush about him again. I think his treatment of Ocean’s Eleven (in its casting, art design, soundtrack, cinematography, pacing, and dialogue) was a vast improvement upon the original.  Although I am a huge fan of the Rat Pack in all of their swinging, smoking glory, I think their friendly shenanigans served as better concert fare than as the basis of a thrilling, sumptuous casino caper.

4. Relaunches of Franchises are Not Considered Remakes.

I do not consider the 2009 Star Trek film to be a remake, since it did not use the same plot as previous Star Trek films (though it did recycle plot elements from the series) and presented new facets of the characters.

5. Always Be Careful Who You Cast.

In an ideal world, the cast of a remake would be credible and likable actors with cross-generational appeal and box-office potential.  One reason I found the new Ocean’s film to be so enjoyable was the great casting, which made both me and my parents happy.  We were all in agreement that George Clooney carried the plot, engaged with the ensemble in a new and charismatic way, and looked good while doing it.

There are many other stipulations that I have regarding remakes, but I think these are my top concerns whenever anyone hops into the treacherous waters of a churning franchise or established filmic story.

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)