The world of remakes, reboots and sequels is a dark and fuzzy realm. This is especially true with the recent wealth of horror franchises dubiously revived by such production companies as Dimension Films, Twisted Pictures, and Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes. In the midst of an unprecedented remake boom, Fields Point Review presents a new featured series entitled Shoot Me Twice. Each article will examine a film that someone, for whatever reason, deemed ripe for re-interpretation. The primary goal is to examine such works side by side. With any luck, trends and patterns will emerge to tell something ediyfing about the artistic motivation of a remake, the success rate of the practice, and so on.
With a topic so fluid and open to definition, there will be unavoidable pitfalls. Guidelines will be needed to keep a manageable scope on the discussion. The author hereby declares these guidelines, with the intention of following most of them, most of the time. Mostly.
First, the selection of examples will keep to a minimum of twenty years between the original film and the remake, reserving the right to the odd exception. The spirit of this rule is the keep the focus on a certain type of remake. Hollywood’s practice of remaking successful foreign films virtually overnight is not new, but it it recent years it has seen a distinct rise in popularity. This may be a fascinating subject for another project, but let us leave it out for now.
Another sticky point is the question of source material. More films than you or I know (take my word for it) have been adapted from novels and short stories. Sometimes a remake will cast aside the original film almost wholesale in order to re-interpret the printed word in new ways. This is not always a bad thing. This series emphasizes cases in which the later film seems substantially inspired by the prior film, and is not merely a new, free-standing adaptation of the source novel or play.
The diversity of practical and creative variables that shape a remake will make patterns or trends difficult to identify. The context of the original film, the artistic vision of the directors and producers involved, and the circumstances giving rise to the homage may differ drastically from case to case. The common factor in almost every case is that one filmmaker saw unexplored potential in the work of another filmmaker, and made a derivative work either exploring those divergent ideas or copying the first work in a new style better suited to contemporary audiences. In some cases the motive seems more complicated, as in Gus Van Sant’s experimental staging of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, but it holds true as a rule. Despite the confounding variety of factors that cause one film to share a title and basic plot elements with another, subtle patterns of execution do emerge in an extended study of the phenomenon.
It is usually safe to presume that greater resources, production methods and special effects were available to those who remake films, and that signs of these advantages will appear in the finished work. However, time is not strictly linear in the world of moviemaking. For a lesson in how fabulous new technology can set an industry back, revisit Stanley Donen’s Singin’ In The Rain. Also, there is no accounting for deficiencies of talent, craft, or pure timeliness which can spoil any well-conceived work of art. The permissiveness of modern times, in all its fluctuating inconsistency, plays a large factor in any film’s execution. Pictures made before the Motion Picture Production Code circa 1930 enjoyed a rare freedom to showcase bad behavior, while a remake of such a film, made ten or twenty years later, might be shocking only in the degree to which the Code’s censorship dulled its edges.
The arbitrary curiosities of the MPAA rating system, successor to the Code, is also a matter of public record. While restrictions on strong language and graphic violence are at a permanently low ebb, certain taboos do re-assert themselves. There are elements of tone in Bob Clark’s Black Christmas, for example, that no modern slasher no matter how transgressive has the audacity to replicate (including its actual, regrettable remake, which we will cover). No matter how sexually liberated today’s movie teens have become, they will probably never be as delightfully vile as spiteful as they were in John Carpenter’s Christine or Brian de Palma’s Carrie. In some cases, such as rising global awareness of culture and race, these changing trends of content serve a reasonable goal of intelligent good taste. Just as often, however, a powerful story falls victim to artless expurgation by shortsighted moralists. Hypersensitivity to valid contemporary issues like youth violence, terrorism and economic inequality are marking today’s films for good or ill, as surely as world wars and Red Scares marked their own eras. Hopefully more filmmakers of this age will find ways to channel our anxieties into good science fiction and suspense thrillers.
The point of all this hair-splitting is to state that there are no hard and fast rules in film analysis, and drawing up criteria for the topic of remakes is especially tricky. Have no fear that the analysis will only cover films considered wonderful and edifying by many. There will be ample pontification on an unspecified quantity of toxic cinematic waste as well. This is a critical work, after all.
Although remakes are especially popular in the horror market, this discussion will cover a wide a range of genres. From Sabrina to King Kong, The Jazz Singer to Friday The 13th, we are going to probe the topic nice and deeply. Discussion, dissension, comments and tasteful arguments are welcome and appreciated. Forgive us our inconsistencies in advance. We will not abuse the privilege.