Nearly three months ago, I was visiting Nathan Bransford’s regular “This Week in Publishing” when I noticed his promotional blurb about The Taking of Pelham 123, a remake of the 1974 classic starring Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw. At the time, I had only been visiting Nathan’s blog for a couple of months, but I already felt comfortable enough to voice my opinion. So, voice it I did:
Congrats, Nathan, on “Pelham 123” – I was wondering about that book when I saw it in your sidebar (as one of your represented titles). No offense, but you didn’t seem old enough to have rep’d it in the 70s. NOW, I get it!
I must admit I probably won’t catch this flick in the theater – I LOVE Denzel (and only thought he misstepped once – in “Training Day”), but sometimes Tony Scott’s look grates on my nerves (‘cause, seriously, all his movies look the same... “Deja Vu” anyone?). And don’t get me started on Travolta as an over-the-top bad guy. Besides, why must Hollywood continue to remake classic flicks? I love the first “Pelham 123” – I mean, how does it get better than Matthau and Shaw?
Okay, enough ranting. I’m going to see “The Hangover” instead... I need a good laugh or two...
Now, I didn’t think I was being harsh toward Nathan – I was simply expressing my general displeasure with remakes, but a fellow commenter emailed me the next day to say that she felt I’d “made a serious mis-step yesterday at Nathan’s” and that I should “fix that if I could.”
“Pelham 123 is important to him,” she continued. “There are times he might be impressed by honesty. Yesterday is not one of them. Just my opinion, of course.”
Well, being me, I immediately felt awful and attempted to apologize:
It was just pointed out to me that I might have sounded overly harsh in my “Pelham 123” rant on Friday. I was just expressing my movie opinion – not my opinion of the book or your part in its latest incarnation. I’m sorry if I offended you in any way.
I’m so excited to be a part of your blog fan club – and grateful for the wonderful tips I’ve learned here (and new writing pals I’ve made). And I, of course, am happy for your accomplishment – and hope the book sells like hotcakes. :-)
My words on Friday simply reflected my general malaise about Hollywood remakes (especially when I adore the originals, as in the case of “123”). I have no doubt that I’ll see the movie soon – as I do love me some Denzel – but I was feeling grumpy on Friday about the remake resurgence (given that I'm married to a struggling filmmaker) and certainly intended no ill will toward you.
I’ll try to keep my grumpiness to myself in the future. :-)
A fellow commenter, Mira, responded immediately:
Laura, I didn’t think you were grumpy at all – just expressing an opinion. I got the same opinion walking out of the theatre yesterday. A theatre guy on his lunch break stopped us on the way out. He asked how the movie was, and wondered why there were so many re-makes. He liked the movie though.
So, yeah, I think film-makers stick with the known in order to make money. And that may limit the money going toward new artists. (I’ll cross my fingers for your husband.) But the reality is, I would not have seen the original movie. So, at least with a re-make, the story will reach a new audience, and....sell new books, of course.
Shortly afterward, Nathan responded, too: “No worries! I didn’t make the movie.”
I replied, “Phew! I’m glad I didn't offend you, Nathan. After I posted my apology (which was not meant in a kiss-arse sorta way and was truly heartfelt), I was actually worried about it. Sigh – I need a thicker skin if I’m gonna make it in this business.”
Now, a few months later, another remake has emerged – Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, a continuation of his first remake (2007) of the 1978 Halloween. While I still stand by my apology to Nathan, I’m not so sure that I still maintain my distaste for remakes. I’ve given the matter more thought lately, and although Hollywood studio executives seem quicker to remake a previous movie than to take a chance on a new voice, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve liked a lot of recent remakes – particularly those of low-budget horror flicks from the 1970s, the remakes of which tend to have better acting, sharper cinematography, and more tension. Three come readily to mind: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), and The Last House on the Left (2009).
Although there are plenty of remakes that I despise – including the rash of Americanized versions of Japanese creep fests as well as Rob Zombie’s Halloween, which took an iconic sociopath, the true embodiment of evil, and gave him an abusive childhood to “explain” his malevolence – I recognize that, as Mira stated, “the reality is” many people “would not have seen the original movie. So, at least with a re-make, the story will reach a new audience.” That can be said for every Jane Austen or William Shakespeare adaptation out there (some admittedly better than others).
If Hollywood had stopped at The Front Page (1931), Scarface (1932), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), Cat People (1942), and Double Indemnity (1944), we wouldn’t have His Girl Friday (1940), Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983), The Bounty (1984), Paul Schrader’s Cat People (1982) (which took place in my beloved New Orleans), or Body Heat (1981). Then, what of unique “reimaginings” – as West Side Story (1961) was for Romeo and Juliet (1936) or The Magnificent Seven (1960) and A Bug’s Life (1998) were for The Seven Samurai (1954)? And don’t get me started on John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) – which is even darker, more interesting, and more complex than Howard Hawks’ 1951 version. Believe me, I could go on and on... but, thankfully, I won’t.
Part of the reason that remakes have always bothered me – besides the fact that they take the place of a potentially original story – is that there is an assumption that a modern audience won’t “get” the original. For instance, I heard recently that Rosemary’s Baby (1968), one of my all-time favorite films, is being remade, and while I don’t know how true this rumor is, it’s perturbed me from the moment that I heard it. Because I can’t help but think that Hollywood will take a perfectly awesome psychological horror film and turn it into a much bloodier flick than is necessary.
On the other hand, perhaps Mira will be proven right. Perhaps a remake will introduce the story to a new audience – and perhaps these new converts will seek out the original after all. I doubt it – but a girl can dream, right?
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