Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday Fantasies: Remake Fever

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:

Hi, Nathan.

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?


Lori said...

I kind of like to see new interpretations of the old. I even enjoy a certain satisfaction at discovering that an old favorite cannot be surpassed, after all, and that a classic will remain a classic.

But just like with books, I believe, the classic movies should be watched by new audiences as they are, slow, sometimes seeming boring and too artsy. So what am I saying here? Yeah, I am one of those who enjoy to watch both (or the multiple) versions. It's fun.

Laura Martone said...

Three months ago, I would've ranted about remakes... but I've changed my mind a bit. Like you, I appreciate new interpretations of the classics. Sometimes, they're better. Sometimes, they're not. But you're right - there's nothing wrong with multiple versions of the same story. I just hope that others are willing to see those multiple versions... and make up their own minds on which are better - the classics or the remakes. But I still say there's no improving some films... HAROLD & MAUDE, for instance, would never be the same with today's stars!

Lazy Writer said...

I don't mind remakes as long as they are well done. And when I see a remake, it does make me watch the original version if I haven't seen it. I don't get the point, though. Why do something that's already been done?

Strange Fiction said...

Living out in the sticks doesn’t provide me with many theatre-going opportunities so I’m out of the loop on anything current. ‘Sabrina’ comes to mind as a remake I’ve seen and loved, and I was prompted to see the original Audrey Hepburn version. Had I seen the original first I may have felt differently. It’s a bit like reading the book before seeing the film…

Loved your description of the bad guy John Travolta. Too true, too true! Thinking back to Grease, I’d have to say that he was a pretty over-the-top teenager too!

Laura Martone said...

I'm with you, Susan. If the remakes are well done, I'm happy. It's when they're not - like Rob Zombie's HALLOWEEN - that I can't help but wonder why it HAD to be remade. But I'm glad a remake propels you to watch the original - you're doing exactly what you should! ;-)

Morgan Xavier said...

I think I'm 50/50 when it comes to remakes. I haven't seen a lot of the old classics, as we didn't have a television when I was growing up, so I didn't start watching movies until the late '90's, and then they were generally the newer ones.

Sometimes a remake is very well done, but it is rare to see. What gets me is the fact that there are not a lot of original ideas anymore. We're getting a lot of movies based on television shows or books (which goes to show that novelists still hold the monopoly on originality) and oodles of sequels and prequels, so it seems a real treat when a truly stand-out movie makes an appearance.

I don't think your comment on Nathan's site was the least bit harsh, and I can't believe that someone would say that it was, as you were referring to the movie and not the book.

So what did you think of 'The Hangover?'

I laughed...a lot!

Bane of Anubis said...

But, Laura, wasn't this coming from someone who was going to see (or has already seen) the most recent Final Destination? Now, I know these movies aren't high art (i.e., they're seen for the fun factor), but what's the difference between a recycled sequel premise and a remake (like RZ's Halloween)?

Remakes are cheaper to make in the sense that you know there's already a built-in audience to an extent and you don't have to pay top-notch writers for original screenplays.

Personally, I'm not a huge fan of most "classic" movies (i.e., most things made between 1930 - 1970), so I don't mind the modern revisions. Heck, I don't even mind reboots (e.g., The Hulk)... as long as movies are entertaining, I'm good to go.

PS: The Hangover's gotta be the funniest movie of the summer.

Laura Martone said...

Hi, Deb! During the summer months, I live in a pretty rural area, too. It takes us four hours round-trip to see some movies!

But I, too, have seen remakes that inspired me to see the originals - SABRINA is one such example. I saw Julia Ormond's version BEFORE I saw Audrey Hepburn's (which I actually liked better).

The same goes for books - sometimes, I read them before the movie, sometimes afterward... and the order in which that happens can sometimes dull my enjoyment of the other one.

Yeah, I really dig Travolta on occasion (he was pretty good in BASIC, for instance), but he's been in tons of bad movies, too (BROKEN ARROW and BATTLEFIELD EARTH come to mind). At least he can fly a plane by himself - that's kinda cool!

Laura Martone said...

Wow, Morgan! No TV as a kid? As an only child, I read a lot of books, but still, what would I have done without THE DUKES OF HAZZARD and NORTHERN EXPOSURE?

Anyway, I can understand where you're coming from... having to play catch up, there's only so much time to see classics as well as new flicks!

But that's what bothers me, in general, about remakes... I'd rather see a solid original story - give a new voice a chance - than to simply rehash the old stuff. And you're right - thank goodness for novels then... there are only so many CHARLIE'S ANGELS movies I can take.

P.S. Still, as Bane has shrewdly pointed out, I'm obviously guilty of supporting the "oodles of sequels and prequels..." Hehe.

P.P.S. Oh, and thanks for the reassurance about my comment on Nathan's site. I really didn't mean any offense toward him personally - and I felt pretty wretched when it was suggested that I had insulted him. :-(

P.P.P.S. Oh, my gosh, I freaking loved THE HANGOVER! It was hilarious - so deserving of its "sleeper hit" status. I don't know what was funnier... the tiger eating the car or Mike Tyson singing that creepy song.

Laura Martone said...

Oh, Bane, leave it to you to call attention to my hypocrisy! Yes, yes, true enough. I've seen all of the FINAL DESTINATION flicks in the theater - I even saw the prequels for THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (which was awful) and THE EXORCIST (which was awesome - Stellan Skarsgard rocks!)... which I think reveals more of a proclivity for horror movies than for prequels/sequels. But sequels are a different entity than remakes... in the case of the FINAL DESTINATION and SAW flicks, the same producers are involved, so the films have their stamp of approval, more or less. So, there's a BIG difference between a franchise and a remake of what many consider a classic. You might not like the original HALLOWEEN, but it is definitely a pioneer of modern horror films - the birth of the faceless sociopath. And what was terrific about the first one is that there was no justification for Michael Myers' behavior - he simply WAS the embodiment of evil. But in Rob Zombie's piece of crap, there's this whole ridiculous backstory... completely changing the essence of the tale. Besides, I must admit I can't STAND Rob Zombie - he's a pompous hack whose previous films were god-awful... and I blame John Carpenter for selling out to him, thus tainting the original film.

But, of course, that's just my opinion - and I refuse to support Zombie - I even snuck in to see the first HALLOWEEN (I know, I know, bad Laura!) because I refuse to give him another dime.

You're right, Bane, about remakes being cheaper - that's exactly why studios love them so... and while you can call movies that are based on TV shows and novels ADAPTATIONS and not REMAKES, they are essentially the same for execs because they offer a built-in audience, and Hollywood does so love a guaranteed box office.

As I said, I've come to a place where I'm now open to classics as well as remakes, as long as they're good. As a former film (and English) major, I watched a lot of films made between 1930-1970, and I wouldn't trade many of them (Hitchcock's flicks, for example) for all the remakes in the world.

Incidentally, I thought the Ed Norton HULK movie was pretty good. And, as previously stated, I loved THE HANGOVER! Just as with SUPERBAD, I found myself laughing from beginning to end. :-)

Laura Martone said...

Wow! Can I talk or what?! Sheesh, my comments are longer than the post!

Bane of Anubis said...

Yeah, they're different in the continuity regard, but, as Mr. Waterboy would say, most (sequels/remakes) are not high quality H20... Then again, I think most "classics" are made so more through the nostalgia factor than anything else (though pioneering films/directors should get more props) and most 'original' movies aren't that hot, either (which is why it's great to find pleasant surprises like The Hangover). Of course, this is coming from a resident jaded cynic(as I'm sure you deduced a long, long time ago) :)

PS: Gotta defend RZ, too -- not a huge fan of his movies, but I'm a big fan of several of his songs.

J.J. Bennett said...

I have mixed feelings to remakes. I like the first ones better normally. But, hey? That's just me.

Laura how did you like the "Hangover"? I loved it! I hadn't laughed so hard in a very...very long time. The acting and casting was dead on. I'm so happy for them. They've been making a killing on it!

Strange Fiction said...

Wow Laura, four hours round trip. That's a commitment! Now, I want to see The Hangover.

Laura Martone said...

Sorry, Bane. I would've responded sooner, but I actually LEFT my computer and went to a friend's house for dinner. I know, unbelievable, huh? A travel writer has to emerge from her cave sometimes, you know.

I'm not sure who Mr. Waterboy is, but he's right... most sequels and remakes are not as good as the first. TEMPLE OF DOOM was no match for RAIDERS, imho. While the reputation of some classics are based on nostalgia, some do deserve the good press. CASABLANCA, anyone?

Still, you're just "a resident jaded cynic" who likes Rob Zombie. What do you know? ;-)

Laura Martone said...

J.J., I have mixed feelings about remakes, too... which obviously sparked my desire to write this post. But I love good original films, and THE HANGOVER was freakin' hilarious - I didn't stop laughing from the moment it started. I'm happy for the film's success, too - it definitely deserves it!

Deb - Yep. That's a commitment all right... makes us kinda choosy, too. And THE HANGOVER was well worth the drive!

Stephanie Faris said...

I once expressed my dislike of something on a public writing e-mail loop that a few publishing editors frequented. I got some private e-mails that I shouldn't EVER complain about the publishing industry publicly -- that these publishing insiders DO talk and I could end up blacklisted.

You know what? I would like to believe Nathan and many others in the publishing industry are bigger than that. He seems to me the type who would appreciate your honesty in the midst of all the butt-kissing that goes on over there. Yes, I said it. If I were him, it would kind of get want people who will be genuine with you and not just tell you what they think you want to hear so you'll represent them. That's what I think, anyway, but yes, you'll be met with audible gasp if you say anything on any agents' blog that isn't, "OH, you're the GREATEST and I just love everything you do, look at, touch, and write."

Laura Martone said...

Hi, Steph. I'm in utter agreement - while I do enjoy hanging out at Nathan's blog and fraternizing with his followers... there is a lot of butt-kissing that goes on (even from me, at times), and while Nathan seems like a pretty down-to-earth dude, I can't begin to guess what he really thinks of all this idolatry.

Honestly, I'm not interested in snagging Nathan as an agent, so much as I enjoy getting a better sense of the current state of publishing - and learning a few things from many of those who frequent his blog. Also, I find it gratifying to know that there are a lot of other writers like me - determined to succeed but unsure how to go about achieving said goals.

For the most part, I tend to be upbeat at Nathan's, but on that particular day, I was pretty ticked about the pointless remake of a good, if dated, movie... and I felt the strong urge to express it. While I still stand by my dismay, my intention was not to offend, but to express an opinion... and I should hope that any decent agent or editor would appreciate such honesty.

You strike me as a fairly honest sort - not afraid to express your views - and I salute you for it. I'm sorry that such "insiders" couldn't appreciate that - especially when there are problems with the publishing and movies industries that DO need to change.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Laura! Hi - thank you for stopping by my blog...yes, I lived in Shreveport for a time as a child, and then in Baton Rouge for many years. Have you been to "Gumbo Writer's" site? she's my good friend who still lives in BR.

My husband was born and raised in New Orleans -he was in S. La all his life until we moved here.

Laura Martone said...

Hi, Kathryn! No problem... I'm glad I found your blog. I split my time between Michigan, New Orleans, and Los Angeles - so I'm always tickled to find fellow writers who live or once lived in one of those areas... and there's just nothing like southern Louisiana, huh?

Thanks for the heads-up about Gumbo Writer's site... I just became a follower!