What is the connection between older film titles that are as diverse as DEATH WISH, SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT, and GET SHORTY, FAHRENHEIT 451, PAPILLON, and SUPERFLY? Well, all are present-day remakes or reworkings and all have been redone either as feature films, made-for-TV movies, TV series, or whatever. Some even are about as high-profile as one can imagine. The third remake of A STAR IS BORN momentarily will open the Venice Film Festival, prior to an October theatrical release. Two name personalities topline the latest STAR IS BORN. They are Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. The original stars were A-listers of their time. These versions date from 1937, 1954, and 1976, and they feature Fredric March, James Mason, and Kris Kristofferson, Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland, and Barbra Streisand.
Then there are new releases that are follow-ups with numbers in their titles. Such a list only begins with THE EQUALIZER 2; INCREDIBLES 2; DEADPOOL 2; CREED 2; and HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3. Not to mention those whose titles hint at being connected to earlier films. Typical titles include SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO; KICKBOXER: RETALIATION; MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT; JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM; and MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN.
The first question is: Why are so many films reworked, remade, rebooted? Well, for one thing, they are automatic audience draws. If you already are familiar with DEATH WISH or MAMMA MIA, the assumption is that the reboot will draw you in-- and of course, the bottom line is that movies are products. Reviews and awards ultimately are irrelevant. What matters primarily are box office numbers. And the second question is: Are any of these films any good? Are they worth paying for and sitting through because they are mind-massaging or entertaining? Well, with rare exception, the ones that I have seen simply fail, for a range of reasons. In general, they are pale imitations of the originals, and I could spend the next few hours offering examples of this.
Occasionally, of course, a remake or reworking does match or even exceed the original. One celebrated example is THE GODFATHER: PART II, from 1974, which followed the original GODFATHER, released two years earlier. If the first film features some ferocious bloodletting, the follow-up is more thoughtful, more inward. Plus, it features one of the most memorable finales that you ever will see. It is for good reason that both films were Best Picture Academy Award winners. Then there is THE QUIET AMERICAN, a Vietnam story from a Graham Greene novel that offers a telling look at U.S. foreign policy in Southeast Asia. The first version was filmed in 1958 with Michael Redgrave and World War II hero-turned-actor Audie Murphy. It was remade in 2002 with Michael Caine, in one of his all-time-best roles.
But for every GODFATHER or QUIET AMERICAN remake or sequel, there are endless titles that are inarguably awful. Sometimes, the titles are a bit different: one more example is WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS. But others that come to mind are THE STEPFORD WIVES; DIABOLIQUE; CLASH OF THE TITANS; THE BAD NEWS BEARS; ARTHUR; FAME; PLANET OF THE APES; THE WICKER MAN; THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL; PSYCHO... And on and on. And speaking of PSYCHO: Why would Gus Van Sant, an otherwise competent and occasionally inspired filmmaker, choose to concoct a stilted scene-by-scene reworking of the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock classic, made 38 years later?
Rob Edelman teaches film history courses at the University at Albany. He has contributed to many arts and baseball-related publications; his latest book, which he co-edited, is From Spring Training To Screen Test: Baseball Players Turned Actors. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.
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