Monday, September 26, 2005

Of Remakes, Rewrites, and Amputees.

Flight of the Phoenix
2004, USA
John Moore

Why would anyone want to remake this movie? It’s not that it’s particularly bad (it is), or that the original is particularly good (it isn’t), it’s just that it feels so unnecessary. Generally, I can understand why a lot of remakes get made. Usually, they tend to be of international films, because the closest Americans like to come to foreigners is when they take a cab driven by an Iranian home from the sports bar after they had four too many Coors Silver Bullets and threw up on the keys to their pick-up truck. Sometimes, they’re made as an elaborate intellectual experiment to determine exactly how much money a studio is willing to literally set on fire in the hopes of an Oscar nomination, and often, as in the case of Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes and the new King Kong, it’s because the director really likes monkeys. While understandable, it’s perhaps not in the best interest of the studios to invest too heavily in the latter case, because directors are usually crazy. If you let them do too many vanity pieces, you’re going to end up with Todd Phillips’ Home Video Footage of Vince Vaughn Playing Mad Libs With Will Ferrell, or a two hour film of Brian De Palma slowly strangling a prostitute to death.

Storyboards from Stanley Kubrick's unfinished final project.

This is not to say that all remakes are bad. Some are great, and can even improve on the original. I actually prefer the American version of The Ring to the original, and I became a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters for being the only person to appreciate the remake of Psycho. Few people know that John Carpenter’s The Thing was based on a campy 50s cheapie, or that 8mm was inspired by a snuff film I shot in college for an anthropology project, and I’ve got no problem with remakes in principal. The internet, however, is a stagnant pool of sewer water, breeding mouthy film fans like malarial mosquitoes, only their buzz is more annoying and they can’t sting. Every time a remake is announced, the buzz turns into an indignant roar as millions of internet users stop idly sifting through Angelina Jolie gossip and stills of bored looking girls from Vivid photo shoots to misspell ‘ridiculous’ in irate IMDB posts. I, on the other hand, am a firm believer in the cult of the director, which posits that the director is the true author of the film, and that the movie is thusly driven by his particular vision, as well as requiring the ritual sacrifice of screenwriters and Asian child labor on altars of stone and ice. And, as the author of the film, the director can provide an entirely new vision based upon the recycled material. But the remakes do need to be motivated, preferably by something other than money or a tax dodge for wealthy dentists. It doesn’t make sense to just remake a film the same way as it was originally incarnated. The only deviation Flight of the Phoenix makes from the 1965 version is that it transposes the action from the Sahara to the Gobi desert. This is analogous to cheating on your wife with a woman who looks exactly the same as your spouse, and sticking her in the same orifice. The whole point of infidelity is to lay a woman with a peg-leg, or a Mohawk, or a Thai rent boy with a mannish laugh but soft, well-moisturised skin, and the point of a remake is to take it someplace it hasn’t gone before.

A wildcat in the sack, believe me.

But as to why Flight of the Phoenix was remade, I have no idea. Pondering this question has made me very confused, like trying to figure out how the twist at the end of the first season of 24 makes any sense while spinning around in a circle and listening for a tune in a Tori Amos song. I’m used to being confused, after all, I have to proof read my own run-on sentences, but I don’t like it, and consequently this movie has made me very angry. Watching a Dennis Quaid movie, like driving drunk and running over a toddler, always seems like a good idea when you start out, but ends up crippling you with moral self-loathing and guilt-complexes, because you’re supporting one of the great non-actors in American cinema. He’s not particularly talented, he’s not even good looking, he’s just recognizable, which is apparently all the American public really wants. They just want to see the same old thing, starring the same old people they saw in the same old feel good sports movie they saw last year. Plus, if it’s they’re watching a remake of a older film, they can bring grandpa along for the ride, and he gets to put in his teeth long enough to complain about remaking classics. Get him an internet connection, and he can join the club.


Anonymous Je Suis said...

"Listening for a tune in a Tori Amos song"? Very good work, Ash.

12:24 a.m.  
Blogger Sam Kahn said...

I agree, remakes can be good, or better than originals. I generally approve with remakes when the original material is either old or bad, or when the new filmmaker has something new he could say with a remake.

The problem for me lies in rehashing old material in a way that is entirely just like the original material, and this is even worse when the original material is recent. This is what bothers me about the foreign film remakes -- that the originals tend to be very recent. This betrays that the purpose of the remake isn't to instill some different directorial vision in the material -- the purpose is for the financier to make a buck because the American audience is too arrogant and lazy to watch a subtitled movie. For example, Criminal (2004) was a remake of Nine Queens (2000, but released in the US in 2002). I mean, come on... remaking a film that is only two years old? I saw Criminal at a screening with a Q&A with the director, and he stammered something about wanting to remake the movie with "Los Angeles as a character in the film, set in the backdrop of racial tensions in the city." That would be great, except that it was complete bullshit. There is no such thing present in the movie; the movie is exactly the same as the original, except with worse performances and less charm.

I can't bitch too much about remakes, because one of my dream projects is a remake of a French film. But at least that film is over 40 years old.

And I for one would be up for watching a movie about Brian De Palma slowly strangling a prostitute to death. It'd be just like Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.

1:54 a.m.  
Blogger Sam Kahn said...

Damn, that comment was long. Why can't I be as verbose or incisive on my own blog?

1:55 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Suicide girls' 'surprise' for friends
France has been left horrified by the suicide of two teenage girls who told friends to expect a "surprise" before leaping, their wrists tied together, from a 17th floor flat.
Find out how you can buy & sell anything, like music on interest free credit and pay back whenever you want.

8:37 a.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

OK, I'm leaving the last one up there because it's weird.

Sam - I couldn't agree more. Why redo something if it's already been done right? If you're going to do it differently, that's cool, but otherwise it's just like adaptations. Why would I want to see someone do a complete translation, panel for panel, of Sin City? I've already read the comic books. I had that same problem with the Insomnia remake.

On another note, I was sort of drawing a blank while writing the last post, in regards to coming up with some good remakes, or even some remakes where people are unaware that there was an original. For curiosity's sake, does anyone have any particular remakes they're fond of?

10:12 a.m.  
Blogger Jerk Of All Trades 2.0 said...

I liked the original. It wasn't great, but I enjoy seeing Jimmy Stewart in somethnig where he had balls and didn't stammer like a phuc-ing imbecile through the whole picture.

I agree, when I even HEARD they were remaking it I couldn't figure out WHY?

What's next, string together a bunch of 50's educational films set in modern times?

"Chip loves hanging out a the soda fountian, but girls make him feel "funny". Chip wishes he could be more like Freddy, the captain of the basketball team'

You know, now that I think about it, I'd RATHER watch that then this remake.

11:56 a.m.  
Blogger Fatman said...

There's a lot more crud ordinary remakes (Mr.Deeds anyone? A film that's about as funny as a Rawandan genocide) than enjoyable ones. I quite liked watching Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog, John Carpenter's The Thing has always been a favourite ever since I caught it on a B-grade movie marathon and at the risk of being the most unpopular guy at school I even enjoyed the Ocean's Eleven remake. Where does Kaufman's Adaptation fit in? I know it's not a movie "remake" per se and I haven't read the book, but as a weird piece of writer's block/ metafiction I thought it rocked.

p.s. That Anonymous comment is the first of many spams that you're going to get. Try getting a word verifacation setting before things get worse.

12:31 p.m.  
Anonymous Rin said...

You prefer the American Ring? What's that about?

1:15 p.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Fatman - Don't worry, it's not the first of the spams, it's just the funniest so far. I usually just delete them instead of using the word verification, since I find that very annoying.

Yeah, I forgot Mr. Deeds was a remake. What an awful thing to do. And don't worry again, I like the new Ocean's 11 much better than the original. The original was just a lame popcorn flick for teens of the day, whereas the remake was a lame popcorn flick for the teens of today, injected with a surprising amount of neat ideas from Soderbergh. Subsequently, of course, he injected the sequel with air bubbles, thus inducing cardiac arrest and severe brain damage.

Rin - The reason The Ring works, to me, is not really as a horror film, but as a suspense/mystery film. For that sort of movie to work, the tension has to be sustained and stretched out almost to the breaking point. The Japanese version was paced too quickly, and, at udner 90 minutes, didn't take the time needed to set things up and let them grow creepily. Plus it had an awful shrieking woman as the lead. The American version took its time and injected some extra scenes that added additional confusing and ultimately mysterious information. And it had less jabbering in funny languages.

3:55 p.m.  
Anonymous Rin said...

I didn't think Ring was that great, it had lots of flaws. But it is the best of a bad nu-Japanese horror bunch. I quite liked the story though. I actually thought it dragged on a bit. I have a very short attention span. Plus I did find it a bit creepy. Audition more so. Anyway it's probably a 6/10 or something.

I hated the sequel, however. I thought most of it was just ridiculous. The horses that appeared for example. I actually snorted in the cinema at that bit and got shushed. It also seemed to spell everything out like I was 9 years old I didn't get things for myself.

There's a myth that the version you see first is always your favourite. It applies to pretty much everyone I know. And equally everyone always seems to hate the version they saw second.


4:40 p.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Do I have to listen to all the credits, too? Because that's what will kill you. The special effects guys and the fan club listing alone are capable of causing a major mitocardial infarction.

I think your theory about whatever version you see first is probably fairly accurate, in terms of which version is preferred, but I still think that objectively, the American version is the better film. And the sequel is godawful.

Sorry, that deserves its own paragraph. The sequel is godawful. Scary deer? A screaming video tape? It's like a bunch of grade 7 girls wrote the script.

Any other remakes that people like/hate?

5:26 p.m.  
Anonymous Rin said...

The original sequel or the remake sequel? No that it matters because both are awful.

The best remakes are:

Cape Fear
The Fly
His Girl Friday
The Maltese Falcon

Okay, I thought there were more than that. I can't think of any others, though. Someone else can take over from here.

5:46 p.m.  
Blogger Sam Kahn said...

These are completely random thoughts on remakes, haven't bothered organizing...

If I'm not mistaken, Casablanca was a remake. And Hitchcock's remake of his own film, The Man that Knew Too Much, was far better than his original.

I like the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair. A Fist Full of Dollars is better than Yojimbo.

I enjoyed Assault on Precinct 13 for what it was, even though I haven't seen the original. And The Thing (Carpenter's version) is one of my favorite movies. I really liked the remake of Dawn of the Dead. I see Evil Dead II as a sort of remake, even though it's supposed to be a sequel, and I love that movie. The American Godzilla was awful.

Coppola's Dracula was terrible. So was the Get Carter remake.

Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was good in a different way than the original. His Planet of the Apes sucked.

I thought Chicken Run was a pretty ingenious was to remake The Great Escape.

I haven't seen it in forever, but I remember liking the remake of The Vanishing. City of Angels was terrible. The Birdcage was funnier than the French original.

Even though Fantastic Four wasn't that good, it was still way better than Roger Corman's unreleased version from 1993.

The original Punisher starring Dolph Lundgren is terrible, but in a good way.

I also liked the Ocean's Eleven remake.

As far as other recent remakes, I didn't see House of Wax, Amityville Horror, Stepford Wives, Mr. and Mrs. Smith or Alfie. Didn't see Down with Love either.

I know there's many more, but that's all I can recall for now.

6:40 p.m.  
Anonymous Rin said...

Casablanca remake - Are you sure? I never knew that.

I disagree about The Man Who Wasn't There remake. I thought it was way too long and the start's really slow. They're both good though.

I think you'd find the Vanishing remake embarrassingly bad if you watched it again. They totally fucked up the ending, too.

I also actually think Yojimbo might be better than Fist Full of Dollars. Although they're both great.

And I haven't seen the original Assualt... either but I thought the remake was awful and I don't think I managed to see it all the way to the end.

It's tough being a fulltime cynic.

6:55 p.m.  
Blogger Jerk Of All Trades 2.0 said...

I liked the remake of "Where the boys aren't" I just can't remember WHICH remake I liked.

Wait....maybe I'm thinking of "No Man's Land 3". No.....shit, I can't remember.

7:22 p.m.  
Blogger gretchkal said...

i don't know that i necessarily like the american remake better, but point of no return is at least just as good at la femme nikita.

i was also remembering that i liked the new remake of the out of towners - but again, is it better than the original? probably not ...

8:26 p.m.  
Anonymous Je Suis said...

I thought the Hollywood Vanilla Sky was mucho times better than the orig. And I thought Cameron Diaz was amazing, in it. And Jason Lee, who knew?.

9:53 p.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

I don't think The Maltese Falcon counts as a remake, since they're both based on the book, kind of how Hamlet movies are remakes of each other, their just different adaptations of the same source material. Although I guess the same can be said for The Ring.

There's no way A Fistful of Dollars is better than Yojimbo, but I love that a samurai film was remade as a Western. That's exactly why remakes should be made, to alter the original to an extent that there's a point to remaking the film. Dawn of the Dead was also a good remake, though in a completely different and much stupider way than the original. Like Cat People. Amityville was horrible, but then again so was the original.

Evil Dead II is not a remake at all. They just didn't have the rights to use footage from the first film, so they compressed it into the first ten minutes of the sequel and eliminated all the secondary characters so the audience would know what was going on the the sequel.

I agree with Gretchkal about La Femmed Nikita, not because I think the American version is particularly good, but because I don't think the French one is. Besson is all style, no substance.

And I will never mention the American Vanishing again. Stop baiting me.

I don't like either Vanilla Sky, although Jason Lee does make the American version much better than the ludicrous Spanish one, and Noah Taylor doesn't hurt either.

In terms of crappy horror movies, the Dark Castle remakes of 50s horror films, like House on Haunted Hill and Ghost Ship aren't bad either. Well, they are bad, awful, actually, but they're way better than the originals.

11:33 p.m.  
Blogger Sam Kahn said...

I strongly disliked Vanilla Sky. Some sequences seemed almost identical shot for shot to the original film, from what I remember. I also couldn't stand Tom Cruise in the film. I don't think that film was made out of any desire to present a new vision, it was made because Tom Cruise thought it was cool and to cash in on a property largely unseen by an American audience. While Abre Los Ojos wasn't great, it was certainly better than Vanilla Sky. And it pisses me off that so many people I know here refer to how "original and intelligent" etc the ideas behind Vanilla Sky are without even crediting the original film. Bleh.

And I generally like Cameron Crowe.

1:08 a.m.  
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