Why no film should be considered unremakable


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The Telegraph has a slideshow this week entitled “Films that shouldn’t have been remade.” The list, inspired by the news of an impending remake of the ’80s comedy “Police Academy” (because the brilliance of the original “Police Academy” cannot be improved upon, I guess?), includes such inessential cinema as Jan de Bont’s “The Haunting,” Brett Ratner’s “Red Dragon,” and Wolfgang Petersen’s “Poseidon.” There’s one or two films on the list I don’t mind — F. Gary Gray’s “The Italian Job” strikes me as innocuous, well-crafted fun — but on the whole, it’s hard to argue than any of these films are better than, or even equal to, their original texts. If any of them were erased from existence, very few people would care. Hell, nobody would (except maybe Jan de Bont, Brett Ratner, and Wolfgang Petersen).

Still, I’m having a really hard time with the title of this piece: the films that shouldn’t have been remade. Yes, anecdotally, these movies turned out pretty poorly. But hindsight is always 20/20. Just because the results were bad doesn’t mean the idea was bad. And remaking a film — even a classic — isn’t necessarily a bad idea.

I realize that most remakes are symptomatic of creative bankruptcy in the studio system. I realize that most exist purely to cash-in on the name recognition of a popular cinematic brand. I believe that film lovers should fight for more originality in their movies. But putting up arbitrary limitations is the wrong way to foster creativity. Movies have enough rules already. The best movies are the ones that break all the rules. Even, sometimes, the rules about what should or shouldn’t be remade.

We could very easily make a list of movies that shouldn’t have been remade but were, and turned out pretty well regardless. There was no reason to remake “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” but Philip Kaufman’s version from 1978 is just as or maybe more vital than Don Siegel’s original from 1956. By 1978, the McCarthyism that fueled the allegory at the heart of the ’56 version was long gone, which is why on some level you could say it shouldn’t have been remade. But Kaufman found new subtext to graft onto the pod people motif and he made the pod people themselves way scarier than they were in the first film. That’s two “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” both of them excellent.

In explaining why Nicolas Cage’s version of “The Wicker Man” shouldn’t have been made, The Telegraph‘s Mark Monahan says the 1973 “Wicker Man” was “too strange, too original, too of its time ever to brook a remake.” We could probably say the same of Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo,” which became such a good remake — 1964’s “A Fistful of Dollars” by Sergio Leone — it practically invented an entire genre, the spaghetti Western. F.W. Murnau invented the vampire movie with 1922’s “Nosferatu.” Does that mean Tod Browning’s “Dracula” from 1931 — which is essentially a remake — shouldn’t have been made, too? If it hadn’t, that would leave us without Bela Lugosi’s magnificent and iconic Dracula — to say nothing about Christopher Lee’s Count in the Hammer films of the 1950s and ’60s, or Klaus Kinski’s in Werner Herzog’s incredible “Nosferatu” remake from 1979.

Do the bad remakes outweigh the good ones? Absolutely. But the bad sci-fi movies outweigh the good ones, and the bad legal thrillers outweight the good ones, and the bad of any artistic medium outweighs the good of any artistic medium. Remakes aren’t necessarily the best place for cinematic invention — but that doesn’t mean they render cinematic invention impossible. One of Monahan’s “shouldn’t have been remade” titles is the 2011 version of “The Thing.” But the 1982 “The Thing” by John Carpenter was itself a remake of a pretty damn good 1951 thiller called “The Thing From Another World.” The story’s the same, the setting’s the same, even the title card is basically identical. Nevertheless, Carpenter remade it into what some, including this author, consider one of the best horror films of all time. So why should the 1982 “The Thing” exist and the 2011 “The Thing” not exist? The same motivations — i.e. the desire to make a good movie and the desire to make money — drove both productions. One turned out great, one turned out not so great. That’s the gamble of moviemaking. And, to my mind, the brilliance of Carpenter’s “The Thing” is all the proof I need why it’s a gamble worth taking.

“But Matt,” you’re saying, “there’s got to be some movies that are so perfect that they should be untouchable.” “Citizen Kane.” “The Godfather.” “Seven Samurai.” Oh wait, they already remade that one.

And that’s my point. I wouldn’t be dumb enough to remake any of those masterpieces myself, but I’d be mighty interested to see the results of the crazy person who would. Some films shouldn’t be remade? No. What we really shouldn’t do is restrict what filmmakers should or shouldn’t do.

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Do you think certain films should never be remade? Which ones? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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