Ah, remakes. And reboots. This is the world we have lived in, but especially now when they are quite rampant. Franchise, franchise, franchise. Remake it, remake it, remake it. Most people think that this is what the film industry does when they have run out of ideas. Many times this is often true, but what about those films that while they are remaking something, strive to improve upon the original, or at least offer us something somewhat new to add to stamp it the present day version (that is, until it is re-made again)?
We're here to talk about the question, what makes a good remake?
"But... how does it compare to the original?"
This is often the first thing people ask after the remake is released in theaters. Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with this question. Many critics very often say, "You should judge the remake on its own merits, not taking into account the property it was taking after at all." Frankly, no matter what people tell you, this is an impossible task. We can try hard as we might to not heed the original when watching the remake, but even if we manage to do that, we cannot escape the fact that we have indeed seen the original. You can't just erase that film from your mind, nor your opinion of that film when you watched it. Whether we realize it or not, that original film is in our subconscious.
Let's take for example, two recent Disney live-action films, since we are now in Disney remake city these days. Maleficent (2014) with Angelina Jolie in the title role was met with mixed and mostly negative reviews from audiences and critics alike. The reason? The story changed too much to where the villain, Maleficent, was rendered "misunderstood," and not really a villain at all, unlike the antagonist of the original 1959 Walt Disney animated classic, Sleeping Beauty. Keep in mind here that while Maleficent is technically more of a spinoff or prequel than a remake, many parts of the original story were re-told in this 2014 version. Also keep in mind that both audiences and critics are comparing this version to the original. And why not? It makes sense, right? Fair enough, let's take that other Disney-live action film example.
Earlier this year we saw the live-action adaptation remake of Disney's Beauty And The Beast (2017). The film did meet some mixed responses, but overall, the film was met with high praise from audiences and critics alike. Those who did not like the film, or at least, found it more adequate or serviceable than anything else, thought that it paled in comparison to the original 1991 classic animated film, lacking the magic and feeling like a bland retread. Leonard Maltin even called it, "Pleasant but pointless." These reactions seemed to be outweighed and defeated by, safe to say, most fans and critics, who replied, "Oh, come on! Judge this live-action film on its own merits! You can't compare it to the original and be satisfied. It's its own thing!"
Wait a minute, though... you same people are the ones who complained that Maleficent was too different from Sleeping Beauty, comparing it to the character of the original animated film. So... do we compare the remake to the original or not? Well, yes and no.
There has to be a happy medium somewhere. As previously stated, we can't help but compare a remake to the original, even if we don't want to, because that original still left an imprint in our minds. We can pretend all we want to that we've never seen it, but why should we have to do that? "Well I loved the original 1991 Beauty And The Beast, but I chose to wipe that from my memory to enjoy this new one." That just doesn't make sense.
I agree that we should judge a new movie on its own merits, especially if its a remake, but you also have to understand that comparing does come with the territory.
"What should constitute a remake being made?"
Many people often joke, or even sometimes seriously state, that the first Star Wars movie under the Disney brand with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, was a great movie, and a great remake of the original Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977). The Force Awakens is generally received as a positive, enjoyable film, that many Star Wars fans loved. They get upset with these "remake" remarks, saying, "You can't have a movie that isn't like the prequels and isn't like the original trilogy. Make up your mind! You can't have both!" Why not? Sure you can. Make something fresh and take risks. At least The Force Awakens did offer new characters with new motivations in a new age.
The musical remake of Annie (2014) a few years back received a lot of flack for the music receiving a new, pop and hip-hop inspired feel, along with the title star not being the traditional redhead. Yet, it tried to do something new and different, didn't it?
Ghostbusters (2016) also was met with mostly negative reviews, fans outraged at how it "tainted the original." Did it really, though? Originally, fans were upset that no mention of the 1980s films in the Ghostbusters universe were contained in this new film. Isn't it better that way, though? If the film is a dud, then it's its own thing, not hindering the first films. Regardless of what you thought of the film, it did offer something new: new female characters with a new story. Is changing the gender of the heroes enough? Maybe not. But it certainly is better than just rehashing what happened in the original film and telling the origin story all over again. Like the also underrated Annie (2014), these result in emphasizing the reason for being made again.
It does appear however, that this writer is not in the majority opinion about this issue. With films like Beauty and the Beast this year and The Force Awakens two years ago, people don't mind if the films are telling the same story; they want the same food served before that they like, which is understandable. But then, why remake it at all? While I don't think we necessarily need to always go the full Maleficent route by completely altering the story, I do give that film kudos for trying to do something unusual and surprising; that's a huge, gutsy, and admirable risk.
Ordinarily, the old me after seeing Maleficent would have also gotten into a tizzy about how the character is different from how she originally was back in the 1959 version. However, while I did instinctively compare the two, I thought, "You know what? This film surprised me. It went in a different direction. It's not like the original, but that's okay." Maleficent is simply a different version of the story, a different take. Many times people get so caught up in why a remake is better or worse than the original, and there's nothing wrong with allowing both versions to live on. The originals still exist; they don't go away. Having said that though, we still don't need half the remakes we are getting these days.
Many properties were not met with much success originally, and so are re-made to be given another chance. Some stories are great, but just executed unsuccessfully. These then are great material for remaking something.
Then there are foreign films that most of us over here have never seen or been exposed to, such as The Magnificent Seven (1960). It was a remake of the Akira Kurosawa Japanese film, The Seven Samurai (1954), but notice it wasn't just retelling the story with seven samurai again. It was an American story in the west with cowboys. That's a huge difference already, and makes for many more new opportunities and perspectives.
Some movies that were released many years ago (no, not just ten years ago, Disney) deserve a remake, such as the aforementioned Magnificent Seven. It was over fifty years before a new Western take with Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt was released in 2016. Was it too different from the original? Not too much, but enough to appreciate it in today's day and age, especially for those in the younger generation who had never been exposed to the story before. And Heaven knows we could use more Westerns these days. Ocean's 11 (2001) was a remake of the Rat Pack classic from 1960, but Steven Soderbergh's new take offered a very different story, told in a very unique filmmaking style. Heist movies were nothing new, but it was high time to remake a film that deserved more attention, and it certainly got it with a whole successful trilogy with an impressive all-star cast. Of course this remake is getting re-made again with 2018's Ocean's Eight, an all-female cast led by Sandra Bullock. It will be interesting to see where that goes and how those trailers look.
Disney's live-action Cinderella (2015), The Jungle Book (2016), and Pete's Dragon (2016) were more remakes that might seem unnecessary, however, all three of these films offered expanded stories with new context and ideas that distinguished them from the original films, and are very enjoyable cinematic experiences.
Simply making an animated film in a live-action medium and doing nothing else inventive or inspired is not enough difference to remake a story, at least in this writer's opinion. If you can add something new or at least strive to tell a story in a different way, have a go at a remake. Is it necessary? Yes? Then make it your own, and make it different, and make it have a purpose for being told today.