If you remake it, will they come?

Hello Pop Culture Fans. I'm EM Lynley, a brand-new member of the fold here on Pop Culture Divas. I'm an erotic romance author, but I'll admit my real love is television. Which is why I decided to write about films for my first column. Go figure.

With yet another Hollywood retread about to hit theatres this week (Arthur, starring Russell Brand and Helen Mirren, in case you've been hiding under a rock.) I've been thinking about remaking films.

Hollywood remakes fall into three broad categories in my world:

  • Remakes of an old film with an update of story-line or a new twist on the original
  • Hollywood remakes of foreign films
  • Transforming another medium (television, comics, etc.) to film

Now some films may overlap categories here, and some types of remakes work better than others. Arthur falls into the first category, where Hollywood thought it would be a cool idea to take what had been a lovely and funny film and throw in some currently popular stars and themes and cross their fingers. I haven't seen it, since it doesn't open until tomorrow, but I don't hold much hope for it recreating the charm of the original. Part of what made Dudley Moore's version so special was he was an older guy, so finding love for him was much more special. Though I suppose some might say on his own Russell Brand might have some trouble in that department because I wouldn't go near any of the characters he plays. I wonder what Helen Mirren was thinking when she signed on for this one.

The Eddie Murphy remakes of family classics also spring to mind, in all the worst ways. Why did we love the original Jerry Lewis version of The Nutty Professor, and enjoy Dr. Doolittle without all the scatological humor? Because they found a way to amuse us with real humor, not jokes at the expense of others. Family-style humor lets us laugh at ourselves or identify with the main characters' misfortunes. We shouldn't need to put someone else down or resort to fart jokes to get a laugh.

In category two, I'm sure you're all thinking ahead to the upcoming Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The original film was wonderful, but it's already a crossover from a novel (though I won't go into that here). I'm a huge fan of foreign films and I particularly enjoy the slice of another culture it opens up for me. When Hollywood comes into the picture a couple of things get totally ruined for me: first, I'm immediately noticing the actors rather than the characters. Part of what works so well for me with foreign films is that I don’t generally recognize the actors so they are the characters. Once you impose well-known faces, it's distracting. It exacerbates the impulse to compare even worse. And there's the loss of the unique cultural elements that are generally very enjoyable in the original. Insomnia comes to mind for me: the original was made in Norway and conveyed the mood and tone of the area, but the American remake, set in Alaska, brightened up the Nordic gloom too much for me.

So, given the high disaster-to-success ratio, is remaking a film ever a good idea? Yes, but it's important to not attempt to remake a film that already works well in its original. The best candidates are films which were missing an integral element either in plot or execution, and actually remedying the flaw in a remake, without throwing out the elements of the film which worked well.

So far, I really haven't had much love for the remakes, have I? Well, I don't want to be one-sided on this issue.

One current reboot I whole-heartedly adore is the new Sherlock. It falls into several categories, but it's not technically a Hollywood remake, which probably explains why it works so well. It not only captures the essence of the original characters and their relationships but it fits perfectly into a modern setting and cleverly uses new technology to enhance the basic story and relationships, rather than impress. The technology is not the star here, the way it can be in other remakes that rely on special effects to wow us, in the hope we don't realize the underlying story is non-existent or flawed. I prefer it so much to the Robert Downey Jr. film version, for some of those reasons. I could probably write an entire post just on different incarnations of Sherlock Holmes. Hmmm.

What films do you think need a remake? Which ones would you like Hollywood to stay away from?

Personally, I'm glad a film like Sunset Boulevard has been untouched so far, though they seem to be trying to remake it. The last thing we need is for pictures to get even smaller.

EM Lynley works in finance, though she'd rather be writing hot, sexy man-on-man action. She spent 10 years as an economist and financial analyst, including a year as a White House Staff Economist, but only because all the intern positions were filled. Tired of boring herself and others with dry business reports and articles, her creative muse is back and naughtier than ever. She has lived and worked in London, Tokyo and Washington, D.C., but the San Francisco Bay Area is home for now. Visit her online at http://www.emlynley.com and on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/emlynley


  1. Hey, cool post. I wonder what your thoughts are on True Grit?

    I'm a bit of a purist, so in general I don't like or "approve" of remakes. I did, however, like "Meet Joe Black", which I thought did a fair job of updating the original "Death Takes a Holiday". Sometimes it's useful to get these black & white classics in front of a new audience.

    I do think there are certain films that are sacred though, and should never be touched. "Casablanca" springs to mind.

    Nice first post and welcome!

  2. Hi Anne!
    Thanks for the welcome. I have not yet seen the new True Grit, though I definitely want to. It's one of the films that wasn't executed as well as it could have been in the original version, so the remake is justified. I like that they didn't stray far from the original concepts.

    I didn't see "Death Takes a Holiday," so I can't comment.

    "Casablanca" is one of those which are nearly perfect as they are, and rightfully classics. Any attempt to remake it is likely to get the usual Hollywood treatment where they overdo the good stuff to the point it's no longer good, and "improve" something that worked out just fine. I think it's a film that illustrates the mood and issues of the time it was made and offers some useful historical perspective as well. Updating it to show a new type of refugee struggle would only dilute its message and do disservice to whichever group it purports to reprsent.

    Again, thanks for commenting!

  3. Hi EM - welcome to the Divas. I love your post! I completely agree with you - when it comes to remakes - they often fall way short of the originals - and i just cringe. Just Hollywood being lazy rather than original.


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