Imitation, imitation, imitation.
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”
- Charles C Colton
The above quote has been exhaustively paraphrased since its inception; so much so that it has turned into something of a trope and even an ad-hoc excuse whenever the authenticity of someone’s work is called into question. While it is true that imitation can indeed be flattering, it seems to be seldom appreciated by those yearning for something original and fresh, especially where modern cinema is concerned.
It doesn’t take your avid cinephile to observe that the world of contemporary cinema is saturated with remakes, reboots and re-imaginings of (arguably) classic films. Over the past twenty years or so, audiences the world over have been subjected to mostly questionable-at-best slices of what has already been witnessed, but with a new lick of paint and a few rivets; a worryingly large amount have even warmed to them.
So, why are the execs investing in so many high-budget revisits of the same tale? It most feasibly boils down to one main factor: money. It is no secret that online streaming sites and (heaven forbid) less legitimate means of acquiring movies have hit the film industry right in the finances over the past decade. As a result of this, distributors and production companies alike are understandably less willing to green-light the likes of an indie film set in a backwater town with an unrecognisable cast and unfamiliar plot devices. Instead, they’re more likely to play the safe-bet and allow big-budget remakes of films that were either already financially fruitful in the past or highly acclaimed in their native country.
Filmmakers either don’t realise or are apathetic toward the fact that the existence and indeed blockbusting success of these types of film are in themselves causing significant damage to the industry they’re clutching so tenaciously to. The more money they generate, the more vested interest will lie with the producers to encourage even more being made; thus the vicious cycle may continue, threatening modern cinema to become a stark parody of itself.
That’s not to say that all remakes are necessarily a creatively bankrupt affair; some re-imaginings have admittedly improved upon the original. A shining example of this is Scarface, the original of which came out in 1932. It was a gritty tale of mobsters, or rather one in particular’s goal to rise up and dominate the city. It was by no means a bad film, but back in the thirties cinema wasn’t as widely marketed, ergo less popular with the masses. In 1983, Brian De Palma took the original tale as inspiration for his cocaine-drenched adaptation, swapping out dimly-lit streets for a sun-kissed Miami and the fast talking for multiple cuss-words and highly quotable dialogue. At their bare bones, both films are the same, but the latter propelled the protagonist into being one of the most iconic anti-heroes in cinematic history, not to mention heightened Al Pacino’s star status.
One of the aspects which set Scarface apart from most modern remakes was that there was a 51-year gap between both films, unlike today where it is not uncommon to see a remake churned out in less than five. In fact, 2011’s English-language adaptation of Swedish coming-of-age vampire classic Let the Right One In, which was remade by Hammer Film Productions and renamed Let Me In, emerged just three years after the original was made. Both films, although visually arresting and share a gripping yet touching narrative, are eerily similar. One could argue that they simply took the same aspects away from the 2004 source novel, which could go toward explaining why they are alike. However, it appears to be almost a shot-for-shot remake, but in English and with recognisable actors. This appears to be but one of many attempts to grant cult classics further reach to international audiences, whilst simultaneously insulting everyone by assuming that no one wants to read subtitles or watch a dubbed version of the originals, for greater financial gain.
Other notable mentions of recently redundant retellings are Oldboy (2013) which, save for one or two scenes, was a faded carbon copy of the 2003 version; Funny Games (2007), which was directed by Michael Hanke, the same individual as the 1997 original and was a literal shot-for-shot remake. It could be said that the latter was done to prove some kind of a point with regards to the whole remake culture, but it was more likely that the director was hired by an American studio to direct it so that it would generate more revenue.
A dishonourable mention goes to the utterly flaccid US retelling of the modestly-budgeted and mirth-inducing British comedy Death at a Funeral. Rather mercifully, the remake flopped so hard at the box office there will be little chance of such a thing occurring again in the near future, proving that not every half-baked rehash is a financial success after all, especially if the source is from a dry English farce-comedy.
Still, there are surely some films out there that remain untouched, but these are most likely the ones begging to be remade with a bigger budget by passionate people willing to bring something fresh to the table. Sadly, until said productions become more financially viable, it is not likely that avenue of experimentation will be visited, much to the chagrin of the more dedicated film fanatics.
There is hope, however, in the sense that underdog directors are being brought in to shoot big budget films of late, which could be a gateway to better cinematic standards on the whole. James Gunn, for instance, went from making indie horror-comedies and skewed superhero films to the astronomically-budgeted Guardians of the Galaxy. A similar individual with humble beginnings, Gareth Edwards, directed the other summer 2014 blockbuster which coincidentally happened to be a remake, Godzilla. A few more of these blokes and Hollywood may soon see the stagnant tide of rehashes awash with fresh ideas. With that in mind, here’s hoping for a big-budget all-star adaptation of The Room...
...okay, perhaps not.
- Sam Milsome