Archive for December, 2010

Put five moviegoers in a room and you find yourself with six points of view. Some of us love Hitchcock and others (shame on you) like Michael Bay; some like film noir and others like screwball comedy; some like richly crafted tales with subtext and nuanced characters and others just like to wank off to stuff blowing up. There’s also the sizeable subgroup that just doesn’t give a damn, that goes to the movies to fill two empty hours and then forgets everything as soon as they get back to the parking lot, but we can forget about those guys, at least for the duration of this discussion. They’re cinematically bereft.

The point is that in a world where…hold on. To be really about movies, you have to say this like a trailer guy.

“In a world… where everybody argues about movies…”

There you go.

In a world where everybody argues about movies, the one thing agreed upon by just about everybody is that there are far too many remakes. You can’t scan the movie listings or drop by the multiplex without seeing the name of at least one movie that was perfect the first time and never should have been desecrated with a tarted-up modern version with CGI and everything, or one that was pretty much forgettable the first time and could only have been considered a remake prospect by a moviemaking community that considered familiarity a virtue for its own sake.

We all know the reasons. The movie industry is in trouble. Costs are soaring, box office receipts are down, audiences have any number of home-entertainment options, the weekly top ten is always dominated by stupid comedies made for teenage boys, movies with heart and soul largely go ignored, and it is next to impossible to excite the public with a coming attraction for something that cannot be summarized in a sentence. The promise of a deftly-written, brilliantly-acted drama that speaks to the concerns of our time, or even a competent and thrilling suspense film of the sort that Alfred Hitchcock used to excel in, doesn’t excite the people who buy tickets as much as a title they vaguely remember from some point in the distant past. Sitting in a theatre during one of the rare occasions when there are actually asses in seats, you can sit through half a dozen trailers for movies that might be fresh and interesting before the title of the new Pretty in Pink comes up and a hundred previously somnolent figures suddenly stir with excited anticipation.

Any dedicated lover of movies who wants something special every time comes to hate that sound. It makes us twitch and want to cry out, “That’s the one that floats your boat? That’s the one that excites you? Holy Marshall Cogburn on a Handtruck, what’s the matter with you people?”

And so many of us have come to embrace the extreme opposite position, that remakes always suck, that they’re always unnecessary, that they should always be opposed on sheer principle.

This blog is dedicated to the premise that it ain’t always so.

Not all remakes are shudder-inducing.

Some are merely unnecessary.

Some are vast improvements on inferior originals. Some are merely different takes on the same source material. In some cases, like The Wizard Of Oz and The Maltese Falcon, it is the remake that’s famous; in other cases, like Dracula or The Three Musketeers, a story has been remade so many times that the iterations range from awful to brilliant, each with different attributes to recommend them (or not).

In some cases, the remakes are downright invisible as remakes. You wouldn’t know it to look at them, but Gunga Din, the classic adventure about british soldiers fighting Cult of Kali in India, is a remake of…the newspaper farce, The Front Page. Yes, it is. The writers of The Front Page got credited for it, too.

In some cases, the remakes are so very ill-advised, and so completely blind to whatever virtues the originals might have had, that they emerge as jaw-dropping disasters. And yes, we plan to cover Charles Bronson’s remake of Casablanca.

Finally, there are the cases where movies that seem to be remakes really aren’t, even if they’re based on the same events. James Cameron’s Titanic was not a remake of any of the previous films about that nautical disaster; they just all took place on the smae boat. Similarly, three major movies were made about the Mutiny on the Bounty…but only the second one, starring Marlon Brando as Fletcher Christian and Trevor Howard as Captain Bligh, was at all a remake of the classic version where Clark Gable and Charles Laughton originated those roles. Those movies are connected by the historical novel by Nordhoff and Hall. The third major cinematic journey aboard The Bounty, though widely derided as an “unnecessary remake,” was in fact based on completely different source material, with a different take on the historical tale. It may have hoped to benefit at the box office from our familiarity with the bare bones of the story…but if that makes it a “remake,” then everybody’s gonna start running around, copyrighting historical events, saying that they own the Battle of Gettysburg and whatnot, and trust us, that’s not a can of worms you want to open.

This blog will attempt to cover ‘em all, with new contrasting entries appearing on an approximately weekly basis, starting with one recent paragon of an example, just to set the tone, and then moving on to more unpredictable territories.

We will also regularly provide random comments on other movie topics, in between the more formal entries. Just because, hey, why not.

There will be occasional guest columns by surprise notables. But here are the major folks contributing to this space. I’m Adam-Troy Castro, the award-winning author of the Andrea Cort novels, Emissaries From The Dead and The Third Claw of God. I have two alphabet books, Z is for Zombie and V is For Vampire, coming out in 2011; I’ll let you know when. My collaborator on this series is my beautiful and sometimes long-suffering wife, Judi, a long-time movie fan (she hastens to say, “not that long”) and occasional writer whose passion for film, she says, “is not dictated by the standards of professional criticism.” (She sometimes thinks I’m a bit hifalutin, and will thus be operating here as pretension insurance.)

The show begins the first week of 2011. Stay tuned. It’s gonna be a hell of a ride.