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[Article] – Who Is Safe From The Remake, Prequel Or Sequel?

 

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Posted September 24, 2017 by

 
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Cinema has been going for a long time now, and it’s clear original ideas are running low; remakes, prequels and sequels dominate mainstream offerings, to the point where films with ‘classic’ status are getting plundered for their profitable potential. Recent times have seen Star Wars revived, Ben-Hur, The Magnificent Seven and Beauty And The Beast remade, the near future will also see another Scarface remake, Blade Runner and Mary Poppins sequels and a One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest prequel series.

While revisiting classics is not a new approach, it is one that grows more prescient as ideas run out; it can though be successful, but for every The Godfather Part II there is a 2010: The Year We Make Contact, for every A Fistful Of Dollars there is a Get Carter. Classic films often exist in their own right, singular successes that occupy a separate time and space, does remaking or expanding upon them really improve or add anything to their mystique? Who remembers Psycho’s three sequels, or Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot, colour remake. When classics continue to be plundered, with a list already as long as it is surprising, who is safe from having their legacy tainted?

Casablanca

The Bogart and Bergman starrer, a hot, sweaty tale of love against the encroaching threat of war is perhaps the definition of classic, the enduringly popular tale is no stranger to the threat of being revived. Talks of a sequel were persistent almost immediately after it’s release, but never materialised, Francois Truffaut was approached to remake the film, but declined citing its cult status and even Madonna was touted for a version set in Iraq. Whilst Casablanca been expanded upon in television and radio shows, the film was controversially colorized for its small-screen release, its cinematic status has remained untouched. You will find Casablanca lurking around the top of any AFI top 100 lists, it has six quotes on the top 100 quotes alone, a testament to how revered the film has become. Despite the many attempts to breathe new live into Casablanca, no one has been able to stir up the original recipe for success, and now after so much time has gone by any future efforts would pale in comparison, and are sure to be badly received by audiences.

Citizen Kane



The film atop many a ‘best’ or ‘greatest’ of all time lists is a cinematic landmark, but when broken down, it is quite a strange story and it was certainly a film way ahead of its time, it took decades for Kane to reach it’s current status. It’s an unconventional film, the biopic of a fictional character, told through investigative flashbacks, featuring untold amounts of technical wizardry and finding sympathy for its tyrant of a titular character through a yearning for a lost childhood. The fictional biopic is a rather niche genre, though there are certainly candidates for real-life billionaire tyrants who could serve as inspiration, in the same way William Randolph Hearst was alluded to in the original, but creating a means of sympathy may prove more difficult for modern day counterparts. Many biopics these days also have some sense of action as well, seemed necessary for modern audiences; Rush featured the high-octane action of Formula 1, Sully featured a terrifying plane crash and Goodbye Christopher Robin highlights the atrocities of the First World War, but Kane has nothing to offer in that regard. While the photographic effects at the time may have been astonishing – they have aged remarkably well – it is nothing that would be to difficult to reproduce with current technology and would not carry that ‘wow’ factor for audiences bogged down in effects-heavy cinema. The template of Citizen Kane has the possibility, but to reinvent it for a new audience would remove it so far from the original that the use of the name would be pointless, and would no doubt irk the fans of Kane itself, which continues to endure.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Yes, there has already been a sequel to 2001: 2010, but the failure of that film serves to show the legacy of the original, because there is a case for potential sequels. After Arthur C. Clarke wrote the original book alongside the screenplay with Kubrick, he went on to write three sequels, 2010: Odyssey Two, 2061: Odyssey Three and 3001: The Final Odyssey, so any potential sequel to 2001 would not be without merit. But almost fifty years later, one mostly-forgotten sequel remains the only cinematic expansion of the 2001 ‘universe,’ it is a testament to the originals singular vision that it still remains unexpanded upon, despite clear precedent to do so. Other sci-fi works such as Star Wars, Star Trek and The Terminator have always looked to expand, to flesh out what was brought to life in the their original works, though 2001’s enigmatic and mysterious nature is one that prefers to be left unexplained, to be mused upon, rather than being laid bare. As for the chances for an actual remake of the original, where would you begin? A film that is so unconventional by studio standards, in structure, narrative, style and character, to try and rework it for a modern, mainstream audience would dilute its essence completely, just imagine, scenes on earth, HAL with a physical presence and a monolith that opens up reveal a little grey alien inside, all with plenty of helpful exposition along the way.

Raging Bull

You would think there wasn’t much left to tell covering the life of Jake LaMotta, the eponymous ‘Raging Bull,’ his life is covered from a lowly contender to washed-up has-been, showing the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Though this didn’t stop attempts at making a prequel/sequel, showing events before and after the original, without Scorsese or De Niro, and also in colour. An approach that may bare resemblance to The Godfather Part II in structure, but definitely not destined for the same success, eventually common sense prevailed and a lawsuit protecting the legacy of the original led to the film being released as The Bronx Bull, with Jake LaMotta being the only connection between the two films. The film currently has no reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, you know you’re film is bad when no-one even can be bothered to review it, a tactic usually reserved for Steven Segal films. It would seem pointless to try and retell LaMotta’s story, what could be added? De Niro’s raw, surging power, the electric kineticism and the burning sense of paranoia are all untoppable, Raging Bull was perfected first time around and it’s legacy will only continue to grow; untarnished.

Gone With The Wind

While another Hollywood epic – Ben-Hur – has recently been remade, Gone With The Wind is likely to remain untouched. A huge, sprawling epic with a colossal running time and socio-political elements that haven’t aged particularly well, the film presents many issues for a new modern audience, despite it bona-fide classic status. A three-year development process, six-month shoot and a budget that spiralled out of control, no studio would want a repeat of the films tumultuous process. It would be the kind of production on James Cameron or Peter Jackson could helm, and even then there would be no guarantee it would make a profit, it certainly couldn’t challenge the original. The worldwide phenomenon of the eponymous book made the original box-office gold, but it was also the kind of film that was more popular back then, a sweeping, romantic epic. Gone With The Wind doesn’t have much to offer to contemporary audiences, or at least what studios think contemporary audiences want, a four hour epic, with very little action doesn’t have a lot of marketability these days, at least it has plenty of female characters. The prospect of a remake would be a far to risky undertaking for even the boldest of studios, the sheer sweep and scope of the original would be nigh-on impossible to top, combined with the perhaps bigger challenge of getting enough people to see it.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

Aliens are often depicted as oppressors or invaders in film, but Spielberg’s E.T. took a more humanising approach and instantly became one of the most successful films of all time. Many of Spielberg’s films have been expanded upon, Jaws, Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park; he has even helmed remakes himself, with War Of The Worlds, but E.T. is a film that remains untouched, as Spielberg had doubts about tarnishing the original with a sequel. There is certainly potential for continuing with E.T. plenty of sequels have explored their characters after decades away, something that Harrison Ford is getting plenty of experience with, his protracted escapades showing this approach can bring both success and failure. But without Spielberg on board it is hard to envision anybody else trying their hand at it, especially when trying to capitalise on E.T.s success in the past has gone so catastrophically wrong, just ask Atari.

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly 

Sergio Leone remade Kurosawa’s Yojimbo as A Fistful Of Dollars, reinventing the western in the process, but its hard to imagine any of his own work been given the same treatment. A three-hour epic set against the backdrop of the American civil war, all captured with Leone’s incredible sense of composition, combined with that music, what could any remake ever hope to achieve in comparison. The civil war remains one of the oldest cinematic subjects, with not only great critical success, but commercial as well, while that may improve hopes of a engrossing a mainstream audience they not be welcoming to a remake of something so iconic.

Leone’s films occupy a time that doesn’t exist anymore; he captures such an aching sense of nostalgia alongside partner in crime Ennio Morricone, their contribution, like Spielberg and Williams or Nolan and Zimmer, is one that is irreplaceable. Talking or irreplaceable, who could ever fill the shoes of Van Cleef, Wallach and of course Eastwood, a trio of faces who can say anything without words. Perhaps there could be a prequel exploring the origins of the man with no name, starring Eastwood’s son Scott, who bears an uncanny resemblance, but even then it wouldn’t never be as achingly cool as the original Eastwood, bringing his character back would only damage the myth.

Stalker

Foreign films have often paved the way for English language remakes, often successfully, with Infernal Affairs serving for the template of The Departed being a famous example, but then there are remakes like The Secret In Their Eyes. Translating foreign works for a new audience can be a tricky affair, and the library of Andrei Tarkovsky is no exception, many of his films feature themes and topics that are ripe for re-interpretation, but that is easier said than done.

Steven Soderberg’s remake of Solaris was decidedly divisive amongst audiences and critics, even with George Clooney in tow it didn’t manage to recoup its budget. Remakes of films like Solaris present an almost catch-22 like situation, the audience demographic most likely to be interested is also the most likely to be offended by the notion of the remake itself, giving any potential film very little marketability. Tarkovsky’s Stalker certainly falls into this category, one of his most adored works, but also dense and impenetrable at times, the film contains only 142 shots in 163 minutes. Re-imagining this for a mainstream audience would no doubt render it unrecognisable, and with little chance of success given that it’s core audience is likely to stay away, that possibility remains pretty slim.

Fitzcarraldo

Perhaps Werner Herzog’s best-known (non-documentary) film, Fitzcarraldo stands alongside others like Apocalypse now or Cleopatra as films whose productions almost became more famous that the work itself. The story of an explorer who tries to move a steamship over a mountain became almost too real for Herzog and Co. who had to perform the actual act in order to capture it on film, it was a herculean, or perhaps Herzogean task that would certainly never get past any health and safety checklists and red tape. Modern technology could allow for a digital recreation of events, but whereas a CGI King Kong allowed for a more realistic version, with complex facial expressions, it is hard to see what a digital recreation of Fitzcarraldo would offer. The madness that evolves from Herzog’s film is down to the staging of events on location, and the cast and crew (particularly Klaus Kinski) having to live amongst it, the kind of production no-one would sign off on anymore, even Alejandro González Iñárritu would struggle to bring such a project to fruition.

Days Of Heaven

Terrence Malick’s beautiful, evocative and poetic film poses the question could it actually be remade? Production wouldn’t be necessarily expensive, working mainly on location with minimal sets doesn’t present that much of a challenge, but could the sheer wondrous beauty ever be recaptured. The story type itself is one that is often reworked and is definitely opportune for modern retelling; a character that escapes city life for the country (for whatever reason) can have plenty of interpretations, providing whatever social commentary fits with the current climate. Quite a simple task on paper, a production and story that do not pose any particularly difficult problems and that can remain culturally relevant, but in actuality how could the spirit of the original be recaptured, failing to do so would render the use of its name defunct. Perhaps even Malick himself would struggle, his more recent output has fallen far short of the rapturous response levelled at his 20th century work, with many believing he is beginning to border on self-parody. The ideas and themes behind Days Of Heaven may still have something to offer to a new audience, but the challenge of evoking the lyricism of the original is a daunting task, and for a film that isn’t likely to make a huge amount of profit, a task that will remain unchallenged.

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Sam May
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