With the current surge of live action Disney remakes this well-worn debate is rampant. Crowds are swarming to watch the current release of Jon Favreau’s ‘The Jungle Book’ and many more are doubtless anticipating the releases of 2017’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ starring Emma Watson, and the recently announced ‘Dumbo’ helmed by Tim Burton. With the confirmation of 9 more classic character centric stories in development including ‘Cruella’, ‘Mulan’, ‘Tinkerbell’ and ‘Mary Poppins’, carrying as far into the future as 2019, there is clearly a ready market.
As with all remakes, sceptics wait to pass judgement at the first opportunity. You can say ‘why doesn’t Hollywood have any original ideas anymore?’. So often reboots just fail to kindle the love aroused in viewers by the original, and they often appear to be the result of corporate greed or simply misplaced optimism in the potential to add to what already exists.
But the question is: does every remake really fail to live up to the original? Quite often the answer would be ‘yes’, as the compulsion to redo an age-old classic just for the sake of CGI or other technological advancements tends to overlook the vital element that made the film a classic in the first place. But sometimes I believe people are too unwilling to forego their memories, and watch the film in a biased frame of mind. If you’re caught in comparison you can fail to see the elements that make it a great film in its own right.
Other remakes go a more socio-political route. A trend emerging within the glut of recent remakes is social updating, commonly comprising a feminist twist as with ‘Sleeping Beauty’s’ update, ‘Maleficent’. Because it is simply not enough to faithfully recreate an old classic with glossy visuals. You have to give the audience something to remember it by – something that couldn’t possibly have been present in the original for cultural reasons. Both 2012 remakes of ‘Snow White’: ‘Mirror Mirror’ and ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ fall under this category. It does add the delightful element of surprise when you think you’ve seen it all and know exactly how the story will unfold. But too many stories following the same formula in short space of time can become predictable.
After the increasing abundance of films in this trend, the 2015 remake of ‘Cinderella’ seems innovative, opting for the straightforward traditional treatment. And its non-conformist efforts paid off, earning it $543 million in the box office and wide critical praise. The film captured precisely the magic of the original but introduced lovely new performances and nice little twists in perspective from Cinderella’s name to her relationship with her mother and the song that meant so much to them. Some people even said they liked it more than the original. I wouldn’t go that far. Not because I didn’t think it was as good, but because these are two completely different films and I see no reason to compare them whatsoever. I don’t go into a remake expecting it to occupy the place in my mind that the original did. Remakes offer new perspectives on the original that you may not have considered before and it doesn’t have to be a case of either/or.
I am not one to dismiss a remake simply for being a remake. The automatic jumping on the hate bandwagon often tires me. I admit it takes a little time after watching a film to truly decide whether it matches the original. Often I may be balled over by the stunning visuals, scenery, music or surprise plot twists, but those elements alone don’t stand the test of time (though music can make an already great film iconic).
What you need for a story to truly remain with you long after leaving the cinema is emotional power. This is true of any film, original or not.
An example of a remake that amazed me on first viewing, only to have the novelty wear off pretty quickly was ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’. I watched some episodes when I was younger and I enjoyed them but I wasn’t an avid follower. People were attacking the film long before it came out based on the director and casting choices and their stubbornness irritated me. In the cinema I was won over by the visuals, but on second viewing I noticed the acting was lifeless to a degree it was embarrassing. I could barely watch it all that second time.
A remake I love is the 2011 adaptation of ‘Tintin’ by Steven Moffat, Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg. It took time to warm to it, as my first impression was discomfort at the uncanny valley effect caused by the hyper-realistic motion capture animation, and what seemed to be stilted dialogue. However, when watching the DVD purchased for my brother I had an entirely different reaction. Tintin has such loveable charisma due to the animation style, making him relatable whilst being completely out of our league. And I find the film very witty. The apparently stilted dialogue is merely homage to the language of the original stories, which is comically at odds with the realistic visuals, and half of what I love about the film. This is made with love for the source material, and does not seek to replace it but to add its own interpretation.
To round off, the majority of times remakes are underwhelming attempts to make more money and would be better off not being made (
Psycho). But it’s worthwhile keeping an open mind. If it simply doesn’t capture your imagination like the original does it’s good to accept that, and will probably increase your appreciation of the original. But from my perspective you can’t judge a movie simply based on the fact that the story has been adapted before.
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