Let’s talk about remakes. You’ve probably noticed that there have been a lot in recent years, and this year alone we’ve got The Jungle Book, Pete’s Dragon, and The Magnificent Seven, not to mention the much-maligned Ghostbusters (which can’t seem to decide whether it’s a remake or a continuation of the franchise). Looking at a trend of rehashing old material, many people claim Hollywood has run out of imagination and is looking to cash in on our nostalgia. But is that’s really going on here? And are all these remakes a waste of our time, or are there any worth watching?
First, let’s dispel the idea that bringing new people in on an old idea is automatically bad. It happens all the time in a medium that predates movies by thousands of years: the theatre. Every play is repeated over and over again with new casts, new directors, and new designers, all of whom bring something new to the experience. Even night to night, things change as new discoveries are made and new problems are overcome. You could argue that plays are remade every night.
Film, of course, is a much different medium, more preserved and more, well, relive-able. Audiences have come to expect their favorite movies never to change, and in some cases, maybe they shouldn’t. Poltergeist is so much a part of its time period that remaking it seemed absurd when I first heard about it (and having seen the trailer, it still seems like a bad idea). People might feel the same way about Footloose or Total Recall or Robocop. But that doesn’t mean a new cast and crew can’t bring something fresh and worthwhile to a familiar story, even in the world of film.
When Kenneth Branagh signed on for the Cinderella remake, his vision for the film was “kindness as a superpower.” Sure, the execution had mixed results, but I can’t help but love that concept. And I still get excited whenever I think about the cast list for the upcoming Beauty and the Beast remake (Emma Watson taking on the role of Belle–yes, please!). I’d say it takes more imagination to remake a movie than even a play, since the script itself often has to be rewritten (unless you’re Psycho and you’re going for a shot-by-shot remake).
As for cashing in on nostalgia, let’s not forget that directors and actors and film crews have their favorite movies too. In the world of theatre, everyone wants to bring their own spin to the Phantom or Elphaba, to Blanche DuBois or Willy Loman, and to the stories that surround them. People in Hollywood have those same desires, to recreate their favorite characters and moments from their childhood and to share them with the world. Can you blame them?
If anything, nostalgia works against remakes. I hate to break it to you, but there’s no such thing as a perfect movie. Even your favorite movie had its flaws, whether it’s a plot hole or a weak actor or an effect that doesn’t hold up today. But because we grew up with it and came to love it uncritically, we’ll defend them as untouchable. With an attitude like that, remakes don’t stand a chance, because they’ll never live up to the film we’ve created in our own minds.
So does that mean all remakes are actually good? Of course not. There are plenty of bad ones out there, just like there are plenty of bad original movies or bad sequels or bad adaptations. Some are gimmicky cash-grabs, at least to some who work on them. But by lumping every remake into that category, we deny the potential of these movies to be truly good, and maybe, on rare occasion, better than the original. So the next time you see an ad for a remake, don’t sneer at Hollywood’s bankrupt imagination. Instead, think of the people who worked on it, of what they want to bring to their favorite stories, and you might just end up finding something to love in a reimagining of an old favorite.