Remake It? Please Don’t!
The biggest mistake directors commit when they remake classic films is misunderstanding the intent of the original. The last few years have seen one weak reboot after another, the most recent being Disney’s decision to remake its animation films as live action features. Originality is born out of time and place; Hollywood’s great screwball comedies, starting with the Marx Brothers and ending with ‘The Philadelphia Story’ cannot be remade because they were a reaction to austerity and straitened times. Mercifully no-one has suggested remaking ‘On The Waterfront’ with Jeremy Corbyn leading the strikers.
The Coen brothers came a cropper with ‘The Ladykillers’, a radical remake of the Ealing comedy classic that moved the story to the US deep South. They added swearing, slapstick, subplots and poo jokes, killing it. The obsequious, sinister Alec Guinness was replaced with perky chatterbox Colonel Sanders-lookalike Tom Hanks, but what they had spectacularly failed to recognise was the dynamic of the Ealing version, in which an elderly lady destroys a gang of crooks masquerading as musicians in her house. It’s quite clear from the original that Mrs Wilberforce is a force for expansive chaos from the moment she looks into a pram and makes a baby cry, while the crooks’ narrowness of mind brings their own downfall. It’s something that Graham Lineham understood well in his brilliant stage version, but the Coens removed this darkness and turned in an awkward heist caper instead.
The two most disastrous remakes were the conversion of ‘Sporloos’ (which had been a novel) into ‘The Vanishing’, which completely misunderstood the purpose of the original (that it wasn’t about a search for a girl but the hero’s needs) and added a hilariously bad shovel fight, and the staggeringly awful ‘The Wicker Man’, in which rural folk-religion is swapped for sisterhood and a deadly serious Nic Cage pulls a gun on a woman, commanding, ‘Step away from the bicycle.’
Now HBO has brought back ‘Westworld’, hoping for a hit, but they’ve reversed the original’s fear of AI and made the robots the heroes, to my mind an absolutely terrible idea. Why complicate a clean concept? But I’ll give it a try, because minds are there to be changed.
It’s a problem of remakes, the over-elaboration of a pure plan. So far we’ve been spared a new version of ‘The Man In The White Suit’ but surely it’s only a matter of time. We live in a world where people demand explanations where none exist. It’s why I despaired when a writer described his sequel to Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ by saying, ‘Now we’ll finally find out why they behaved as they did; pollution.’