Tuesday, March 01, 2005
Remake/ Remodel: A Hollywood Obsession
2004 saw its fair share of Hollywood remakes including The Manchurian Candidate, The Stepford Wives, Shall We Dance, Taxi and The Grudge; some were good but many were bad. 2005 promises to be no different. The Pink Panther, The Amityville Horror, The Bad News Bears, Assault on Precinct 13 and King Kong are just a few of the films that will be making a reappearance this year as Hollywood continues its trend of remaking classics for the modern market. It is often a brave move as the originals are fondly remembered and often have a verbose and hard to please following. Its also argued that Hollywood digs into its history due to a complete lack of any fresh new ideas, but then again many of these stories are seen as well worth revisiting for today's cinema audience. Many are financial successes but for every winner there are many that should never have left the cutting room.
The original Manchurian Candidate released in 1962 was directed by John Frankenheimer who himself had a hand directing a truly dreadful remake of The Island of Dr Moreau. Taking over the directorial reigns from the fired English "enfant terrible" Richard Stanley, the film was everything that is wrong with remakes. A self indulgent star vehicle, in this instance Val Kilmer along with Marlon Brando and his Mini Me, that fails in everyway to reproduce what was loved in the original version. The Manchurian Candidate remake director Jonathan Demme also had the same problem with The Trouble with Charlie, a modern retelling of the 1963 romantic comedy thriller Charade. Wasn't it obvious from the start that the limited acting talents of Thandie Newton and Mark Wahlberg could never revive the on screen spark between Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. They were so embarrassed by the final product they changed the name to divert the audience away from original This film marks the middle film in a trilogy of terror, the curse of the Wahlberg. The unfortunate actor also had the dubious pleasure of starring in Tim Burtons worst ever film, his abysmal re-imagining of the classic 1968 sci-fi epic The Planet of the Apes. Not content with trashing one Sixties cultural icon he also starred in The Italian Job managing to project none of the charm and cunning of a young Michael Caine.
Nor is Europe safe from Hollywood's clutches either. The remake of the Danish thriller Nightwatch failed to generate any form of tension that the original carefully built up despite the presence of Ewan McGregor and also Jan De Bont's The Haunting was a travesty of epic proportions. The starry Diabolique even failed to recreate any of the sexual tension of the 1955 French original, despite starring Sharon Stone and the gorgeous Isabella Adjani. It's not all bad; Chris Nolan's Insomnia had Al Pacino and an excellent Robin Williams eking out every ounce of suspense in the nocturnal murder mystery.
The much maligned horror genre has offered us two recent examples of Seventies classics that have been re-imagined with style and panache adding modern themes while never loosing the revolutionary grit that made the originals such genre defining moments. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and this years Dawn of the Dead are perfect examples of how to do it right. Japanese horror has also faired well, Gore Verbinski's The Ring was an almost carbon copy of Hideo Nakata's creepy ghost story of the same name, in fact so successful was the remake that Nakata will be remaking his own sequel for western audiences. A similar situation to the devilish Ju-on which was reshot as The Grudge starring Sarah Michelle Gellar; once again lensed by the originals director Takashi Shumuzu. 24's Elisha Cuthbert and Paris Hilton have been lensing a remake of the Vincent Price starrer House of Wax from 1953, itself a remake of the 1931 Terror at the Wax Museum, in Queensland. It's the latest release from Joel Silver and Robert Zemekiss helmed Dark Castle studio and follows in the footstep of their William Castle remakes House on Haunted Hill and 13 Ghosts, both of which upped the gory violence but lost the enigmatic charm of one of the horror genres finest showman. Even two of the genres most legendary stars have had a stab at the remake game. Canadian auteur David Cronenberg turned into Jeff Goldblum into a bug in The Fly, Tobe Hooper revved up his power tools with The Toolbox Murders and John Carpenter used gallons of blood and rubber to remake The Thing from Another World from 1951 with The Thing. Not that Carpenter's name is a guarantee of quality; his Christopher Reeve starring Children of the Damned is truly dreadful.
Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo set the screens alight in 1999 with John McTeirman's The Thomas Crown Affair. A high art version of the Sixties crime flick of the same name starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, it lacked the revolutionary swinging style of the original but upped the smouldering sexual tension. In modern times permissive sexual displays have also been joined by political freedom. Philip Noyce's adaptation of Graham Green's The Quiet American isn't afraid to point the finger at the Americans as the cause of the Vietnam war, the 50s original was far more vague in its political leanings, not wanting to rock the vote, much to Greene's disgust. The modern day film is less a remake than a truthful adaptation of a classic piece of literature.
Even Disney hasn't been afraid to dig into it's vaults, the Hayley Mills starring The Parent Trap in 1961 was remade to a lukewarm response but Freaky Friday was a box office smash. Replacing Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris with Lyndsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis was a masterstroke and both give likeable and funny performances that helped invigorate their careers. Lohan will again join Disney, along with Mat Dillon and Michael Keaton in Herbie: Fully Loaded, a modern interpretation of the 1965 comedy The Love Bug.
These comedies also bring to mind the recent The Stepford Wives. The original was a dark, brooding and often disturbing take on the Seventies womens lib movement and was shocking for its time. Obviously on these liberal times the remake starring Nicole Kidman, Christopher Walken and Glenn Close turned these horrific notions on their head and played the film as a comedy, adding further twists to add a frission to the stories conclusion. It works well but shows how far modern tastes have changed. Looking back the original is a solid little thriller with a black comic edge that only became apparent with the passing of time. Its doubtful that the remake of The Pink Panther starring Steve Martin will stand a chance, he's already blotted his copybook with the terrible Sgt. Bilko. Throw in the truly bizarre The Wiz, an all black remake of the Wizard of Oz starring Michael Jackson and Diana Ross and it has become obvious that the remake game is a lottery at best.
That brings us nicely back to The Manchurian Candidate. The big name cast; Denzel Washington, Meryl Street and Leiv Schrieber all give wonderful performances. Jonathan Demme directs with vision and displays a firm hand on the wayward plot. The acid tinged flashbacks are often horrific and the film transfers perfectly to its modern setting of the Gulf War. It is leaps and bounds above Demme's previous remakes but it's still not a match for the original. The shock denouement looses all of its impact for those who are familiar with the storyline. It succeeds in proving all arguments against the remake while an enjoyable film in itself. A rare achievement indeed and one we hope that Tim Burton's forthcoming Johnny Depp starring remake of Willy Wonka, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, will endeavour to recreate.