Remakes are the scourge of Hollywood, a crutch for lazy writers and directors, a simple way for producers to turn a quick buck by betting on a sure thing. There artistic risk is minimal as the previous box office results are there to see – the filmmaking equivalent of tracing.

And just as copies of copies tend to lose their definition, remakes often dilute the original artistic intent. Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita was a brilliantly dark film about an unlikely assassin, but the
sin was that it was filmed in French and had to be subtitled for North American audiences (“eww, reading!) When the movie was remade a few years later we got the sunshiney Bridget Fonda in Point of No Return, turning it into a generic thriller.

The same occurred with the Dutch film The Vanishing, a chilling film about a mysterious disappearance and the obsession of one man’s search for a missing loved one. The ending was so pitch black that when director George Sluizer remade the film in English he was forced to alter the ending, destroying the impact of the film.

This travesty isn’t limited to foreign films. Witness the atrocity that was Tim Burton’s remake of Planet of the Apes. Burton is a talented director, but his greatest folly was taking a sci-fi cult fave, dropping millions on it and making it dull and uninteresting. The list goes on – Gus Can Sant’s pointless, shot-for-shot recreation of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho; Madonna and Guy Ritchie’s Swept Away.

Based on the previous examples – and the legion of others – it seems a slam dunk to say there should be a moratorium on remakes. But it’s not that easy. On the whole, I’ve seen more good remakes than bad. George Clooney & Brad Pitt’s Ocean’s 11 was great fun and full of style. Was it better than the Rat Pack’s version? I don’t know, I didn’t see it. Al Pacino’s Scarface is so well known that few people even realize that it is a remake. Again, I haven’t seen the 1932 Howard Hawks original. Same goes for The Magnificent Seven, a remake of Japanese master Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Should I see the source material? Sure. Have I? No.

And that is the crux of the problem. It is easy to say that everyone should see the original films, that they should forgo the new release sections at their local video store and get to know their film history, but it’s not going to happen. For better or worse, film is not a static art form, where once the images have been committed to celluloid they remain untouched and treasured for all time. Much like plays are reinterpreted year after year, films of the past will always be a source for its present.

A bad remake can destroy an original vision, but the best remakes can rescue good stories from obscurity. If remakes are must be made (and it appears that they are) perhaps the best we can hope for is that directors don’t plunder the classics, but help repair flawed work. It’s a long shot, but there is always hope.

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