Movies

With movie remakes, it's deja view

They're often called reboots or re-imaginations because few filmmakers will admit they're doing remakes. It's a confession that you're out of ideas, resorting to someone else's.

According to the Web site Den of Geek (denofgeek.com), at least 38 remakes are at some level of preproduction right now, including such easily marketable titles as The Birds, Footloose, The Dirty Dozen and Meatballs.

Not enough will fall by the wayside as financing dries up, or good sense prevails.

Those that survive can learn from past remake mistakes and successes. We're happy to offer tips from recycled movies that failed to recreate the magic and five others that exceeded expectations.

5 remake mistakes

Psycho: First, ask yourself: Why? Then don't answer: Why not? Against all reason, Gus Van Sant remade Alfred Hitchcock's seminal 1960 thriller shot-by-freaking-shot. Not to mention in color, with Vince Vaughn as mama's boy Norman Bates. Psycho is the highest-ranked movie (No. 14) on the American Film Institute's list of all-time greatest films to suffer being remade.

The Longest Yard: Don't remake just to cash in. Burt Reynolds' 1974 prison-football comedy is perfect for what it is. Adam Sandler turned the hero into an unprincipled jerk, and slapstick replaced post-Watergate swipes at authority. The 2005 version made money ($158-million), as expected. Most embarrassing for Reynolds' fans is that he got a piece of it for a supporting role.

Poseidon: Never emulate magic performed easier today. In 1972, producer Irwin Allen actually turned a soundstage upside-down to dramatize an ocean liner capsizing. The 2006 version used computer effects and camouflage editing to appear emptier of thrills. Josh Lucas and Kurt Russell also must've been easier hires than Oscar winners Gene Hackman, Shelley Winters, Red Buttons, Ernest Borgnine and Jack Albertson.

Godzilla: Bigger isn't always better. For decades moviegoers loved the scaly monster, primarily for his childish stomping of cardboard Tokyo and actors' mouths that didn't match the English dubbing. For the slicker 1998 remake, director Roland Emmerich spent more money ($130-million) than nearly two dozen Japanese versions cost combined. Godzilla's roar was drowned out by collective yawning.

The Stepford Wives: If it doesn't need fixing, don't break it. In 1975, Ira Levin's novel inspired a genuinely creepy women's lib fable, with male-repression themes ringing true today. Frank Oz swapped crafty dread for leaden, special-effects comedy, with a cast (Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler, Glenn Close) behaving as if men already won the battle of the sexes.

5 remarkable remakes

Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation: The best reason to remake any movie is sheer love. In 1982, three Mississippi middle schoolers were so stoked by Indiana Jones' adventure that their next seven years were spent recreating it on VHS tape. The childishly intrepid result only plays at benefits (like the past Sunscreen Film Festival), due to an agreement with producer Steven Spielberg, who loved it.

Heaven Can Wait: Warren Beatty and Elaine May ingeniously updated 1941's romantic fantasy Here Comes Mr. Jordan, with a pro quarterback reincarnated instead of a boxer. Flawless casting and a sparkling screenplay — plus using a fairly obscure source — makes this the smartest remake ever.

The Fly: The 1958 version with Vincent Price was dull by 1986's standards, so David Cronenberg fashioned a grisly update boasting the most compelling performance ever in a horror movie: Jeff Goldblum was terrifying and heartbreaking as his genetic makeup changed. He was robbed of an Oscar nomination. The Fly is the rare remake that makes seeing the original unnecessary.

Cape Fear: Martin Scorsese evoked all the sexual tension and brutality that 1962's version couldn't, turning a taut yarn into a terror masterpiece. Robert De Niro's Oscar-nominated turn as Max Cady made Robert Mitchum's steely rapist-murderer seem tame by comparison. Mitchum's The Night of the Hunter is a similar gem that could work as a remake.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Whenever the U.S. seems threatened from within, a filmmaker will use Jack Finney's novel as an allegory. The 1956 original reflected the Red Scare. In 1978, it was director Philip Kaufman's paranoia after Watergate and before Ronald Reagan. The special effects are spiffy, but topicality means as much to the film's posterity.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365.

Weigh in with your own

Hey, you're thinking, where's that horrible '70s version of King Kong on this list? (FYI, a guy named Rick Baker played the giant ape, but we're pretty sure it's not our Rick Baker.) Go to Steve Persall's blog at blogs.tampabay.com/movies and let him know what you think.

With movie remakes, it's deja view 09/15/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 17, 2008 2:31pm]

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