Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Remakes (Sorry Duarte)
Rather surprisingly, I got into it a bit today via Twitter with my good friend and loyal reader Jose Duarte. My friend took exemption to my admittedly curmudgeonly disgust at the news of Steven Spielberg's planned Harvey remake. The discussion provoked a well-mannered argument over the Hollywood remake in general, its necessity, its value, its possible status as an eighth deadly sin. That discussion continued in a private chat, but I'd like to state my position clearly in an open forum, to let you all know that my displeasure at the news of this and nearly every remake is more than just some cantankerous manifestation of my latent elderly persona loosed upon anyone who cares to listen.
I believe that in a perfect world, which will never exist, there would be no need for movie remakes nor any desire to produce them. In a perfect world everyone would see them as a waste of time. This would be because in the perfect world of my envisioning people would have a greater respect for film older than they are, and would not need someone to come along and remake them in order for them to be palatable.
I believe that movies should tell stories, and tell it well. That's what I think books should do too, the only differences I see between the two are incidental to their mediums. Books have the advantages of length and depth, but movies are admittedly a more sensory experience. My preference for books to movies is an individual preference and not the result of any philosophy.
The point is that remakes are simply retelling old stories, and doing so in a generally poorer and less fulfilling manner. I don't care who Spielberg casts or who he hires to write his remake, it can't be better than the original Harvey. For one thing, the mere fact that it came first gives the Jimmy Stewart version a nearly insurmountable edge. The fact that it stars Jimmy Stewart makes it a sure thing.
Okay, so a decent to bad movie comes out and it's got the same name and general story line as a classic. Who cares, right? No one's forcing you to go see it, so why can't you just let it go?
The short answer is that I could, maybe. But there are things about this incessant need to remake things that worry me. For one thing, there is the fact that a new version of a movie means that many people are much less likely to ever see the original. (I understand that some people may reach out and see it, like I did with the original Taking of Pelham 1,2,3) The product of this is that over time the remake becomes the more well-known version, it gets shown on TV a year after its release, runs about 3000 times on the various HBO stations for a month and no one ever sees the old one again. This has happened to a lot of films, the foremost example in my head being The Bad News Bears. The awful and clearly unnecessary Billy Bob Thornton version is shown all the time while the '70s classic, which I remember watching on TBS multiple times as a kid, is never on.
The second thing is that while no one can make me go see a remake, the sad truth is that there is only so much money, talent, and time in the world, and every remake is taking the spot of what could be an original film getting made. As a society we need to tell stories, and the disturbing lack of care in ensuring that new stories get told is upsetting to me. When half the movies that get made these days are either sequels or prequels or reboots or remakes then we are really crowding out a lot of material. We are shutting off possibilities to the point that I truly believe that this generation will have less to pass on in terms of meaningful and celebrated achievement in film than our preceding generations.
You can argue that I'm taking this far too seriously, which I may be, and you can tell me that in the old days of Hollywood they remade movies all the time, which is true, with the mitigating factor that they didn't have TV or VHS or DVD to keep old movies alive in people's homes. What does it say about us that we have an unprecedented ability to preserve the best efforts of previous generations, and instead we relegate them to the dustbins, eschewing them just because they aren't in color, or seem "dated"? Of course they're dated! They were made at an earlier date! That doesn't mean that they don't have anything to tell us, in fact it might just mean the opposite.
Alright, I'm done old-man ranting. Just know this, whenever someone tells me that they can't watch a movie in black and white, I immediately move them down three circles on my nine circles of judgment.