Reel Talk: I’ll be back… again

September 12, 2013

Every year, studios save a little bit of the money being poured into sequels for something even worse—remakes. Recent remake releases such as The Evil Dead not only fail at living up to their originals’ merits; they taint the original features’ legacies and do a great injustice to their filmmakers’ visions. A simple question demonstrates the superfluous existence of these pernicious remakes: what remake has ever surpassed its original inspiration in either quality or enjoyment?

A few exceptions come to mind, such as True Grit, The Fly, 3:10 to Yuma, and Ocean’s 11.  There’s also The Thing, John Carpenter’s ingenious 1982 remake of the 1951 original—but all Carpenter’s improvements were cruelly cancelled out by a lousy 2011 Thing remake-of-a-remake. More often than not, a remake is nothing but an infuriating imitation of a film that should otherwise be left to rest in peace. Take The Pink Panther. Peter Sellers, with the direction of Blake Edwards, created a comic icon in Inspector Jacques Clouseau. That someone thought this unique blend of comedy could be recreated by Steve Martin is not just inane—it’s downright insulting. And like any poor comedic imitator, Martin spectacularly failed at producing laughs (although, for some pathetic reason, he was able to produce a sequel).

In an ideal world, film “remakes” would not exist. They would be replaced by films that pay tribute to their predecessors while embracing their own singular visions. By inviting comparisons to their predecessors’ achievements, remakes set up audiences for disappointment. Nostalgia clouds any true fans’ judgment, and nine times out of ten, a remake will get a “meh” response at best, and a cry for the director’s head at worst. But thanks to the capitalist nature of Hollywood, remakes continue to be released, and fans continually flock to these remakes, all too aware that what they are about to see will go about as well as a trip to the dentist.

One director close to this writer’s heart has become the victim of a string of recent remakes. Paul Verhoeven, the Dutch filmmaker who has blessed this world with the likes of Starship Troopers, Basic Instict, Total Recall, and Robocop, has seen his work targeted as material worth revisiting.

Verhoeven presents an interesting case because his movies are not entirely loved by critics (one word: Showgirls), so to call his films sacred or untouchable seems a bit curious. However, Verhoeven has a unique eye for action and sci-fi, presenting bleak dystopias and neo-fascist bug exterminators in a satirical light. In Verhoeven’s worlds, violence and sex are facts of life, but the brutality of his characters’ lives is contrasted with comical amounts of gore that only add to the satire. His often perverse visions come to life with the use of costumes and model-driven special effects. CGI takes a backseat in this filmmaker’s mind.

Then someone had the idea to remake Total Recall, a stylistically and tonally inimitable film. In the original, audiences were fed three-titted mutants and meme-worthy scenes of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s eyes inflating like balloons. In the remake, Verhoeven’s tangible, kitsch-like violence was replaced by CGI eye candy and a straightforward script lacking the original’s trademark satire. Verhoeven publicly disclosed his displeasure with the remake, but as he did not own the rights to the original, he had no power to stop its production.

Despite this vocal displeasure with one remake, Verhoeven’s Robocop has also been revisited by studios. The trailer, released in the past few weeks, was Total Recall déjà vu. The overdone CGI and rebooted script will undoubtedly drown out the clever dystopian universe Verhoeven created with the original. His Robocop did not just succeed because of its action—it succeeded because the world Robocop inhabits is unimaginably grotesque and undeniably fun. The new Robocop ignores this tone, vying for the one-dimensional nonsense that Verhoeven’s films rejected.

Maybe nothing is sacred in Hollywood, and that’s alright. But to corrupt a director’s vision with heartless cash cows is going a step too far. In this formula, both audiences and artists become victims of the business-end of the industry. That said, if the Coen Brothers ever see a chance to remake Showgirls, this remake game might require a little reassessment.

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