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Movie remakes. As long as movies are a source of profit, remakes will be unavoidable. This is despite the fact that, of the thousands of remakes out there, there are only a handful of good ones. Movie remakes, like most other modern woes, are nothing new. According to the website Reel Rundown, the first movie remake dates back to 1896. Louis Lumiere, of the famous Lumiere Brothers, released a film entitled Partie d’ecarte’ (“Card Game”) a simple, one minute film depicting a couple dudes playing cards and drinking wine. Later that same year, George Melies remade it as Une Partie De Cartes (“Card Party).”
Was it any better? Not sure. It would take two whole minutes to watch both films and I just don’t have that kind of time. The point is, remakes have been here since the inception of film and they’re not going away. To begin with, studios love remakes. Remakes come brimming with sumptuous, “pre-awareness.” The audience has a built-in sense of familiarity with the title, increasing the odds they’ll give it a chance.
The Rule Of Remakes is that they are, more often than not, pale or misfired rehashes of a superior original that should, in retrospect, never have seen the inside of a projector. There are infrequent occasions when a remake is every bit as good as its original. James Mangold’s 3:10 To Yuma, from 2007, in my opinion, is every bit as suspenseful and action-packed as its predecessor, made fifty years earlier. I find Jeff Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn from the Cohen Bros.’ True Grit a lot funnier and more dimensional than the John Wayne (albeit Oscar winning) original. Phillip Kaufman’s 1978 Invasion Of The Body Snatchers updates the story of 1956 Don Siegel original, changing its focus from Cold War paranoia to late 70’s cultural conformity paranoia, without sacrificing one beat of the suspense or drama. Plus you get Donald Sutherland with an afro, so there’s that.
A remake that far surpasses its original? The Maltese Falcon. I know what you’re saying, “They remade The Maltese Falcon?” Yes, they did. In 1941, with Humphrey Bogart. The original Maltese Falcon was made in 1931 and starred Ricardo Cortez (who?) as Sam Spade. The original Maltese Falcon is a pre-code potboiler that follows the story of Dashell Hammett’s novel, but lacks the flair of John Huston’s remake made ten years on. The film does boast a performance by the always-great Dwight Frye (Renfield in Tod Browning’s Dracula), but that’s about it. The Maltese Falcon is one of those rare instances when a film is mentioned and it’s totally fine to say, “It’s good, but you HAVE to see the remake.”
Another remake that improves upon its original? John Carpenter’s 1982 version of The Thing. The original, made in ‘56, was produced by Howard Hawks and directed by Christian Nyby. “The Thing” in the The Thing was played by a young James Arness, who would go on to fame and fortune as Marshall Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke. The Arness Thing is portrayed as Space Frankenstein, a hulking brute with a squarish head that crashed its flying saucer into the polar ice caps and was now laying siege to an arctic research station.
Carpenter’s version hews closer to the original story (Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell), in which the alien was a shape-shifting menace that could replicate any creature it came into contact with. Carpenter handed the concept over to special effects artist Rob Bottin who, together with storyboard artist Mike Ploog, helped Carpenter create, in the words of Empire magazine’s Adam Smith, “a peerless masterpiece of relentless suspense, retina-wrecking visual excess and outright nihilistic terror.”
Carpenter’s The Thing is – now – widely regarded as a masterpiece. At the time of its release, not so much. Two weeks prior to The Thing’s premiere, another space alien, E.T. The Extraterrestrial, landed in American theaters. By the time Carpenter’s film hit screens, no one wanted anything to do with anything from outer space that wasn’t warm and cuddly and could make bicycles fly. In fact, critics hated Carpenter’s film, and audiences responded with indifference at best.
Fun fact! Blade Runner was released the same day as The Thing and met with a similarly disinterested audience and lackluster critical reception.
In time, audiences and critics caught up with Carpenter’s vision, and the film now stands as a classic. In fact, in 2011, Universal Studios released The Thing, a prequel to The Thing, which was a remake of The Thing, which was about a monster that could replicate itself.
Next time, Who Thought This Was A Good Idea? Dino DeLaurentiis’ 1976 King Kong.