Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Reel Opinion: Concerning Remakes

Hollywood seems to be in a weird era right now, where remaking familiar movies is the primary way to do business. Original movies are shoved aside in favor of a title that people will recognize in the hopes of making an easy profit. ­­Movie-making is an art, but it is also a business…and to stay in business you have to do business.

In recent weeks a lot of attention has been drawn to some high-profile remakes in the pipeline, beginning with one of the most successful movie studios in history…Disney.

Last week, Disney announced that director Tim Burton (BEETLEJUICE, ED WOOD) has signed on to helm a live-action remake of their classic 1941 animated film DUMBO. The film, which tells the story of a baby circus elephant with oversized ears, will combine CG animation and live-action.  This is will be the sixth live-action remake of classic Disney films; Burton’s own ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010), last year’s MALEFICENT, this year’s CINDERELLA…and future films THE JUNGLE BOOK and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Disney, has always prided itself on originality and has built its empire on just that. However, most of their classic films are adaptations of fairy tales anyway, and the stories and characters are rich and interesting enough to explore in different arenas. The bigger story here is Tim Burton. Burton seemed to break out of his creative rut in the past few years with his animated hit FRANKENWEENIE (2012) and last year’s critically acclaimed true-story drama BIG EYES. His adaptation of WONDERLAND made great money for Disney but was critically slammed and is regarded as one of his weakest efforts, so it’s frustrating to see him step away from what has worked very well for him recently to go back to apparent laziness; just a remake where half of the work is already done for you. Hopefully Burton can add something new to DUMBO, and avoid his comfort zone of (a) having Johnny Depp dress up weird, or (b) have composer Danny Elfman and his children’s choir re-hash another “lalalalalalala” score.

Also on the way is another shot at SCARFACE, which would be the third version of the gangster film. The first being the 1932 Howard Hawks classic which starred Paul Muni, George Raft, and Boris Karloff…and the second being the Brian De Palma pop-culture-magnet version in 1983 which starred Al Pacino. This new version is still in the early stages with no set release date or cast, but it has been reported to be a modern-day take on the gangster story. A lot of people hold De Palma’s version in very high regard, often forgetting that version was a remake in itself. This Blogger always found that film to be way over the top with very little restraint, finesse, along with cartoonish acting and a bloated plot and running time. Any type of gangster film is ripe for a fresh take, so another shot at SCARFACE isn’t all that offensive.

Of course, no one is asking for these movies to be made, but in an age where original films struggle with the critics and fans (INTERSTELLAR), or struggle to make profit (CHAPPIE), this is the corner Hollywood is backed into. It’s not all doom and gloom as many remakes have proven to be better than the original; the Oscar-winning THE DEPARTED (2006), along with TRUE GRIT (2010), THE THING (1982), 3:10 TO YUMA (2007), THE FLY (1986), and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978). And a lot of people forget (or just don’t know) that THE WIZARD OF OZ was a remake, as was THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.

A fresh look at old material is what keeps storytelling alive, which means a good movie can always be found another time around. 

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