Does Antoine Fuqua’s Magnificent Seven remake bring anything to the party that we really needed? The “original” was itself a remake/re-working, so it certainly shouldn’t enjoy any sort of revered status. How about Haneke replaying his Funny Games? Was Hitchcock’s re-do of his own work Too Much of The Man Who Knew Too Much?
The debate about originality in Hollywood, as our screens increasingly fill up with remakes, reboots, sequels, adaptations, “movie universes”, spin-offs, prequels and the like, continues to do the rounds. This is intended to be a more focused consideration of a very specific question – where we are dealing with a fairly “straight” remake, was it worth it? Has anything been added? Was the “twist” on the original apropos of very much at all?
This summer’s Ghostbusters remake/reworking seems to have been very well received by the critical fraternity, but suffered from poor box office receipts and although it had far more to commend it than simply “like before but with women” in terms of ideas, jokes and content, it still struggled to make its mark.
For starters therefore, here are a couple of remakes that (like Ghostbusters) can hold their heads high next to their inspiration. After that, we’ll start to plumb the depths of the more ignominious efforts.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) – a genuine reimagining with its own sense of time and place
Shifting the backdrop of Don Siegel’s brilliant original from the Cold War and red scare context of the 1950s to a 1970s post-Watergate suspicion of authority was a masterstroke. And although the opening cameo from Kevin McCarthy makes this more of a sequel than a remake, there is nothing else from the original that is built on sufficiently to make this anything other than a de facto remake. But it is that change of context/backdrop that makes all of the difference – although the premise is unchanged – pods are replacing people, it is a film that (just as much as the original) reflects on and speaks into the concerns of the time, as all of the best sci-fi does and should.
The anxiety that surrounded America at the time of the original, was that the Commies were going to take over and we would all become lifeless clones. By the time it came to 1978, Vietnam had gone horribly wrong, Nixon had been ousted from office and a whole slew of authority-bucking and political paranoia films had seen the light (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and The Parallax View spring most readily to mind). The concern now was a suspicion of those in power, that we were being watched and that authority figures were far from benign. This twisting of the emphasis from the original worked just as well if not better and bundles of invention and craft went into making the remake its own beast. Very few remakes have proven to be as much of a measure of their inspiration as this. The final shot is a killer, too.
Dawn of the Dead (2004) – like before, but faster
It’s terribly trendy to lump Zack Snyder in with a whole slew of his contemporary hacks-for-hire (McG, Brett Ratner, Michael Bay) who bring very little beyond a certain workmanlike capability to their direction. Snyder certainly needs to try to find a shift in style after the increasing stylistic cul de sac that his work within the DC universe is proving to be, but he has a decent amount of creditable work on his CV, not least of which this, his feature debut.
Let’s be honest, if you’re trying to find a way to ease yourself gently into feature direction, remaking an original as hallowed as George A. Romero’s classic original isn’t the obvious way to go. Romero has arguably never been better than his sequel to his 1968 called card, Night of the Living Dead and there seemed to be relatively little that could usefully be added to it, save for some slightly neater special effects.
In fact what Snyder did were two important things. First of all, following Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, he made his zombies really fast. Secondly, he got off to an incredibly quick and brutal start by having a little girl chow down on a victim. It was abundantly clear that this was not going to be a PG-13 cash grab off the back of name recognition. Everything about this remake eschewed sentiment and instead embraced a ruthless, uncompromising aesthetic. Sympathetic characters fall, hope is crushed, a pregnant mother is very much not exempted from the carnage experienced all round. Brutal, visceral and at time horribly effective.