Top 10… Remakes

More and more it seems there’s no original ideas in mainstream Hollywood, but it turns out that this has always been the case, and it just seems more prevalent now because there’s so many more films released each week, and less original stories to go around, so therefore there’s more rehashed versions of films gone by available to us on a weekly basis. 2012 saw three remakes in the Box Office Top 20 (The Amazing Spider-Man, Snow White and the Huntsman, Les Miserables), and this is far from new, hell, even The Wizard of Oz was a remake back in 1939 of three silent films that came before it (and a book, but everything’s a remake of a book these days). The thing is though… I don’t mind. I have no problem with modern film makers updating older films to introduce them to a wider audience – there have been several instances where a remake has inspired me to go back and see the original, and I’ve discovered a classic that I otherwise may have never found (Scarface springs to mind).

So what inspired this list? Well, The Film Vituperatum‘s movie of the week is The Adventures of Robin Hood, which whilst I haven’t seen it yet and therefore haven’t got around to reviewing, I am more than familiar with the story, mainly due to the various adaptations of it. If I had to guess, I’d say the story of Robin Hood is probably one of the top three most adapted tales in history, after A Christmas Carol and Alice in Wonderland, but my list of top 10 Robin Hood adaptations would see Kevin Costner taking third place behind John Cleese in Time Bandits and an animated fox, at which point the list would end because I haven’t seen any others, so instead I’m going to celebrate the greatest remakes that I’ve ever seen, regardless of whether I’ve watched the originals or not. Oh, and The Wizard of Oz didn’t make the list, because I’m fairly sure I’ve never seen it all the way through. The list also doesn’t include any English-language remakes of originally foreign works, because that would be another list entirely, and one I’ll save for another day – perhaps when Ringu is selected for movie of the week?

Honourable mention: 3:10 to Yuma
This was a difficult slot to fill this week, as there’s a lot of remakes that I really like but don’t necessarily love. The 1999 Geoffrey Rush version of The House on Haunted Hill almost made it, as it was bizarrely one of the first films in which I appreciated an actor’s performance – and even more bizarrely that actor was Chris Kattan.I was tempted with The Mummy, because of the bit where the scarab beetle crawls into Imhotep’s mouth – through his cheek – and then he eats it, and I’ve got a soft spot for the likes of The Italian Job (Seth Green buys speakers so loud they can rip a girl’s clothes off), Flight of the Phoenix (Hugh Laurie!), Cape Fear and even Bedazzled, though I really can’t explain that last one. But no, I opted for James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma, which although I haven’t seen for a little while and can’t necessarily remember every detail of, what I can recall is it having a wonderfully eclectic cast – Alan Tudyk, Peter Fonda, Kevin Durand, Luke Wilson – and that Ben Foster was an utter badass in it. I haven’t seen the original, but I do own it, and intend to watch it very soon.

10. 101 Dalmatians

It takes a lot to remake a Disney classic and not make a complete hash job of it, especially when that classic has one of the most iconic villains, with one of the catchiest theme songs, of not just Disney films but all time. I’m talking of course about Cruella De Vil, the aspiring puppy-murderer who desires the spottiest of coats for the new fashion season, regardless of how many of the eponymous monochrome canines she must murder in the process. Is it an all-time classic film? Not really, no, as there was barely enough plot for the 79-minute original, let alone for the extra half an hour added here, but Glenn Close is incredible as the live-action DeVil, and Mark Williams and Hugh Laurie were perfect casting as her less-than-capable henchmen, Horace and Jasper. Also, Jeff Daniels is always good, and was a great choice for hopeless sad sack songwriter Roger.
9. Scarface
If this seems controversially low, just be grateful that it made the list at all, because I’ve only seen this film once, as with the 1932 original, and I haven’t felt overly compelled to watch it again other than to see Al Pacino’s incredible performance as rising drug kingpin Tony Montana. In fact, I may actually prefer the original, even if it’s a bit campy and silly, relying on the humour of a stupid person not knowing how to use a telephone properly instead of being a balls-out character-driven drama. The remake appears on all four of the lists I’m going through, and was even voted the 58th greatest film of all time on the Total Film list, so this may raise a few positions when I watch and review it next time. Until then it should just be happy sitting at number 9, a place earned by a few memorable set pieces, most specifically the ridiculously fun and over the top climax.
8. The Fly
This is one of those films that seems so original and out there that it doesn’t immediately scream remake, but in fact David Cronenberg’s sci-fi body-horror, in which Jeff Goldblum’s scientist invents teleportation, only for his initial trial to go catastrophically wrong when his DNA becomes mixed with a fly’s, is a retelling of a 1958 film of the same name, directed by Kurt Neumann, who directed an awful lot of terrible-sounding films, including three Tarzan pictures. I’ll gladly watch Goldblum in anything (he’s Dr. Ian Malcolm for chrissakes), and that goes double if he’s the leading man, even if the leading lady is Geena Davis. Goldblum’s Seth Brundle, or Brundlefly as he later calls himself, is the increasingly dismantling heart of the film – he is spot on casting, I cannot imagine anyone better – and even with some great effects he remains the main reason to re-watch this film.

7. True Grit
Another film I haven’t seen the original of but still own, and another western at that. The Coen brothers’ remake was one of my favourite films of 2010, and not just because it’s a Coen brothers film, of which one does not exist that I don’t at least like. Jeff Bridges is marvellous in a role previously made iconic by John Wayne, and the Coens prove there s no genre they cannot put their unique spin on, with their trademark whip-smart dialogue, much of it taken from Charles Portis’ novel (which, like the original film, is on my bookcase but has yet to be cracked open), and a stellar supporting cast including Matt Damon, Barry Pepper and Josh Brolin. Personally, I wasn’t a fan of Hailee Steinfeld in the lead role, but it’s a difficult role to play even for actors over the age of fourteen, so I doubt there’d be many people who could have done it better. I just don’t think she deserved a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, let alone the uproar as to why she wasn’t nominated for Best Actress.

6. Dawn of the Dead
Could it be? Whisper it – is it better than the original? Maybe. Actually, screw it, yes. And no. Well, define better. George A. Romero’s 1978 zombie classic is certainly more thought provoking, providing an insightful indictment of consumer culture – even in un-death, everyone flocks to the shopping mall out of subconscious reflex – but Zack Snyder’s 2004 modern update is just so much more fun and entertaining.From the pulse-quickening opening through the blood spattered middle, to the thrilling climax, the film is packed with plenty of gore, humour, ridiculous caricatures (the redneck, the pregnant woman, the dickhead[Ty Burrell!]) and a zombie baby. A zombie baby! Love it.

5. Little Shop of Horrors

When you’re casting to replace an actor, Bill Murray probably isn’t the first name that springs to mind when you’re recasting a role played by Jack Nicholson. However, Murray turned out to be one of the highlights of this musical update of the Roger Corman 1960 B-movie, which I’ve no idea why I actually saw it, because it wasn’t all that great, and doesn’t have a reputation for being any better. Frank Oz’s remake on the other hand, is wonderful for many, many reasons, amongst which are Murray’s cameo as a masochistic dentist-botherer, Steve Martin’s ruthless biker-dentist, the omnipresent back-up singers, Levi Stubbs as the voice of freaky plant Audrey II, and of course the ever-awesome Rick Moranis in the lead role.

4. King Kong 
I love Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake, and I’m not in the least bit ashamed to admit it. Yes, it takes perhaps a little too long for Adrien Brody, Jack Black, Naomi Watts et al to get to Skull Island, and even longer for Kong to make any actual presence, yes Black is horribly cast as movie director Carl Denham (Apparently he was told to let his eyes do the acting, instead of his eyebrows. Seriously.), yes the whole film is a bit longer and requires a serious commitment to find the time to watch it, and yes that scene with the first interaction with the island’s natives generally freaks me the hell out, but I feel this film has an awful lot more going for it than many give it credit for. The scene with the search party’s survivors at the bottom of the crevice, being attacked by all manner of giant insects and dentured penis-monsters was one of my favourite scenes in any film for a very long time, and the final 30 minutes or so – which I initially got annoyed at due to exhaustion at that point – has now developed into being beautiful, especially the ice skating scene, which genuinely pisses me off every time it ends. Plus, and this should not be understated, this film has dinosaurs in. Not just a couple, but lots. In several scenes. Many, in fact. And they’re all awesome. Even the brontosaurus chase with the not-entirely-stellar CGI, if only because Adrien Brody kicks a raptor in the head. In the head! A proper flying-leap kick. And I’ve not even mentioned the T-Rex type creatures (known as V-Rexs here), and their 3-on-1 fight against Kong over a scrawny little meat-free twiglet of Naomi Watts. The dangling-in-the-vines scene is another one that I can watch over and over again, like the keyboard sequence in Big.
3. Ocean’s Eleven
I was always under the impression that the Rat Pack-starring original, which follows a barely similar plot in which the only similarity is there’s a con involved, pulled by 11 men, who are led by a guy called Danny Ocean (originally Frank Sinatra), was a really good film that was a form of sacrilege to be remade. Upon watching, I found it was fairly standard and underwhelming, with only the ending being anything worth talking about, and was therefore prime material to be remade and improved upon, and by Steven Soderbergh no less. The result is a near-perfect, glossy, endlessly fun and fresh caper full of A-listers and cameos (Topher Grace and Joshua Jackson!). The sequels couldn’t ever live up to the lightning strike of the first film, but they still have a place in my DVD collection, and remain fun to watch if only to see that great mix of characters interacting again.

2. The Thing
As much as I may love the special effects in King Kong, practical effects are a source of endless fascination for me, and nowhere is this scene more than in Jurassic Park. But seeing as that’s not a remake, The Thing will have to do as a close second. The effects, by legendary FX whizz Rob Bottin, make John Carpenter’s film worth watching just for them alone, be it the head-crab, the chest-mouth or the dog-Sarlacc, but add to that an almost unbearably tense story of a bunch of isolated, cabin-fever suffering guys already at each others’ throats being struck with an alien creature that can impersonate any of them, and intends to kill them all, and fill the cast with the best character actors the 80s had to offer, and goddam it I’m in. And no, I haven’t seen the recent prequel, because it looked terrible. By all means tell me otherwise and I’ll track it down, but I’ve yet to hear a decent thing about it.
1. Heat
Is a movie still a remake if the same director made both the original and it’s copy? Well if it’s good enough for Hitchcock, who did just that with The Man Who Knew Too Much in 1956 and didn’t even have the decency to change the fim’s name, then it must be good enough for Michael Mann too. Heat is a retelling of Mann’s made-for-TV movie L.A. Takedown, and whilst I’ve not seen the original the buzz isn’t particularly kind about it, although at just 97 minutes it seems easier to take in than the 3-hour epic it preceded. The length is pretty much the only thing I can fault about the movie, but considering just how much is fitted in – pretty much every character – of which there’s a goddamn lot – gets both a back story and character arc – I’ think I’ll give it a pass. Plus, the cast is so ridiculously deep in this film that you cannot go more than 10 minutes without a new familiar face popping up, from Hank Azaria to Danny Trejo, Tom Noonan to William Fichtner. The acting is all top-notch, the set pieces exquisite – particularly the central bank robbery/shoot-out – and, of course, there’s that cup of coffee.

So did I miss anything out? Maybe you’ve got a soft spot for Scorsese’s Cape Fear, or Nic Cage in Gone in 60 Seconds? Perhaps you’re an I Am Legend fan. Let me know in the comments. Unless you think I should have included Clash of the Titans. Or The Stepford Wives, Or Taxi. Or The Nutty Professor. OK, sometimes remakes can be pretty terrible.

6 thoughts on “Top 10… Remakes

  1. I. Love. Ocean's 11. (the new one) So much. It's so good. I love that you describe it as a "lightning strike," because that's precisely it. They got so lucky, why on earth would they gamble on trying to recapture that magic on inept sequels? (oh, right, money.) Also, The Thing (the one you mentioned) is, like, insane. Nice to see you include it here. I've seen a majority of these, but many of them I have not seen the original plus the remake, so I can't completely comment on them.But Hugh Laurie in 101 Dalmatians before he became House was a delight to me. For me, Laurie is always and forever Bertie Wooster.In general, I'm kinda fascinated with remakes, and specifically, with stories that are continually remade. So I approve of this post. I should do one too, huh.

  2. I'll just toss this out there because it's one most people don't know: The Maltese Falcon with Bogart? Third version of that story, second one under that name. The original 3:10 to Yuma is very different from the remake. I think I genuinely like the remake a bit more, if only because there's a lot more action in it. The end doesn't work as well in the remake, though.

  3. That's very cynical of you to assume that anyone in Hollywood would make a film just for the millions of dollars it would bring it. I can't imagine living in a world like that.I'm afraid I'm ashamed to admit I've never seen anything Jeeves or Wooster related, nor have I even seen much of A Bit of Fry and Laurie, and considering I'm a big fan of both Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie (I've got every season of House and Blackadder, and have at least seen Stuart Little) I can consider this a crime unto my own self. I shall add them both to the list of DVDs I intend to purchase upon the watching of all my other existing unwatched ones.

  4. I knew of The Maltese Falcon being a remake, and I've even seen it (the Bogey version), and I've since bought the DVD, but alas I cannot remember a single thing about it. It's one I'm looking forward to re-discovering, hopefully this time I'll absorb a bit more of it!I'd heard that the 3:10 remake was much worse than the original (a film lecturer – not mine – told me that they'd replaced all the subtext with gunfire) but I enjoyed it.

  5. Great picks here. I recently drafted this same list, and it's cool to see how many we have in common, notably our number 1 picks. I love that, after acquiring so many new skills, Mann just up and redid his own material. Heat was on last night, and I wound up watching the whole thing until 2 in the morning. Amazing film.

  6. Thanks. I just checked out your list, some great picks there too, and most of the ones you used but I didn't will appaear on the future list of English-language remakes of non-English films. I can't help thinking what would happen if other notable directions remade some of their earlier, lesser works now or in their heyday. How amazing would Duel be if Spielberg made it in the mid-90s? Not that it isn't great already, of course.

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