Thursday, September 1, 2016

About Movies - When is a remake justified?

With special thanks for those people at

These are a common thing that has happened since the beginning of time.

While people complain that it's gotten worse, the simple fact that we've been retelling stories for generations.

But what do you need for a successful remake to happen?

I've been stewing on it and come up with the following rules to have a successful remake.

1. It needs to justify why it's a remake. Robocop and Ghostbusters can't justify a remake because honestly, minimal issues with both in their proper context and remaking them means you'll always be comparing them to the original. That's a high bar that is virtually impossible to beat.  Do not try to remake these unless your incredibly sure it will succeed, and also don't come crying when it doesn't.

2. If they are full flops, unless there was an outside of the movie reason (ex. John Carter's exploding budget and crappy marketing campaign), it is probably a good idea to not do it.

3. They need a hook or be otherwise novel that makes it different. A current popular actor that would be perfect for a specific character, a distinctive director whose normal take would bring something new, or a new animation technique that brings something fictional to life (ex. the cgi balrog from fellowship). make sure it's there before you start. Heck a fad could justify it's remake if it really does tie into it.

It's often easier to do a lateral reboot so it has the name, but not the baggage.

4.  A remake that jumps between cultures has to be treaded lightly as it may lose what made it awesome in the first place.

5. Whom is your demographic?:  There will always be a balancing act between the original material and any remake of material.  Your remake needs to be able to draw in the original fans as well as open it up to a new generation.  If you start insulting either, you've already lost.

With that in mind, the best remake fodder are "near misses."

For me it is the borderline flops that you can honestly say "if they only did <insert action here> it would be way better" that should be your 1st choices for remakes.

It also gives you more wiggle room to make it your own.

Examples of great reboots: 

Examples of successful reboots (as far as movies go) include.

1.  Ben-Hur (1959 film): technically a remake of the 1925 silent movie.  It's the definitive version and is the high point of an era (that ended with a funny thing happened to the way to the forum).  It works because of it's era, the expense spent and it is a cultural touch point for a generation.

2. The Thing (1982):  A remake of Howard Hawks' 1951 film of the same name and a re-adaptation of the John W. Campbell Jr. story.  While it ultimately it was a flop and became a cult movie, it is an example  of the overall quality and is better remembered because of it.

3. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992):  Bela Lugosi's Dracula defined the character for over 70 years, and while there have been many remakes of it, I'm bringing up this version as it was high budget, had a different feel then the original, and gave it its own spin.

4. Ocean's 11 (2001):  This one shouldn't have worked, but it does.  The original was the rat pack in their prime and honestly, it only worked because it was several generations later.

5. King Kong (2005):  The original is a stop animation classic, and I had my misgivings about this remake, but was very pleasantly surprised.  It was slow, but well defined and Peter Jackson obviously loved the original source material.

6. True Grit (2010):  The John Wayne classic is another one of those  "if there wasn't generations between the two"., it could have flopped hard.  Instead its one of the better western movies of the last 10 years.

7. Dredd (2012): Is both an overwhelming success and a cautionary tale at the same time.  It was a fantastic movie that was forced to compete with not only the 90's Sylvester Stallone movie in 1995, but an Indonesian action movie called the raid, that had a very similar plot.  While commercially a flop, it erased the stigma of the original movie and they have been lobbying hard to continue the franchise.  I wish them good fortune as it was much better that the 1995 version.

8. Batman Begins (2005):  Batman and Robin almost completely destroyed not only the character, but the entire superhero genre.  After the successes of Blade, X-men and Spiderman, they managed to successfully retool Batman for a new generation.

9. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015):  This movie was in developmental hell for almost a generation.  It almost became an animated movie and the original star of the movies was estranged from Hollywood.  Then it comes out and not only it was good, it is arguably the best of the franchise.  It is a very simple chase movie with a ton of personality.

10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015):  While my opinion of the movie is mixed, it is an example of a movie reboot after bad prequels.  They even used another franchise to test out material (Guardians of the Galaxy) to test out the storytelling and stayed with a Conservative storytelling.  While only time will tell how good it is, the ground work has been laid.

11. My Fair Lady (1964):  This is a story that was told since ancient times and is an example of how a story changes from Pygmalion to Pretty Woman.

Other examples of successful movie reboots
A Fistful of Dollars (per un Pugno di Dollari)(1964), Assault on Precient 13 (1976), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), The Evil Dead (2013), Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995),
Invasion of the body snatchers (1978), Jurassic World (2015), Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), Scarface (1983), The Fly (1986),

TV Reboots

1. Battlestar Galactica:  The reboot of a cheesy early 80's scifi into a grim space survival story was amazing, even if the ending kinda stunk.

2. Buffy the Vampire Hunter: This one is unusual is that it is based on a silly movie and got redefined and ended up creating a successful tv show with amazing characters, excellent dialogue and even one equally good spin off series (angel)

3. Doctor Who:  The relaunch of doctor who in 2008 was the return of an old friend.  While I haven't agreed with every single change, I am impressed that it was returned with a vengeance, after a long hiatus.  In many ways, it is not so much a reboot as a continuation of the original series as they consider previous episodes are canon (as much as they ever get).

4. Star Trek: The Next Generation:  The original star trek could have been an anomaly that was easily forgotten.  It was beaten hard in the ratings by Lost in Space, a campy scifi comedy, to the point it was cancelled prematurely, but somehow it arose from the ashes to become the definitive scifi that all others are measured.  I consider the next generation more definitive a reboot then even the movies as 1. they had a completely new cast and 2. they were a continuation a generation later of the original series, thus giving them both material and freedom to do their own thing.   It started shaky and even cringeworthy, but it defined star trek for at least a decade, especially with it's sequal series.

5. Transformers: Beast Wars:  Transformers was dead as a concept when mainframe entertainment did this series and they breathed it new life with excellent characters and superior storytelling.

What Could be a Great Remake?

Blakes 7 (TV Series 1978–1981):  This series could be argued that it's been rebooted already.  It has had the influence on the following shows: Outlaw Star, Firefly, and more recently Dark Matter.  While nobody will be able to fill Avon's boots, it would be fun to see  where an official reboot would occur.

Damnation Alley (1977):  It's main reason for flopping hard is that it went head to head with Star Wars. Give it a cgi budget for monsters, make it a tad closer to the book, update the Landmaster and treat it like a road movie. hell Fury Road just cleared the way for it to jump on it's coat tails.

John Carter (2012):  Some movies end up in development hell. This one ended up in development hell for decades and was sabotaged at every step of the way.  I would recommend John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood for the full details.  It breaks my heart that the book series that all action movies are based on was sabotaged.  I think a solid reboot could vindicate how good a series this really is.

Robotech (1985):  For a generation, this defined anime, but it's star and controversal origins, have left it in limbo. If the robotech licence to be redone as it's own series and allowed macross to be released in north america, I think it would be awesome.

Runaway (1984):  This was requested by an associate and it would be fun to see a remake.  It's base premise could easily be updated with todays technology and it's not well known.

Tank Girl (1995):  With the success of fury road, this movie would be awesome remade in a similar manner.  It was a flop with potential.

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