Did anyone catch Total Recall over the weekend? I don't mean the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger version, I'm talking about the brand spanking new one with Colin Farrell. Oh, you didn't know the difference? You weren't the only one who saw the new flick and thought you were having a flashback to the first film? While not a shot-for-shot remake (and what purpose does one of those serve?) it was remarkably similar to the source material. That seems like some sort of creative failure. If you're going to make a movie just like the first one, why bother redoing what was a perfectly good movie in the first place?
In the spirit of not making the same mistakes over and over again and because we get more and more remakes, reboots, and rejuvenations every year, here are some simple rules for the producers of these movies. Learn from history or your bound to repeat your movie.
Differentiate Yourself: The hardest part of being an identical twin is finding some way to prove that you're an individual. The same goes for remakes. Each new movie has to find its own voice. Either the story is adapted and modernized (Clueless was just a "reboot" of Jane Austen's Emma) or it blends into the original. That is the problem with Total Recall. Every action scene is pretty much the same. It's been more than two decades since the first movie and advances in technology and tastes in action movies have changed dramatically. And let's not forget that movie prices have risen steeply as well. If you're not going to give me something new and different for my $12.50 ($17 if it's in IMAX and $18 plus naming rights for your first born if it's in 3D) then I'm just going to watch the old one on Netflix for basically free.
Lay Off the References: Aside from improving on the original, the other point of a remake is to expose a new audience of kids raised on their own pop cultural touchstones to the things that previous generations held dear. That means most of the people Hollywood is courting never saw the original. (Lucky for Russell Brand no one in his regular audience can cry foul for what he did to Aurthur.) If that's the case, why are some remakes packed to the gills with references and in jokes that only devotees of the original will get? Yes, tipping the hat to long-time fans is appreciated, but not at the expense of those who haven't seen the source material (hear that, every comic book movie ever). While not the best, Clash of the Titans did this well, making a quick joke about Bubo the mechanical owl and then moving past it. Of course all movies need to keep the iconic moments of the film intact. Titans would have been nothing without "Unleash the Kraken," after all.
Only One Cameo: Sorry, Holly Robinson Peete, but you probably should have been cut from the 21 Jump Street movie. Same goes for everyone who wasn't Johnny Depp. Like I said before, don't burden this thing down with nostalgia. Sure Holly was inoffensively given a role as a cop in the movie, but if we're spending all our time waiting to see the next famous person to pop up, we're not paying attention to the new stars.
Dark and Brooding Isn't the Answer: The reason The Dark Knight and Batman Begins were so incredibly successful is not because they were dark. They were hits because they took what had become a really hokey franchise (hello, nipple suits) and turned it into a superhero epic with greater depth. This does not mean that making everything brooding and angsty is going to make your movie better. Right, Miami Vice? Do you hear me, The Amazing Spider-Man? What rebooters want is to add more dimension to their movies, and if that comes with an emo soundtrack, great. But that's not the only way.
Say in the Same Genre: It's never a good decision to take a movie out of how it was intended and turn it into something else. For instance Dark Shadows as a gothic-soap opera could have been good. Dark Shadows as a comedy lets in all the campiness that a remake quickly falls into. The Brady Bunch movie works because it turns a comedy into an even campier comedy. So, let's have the dramas stay dramas, shall we. No one needs another Stepford Wives debacle.
Wait: It's hard to put a time limit on when a film should be remade or rebooted, but 10 years seems to be safe. But that could still be too soon. Just like pornography, it's hard to give an exact definition, but I know a movie was retooled too soon when I see it.
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