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MindFood: Why Remakes Are Good

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Aug 18, 2011 | 9:16am EDT

ALT

ALTFilm buffs, as a general rule, are rather accepting of most movies and the reason for that is obvious: we love movies. Sure, every fan no doubt has their niche that they love the most, but they’ve also got a plucky optimism that finds them willing to watch pretty much any kind of film with an open mind. There are only a small handful of films that almost universally bring out the snark and cynicism before anyone’s even seen them. This dreaded group consists of grating Friedberg and Seltzer spoofs, middle-aged Adam Sandler comedies and remakes.

And while I can easily get behind throwing the first two on a pyre and never looking back, I’ve got to stand up for remakes.

Yes, there are a lot of terrible, misguided remakes of horror, sci-fi and fantasy films that we all grew up with and hold in high regard, but they’re not vile enough to warrant all remakes be written off right out of the gate, and yet that’s what consistently happens. Take the two R-rated remakes coming out this weekend, Fright Night and Conan the Barbarian, for example. When it was announced Conan was being remade and that Jason Momoa, who at the time wasn’t known for playing Khal Drogo on HBO’s Game of Thrones, would be wearing the loin cloth once worn by Arnold Schwarzenegger (not the actual cloth, that would be gross), fans of the ‘80s flick got out the pitch forks. The reason? Momoa looks like a skinny jeans hipster compared to colossal, improbable mass that was ‘80s Schwarzenegger.

It really wasn’t any more complicated than that.  Nevermind that he is closer to Robert E. Howard’s original character design, he doesn’t look like their memory of Conan, so the movie was preemptively declared “stupid” and “pointless” and “Oh my God, not another remake! Doesn’t Hollywood have any original ideas?”

ALTFright Night’s production didn’t have quite the vocal write off that Conan’s did, but that’s only because it’s Fright Night. Tom Holland’s original 1985 film about a kid who discovers his neighbor is a vampire may be a known quantity and have some name value, but it’s not nearly as widely loved as many of the originals remade over the last decade. It seemed it was being remade not because there was an audience that would latch onto the title Fright Night the way they would Dawn of the Dead or Friday the 13th, but because vampires are in right now and that’s good enough. So while the Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell-led film may not have been preemptively hated purely because it was a remake, there really wasn’t a whole lot of anticipation for it, either.

The point of all this isn’t to convince you to reward either of these films this weekend by handing over your hard earned money (though Fright Night is definitely worth it), but to wonder why remakes are still such a dirty word in the year 2011. How many good remakes is it going to take before people cool it on the snark and cross “Die, Remakes, Die” off of their agenda book? Every time a good remake comes around, no matter how good it is, there always seems to be an asterisk next to it. Let Me In can’t just be a good movie, it has to be good, for a remake. The Hills Have Eyes can’t be badass, it has to be badass, for, ya’ know, a remake.

At what point can we stop assuming that all genre remakes are the product of some Hollywood conspiracy to capitalize on nostalgia and trick us out of our money? Yes, I too would much rather see studios giving multi-million dollar budgets to original scripts, but that’s not the way the business works. Remakes aren’t a new thing, they’ve been around longer than you and I have been alive. They’re not going anywhere.

Actually, scratch that. Remakes aren’t even something you need to just deal with. I’ll actually go out on a limb and say that there are enough remakes that are better than their original films that you shouldn’t just tolerate remakes, you should get excited about them. Fright Night may be the latest film to trump its predecessor, but it’s hardly the first and it will hardly be the last. But why does it even matter if a remake is better than the original, anyway? Are they locked in some kind of existential, gladiatorial Thunderdome in which only one can survive? What’s wrong with liking an original and its remake?

It’s time we got rid of the asterisk. Some of these movies aren’t “good, for a remake,” they’re just plain good.

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