Remakes, Redos and Based-Ons
The good news is: you’ve got a script assignment! The bad news is: it’s based on a TV show from 30 years ago, or a movie that had an impact for its time but may be out of phase for today’s audience, or it’s a title, but not a story, that in and of itself isn’t enough to sustain a whole movie. So how do you approach it?
The value of these films for Hollywood is obvious. This weekend’s The Day The Earth Stood Still is the latest attempt to take a known title and update it and it premiered at #1. The value of a so-called “pre-sold franchise” is clear. Name recognition is the biggest hurdle; a known “What is it?” is the reason remakes and redos will continue to get remade and redone. So the question is: what if we get a similar opportunity?
What are our guides to help us make our re-imaginings winners?
Let’s start with films based on TV series. Most agree The Fugitive starring Harrison Ford is a high watermark. Whether you knew the backstory or not, or cared about its homage to “the one-armed man,” we were given everything we needed to cheer both the chased (Ford) and the chaser (Tommy Lee Jones). I liked The Brady Bunch for its tongue-in-cheek ability to make fun of itself. Its winning take is based on a “fish out of water” convention for which even the unititiated could root. Other successful renderings — Mission:Impossible, The Untouchables, and Addams Family — started with convention and broke from it.
Remakes are another challenge. What can you improve on with Bad News Bears, The Heartbreak Kid, or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Is it wise to go to the hits, the classics, the well-known or really smarter to go after misfires — famous but flawed — as the basis of a remake? And yet the challenge is the same:
Find the story.
What are your favorite hits and misses among today’s crop of remakes? I’d like to also know how your approach to these or any story could be enhanced.
- Risa Romano
I have a ton on both sides. I liked the new Indy movie (I know a lot of people will disagree, but that’s how I feel), unlike the news Star Wars trilogy. While we’re on the subject I thought the Day the Earth Stood Still was pretty good, but I did go in expecting to hate it as the original is one of my favorite movies. And neither have anything to do with the story they’re supposedly based on. I didn’t like Charlie and the Choclate Factory as much as Willy Wonka, but the remake was truer to the book. I hated Hitchhiker’s Guide. There were a few things that were perfect, but still a miss. And finally there’s A Kid from Brooklyn, which is basically word for word the Milky Way, but with musical numbers. I like both, but it basically comes down to whether you prefer Harold Lloyd or Danny Kaye.
- Martin Blank
My favorite, title character aside, is GROSS POINTE BLANK, which, character for character, is HAMLET. To answer your second question, I think it’s what you talk about all the time, Blake, give us the same thing, only different. And making sure the protagonist transformational arc (and also what you have to say), same thing: is something that resonates with current audiences.
I thought WILD WILD WEST was so bad that it was nearly unwatchable. Too bad, since casting Will Smith was a brilliant first step in re-imagining the series.
BEVERLY HILLBILLIES could have been a lot worse.
I’ll be very curious to see what CBS does with its revival of THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO; for instant buzz, I recommend they go with a grizzled older cop who’s black and pair him with a younger, more idealistic gay/lesbian partner, but I’m sure they’ll take the safest route possible.
- Kevin S.
I actually tend to stay away from remakes and based-on movies, simply because, unlike the theater, we have the original to watch and enjoy. Do you really need to remake Casablanca, for example? Or Wizard of Oz? Ok, well, maybe when the Muppets do it. Then it’s ok.
I think a lot of movies could be updated, however, given the fact that their original premise was based on a time period that’s passed or because the technology has changed so dramatically. I’m excited about the prospect of the new Escape from New York, just to see how it’s updated (but there could never be another Snake Plisskin), and Clash of the Titans. Logan’s Run is another one I think could be updated really well with today’s technology to really bring the future to life.
- Sarah Beach
I would love to turn His Girl Friday into a stage musical (set back in its original period and NOT “updated”) … and then do a movie of that. The one change I’d make is not to have Hildy have the submissive emotional break-down at the end when Walter proposes to re-marry her. Accept him, yes, but not get all weepy insecure about it.
For films… I’ve got to say I would love to do Have Gun, Will Travel. Although I understand there was an intention to take the title, update it to modern day (and basically keep NOTHING from the series). But me, I’d want to keep it in period, somewhere between the 1860s and 1880s. Call it Paladin, and deal more openly with racial issues and the aftermath of the Civil War in people’s attitudes. (Heck, I’d love to cast William Petersen as Paladin.)
- Scott W
My approach to a remake would be to ask myself: What’s fun about this, and how can I recreate that?
They figured it out with James Bond for the most part.
I think this quote figures in:
We shall never cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T. S. Eliot
- Nick Contopoulos
I guess it all depends on how you approach the subject matter. Take, for example, The Fugitive which you mentioned. It’s one of my favorite TV shows, and no one can every replace David Janssen in the title role. However, the filmmakers decided to use some set pieces from the series and update them; and the casting of Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones was brilliant. A rare case in redos and remakes.
I see the need for Hollywood to reuse successful stories from its creative pool. The challenge for me is to write the original story, but to give it that “same but different” quality that resonates with audiences.
No matter the story or twist, I know the purrfect place to enhance it. “Beat it out” and make it the best it can be at a Beat Sheet Workshop!
I’m still flabbergasted when I recall the process and progress–from pitch to perfection–of the great story ideas I heard at the Dec. 6-7 workshop in LA.
Thanks to Blake, Jose, and fellow workshoppers–all of whom helped me tremendously–for a great experience. I’ve never had a “beating” that felt so good. ;)
Seriously–I’ve worked with lots of small groups and teams, but I’ve rarely seen a group of strangers work so well, so selflessly, and so productively in such a short time.
To me, the Beat Sheet Workshop is the “Cat’s meow” of story development.
- Rob M
Just off the top of my head, this weekend’s The Day the Earth Stood Still would have been better as a sequel set in real time. Like the original, it warns of humans needing to change. What would happen if 50 some years later Klattu and Gort return seeing no change, worst of all, no progress.
Bad remakes? War of the Worlds, The Phantom, The Avengers, Scarface, Psycho.
Good; Sweeney Todd, Italian Job, Mr. Deeds (in it’s own unique way), and Batman (they all seem better than the last).
My thoughts? Make something close in concept to two franchises but spin it in a great new light, or turn it on it’s head, or look at it from another character’s point of view.
I recently heard they’re either doing or looking to do a remake of Romancing the Stone, and as a romance writer, cringed at the thought of somebody else playing Joan Wilder or Jack Coulton (and their chemistry) or how somebody would interpret it some 25 years later.
I’m curious if you, Blake, or anybody else thinks there are remakes that just should not be made or if anything is up for grabs because of the possibility of it being better.
- Bradford Richardson
Once upon a time industry moguls moved heaven and earth to make the most original and entertaining films because these films were the most profitable. Good for them. At least then, “original and entertaining,” was a driving factor in a film’s creation and a major part of valuing a film after its release.
Don’t get me wrong, profitability is good. It’s just time to restore, “original and entertaining,” to the value equation.
Casablanca need no remake. I agree with Kevin S. But that is because there are few things that could have been made better today. Humphrey Bogart may not be considered handsome today, but it does not matter because he does not need to be handsome in that role. There are no stop-motion effects that look horrible today and so on.
In the case of e g Sabrina a remake was needed because the attitude has changed. The love story is still great, but the preferences and ideals have moved on. Humphrey Bogart and William Holden look like two old men. A relationship across social borders a no longer chocking.
In the remake of Psycho I think they made a mistake to do it exactly as the original but in color. Then it became so obvious that there is another tempo in a movie of today.
Sometimes I think remakes exist simply because Hollywood has run out of ideas and studios see opportunity for at least lukewarm successes off name-recognition alone. I’m not against remakes, but do it once, do it great, and then move on to new stories. Am I the only one who actually groans whenever I see B&N or Borders cardboard Batmans or Supermans? The 1989 Batman remake was stunning, almost inconceivably great. But all…those…90’s…remakes — and yes, they were remakes. I feel like I’ve been watching the same damn movie over and over again for 20 years. And even with regard to “The Dark Knight,” Heath Ledger was good, but I’ll rent Nickolson, thanks.
So, summarizing my rant, make the remake, make it great, make it ONCE, then move on. It’s not like there’s a shortage of OTHER ideas out there.
(For instance, there’s no need for another Hobbit to grace the screen for at least 50 years.)
- Mike Rinaldi
I disagree with Hunt’s final point. Lord of the Rings showed that technology is ready to handle Middle Earth and the time came to do those movies right. The duo of Peter Jackson and Guillermo Del Torro has my expectations very high for the two-part The Hobbit. It’ll be a while before it’s onscreen, but I’m already looking forward to it.
- Steve Wimer
Beverly Hillbillies! I loved that remake. But the original show was such a good “fish-out-of-water” story it’d be hard to screw up.
Alright, I’ll make an exception for The Hobbit, but then that’s never been adapted to screen has it? — Except maybe as a cheesy animation. I always thought the story was more coherent that Lord the the Rings anyway, so it might be very good. No Hibbitmobile though, please.
- elizabeth fais
One of my favorite movies of all time is “My Man Godfrey” with William Powell and Carol Lombard. That combo is hard to top, but an intelligent/sensitive remake of this comedy would still be great … maybe even create another classic.
- Sarah Beach
Regarding remakes – I’m not so ready to say “Don’t do it!” John Huston’s version of The Maltese Falcon was actually, I believe, the FOURTH one. It’s now considered the classic, virtually the “one and only”.
So, we can’t just dismiss remakes out of hand.
Me, I don’t think The In-Laws really needed to be remade. I DO think the original (Alan Arkin and Peter Falk) needed a new music score, as the original score did not really serve the off-beat comedy of the film.
- Cody Lyons
I sat through the remake of Black Christmas this weekend. Someone should give me an award.
Blake, am I missing a link to the last couple months’ blogs? The archive mentions April 2008 as being the latest update. Sometimes I miss a week or two, but I’d love to catch up. Thanks so much!
Hugs from Kieran in Charleston, SC
- Saeed Faridzadeh
An upcoming remake that I’m not really too keen on is The Crow. Granted, it’s already been butchered to death with 3 spinoff movies, and a TV series, so what if they remake the first story of Eric Draven?
I guess this one bugs me the most is because it’s the first remake in which I saw the original movie in theaters, 15 years ago. Makes me feel old.
Another remake that bugged me was Psycho. Even though it was almost an exact clone, shot for shot, I couldn’t watch the whole thing. It just bugged me.
And The Omen. It was so close to the original Omen why not just remaster the original and release that in the theaters back in 6.6.06?
If you are going to remake something, then it needs to be something different, and not pay TOO much homage to something by simply retell the the same thing with a new cast.
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One of the best of recent years was 3:10 TO YUMA. I think most agree that it was as good or better than the original. And one of the worst was THE DUKES OF HAZARD.