Remakes are, of course, by no means a new phenomenon. Hollywood has been remaking its classic titles for decades, from the four remakes of A Star is Born to the seminal 1998 remake of The Parent Trap. However, cinema today is becoming increasingly saturated by re-imaginings or even just recreations of older films. Most recently to grace our screens was Stephen Spielberg’s West Side Story, which remained relatively close to the original, even featuring one of its actors. Rita Morena, who won an Oscar for her role as Anita in the 1961 film, stars in the 2021 version as Valentina, a reimagining of Doc. Also, although a release date has yet to be confirmed, a live action remake of the 1937 Snow White is forthcoming, but it has proved contentious over concerns expressed by Peter Dinklage that the depiction of the seven dwarves is “backward” for a 21st century film.
Remakes are often perceived negatively due to assumptions that they are lazy, neglecting the pursuit of new projects and simply rehashing already successful films to make millions. Some are unfortunately but undeniably offensive to the name of cinema, like the 2017 Dirty Dancing; the less said about which the better. Many, however, arguably trump the originals with the 2006 Casino Royale allowing for Daniel Craig’s iconic debut as 007 and even becoming the highest grossing Bond film until the release of Skyfall in 2012. Whilst I more than understand the disapproval of direct remakes which make no attempt to reimagine the original and make inspired changes, I feel we are doing these films a disservice if we render them mere results of a Hollywood cocktail of laziness and capitalism.
After all, inspiration is admiration. Why do we so heavily berate films that at their heart are paying homage to some of our greatest ever creative talents? Have we all forgotten being taught at school that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery? Many of the greatest works of art and literature ever created are heavily based on past works, why should cinema be any different? Plays are reinvigorated year upon year with new casts and directors, yet news of another remake is almost always met with a collective groan that Hollywood has finally run out of ideas.
It is the lovers of the originals who are the remake’s worst enemy. Deep down, beneath the social pressure to love Pulp Fiction, most people’s true favourite films are not feats of filmmaking, but movies that represent certain periods in their life; a love grounded in nostalgia rather than any deep, objective critical appreciation of the film as a cinematic masterpiece. For the films that we can recite the words to and that remind us of our childhood, remakes will never hit the mark. If it’s too similar it’s an uninspired waste of time. If it diverts too far from the original, no matter how inspired or ingenious, fanatics will always favour the old one.
As well as just irritating fervent fans, dare I suggest that remakes serve another, marginally more important function. They bring new audiences to old stories reimagined, making sometimes dated films more palatable for audiences who missed out on the magic the first time around. As well as resurrecting old stories, remakes often also help to introduce more people to the original. In fact, my love of Audrey Hepburn films began when I watched the 1995 remake of Sabrina featuring Julia Ormond as the wonderful Sabrina Fairchild. Although I am well-aware that watching the original after the remake is arguably just as sacrilegious as reading the book after watching the film, after loving Pollack’s version I was inspired to watch the 1954 film and became enamoured with the rest of Hepburn’s filmography.
So, I warn you against being overly harsh towards remakes of your favourite films, and instead urge you to reframe them as an avenue through which new audiences can experience the wonder of the stories you already love, even if they’ll never quite match up to the original.