Back when I was writing on nostalgia, Jason Sacks had commented that we should be aware remakes provide constraints and constraints can be virtuous creatively.
That idea got me to stop in my mental tracks and think this over. Now I’m not fundamentally opposed to remakes, but I’m getting a bit tired of seeing them so often. But his comment made me think that, yes constraints are valuable and indeed I’ve been a bit (only a bit) unfair to remakes in our modern culture. Certainly there are ones I like, agree are good, or want to see.
So I think it’s time that I, geek job guru, culture commentator, and creative guy, give some thought to when I think remakes are legitimate and even good. It may give you some food for thought, inspire you, or make you think “He’s full of it” and ignore me – but at least you’ll ignore me for a reason.
So without further ado, Steve’s List Of When Remakes Are A Good Idea.
This is an item I’d like to lead off with – sometimes remakes are a good idea because they provide a given framework or structure. There are certain rules, issues, ideas, and characters one can work with, and the effort of doing so provides both useful limits but also challenging ones.
This can be useful:
- To provide boundaries and limits and clarity.
- To provide a starting point.
- To allow one clear contrast to past works.
- To allow one to explore past works.
- To use characters who are best for expressing certain concepts.
Constraints, oddly seem to be challenging – as challenging as coming up with a new idea. They’re challenging as they make you stretch yourself, kind of like an exercise, which come to think of it . . .
Sometimes a remake is just good practice.
Learning to be a character, learning to draw something done before, learning to film something done before teaches you things. Finding your take, your version makes you a better actor, artist, writer, or director.
Now I’m not saying that we should view some multimillion-dollar epic as a simple exercise. But I can see remakes having their place as a form of practice, as above. People shouldn’t be dissuaded from this work – it just has its place. Besides, who knows when a practice remake may see greater exposure due to its virtues?
I myself have done rewrites-as-exercises several times. It’s fun to just consider possibilities, ask on the takes you’d use, and so on. It may never leave your head, but it will still be informative.
And who knows what it may become?
Some things just become their own pseudo-genres in a way, and remakes are really a way of exploring the genre at that point. Remakes at that point are almost “realizations” of a theme as opposed to doing it all over again.
A few “genrified” properties include:
- Sherlock Holmes. From “House” to Benedict Cumberbatch’s apotheosis to geek god, from cartoons to live, Sherlock Holmes is nearly a genre – he off-kilter detective and his grounded sidekick.
- The Seven Samurai. It’s a testimony to Kurosawa’s pure vision that “seven guys fight bad guys” is really nearly a genre. From The Magnificent Seven to Battle Beyond the Stars, he’s created a sub-genre.
- Batman. Batman is getting very close to being genrified – the traumatized child of wealth fights crime. Look at the many Elseworld takes on Batman, and you can see that given a few more decades, he’ll be like Sherlock or the Seven Samurai.
- King Arthur. Nuff said.
Some remakes I think are entirely legitimate as the explore properties that have become their own mini-genres. They provide some constraints (above) and formulas, but also provide enough wiggle room to explore the themes.
Now I admit I get tired when everyone explores the same “genrified” story at once, but that’s another problem.
Sometimes know what? It’s time to revisit a property.
Now I don’t think everything needs to be remade. Some things stand on their own thank you very much. I think people should explore the original art and media to know where things came from, and some things are “their own” and don’t need to be remade. I’d say you don’t need to do anything with “Casablanca” for instance – it is what it is.
But sometimes, it’s interesting to see a take on something done again – at least when enough time has passed (I usually prefer about 10-20 years at least).
Times change, people change, and a take on a given media tell us about the past and the present. They’re instructive, interesting, and inspiring. And sometimes you gotta update things a bit so people get it – and so you find more as you explore it.
I think a new Batman film every twenty years or so makes sense. Romeo And Juliet are great to update every few years as romance changes – which produced its own classics like West Side Story. I could see the Lord of The Rings film being remade (truer to the book) in another decade or so as a miniseries.
So sometimes, I can see it just being time.
A New Take
“Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead“, a take on Hamlet from the point of view of two minor characters, delighted me. Most of the cast of Hamlet were a group of crazy weirdoes, and I found the idea utterly appropriate. “Maskerade” by Terry Pratchett was a flipside view of “Phantom Of The Opera” which also looked at the usually annoying cast from another point of view. Come to think of it, I seem to enjoy new viewpoints on casts I normally don’t like.
So sometimes a remake is a great idea to get another side of things. Judging by “Wicked”, “Maleficent,” and plenty of other shows and media, there’s a taste for that. Besides people always love to see the other side of a coin.
Though this can be abused, it can be fascinating as well because it makes you think about a common property or plot differently. It doesn’t violate the integrity of the original work (if done right) and in facts adds to it. It’s a kind of complimentary creation.
Though I don’t think everything has to be adapted to every media, I think it’s a legitimate artistic challenge and interest to see things created in one media done in another – as a serious adaption.
Each media has its own challenges and advantages, and doing this really lets you explore and create. Yes it can be abused (and I would say has been abused) but that’s no reason to say it’s not a good idea. You can see things anew.
One of the most brilliant examples I saw of this was the “The Call Of Cthulu” film from 2005. This was a film version of the famous story (spoiler: Cthulu answers) but it was done sa a B&W film in the style of movies appropriate to the time the story was created.. Yes, it was Cthulu as silent B&W.
It was simply genious. It was done in a way appropriate to the time, used visuals appropriate to the time and story, and was stunningly effective as both a period piece and as an adaption. This is a story usually considered unfilmable, and the people filmed it effectively – the film itself is a multi-layered lesson as well as just being good.
In addition, some media adaption simply open up the property to other people who aren’t interested in pursuing the original form. Done right it just improves access.
Now, again, I can see this being abused, but i’m just noting.
You Can Do Better
Sometimes it may be worth doing again.
Think of a low-budget film that may actually be better with a budget. Or an adaption made into a film or TV show that took too many liberties or just screwed things up. Or something got half-done or cancelled early.
At times It’s almost a legitimate concern – how many times did you see a book become a movie or something and the adaption was . . . off? Would you accept a remake of the adaption?
I’d say by the way the newly released Sailor Moon falls into this category.
When It’s Your Own Work
If you want to rewrite something you did and make it better? Go for it. Not gonna stop you.
So Onward And Sameward
So yes, I do think remakes have legitimacy. I think there are times they’re justified, good, and even laudable – and educational.
So what’s your take?
Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.