by D.W. Lundberg

Monday, July 12, 2010


We finally got around to catching the remake of The Karate Kid this week, starring Jaden Smith (son of Will) and Jackie Chan. I was pleasantly surprised by it. The initial story beats are more or less the same, with alterations - some major (mainland China stands in for a substantially less exotic Los Angeles), some minor (here "Mr. Miyagi" becomes "Mr. Han," "Daniel LaRusso" becomes "Dre Parker" and so forth). Then, at some point, this updated Kid takes on a life all its own, and for a good while, the "re-imagining" seems warranted. It helps, for one thing, that the karate's improved; the choreography as featured in the 1984 movie always seemed a little too stagy for my taste, even if it got the point across. For another, Chan's given a little more room to play - I liked how the tragedy in his past closed him off from communication with the rest of the world, and how his time spent with the kid helps bring him out of his shell. The only thing lacking is the tournament climax, which is treated more like an afterthought to all the drama that precedes it (again, it reverts to the exact same beats as the original, and lacks surprise). All in all, though, I'd say it's an improvement on the original.

Which, of course, got me to thinking: What about the cinema's other high-profile remakes? Usually when filmmakers get it in their heads to put a new "spin" on some beloved property, the results are never pretty. Either they miss the point of the earlier film completely, or they flat-out fail to bring any new ideas to the table, and who wants that? I like my originals exactly the way they are, thank you very much.

As the saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it - something Hollywood's apparently never heard before. How else can you explain so many remakes throughout the years? By way of example, here's a list of six titles movie producers saw fit to "improve" upon. Did they succeed? Fail? Die trying? I'll give a one- to two-sentence thought on each, for your reading pleasure (I'm limiting myself to keep from turning this into a month-long project). Why six? I dunno. Seemed like a good idea at the time:


Title: Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (F.W. Murnau, 1922)

Remade As: Nosferatu (Werner Herzog, 1979)

The Difference: The eerie silent film version of this vampire fable is the first (unauthorized) adaptation of the Dracula novel, forced to make changes to the character names because the late Bram Stoker's estate threatened to sue. Herzog's remake replicates the overall look of the silent picture, but it moves with the other-worldliness of a fever dream set to slow motion.

Title: Scarface: The Shame Of A Nation (Howard Hawks, 1932)

Remade As: Scarface (Brian De Palma, 1983)

The Difference: A crackling studio picture par excellence, 1932's Scarface charts the swift rise and fall of a gangster (Paul Muni) from thug to mob boss to victim of his own trade. De Palma's over-hyped, over-heated retelling of the same story wallows in drugs and sex and graphic violence for nearly three hours, as punishing a morality play on the corruption of power if there ever was one.

Title: The Shop Around The Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940)

Remade As: You've Got Mail (Nora Ephron, 1998)

The Difference: The exquisite charms of Lubitsch's pen-pals-who-find-out-they're-actually-lovers romance go undisputed, as does the appeal of Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan. Updated for the electronic age, Mail isn't without charms of its own, and it coasts along nicely on the natural chemistry between mega-stars Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

Title: Ocean's 11 (Lewis Milestone, 1960)

Remade As: Ocean's Eleven (Steven Soderbergh, 2001)

The Difference: The 1960 caper gave Rat-Packers Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. and their buddies an excuse to have fun in Vegas while a film crew recorded it all on camera. The remake is pretty much the same thing (with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and others as a trade-off), only this time there's like, you know, an actual plot.

Title: Infernal Affairs (Wai-Keung Lau / Alan Mak, 2002)

Remade As: The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006)

The Difference: Set among the crime-ridden streets of Hong Kong, Affairs is a suspense-filled thriller ripe with double- and triple-crosses in its final act. Scorsese's version follows the same twists and turns, but gets a shot of adrenaline from its performances (Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson are all at their career-best) and benefits from its vivid Boston setting.

Title: Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)

Remade As: Halloween (Rob Zombie, 2007)

The Difference: Carpenter's light-on-the-gore slasher pic is a masterpiece of suspense and technique, which a lot of people tend to under-appreciate. Zombie's gruesome re-imagining of the Michael Myers legend spends too much time setting up a psychological backstory for its boogeyman, which severely dissipates what made Myers such a supernatural threat in the first place.


That's just seven off the top of my head. There has to be more, though, right? Are there any I forgot that particularly rubbed you the wrong/right way? Are there any you felt were improvements o the original? As always, feel free to complain/add to the discussion below!


  1. The Italian Job. Remade from The Italian Job... I have no idea the year, but the old one is corny as all get out, where the updated one is really quite good.

    Thomas Crown Affair. Remade from the Thomas Crown Affair... again, I have no idea what year, but probably before I was born. Both movies are... Fun! =)

  2. I think it just goes to show that Hollywood is out of ideas, that's why they re-do everything that's already been done before.

    Here's a couple that I thought of: The Ring - a remake of the Japanese film Ringu. Both films were scary.

    Inglourious Basterds - a remake of Inglorious Bastards. I tried watching the original and couldn't finish it. I prefer the newer, misspelled Tarantino version!

  3. There are plenty of bad remakes but every once and a while Hollywood strikes gold and remakes a classic better than the original. I wanted to talk about a couple Audrey Hepburn movie remakes.
    Sabrina (1954) which originally stared Audrey, along with Humphrey Bogart, and William Holden, was rather lacking in humor or charm. They spend the whole film trying to get you to buy that Humphrey & Audrey’s characters were falling in love, but there just wasn't any chemistry. (Which is funny because in real life William Holden, who plays the younger brother, and Audrey Hepburn had an affair. No wonder!) However the remake Sabrina (1995) which stars Julia Ormond, Harrison Ford, and Greg Kinnear, is just great! Not only did I believe the love triangle in this one, but I also laughed a couple times. It's actually one of my favorite romantic comedies. Harrison Ford is defiantly better than Bogy in this one.
    One the other hand we have “Charade” (1963) with Audrey Hepburn, Carry Grant, and Walter Matthau. “Charade” is a fun suspenseful thriller, with never ending twist and multiple cases of mistaken identity. The Original was magical, just pure fun; One of my absolute favorite movies ever. Sadly the remake, "the truth about Charlie." (2002) Staring Mark Walberg, Thandie Newton, and Tim Robbins, was just dreadful. They screwed up the whole plot, it made absolutely no sense, and everyone was trying way too hard to play their parts the way the original cast had, instead of doing their own thing. Mark Walberg was just plain awful in it. They improved on nothing and in my opinion just ruined a great movie. I think the only reason to ever remake a film is if you've got something fresh and new to add to the story, or if you can update it and make it better. Otherwise don't mess with the classics.