Tuesday, April 6, 2010

SF News: Everything Old is New Again

With the recent additions of films like Clash of the Titans and A Nightmare on Elm Street to the ranks of the great big Hollywood remake list, and even more on the way, we have to wonder is there any good reason not to remake a genre film?  Some would argue that the originals were masterpieces, except for the ones that were famously awful, and should never be redone in any way, shape, or form.  Others would posit that while these films were great for their times, nobody under the age of 30 has seen them, nor are they likely to do so since they have no connection to the works at all.  So let's look at the pros and cons of remake mania.

Actors: In the modern film, Actors have mostly given way to Stars.  What is the difference?  Well Actors are professionals who care more about their craft and performance than they do about glitz and glamor, whereas Stars are serviceable enough at their craft, but are mostly attached to projects to increase box office appeal.  While older films have more Actors in them, many of them are poorly utilized, and while Stars may not be as good as Actors, this deficit can be overcome with better writing, direction, and effects.

Directors: The art of cinematic directing has changed radically over the past few years, and not just because of changes in technology.  Sure tech has influenced and driven some of that change, but primarily the director's vision has been influenced by changes in perception, style, and artistic conceptualization.  Even the old hands have changed their processes and style over time.  Compare Close Encounters of the Third Kind to War of the Worlds and you will see what I mean.  Action aside, War of the Worlds contains few, if any, of the elements that one normally associates with Spielberg films (although the ubiquitous Spielberg Stare is still there).  Updating an older film can make huge changes in the look and feel, creating a new version that is more accessible to modern audiences.

Visual Effects: Do I really need to explain why updating visual effects with a new treatment of an old film is necessary?  Seriously?  Much as I loved the old The Day the Earth Stood Still, its look and effects are wickedly outdated.  Is the new film better because of better effects?  No, mainly because it falls apart in Acting and Direction.  Would an updated version of Forbidden Planet be a good thing?  Probably.  Would an updated Star Wars?  If George Lucas is involved, probably not.

Writing: Remember when screenwriters actually wrote dialog and storywriters wrote story?  Me neither.  A friend of mine was arguing that this is common practice, and has been for a while.  While I cannot dispute that having no knowledge of the practice, it might explain the disconnect in many films between what is happening and what is being said.  There are quite a few good, capable, professional writers out there, and attaching them to a remake of a beloved classic tends to make us all feel better.  Still, it could be argued that if you are doing a remake, why not just use the original script with a few updates (Yes, I am looking at you Tim Burton.  Planet of the Apes indeed).

So in the end, as we look at these four major factors in the 'old vs new' debate, we are left with just as many questions as we had before.  There is room for both old and new versions of any film, however it could be argued that unless you are improving on the original you should leave well enough alone.

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