Night of the Remakes

Do you have an idea of how many adaptations of Hamlet or The Taming of the Shrew there have been made? And whereas some may indeed mutter: “Just what we were craving for, another Shakespeare version!” resistance is futile: restaging a play is not an uncommon or ungodly thing. Remaking a film seems like a tougher job, though people like Steven Soderbergh (Underneath and Ocean’s Eleven) and David Cronenberg (The Fly) got away with it, not in the least because their adaptations were personal. And yes, it’s always easier to direct a remake of a lesser known film like The Fly or Gone in 60 Seconds. It seems like the only thing you shouldn’t attempt is to offer the remake of a cult classic. Arguably the worst example is Psycho, Gus van Sant‘s scene by scene remake of Hitchcock’s classic (Gus defended himself by shooting almost exactly the same picture because the original couldn’t be improved). Some things, apparently, just shouldn’t be remade. Just ask Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman who managed to make themselves truly hated by millions of fans for attempting to make a movie version of The Avengers. (Uma even tried to make it worse by posing herself not only as Emma Peel of The Avengers but also Meiko Kaji of Lady Snowblood.) Today we take a closer look at two remakes possibly nobody was waiting for: The Wicker Man and The Prisoner.

First up, The Wicker Man. A British cult classic starring Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland and Christopher Lee. The maypole dances, the veiled eroticism, the wicker man… one would have to be mad to attempt a remake of such a film. Enter Neil LaBute, director of a handful of movies best described as “not the ideal first date movie”. LaBute, it seems, avidly studies misogyny and makes uncomfortable films about the subject. Sounds like the ideal man for the remake then.
Well, in all fairness, The Wicker Man could’ve been a lot worse. It’s hard to care for Nicolas Cage, but LaBute does manage to compare the human world to the bee world without looking too much like a pompous ass. What a shame then that someone felt the need to include supernatural elements (or maybe it’s all a dream – sigh… bored): Cage as an officer you don’t really like forcing a mother to stop her car and being forced to watch how the car, the mother and her daughter are suddenly devoured by flames. Was there really a need for such a scene? No, there wasn’t.
In fact, The Wicker Man seems to have more of such scenes and fast forwarding seemed the easy way out. Still, after arriving at the end credits I felt like I’d skipped some vital elements, rewound the dvd and watched the film again, my hopes for a good film shattered. Funnily enough, the film seemed a lot better now and only Cage (surely a bit miscast) and the alleged supernatural elements bugged me this time. Was the film good? No, there were too many elements disturbing my enjoyment to classify this film as ‘good’, but by no means is it as bad as a lot of people say. At least, LaBute managed to adapt the film into a LaBute film, despite the hammy plotlines and Cage. Neither fish nor flesh then and so a five out of ten was awarded.

Next up, The Prisoner. I don’t think I’ve hated the announcement of a 60s series more since the news an Avengers movie would be made. Only the fact that Patrick McGoohan had an executive producer’s credit seemed like a bit of good news. So let’s start with the good news…
The new Prisoner‘s series didn’t feel the need to have an ocean around. When Jesus (sorry, Jim Caviezel a.k.a. Six) escapes, he finds himself in some sort of desert. Number 2 is also there, this time portrayed by Ian McKellan. He does a good job and the idea of summoning a couple to his place and demanding they’d bring a pie was a great touch. It was virtually pointless, but the shot of McKellan enjoying the cake gave him some sort of monarch status. The worse news is that the remake is more naturalistic when it comes to ‘numbers’ living together in a village: they breed and the result is a baby with a new name… sorry, number. The old series was more sexless and for some reason, that felt better: it gave The Village a more washed-out feeling. The remade Village more looks like a Stanford experiment gone wild.
The worst news is that the original series was almost impossible to remake: McGoohan wasn’t just Number 6, the show was his brainchild and he wrote and directed some of the episodes. Basically, Patrick McGoohan was The Prisoner.
Add to this frequent vapid flashbacks which annoy more than they intrigue and you’re stuck with the notion you’re watching a remake of a show that doesn’t have the personality of the original. After watching one episode, I couldn’t be bothered to make sure I’d watch all the other episodes. I may watch them when accidently stumbing upon them, but I won’t feel a nanosecond of loss if I’ve missed an episode. The photography is good and it’s decently made, but that’s about the nicest compliment I can think of. 3/10, if I’m being generous.

And so, the night of remakes has come to an end and one conclusion stares us directly in the eye: originality can’t be overrated.

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2 thoughts on “Night of the Remakes

  1. deeopey April 7, 2010 / 09:04

    I had no idea about the Prisoner remake. After umming and ahhing about what TV show to start watching next I at long last started on the original show on Monday.

    It’s really been excellent and with very few exceptions hasn’t dated so far. It’s nearest cousin to date that I’ve seen is actually Lost (a slightly sexier cast there no doubt). Seems a real shame to remake something that still works though.

    I think that’s what remake hatred boils down to. Why bother.. it’s not like a cover version of a song, the time and energy required to make a movie is huge and from a huge number of people. If the original is something that still works then don’t bother.

    Actually I take it back the main reason for remake hatred is the obvious. You like a film and someone rather than use their own creativity decides it’s easier and cheaper to take an existing story and cash in on the good-will and buzz generated by the original.

  2. Kurtodrome April 19, 2010 / 02:06

    Good choice on the series.

    I’ve seen only part of The (new) Prisoner’s second episode.It could’ve been a lot better had it chosen to say something about these times. After all, we do live in a global Village these days. And of course, Caviezel is no McGoohan.

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