Cinema thrives on the recycled idea. In the current climate, movie goers often groan as another acknowledged classic is overhauled in a fierce riot of CGI and inappropriately youthful casting but taking a classic idea or a well trod story as your inspiration isn’t necessarily down to a drought of inspiration. Remakes often update dated tales that hold some universal truths that translate to any era once you change the venacular and the cut of the casts trousers.
So, in celebration of Zhang Yimou’s extraordinary and original take on the Coen Brothers Neo-Noir debut Blood Simple, here is a totally subjective list of movies that I personally feel stand on their own as great films in their own right. These are movies that justify their existence by either improving on a flawed original or taking a concept in a new and interesting direction.
Dawn of the Dead
The 2000s update of Romero’s classic might lose a little of the home brew eccentricity of the original and groundbreaking classic, but, in a time that has made Romero’s vision of retail temples and consumer slavery concrete, the ramped up pace of the new version, alongside its state of the art gore and a good ensemble cast, mean this is a rare horror remake that, even if it can’t escape the shadow of it forebear, can at least stand proudly in the gloom.
The original Blob was a teen horror sensation (albeit one with a very mature looking teen cast) and the 80s version does exactly what you’d expect. It retells the simple story of an ever expanding and hungry wall of gelatinous goo on the rampage with more interesting haircuts and all the gore that was unavailable to the 50s audience, whether due to lack of technology or prevailing public tastes.
Ocean’s 11 is a competent and entertaining heist flick that benefits from the incestous chumminess of its big hitting Hollywood cast. This cannot be said for the Rat Pack starring original, which drifts along on woozy, boozy fumes while the audience is required the be amused by the usual tipsy shtick of Dean Martin and the rest of the gang. The first movie has the beginnings of a good idea, the remake makes it work. It’s not the greatest film ever made but it does what it promises, something the first fails to do in the extreme.
The first Fly movie is a memorable piece of 50s pulp Sci-Fi. It’s of its time, a little creaky and a Drive-in classic. Cronenberg takes the idea and transforms it into a disintergrating body-horror. While the 1950s film plays on emerging fears about Science and uses the standard issue man in a scary mask tactic in the latter half, the 80s remake uses the story to strip a man down to his component atoms and wrench his soul to pieces. Jeff Goldblum’s twitching performance as a Doctor losing his humanity by increments mirrors mans fear of illness and death, particularly long, degenerative diseases which attack the things we think of as human, such as our memories or intellect.
Terry Gilliam took inspiration from Chris Marker’s remarkable 1962 art-film La Jetee. Le Jetee is a post-apocalyptic story told through a series of remarkable still photographs. Clearly, Gilliam expanded on this concept in creating his cinematic dystopia. His film is a classic of the 1990s but I recommend reading more about the original on WIKIPEDIA
East Meets Western
In last weeks BLOG POST, I responded to peoples surprise at transporting a piece of modern American Noir cinema to a historical Eastern setting but the traffic in movie ideas has been both ways for decades. A quick internet search will reveal that Spaghetti classic A Fistful of Dollars transforms Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo in an edgy Wild West classic while in 1960, Hollywood took the directors most famous characters, the Seven Samurai and made them Magnificent.
The Little Shop of Horror
Have you ever actually sat through the original 50s cheapie? Thank God for Steve Martin’s psychotic singing Dentist in the 80s version.
The thirties film is a classic and shows a world that people living through the times could relate to. Brian De Palma’s snowblind Cocaine orgy of a remake updates a very moral tale for a new culture of selfishness and greed that began emerging as the 70s faded and blossomed in the fluttering breeze of Filofax pages during the 80s. Pacino’s character is the ultimate capitalist and De Palma’s film stands on it own as a classic in its own right (and also as a essential addition to any rappers DVD collection when appearing on MTV Cribs)