Another remake found its way into our cinemas last week, to distinctly ‘meh’ reviews. Robocop, a remake of the 1986 film of the same name, has suffered criticisms for its diluted satire, lack of real villain (no Dick Jones, no dice), alterations to the original story and absence of blood ‘n guts.
I hate the idea of being a remake snob. It’s easy to deride a film for being something it’s not, or failing to live up to our expectations. A lot of the time these films don’t do themselves any favours by being a bit rubbish- the biggest culprit being, sadly, my beloved horror genre.
However, like a superior sequel, there are some films which have been remade so well that the originals remain a footnote. A lot of the time you might not even be aware you’re watching something unoriginal. So before you sniff at the next action/horror/comic book reboot/remake/reimagining, take a look at my top 5 films you didn’t know were remakes…
An Affair to Remember
Remember 1998’s near-identical colour remake of Psycho? Critics and most people with eyes balked how thoroughly pointless the whole affair was. Surely there was no need to tread on the original, which is hailed as a classic of horror cinema? Well, there wasn’t. But it is possible to make a scene-for-scene remake and pass it off as a genuine, bonafide classic. 1957’s An Affair to Remember, starring Carey Grant and Deborah Kerr, is one of the greatest love stories of all time. It’s sentimental, sure, but it’s good old fashioned, Golden Hollywood sentimentality. Belying its classic status, An Affair to Remember is a near-identical re-tread of lesser-known 1939 flick Love Affair. Perhaps the crucial difference between these and other cut & paste remakes is that fact that they were both helmed by the same director (Leo McCarey). I suppose it’s hard to make a botched job of your own work.
Mind-meltingly, Love Affair was remade in 1994 by Warren Beatty, and An Affair to Remember will be well known to those who’ve seen its modern day rom-com spin-off, Sleepless in Seattle.
Brian DePalma’s 1983 Scarface is famous for Italian-American Al Pacino adopting a comedy Latino accent, and for being the favourite film of footballers and rappers. It features a host of catchphrases about how to be a successful douchebag (“first you get the money…” etc), so I can see how it might appeal. However, I’ve always thought it a bit overlong and overrated, and full of awful characters. Apparently I’m in a minority and it’s regarded as something of a classic. I’ve always given it some benefit of the doubt as it was written by Oliver Stone- at the time, Stone was struggling with a cocaine addiction of his own- but the end result just isn’t my bowl of charlie.
The original Scarface is from 1932, and was produced by the legendary Howard Hawkes. It struggled with issues due to the Hays Code of Production, which delayed its initial release. It suffered due to being released after seminal gangster films like The Public Enemy, but remains a genre classic in its own right.
Three Men and a Baby
We may sneer at the quick turnaround from foreign language to English remake these days, but it’s not a new tactic. In fact, cheesy but loveable 1987 comedy Three Men and a Baby was made a mere two years after its French original, Trois Hommes et un Couffin. The Tom Selleck/Ted Danson version was a much loved favourite of mine as a child and the comedy still holds up today. It might be super 80s, but it was the highest grossing American film of 1987. The original version was no slouch though: it received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film in 1986.
That’s a lot more than can be said for a supposed remake of the remake: in 2011 it was announced that Adam Sandler would be making his version with Chris Rock, Rob Schneider and David Spade. The cinema-going public breathes a sigh of relief that it hasn’t happened yet.
Michael Mann’s sprawling 1995 crime epic Heat is rightfully regarded as one of the greatest of its kind: a multi-layered ensemble piece which plumbs its murky depths with utter conviction. It’s famed for being the first film in which Al Pacino and Robert De Niro actually share screen time, and is referenced by Christopher Nolan as his main inspiration for Gotham City. What you may not know is that Heat– dense, complex and articulate- is actually based on a no-nonsense, pared down, straightforward made for TV movie… which was also written and directed by Michael Mann.
LA Takedown aired in 1989 and took just one month to produce. Mann adapted it from his original 180-page script to fit a TV schedule time slot, before adapting it back into Heat, presumably because he had access to more money and a bigger cast. And because he could.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Tarantino. That said, I’m not above admitting that his most famous work isn’t the most original. There are several Tarantino films I could’ve included in this list: Reservoir Dogs (City on Fire), Inglourious Basterds (The Inglorious Bastards), Django Unchained (umm… Django). The one I ultimately chose was the one I’ve never much cared for, which is why I found it easy to single out: Kill Bill Volume 1. For those not in the know, it’s a reworking- of sorts- of 1973 Japanese revenge flick, Lady Snowblood.
And yes, before the purists get started, I know it’s not a straight up remake. However it is heavily referential, and borrows a lot from the original film. Like, umm, plot. And characters. And themes. Things you probably wouldn’t notice, really.
Other Notable Near-Inclusions: The Fly (1986), Cape Fear (1991), Reservoir Dogs (1992), True Lies (1994), The Departed (2006)