PHS columnist, Virginia Heath, takes on Hollywood's obsession with remaking classic films...
I tend to shudder when I hear the words remake or re-imagining because it means somebody thinks they can improve on near perfection and why would anybody flog a dead horse by remaking what was considered a bad film in the first place? You would happily let it rot away in whatever crusty old archive such films go to die in and move on with your life. But in recent years, Hollywood has had a nasty habit of taking much-loved treasures, practically perfect in every single way, and making them all over again. Usually with disastrous consequences.
Let me give you an example. As a teenager in the 80s, I was one of the millions of hormonal girls who flocked to see Footloose, the story of a disaffected city teenager who moves to a small rural town where dancing and rock music have been banned. I loved that film, from Kevin Bacon’s petulant portrayal of a moody teen to John Lithgow’s well-meaning but misguided preacher. It was a piece of cheesy, predictable and feel-good perfection.
Then they remade it.
Almost a carbon copy but without the 80s mullets. The premise didn’t stand the test of time and the new leads didn’t have the lasting charm of the originals. To say it fizzled was an understatement and I left the cinema wondering why they’d bothered.
There have been other similar copies which lack the charm of their better predecessors. Pride and Prejudice immediately springs to mind. If we ignore the Lawrence Olivier’s black and white original (because none of us are that old, surely?) then everyone knows Colin Firth is Mr Darcy and that BBC adaptation was pretty much flawless. The whole world- or at least the female half of it- fell hopelessly in love with the insufferably proud man in the wet linen shirt and cheered the feisty Miss Bennet to her Happily Ever After. Nobody does longing, yearning, soulful eyes like Firth’s Mr Darcy. That scene where Lizzie is turning the sheet music while his sister plays the piano… Simply swoon-worthy. I’m having palpitations just thinking about that heated, loaded stare.
You can’t improve on something so iconic, yet some fool still tried. A decade after Mr Darcy rose majestically from his lake at Pemberley in clinging, translucent white linen, they made the BIG screen adaptation. As you would expect from a BIG screen adaptation, it had a bigger budget, bigger stars, grander sets and an enormous advertising budget- and still was a pale shadow of its predecessor. Keira Knightly makes a so-so Elizabeth Bennett but Matthew Macfadyen was meh because he lacked the Colin Firth-ness of Darcy. The rest of the characters were disappointingly forgettable and there were, horror of horrors, no wet shirts to be seen.
The big-budget 2016 third remake of Ben Hur, thankfully, disappeared without a trace. The Guardian reviewer called it ‘Chariots of Dire’ and lamented ‘This dull, clunking return to one of cinema’s great warhorses lacks all the subtlety, passion and grandeur of its more illustrious predecessors’, so there was $100 million well spent by whoever thought it was a splendid idea to spend it. Just as the 2011 incarnation of Arthur, with Russell Brand in the role Dudley Moore charmed audiences with, tried too hard and ultimately failed to come anywhere close to the original. So much so that I cannot even remember which actress took on Liza Minelli’s role and can’t seem to find the energy to care.
With rumours of upcoming remakes of A Star is Born, Every Which Way is Loose and Splash currently in the works, one cannot help but wince at the prospect of the hash they will undoubtedly make. Can anyone else convincingly fall in love with a mermaid other than Tom Hanks? I sincerely doubt it. A classic case of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Unless you’re Disney. They appear to be the one notable exception in this sea of instantly forgettable and lamentable copycats. They are on a mission to turn all of their greatest animated masterpieces into live-action movies. Kenneth Branagh’s opulent Cinderella was first out of the gates. It was OK, if a bit saccharine, and his heroine was still far too nice and one dimensional for it to earn my ringing endorsement. It was clear they were testing the waters. The Jungle Book was better - but hardly much of a love story outside of the bromance between Mowgli and Baloo.
When they announced they were remaking one of my favourite love stories - Beauty & the Beast - I was originally horrified. Aside from Tangled, it’s the best animated love story they’ve done in my humble opinion. The tortured gruff Beast, that bookish, beautiful blue-stocking, the foul Gaston, Lumiere, Cogsworth and Mrs Potts are beautiful characterisations- the ending is sublime and it’s set to music! What more could you possibly want from a film? I was almost incensed enough to write a strongly worded letter to the Powers That Be demanding they keep their money-grabbing mitts off this wondrous classic. How could they? It felt like a betrayal.
However, what I lacked in faith I made up for in loyalty and went to see the movie on the night it opened. And I have to say it is a triumph. It takes the best of the original, embellishes it with layers of believable backstory and weaves a magical tale which held me mesmerised until the end. If I have one criticism of this stunning remake, it’s Beast’s unfortunate outfit in the final scene. Yes I know high heels and the sort of curled and rigid coiffure sported by female country and western singers in the 70s was in keeping with the 18th century time period, but Dan Stevens would have looked so much better in damp white linen and a sexy pair of boots…
So those are just two of the love stories I am desperate to see on film and TV. Agree? Disagree? Do you have favorites of your own? Let me know in the comments and share your #ScreenTime reviews with us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Virginia's latest release stars a suitably damp hero: A Warriner to Protect Her. For more information about her and her writing, check out her website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.