Originality is SO 2008... or is it?

I love movies, and I love movie trailers... but honestly, I've felt like I'm trapped in a time capsule. Every movie that's coming out seems to be a remake of a movie I've already seen... and let's be honest. 9 times out of 10, it just doesn't work out... and I've always kind of wondered, why is that? Especially when the original is SOOOO good. Is it because the director/producer/actor combination can't be recreated? Perhaps, but if that's the case, why do certain remakes do better than others? (i.e. Star Trek vs. The Planet of the Apes)

I recently read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about The Taking of Pelham 123. Now, to be honest, I had no idea that was a remake, nor did I know that the original did SO well. However, despite this, the article was still able to catch my attention, and gave me something to think about. The article - entitled "Train Hijack? That's so '70's" by Mick LaSalle - contained 2 specific pieces that caught my eye.

Every movie involves two realities, the one onscreen and the one in the theater, and the interplay between the two is sometimes dynamic. "The Taking of Pelham 123" has all the usual virtues of a good action suspense drama, but it lacks that extra something - that context, that vital interchange - that made the original "The Taking of Pelham 123" such a memorable experience in 1974.

That's the opening paragraph, and that itself has a lot to say. It's soooo completely correct: part of what makes a suspense or adventure movie so interesting - on most fronts - is the fact that it exists in two realities. There's the reality happening in the movie, what's playing out in front of hte viewer, and there's the reality of the viewer... the viewer is watching and wondering if said reality on screen could really happen. And let's face it - most of the time, there's always a chance it could. However, if a movie lacks that second reality... if you can sit throught a movie and never once have to remind yourself that it isn't real, that it couldn't happen, then you won't be as emotionally involved, and the movie won't be as good. If the movie is BANKING on those feelings and thoughts - if it's banking on that second reality - then the ability (or lack there of) to create said reality is going to make or break the film, simple as that. Still, the article continues.

So, an evil mastermind decides to hijack a subway train and hold up the city of New York for an enormous ransom. Today, we watch and think, sure, that could happen. There are bad people in the world, and anybody could become the victim of some random, senseless act of violence.

But in 1974, this premise was received in a much different way, not as an outlandish scenario that could happen but as a variety of madness that probably would happen, sooner or later, because everything was falling apart. You know the litany: Vietnam. Then Watergate. New York City was going broke. Just getting into a subway car was dangerous, even without kidnappers or hostage takers. Back then, civilization seemed to be heading off a cliff, and New York, always on the cutting edge of fashion, looked destined to hit bottom first. Thus, "the Taking of Pelham 123" was more than a suspense drama in 1974; it was a vision of urban apocalypse.

Today, we have our own visions of the apocalypse - Terrorism, civic catastrophe, economic collapse - and this new "Pelham" might have gotten some extra juice had it tapped into those. But the remake eschews the social context that made the original so compelling. Instead of a terrorist for a villain, or someone equally mysterious, the movie gives us a lone nut and his small band of thugs. ("Pelham" even guesses wrong: When a character tries to manipulate the stock market, we look at his laptop to find the Dow Jones at 12,000. It can't be scary if our own apocalypse is bigger than their apocalypse.)

Bingo. There it is. One of the biggest reasons remakes just don't work out: Things change. Times change. Situations, fears, catastrophes... they all change. What was absolutely terrifying back then will no longer be terrifying now. What we connected with emotionally then, we might not connect with now. Probably won't.

In the instance of "Pelham," there are a number of reasons why the idea just wouldn't reach audiences. For starters, like they said, they used a lone nut and his band of thugs instead of a terrorist... perhaps they changed it in an attempt to not offend anyone, especially in New York... but after 9/11, I'm sure no one would have found it hard to believe that a terrorist could hijack a train. Also - like stated - if the economic crisis in the movie isn't as bad as the one we're already going through, then it isn't going to stir fear or suspense in anyone. We've been there, we survived, and the world didn't end. Who cares if some nut job on a train does the same thing? 12,000? That's nothing.

And, perhaps, these are the same reasons Star Trek did so well - it changed it up. It took an old story line and remixed it. Had they just stuck to it, there would be no suspense... there would be no "my favorite character could die." It would be, "he won't die, because he didn't." But they created an alternate timeline, made anything game, and it was a HUGE hit. They kept some things the same, but there's still the possibility that your favorite character could die, that an old villain could show his face again, and that the new villains could be bigger and badder than anything that has ever appeared in the Star Trek universe.

Same with James Bond. The new 007 movies are FANTASTIC... I don't have a single bad thing to say about them. The new Bond movies took an established character, and established idea, and took it back to it's roots, reimagining the series, rather than remaking it. You got to learn the origin of Bond, and watch him take a new path. The same debonair, charming agent is there, but his fate is in the air. You never know how many movies he'll be around for.

Perhaps that's the other big thing: Don't reMAKE, reIMAGINE. Remakes can't ever really seem to get off the ground... but reimaginings? Almost always a homerun. For instance:

  • Planet of the Apes: Remake - horrible movie. Ask anyone, Mark Wahlberg couldn't even save this flick.
  • Ocean's Eleven: Reimagining - GREAT movie. Spawned 2 sequels, the second of which was mediocre, but the third of which was just as superb, if not better than the first.
  • Poseidon: Remake - meh at best. It was interesting, but didn't hold the attention. It definitely lacked that second reality.
  • The Shining: Reimagining - technically, it was a mini series, but it was still much more amazing than the movie, and sooooo good. Best 5 - 6 hours of my life. :)
  • The Mist: Remake - Horrible. There was one scene that made me jump, that was it. The rest of the movie was spent staring at Tom Welling and begging for End Credits.
  • Salem's Lot: Reimagining - also a mini series, but still... AMAZING. So much better than the original. :)
  • The Ring: Remake - seriously... I've never been more unscared of a movie in my entire life. And I've seen Night of the Lepus.
  • The Italian Job: Reimagining - I can't stop kissing this movie's feet. :) So funny, so good!

And that's just a brief glance... now, this isn't like the ten commandments of remake rules... there are usually exceptions... but presently, I can't think of one. But, that's my take on it... remakes just don't work, reimaginings soar... and with a remake of Footloose, The Karate Kid, Child's Play (gimme a second to CRY about that), Nightmare on Elm Street, and possibly The Breakfast Club, I think it's an important thing to look into.

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