In a conversation with a friend about remakes, said friend noted that there are three things you need to do with a remake:
- Retell the old story, and not only do it justice but pay proper homage to it.
- Update the story so it appeas to modern audiences, both in narrative and presentation.
- Make the story your own.
I agreed, but added that all three of those things run the risk of working at cross purposes with each other. The problem is not that we remake things, but that very little is brought to the table each time we do so — that each successive revisitation brings diminishing returns, because it is created entirely in the shadow of the predecessor. Every now and then we have a remake that digs back under the surface of the source material — True Grit, for instance — and comes up with something new.
I have no inherent hatred of remakes — if it wasn't new in Shakespeare's time, it sure as hell isn't in ours — in part because I see them as merely a symptom of a larger cowardice. Hollywood's function is to buy talent and properties, and then monetize them in as risk-free a way as possible. Remakes are one of the best ways to offset risk: you have a known quantity, you can guarantee a high degree of pre-sales for it, and in some cases you can end up in the black before you even have the product out in theaters.
What's hilarious is that given the sheer amount of money thrown out the window over projects that either never come to light or end up as Everest-sized turkeys, Hollywood might as well say the hell with risk and just finance whatever looks cool. Most of what gets called "entertainment" these days isn't even all that "entertaining" anymore — and how could it be, when it's a subliminal rehash of everything that's been flying around for the past thirty years?