Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Remake Rodeo

The announcement of an impending remake of Christopher Nolan's 2000 film "Memento" seems to have inspired some strong anti-remake feelings among film-lovers.  I can't blame them.  I mean, "Memento" is such a conceptually unique film, and executed so well that it's hard to imagine that anybody could successfully do another take on it without coming off as a retread. Not to mention that it's a relatively recent film - most of the properties getting remade at the moment are from the mid-90s, to take advantage of Millennial nostalgia.  As always, there's nothing inherently wrong with remakes, but there are certain expectations that they need to overcome, and a "Memento" remake would have daunting ones.

And I suppose it's as good a time as any to step back and take a look at how reboots and remakes have been doing lately.  2015 has four of note: "Cinderella," "Poltergeist," "Vacation," and the upcoming "Point Break," which is being released as Christmas counterprogramming and will likely be ignored and swept under the rug very quickly.  Frankly, I'm tempted not to count "Cinderella" since there have been several movies with the same source material, but the Kenneth Branagh version makes so many references to the 1950 Disney animated version, it's impossible to deny its roots.  Anyway, it's the best reviewed and best received of the bunch, and has made about half a billion dollars worldwide at the time of writing.  We can expect many more Disney live-action remakes to come.  "Poltergeist" and "Vacation" both got middling reviews and while neither was an outright bomb, they didn't make much at the box office either.  More importantly, they were discussed among hardcore movie fans for only a few brief days before being almost instantly forgotten.

This seems like very little to draw any conclusions from, so let's go back to 2014.  There were more remakes that year: "Robocop," "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," "Left Behind," "Annie," and "The Gambler."  "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" made about the same amount as "Cinderella," and has a sequel in the works for next year.  Among the rest, "Annie" didn't do too badly, but "The Gambler" and "Left Behind" hardly made any impression at all, ignored by audiences despite having Mark Wahlberg and Nicolas Cage starring in them respectively.  "Robocop" was a more expensive flop that generated some critical discussions, but only tepid interest.  The best thing you could say about it is that thanks to the efforts of director José Padilha, it's not as bad as it could have been. Go back further to 2013, and you have the remakes of "Evil Dead," Carrie," and "Oldboy."  Oh, right.  There were remakes of "Evil Dead," Carrie," and "Oldboy," weren't they?

The pattern should be evident.  When films are remade from other films these days, they tend to be fairly cheap, uninspired affairs that sometimes make a little money, but are quickly forgotten and rarely affect people's memories of the originals.  They're low risk films greenlit by risk-averse executives, and rarely attract any significant talent or aspire to any major ambitions.  The big exception appears to be children's films, which the studios are more comfortable converting into bigger, riskier tentpole pictures, and these tend to reap larger rewards.  Maybe it's because the audiences are less discerning, or the material is easier to reinterpret. I also want to point out a few outliers, Ben Stiller's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and Pete Travis's "Dredd" which shared source material with previous films, but I don't think are technically remakes.  Neither made much money, but they did win over some vocal fans by going off in completely different directions from their predecessors.

So keep that in mind about the reboots and remakes that are coming up in 2016: Jon Favreau's live-action "The Jungle Book," Paul Feig's gender-flipped "Ghostbusters," Timur Bekmambetov's "Ben-Hur," David Lowery's "Pete's Dragon," Antoine Fuqua's "The Magnificent Seven," and a "Jumanji" remake, which we know almost nothing about, but it's slated for a Christmas Day opening.  Without even seeing a frame of these films, I already have a pretty good idea which ones are going to share the fate of the "Carrie" reboot and which might have a shot at being the next "Cinderella."  There are some interesting question marks, though, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that one or more of the iffy-looking ones will surprise me.

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