The Trouble With Remakes

| Monday, October 15, 2012
Today's Tune: Shadows

Remakes are nothing new in the realm of fiction and film. They can take a classic story and breathe new life into it, update it to reflect modern themes, even explore the original problematic elements and turn them on their head.

However, there are a few instances where drawing upon another work can be detrimental rather than inventive.

1.) Misunderstanding the messages/themes of the original work. I imagine I probably don't have to tell you how many times I've seen a remake of Romeo & Juliet portrayed as a cutesy love story or romantic comedy. It's difficult to work from source material that's been misinterpreted, although there's something to be said for taking a classic story and inverting its tropes.

2.) Borrowing stories from another culture without proper context. If you're going to reinterpret a folktale or classic piece of literature from a culture you're not intimately familiar with, it's extra important to make sure you understand the source material and its context in the culture it invokes. It's equally important to avoid going off of a romanticized or Americanized version of the story. Taking another culture's beloved stories and whitewashing them is very problematic. Likewise, it's best to avoid taking a story that's become a cultural icon for a certain community (women, GLBT, POC, minority religion, etc.) and recreating it for a majority audience. For example: don't remake Hedwig and the Angry Inch by removing all of the queer themes and turning it into a cisgendered story. I have absolutely no idea how you'd manage to do that, but you know what I mean.

3.) Using the original story as a crutch and making few significant changes. The purpose of a remake is to make a story new and fresh in some way. If the only changes are very superficial and the core of the story stays exactly the same, you're just retelling it. Push harder to spin the story in a new light or find a way to make it newly relevant.

4.) Similarly, rewriting the story to the point where it's unrecognizable and using a comparison to the original to gain the attention of that audience. You can't claim a story is based on Homer's Odyssey if it bears only the most obscure reference to the original story. I'm not sure why people do this, but I've seen it happen more than once.

Ultimately, I think retellings can be a lot of fun and a fantastic way to explore different themes using a familiar framework. Many times, I think it's almost more difficult to create a successful remake than a completely original work. You have to contend with purists and skeptics alike. But when they're done well, man, they're super cool.

How do you feel about remakes, readers?


{ JeffO } at: October 15, 2012 at 5:33 AM said...

My general feeling on movie remakes is, "Do we really need this?" Did we really need another 'Footloose' or 'Total Recall'? As for books, I don't usually notice something as being a 'remake' per se. Books, at least the ones I've read, usually don't come off as being super-similar to something else; a literary retelling of Romeo & Juliet usually seems much more fresh to me than a movie retelling.

{ Steph Sessa } at: October 15, 2012 at 5:59 AM said...

Cool post! As for movies, I like remakes if they update the story/effects if the whole message is kept in tact. (You're right about the message being lost a lot of times). I went to see Total Recall (because I like new effects) but they definitely missed capturing the main message I think. These things are def something to think about for retellings/remakes.

{ Old Kitty } at: October 15, 2012 at 8:58 AM said...

I think for me the bestest are those that re-imagines a classic, so for me samples from book to film are Apocalypse Now (Conrad's Heart of Darkness) and West Side Story (Romeo and Juliet)!

It can be done - if done with creative intelligence!
Take care

{ prerna pickett } at: October 15, 2012 at 11:40 AM said...

you have to be so careful with remakes. I still love that Clueless is based off of Emma, one of my favorites.

{ Dahlia Adler } at: October 16, 2012 at 9:52 AM said...

I just wrote my first one (of the biblical book of Esther) but I actually haven't read all that many (although Lord knows I loved Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You). I certainly agree with all your points, though! Writing one was a real challenge; it's a fine line between making it your own and pulling away completely. On the flip side, I did things I wouldn't have done in a non-redux, like open on a scene that didn't feature my most main character, because I felt the opening of the original was too iconic to remove. I admire authors/screenwriters who can do it well!

{ Rachel } at: October 16, 2012 at 9:58 AM said...

What a great post, Steph. I love the movie HEATHERS and twisted it into book form (more dark, less funny) and I've been learning to make it my own as opposed to being too close to the original for the sake of it. Like Dahlia says above me, there is a fine line of making it your own and all that jazz. You always have the most interesting points, Steph - I love it :-)

{ Adrianne Russell } at: October 18, 2012 at 9:38 AM said...

It's a delicate balance for sure. I'm all for using established stories as source material, adding new twists or interpretations, changing environments, etc. I think about Baz Luhrman's "Romeo & Juliet" or "Rent" which was based on the opera "La Boheme." But a point-for-point retelling with no added value just smacks of a cash-grab (I'm thinking recent remakes of "Footloose" or "Fame") and make my eyes roll.

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