So, the Robocop remake’s probably going to suck.
Presumptious? Not necessarily. There’s something to be said for remaking some films, and some simply are practical: Have you seen “Ringu”? Possibly, but you’ve almost certainly heard of its remake, “The Ring”. Foreign language remakes guarantee a wide American theatrical release – They’re in English. Other occasions, a story may have been very solid but the effects of the time might’ve simply reduced the opportunities to tell it. I don’t think anyone would argue that “The Thing” took “The Thing from another World” into a whole new realm, even though the story’s pretty much the same.
Sometimes remakes take a different tack with their basic story. “The Seven Samurai” has been reintroduced under several times and settings, most famously with “The Magnificent Seven” (Western). “Rear Window” got a Naughties redux as “Disturbia”, and 1960′s horror “Little Shop of Horrors” suddenly became a musical. Remakes work to varying degrees, some eclipsing their originals (“The Fly” comes to mind), others just making do with a spirited or competent retelling (“Dawn of the Dead” and Peter Jackson’s “King Kong”) and some just, well, simmer or suck.
But WHY do they suck? Well, I’d contend the ones that REALLY make you feel as though that $8-10 could’ve gone ANYWHERE else completely miss what made their original material special. Additionally, they usually have no ambition beyond retelling a story – Any magic that a film acquires when it makes the jump from page to screen – tone, chemistry, atmosphere, subtextual details – don’t usually make a remake’s list of priorities.
So, back to “Robocop”: Even if you want to dismiss it as “of its time” or “action/sci-fi”, the film nonetheless has some cutting, nasty observations on a future that may pretty much takes its cue from the corporate 80′s. It’s sandwiched amidst the whole cyborg/Peter-Weller-slips-legit-acting-in plot, but it arguably helps the tone of the movie seem more cold, calculated and morally bankrupt. It makes the film and its world feel that much more whole.
Is that even a priority with the remake? In the same way that the “Red Dawn” remake had the deck stacked against it with the whole “Lack-of-a-Cold-War” thing, “Robocop” is likely to suffer the same fate – It’ll be remade, perhaps even well. But without the social bite and sting of the original, there could be a void that just gets filled with action. And never mind that some of the brutality of the original will likely get cleaned up for a wider audience too…..
That’s speculation. But I’ve every reason to suspect “Robocop’s” guilt on charges of substandard remake, because I’ve got evidence: 10 films that really didn’t get the point of their source material. And I’m cutting them some breaks:
*I’m not counting foreign remakes; it’s simply not fair. Those get remade for a reason, and sometimes also become very different films. (Watch the aforementioned “Ringu”; Naomi Watt’s kid in “The Ring” may have had issues, but he was no wizard…) The best find different ways to tell their stories or find their own strengths in a new context. The rest and the worst just relay the same thing in a different language, which is still done for a practical reason as mentioned before.
*I’m not counting complete reimaginings. I didn’t like “Disturbia” and feel “Rear Window” is a far superior film, but it at least TRIED to get the ideas right and do things differently. That takes SOME creativity. Also, I accept some people simply are going to relate to “Disturbia’s” setting and demographics than “Rear Window” and its now “period” film status. (Admit it, a cellphone totally would’ve wrapped that film sooner.)
*I’m focusing on films that seemingly thought we needed the SAME story, SAME plot beats, and/or even the same scripts. And while pedants could insist that “The Amazing Spider Man” and Raimi’s “Spider Man” are the same film, it’s more effectively falling under the category of….
*Reboots. Not counting them either; as in the best of cases these stories end up finding a new angle or tone. As mentioned, “The Thing” and “The Thing from another World” are basically the same story, with just the execution differing the two. Tim Burton’s “Batman” and “The Dark Knight” couldn’t be more different in their aims, even though the protagonist and antagonist are identical. (Really, you could even argue The Joker’s just a catalyst to the real conflict in Nolan’s film, while Burton’s is just straight good vs evil, too.)
In all these movies there’s usually a “point of no return”: Details that make it clear the film is hobbled and will never even manage to be a decent film, much less measure up to its predecessor. These are noted with an appropriate “Argh”.
And some of these films have performances or elements that simply were going to elude any remake. These are noted too, as they just make it all the more apparent why these were doomed to fail.
And I’ve also noted: Yeah, there’s a lot of horror in this list. Great Horror and suspense films thrive on creating a terrible place you don’t want to be, and that involves so much more than just having a maniac chase a girl barely keeping her shirt on. As I’ll explain in more detail, it seems that many of these remakes in particular miss the atmosphere or dynamic that a film had and just get the plot beats in order. You can remake a fluff comedy film and at worst get a tepid fluff comedy or something that showcases a lead, but it seems that even with pitch perfect casting you can make a horror film that even a carnival ride has more thrills than…..
(Oh, and seriously – Spoilers ahead. For both originals AND remakes.)
So first up….
This article was first posted on January 23, 2013