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Filmmakers often have an urge to remake classic movies

Posted July 21

We've all had the experience of falling in love with a painting or a book or a movie or some other work of art that we find so entrancing we feel compelled to return to it, perhaps repeatedly.

And maybe it’s so inspiring that we even find ourselves pursuing that art form as a frequent diversion, an absorbing hobby or even a lifelong profession.

But how many of us have the urge to go back and copy the piece that initially spoke to us, to remake it in our own image, if you will — to essentially reinvent an inspiring work that we profess to care so much about?

Lots of filmmakers have this urge, and I find it quite puzzling.

Is it really a good idea to remake a beloved classic?

My knee-jerk reaction is to say no. Go make something original and leave that one alone. It’s great all by itself, thank you. Why would you want to position the thing you profess to care so much about as a footnote to your own version?

But that might be shortsighted. Perhaps every moviegoing generation feels the need to have its own version of a beloved film. After all, for those who prefer it, the original is still out there to enjoy.

And maybe that’s why we have a new “Ghostbusters” movie opening today (directed and co-written by Paul Feig of “Bridesmaids” infamy). At this writing, I haven’t seen it, so no judging from this corner. But the trailers tell me it’s overblown in the expected bigger-is-better 21st-century-movie way.

For example, in the first film there’s a scene in a Manhattan hotel that shows Bill Murray about to be attacked by a grotesque ghost, but the camera cuts away as the creature closes in on him. When we see him next, Murray is writhing on the floor, covered in goo, and says, “He slimed me.”

In the trailer for the new film, Kristen Wiig is assaulted by a larger, looming ghost that spews a huge amount of green goo on her in a projectile-vomiting manner that seems to go on forever.

OK, maybe a little judging.

Still, remaking film favorites is nothing new. Even a moviemaker as revered as Steven Spielberg has done it — three times! Albeit with middling results.

The first was the 1983 anthology film “Twilight Zone — The Movie,” for which Spielberg directed one segment, remaking the 1961 episode “It’s a Good Life.” Neither that segment nor the film as a whole is remembered today as anything more than an afterthought to the original TV series.

The second was “A Guy Named Joe,” a World War II fantasy about a bomber pilot (Spencer Tracy) who crashes into the ocean and dies and then is given a heavenly mission to ostensibly guide another pilot (Van Johnson), though it’s actually to help his still-grieving girlfriend (Irene Dunne) let go.

A minor sentimental classic, “A Guy Named Joe” was often cited by Spielberg as his favorite film, inspiring him to become a filmmaker. And in 1989, he remade it as “Always,” shifting the setting to modern-day aerial firefighting, with Richard Dreyfuss, Brad Johnson and Holly Hunter in the key roles. But it’s a trifle and one of Spielberg’s least-remembered efforts.

Still, he did it again in 2005 with “War of the Worlds,” a remake of the 1953 movie he also named as a childhood favorite. Spielberg’s version is better remembered, thanks to Tom Cruise being the star, but it hardly ranks with the filmmaker’s best work.

Similarly, Peter Jackson was quite enamored with the original 1933 “King Kong” when he was a lad, and after his “Lord of the Rings” success gave him the ability to do so, he remade it as a big-budget epic in 2005. Jackson’s “King Kong” is fairly enjoyable, but it’s also a bloated three hours and sluggish in places.

And there are many others: Tim Burton’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” the Coen brothers’ “True Grit,” Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s Eleven,” Jonathan Demme’s “The Manchurian Candidate,” Martin Scorsese’s “Cape Fear,” Gus Van Sant’s “Psycho,” John Carpenter’s “The Thing” and “Village of the Damned,” and many, many more.

But are any of these films better than the originals? Again, that's very subjective. Perhaps some are. To younger generations, perhaps they all are.

So maybe the real question is, Are they necessary?

Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at hicks@deseretnews.com.

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