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5 Great Genre Remakes & 5 Terrible Ones

by The Playlist Staff
September 21, 2012 1:06 PM
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5 Terrible Ones

"Rollerball" (2002)
Remakes aren't necessarily a bad idea in theory, especially when applied to films which weren't all that to begin with. And Norman Jewison's 1975 film "Rollerball" was never all that -- a decent, but fairly unexceptional future sports picture. But it's a positive masterpiece compared to the 2002 re-do, a phenomenally awful, misguided movie that pretty much crippled the Hollywood big-screen careers of everyone involved, not least director John McTiernan. While moved, somewhat inexplicably, to the very near future (the then-distant lands of 2005), the set up is vaguely similar, with three players in an ultra-violent super-sport (Chris Klein, LL Cool J and Rebecca Romijn) who come against its corrupt controller (Jean Reno). But hampered by a PG-13 rating, a spectacularly dim, vacuous script by Larry Ferguson ("Highlander") and John Pogue ("The Skulls"), and performances that range from hammy (Naveen Andrews' henchman) to barely conscious (Klein, whose career never recovered), the whole thing felt dated -- a representative of that dark, nu-metal era of our culture -- even before it was actually in theaters. Most depressing of all is that it came from McTiernan, the man behind action classics like "Die Hard" and "The Hunt For Red October." His handle on geography and editing is nowhere to be found here, resulting in a film that is an incoherent mess.

"The Omen" (2006)
Say what you like about Gus Van Sant's shot for shot remake of "Psycho," but at least the director was aiming for something close to art -- the pointlessness of the exercise was, in a way, the point.  When 20th Century Fox came to remake "The Omen," it was a purely commercial exercise, inspired mainly by a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to release the film on 06/06/06. But even given that, it's a remarkably cynical, lazy exercise, one that should perhaps have been tipped off by the fact that the film departed so little from the 1976 film that original writer David Seltzer ended up with sole credit on the film, despite never having worked on the remake, or even met director John Moore ("Eagle Eye" writer Dan McDermott was the man responsible for copying and pasting the original). Moore (the upcoming "A Good Day To Die Hard") follows predecessor Richard Donner's template in assembling a fine cast -- Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles as the Ambassador and his wife, British character actor stalwarts Pete Poselthwaite, David Thewlis and Michael Gambon stepping in for the likes of Patrick Troughton and David Warner. But aside from the sly casting of Mia Farrow as demonic nanny Mrs. Baylock, no one seems interested in anything other than cashing a check, and Moore is content to retread through the same set pieces as in the original film. Must unforgivably? It's never, ever scary in the least.

"The Wicker Man" (2006)
One day, we look forward to sitting down and explaining to our children and grandchildren that, once upon a time, Nicolas Cage was a proper actor, who did films like "Raising Arizona," "Leaving Las Vegas" and "Adaptation," rather than one who would take any low-rent job that would keep the taxman at bay. And when we do so, we'll point to 2006's "The Wicker Man" as the point at which everything changed. Cage had done his fair share of crap beforehand, but virtually everything he's done since Neil LaBute's baffling remake of the British horror classic has been cheap and shitty, a motif firmly established by this film. LaBute and others have tried to claim that the film was intended to be funny -- and to be fair, it surely wasn't meant to be scary. Or interesting. The provocative misogyny of the rest of the writer/director's work comes to the forefront as LaBute turns the pagan community of the original into a matriarchal island in search of the return of their bees (cue: "No, not the bees!"), but Cage's generic backstory and "personal" connection by placing his own daughter on the island only goes to prove how hacky the redo really is. And for all the YouTube montages in the world, the film's simply too dull to serve as an unintentionally funny cult classic.

"The Invasion" (2007)
If Kaufman's "Invasion Of The Body Snatchers" was an example of a remake gone right, than Oliver Hirschbiegel's "The Invasion" as a good counterpoint on how to do it all wrong. The German director's first foray into Hollywood following the acclaim of his WWII, meme-spawning drama "Downfall," is almost a textbook example of the intersection of foreign filmmakers and studio meddling. By all accounts the production was a mess, with the director and studio having two different visions for the movie. According to a Vanity Fair profile on Nicole Kidman at the time, she related that she signed on because Hirschbiegel had envisioned the movie with little to no special effects. Of course, this didn't jibe with WB who wanted a summer popcorn movie. After screening what the helmer had put together, the studio hired The Wachowskis to rewrite the script, with their pal James McTeigue tasked to direct the reshoots, and thirteen months after production first started, the movie rolled again. The result? A rather lifeless hybrid of two halves of a movie that just didn't sync up. The interior work by Hirschbiegel which is compellingly claustrophobic never works with action fare by McTeigue, and the movie is rather anonymous in the end, with a diluted political message coupled with half-baked performances in which no one involved comes out a winner. 

"The Day The Earth Stood Still" (2008)
Robert Wise's 1951 film "The Day The Earth Stood Still" is generally deemed to be one of the first bona-fide classics of the science-fiction genre, so any remake was always going to face a tough crowd. As it turns out, going into production on the 2008 remake of "The Day The Earth Stood Still" was the equivalent of walking into a lion enclosure having rubbed your torso in raw meat. It's well meaning enough -- latching an economic message onto the anti-atomic original, and so sincere and po-faced that it would almost be likable, if it wasn't so damn boring. Director Scott Derrickson ("The Exorcism Of Emily Rose") misjudges almost everything, from the casting (John Cleese playing it straightish as a scientist! Jennifer Connelly trying not to fall asleep!), to blockbuster friendly, Roland Emmerich-esque CGI money shots, to the inclusion of a cute kid -- namely Jaden Smith -- as a foil to Keanu Reeves' Klaatu. Hectoring, mostly incompetent, and entirely misguided, the film was beamed to Alpha Centurai as a publicity stunt. If we're wiped out by aliens a few years from now, we'll know why.

-- Oliver Lyttelton, Drew Taylor, Kevin Jagernauth

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  • John Crye | October 4, 2012 2:06 AMReply

    "But given the proliferation of adaptations, we'd argue that it does indeed qualify as a remake." What? You are going to qualify DREDD as a remake of 1995's JUDGE DREDD - even after you clearly noted that it is actually a second adaptation of the same source material - because... there are a lot of adaptations out there? You obviously recognize the difference between a second adaptation and a remake, so how can you so glibly dismiss that fact? Why do you bother writing these articles if you won't even adhere to your own logic?

  • Reyn | September 25, 2012 9:08 PMReply

    Hey, you forgot to insert 'IMO'. You are an illiterate if you think that barely OK Hollywood film is better than the Swedish version. It is a cheap remake with a shock-effect confetti sprinkled on top.

  • nechoplex | September 25, 2012 9:05 PMReply

    Like the other two commenters, I honestly do not understand how you guys consider Let Me In to be superior than Let The Right One In. The only thing that really worked in the remake was Richard Jenkins. His scene killing people were creepy, atmospheric and really effective. Unfortunately his character was watered down considerably and given very little screen-time. Besides that the score was good, but that's about it. Moretz performance was lacklustre and dull, and the boy who's name I can't even remember was quite unlikeable. All the subtleties that made the original so brilliant and special were lost in the American remake. The remake is just a straight-up horror film devoid of real emotion.

  • Phillip | September 25, 2012 3:17 PMReply

    I'm utterly baffled at how anyone could think Let Me In is on par with Let the Right One In, let alone BETTER. It's the definition of watered-down over-simplified American remake. There's a reason why Tomas Alfredson went on to do Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy while Reeves is relegated to B-level genre dreck like a "They Live" remake or the Twilight Zone film.

  • GeeBee | September 24, 2012 6:59 PMReply

    I expected to see the recent rehash of "Straw Dogs" mentioned in one of these lists, most likely the Bad one. from what I hear. Anyone have an opinion on that? I will be watching the Dustin Hoffman original this weekend.

  • Daniel | September 24, 2012 5:57 PMReply

    Yeah sure, if you liked a dumbed down simplified version of Let the Right One In then it may satsify...but for me, the original still runs rings around it. It's funny people mention the poor cat scene, yet they forget about the laughingly bad Gollum CG effect that they had in the American version that made Abby non threatening and just laughable.

    Gender politics? What Gender politics? They stripped out everything to do with Gender in the remake and instead made it a basic morality play. The original touched upon Gender, the book goes heavily into Gender...but the remake? It's non-exsistent in the remake...instead a bland morality play takes its place

    Emotionally satsifying??? It's a downright tragedy in Let Me In...I never saw it as emotionally satsifying when the whole movie is basically playing out a tragedy...I thought the original was far more emotionally satisfying (and simealtaneously creepier at the same time)

    I know this is just an opinion...well my opinion differs, I think Let Me In is completely average next to the original film

  • Clome | September 24, 2012 2:33 PMReply

    Dredd 3D is not a remake. It's another attempt, but not a remake. Another attempt at an adaptation. I'm sorry. this is infuriating!

  • Duddi | September 22, 2012 4:05 AMReply

    Very Interesting List - Congrats !!!

  • MJ | September 22, 2012 1:43 AMReply

    I still wish we could see Hirschbiegel's cut of The Invasion. What a bone-headed move by WB, you hired the man, you knew his vision & the screenplay he was shooting. If it wasn't going to be actiony or commercial enough for you, you shouldn't have given it the greenlight. Instead we got two halves of two different remakes glued together.

  • Stevo the Magnificent | September 21, 2012 11:46 PMReply

    It's a pity John McTiernan wasted his considerable talents on a pointless 'Rollerball' remake - not least because it eventually led him to jail - I would rather have seen McT direct 'Red Dragon' (instead of Brett Ratner), he would have done a grand job of it, methinks, alas...

  • Archer Slyce | September 21, 2012 1:36 PMReply

    This one is kind of a no-brainer I guess ... which would be why I agree with most of it. Except maybe for Let me in (don't know what I would replace it with though) in the "good ones". The "bad ones" has only must-not-see flicks. As far as the "ugly" is concerned I'm surprised the Pulse remake is not in (specially with Oliver involved). PS : still Rotch has a point... even The thing is rather a new adaptation.

  • rotch | September 21, 2012 1:19 PMReply

    How is Dredd a remake of the '95 Judge Dredd? Under that failed logic, Batman Begins is a remake of Burton's Batman, Amazing Spider-man a remake of Raimi's Spider-man... scratch that, Amazing Spider-man is totally a remake of Raimi's Spider-man and a failure at it.

  • Clome | September 24, 2012 2:31 PM

    to MJ
    Are you talking about the mistakes of having a great cast? Jokes? An actual sense of Spider-man? Fun? None of those are in Amazing Spider-Man.

    Marc Webb wouldn't know style or substance if it slapped him in the face. He should have watched some more Raimi. Learned how to make a movie.

  • MJ | September 22, 2012 1:40 AM

    Yes you're right, The Amazing Spider-Man did fail to make all the mistakes of Raimi's Spider-Man.

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