You may have seen the teaser for the latest horror remake, A Nightmare on Elm Street, coming to movie screens in 2010. Producer Michael Bay is reimagining the slasher classic. Based on the trailer alone, the production values seem solid, and I really like actor Jackie Earle Haley, but it seems like the personality and humor that Robert Englund brought to the role in the earlier films might be lost here. We will have to wait and see if this is a worthy remake or just another example of Hollywood running out of ideas and dipping its pen in an empty inkwell once again.
Unlike some people, I do not hate all remakes. Some movies can be reinterpreted by new writers or directors, adding new relevance for a whole new generation. The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers for example had one kind of meaning during the Red Scare era of the 1950s, and then the remake in 1978 had a timely tone befitting that decade. But then the additional remake The Invasion in 2007, in my opinion, served no purpose and added nothing new.
Some reboots work, as can be seen in the constant new versions of the James Bond franchise, and some fail miserably. Others fall somewhere in between.
Two of the best recent examples of remakes that are actually good are Batman Begins and Star Trek. Director Christopher Nolan took the Batman franchise and gave it new life, putting the Caped Crusader into a believably gruesome Gotham City, blending a touch of realism with the fantasy superhero action, and reaching near perfection with The Dark Knight. J.J. Abrams revived the Trek franchise, which many skeptics had written off as dead. He managed to make a movie that was both fresh and nostalgic, accessible to new viewers while also enjoyable for longtime fans of the original television series and movies.
Many remakes, of course, completely fail. I wish someone could wipe from my memory the totally unnecessary shot-by-shot remake of Psycho that Gus Van Sant created. Why tinker with the Alfred Hitchcock classic in the first place? Another example of horrible, terrible remakes has to be The Omen. The original was one of my favorites, but the reboot left me feeling empty. The cast, the music, the cinematography, the pacing, none of it measured up to the 1976 version directed by Richard Donner and starring Gregory Peck that continues to haunt me.
Then you have those remakes that just become forgettable. You can add all the recent horror remakes to this list. Tim Burton's new vision of Planet of the Apes may have had some slightly better makeup and special effects, but the story and new twist ending were not an improvement at all and were most likely a step back. Steven Spielberg taking a stab at a War of the Worlds remake may have sounded like a great idea, but it came nowhere near surpassing the original classic. It could have explored some powerful themes about terrorism, but it just seemed like one of many other recent disaster flicks. And its focus on the H.G. Wells plot point of the aliens taking human blood had the potential to lead to some profound metaphor about AIDS, twisting the original film's "bacteria saviors" surprise ending, but the Spielberg reboot instead relied on a simpler, blander, and less memorable conclusion.
Hollywood will continue to remake movies of the past, but let us hope that they will do so with some thought and creativity.