x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Remake, or simply rewind? When is it too soon do update a classic film?

Ahead of next week's release of Total Recall starring Colin Farrell, only 22 years after Schwarzenegger's original, we look at the hits and misses of the remake genre.

Colin Farrell in Total Recall, due for release next week.
Colin Farrell in Total Recall, due for release next week.

When Colin Farrell bursts on to our screens this month as Douglas McQuaid in the director Len Wiseman's Total Recall, it will be just 22 years since the Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring, Paul Verhoeven-directed original was first released. Isn't it too soon to be remaking such a cult classic? And it's not the only movie to be remade while many of the original cast are years from drawing a pension - Footloose got the MTV remake treatment last year (but, without Kevin Bacon in a vest, it was widely forgotten), the 1980 classic musical Fame was "updated" for the 21st century in 2009, and there's even talk of a remake of Dirty Dancing, although most women of a certain age know that no one is going to be able to keep Baby out of a corner as wonderfully as Patrick Swayze.

Of course, remaking a movie just a couple of decades (or fewer) after the original's release is nothing new - there were three versions of A Star Is Born in fewer than 40 years and a fourth was mooted last year with Tom Cruise and Beyoncé in the lead roles (the project has since stalled). However, it used to be that mainly minor movies got remakes, not classic ones, whereas today it seems nothing is sacred and it can't be long before some young upstart director decides it's time to deliver his own take on The Matrix, Harry Potter or The King's Speech (I know, let's cast Zac Efron in the role of speech therapist Lionel Logue, and Justin Bieber as King George VI!).

So, as we prepare for the latest remake/reboot/rethink - and there are more to come, including a modern-day update of the TV series The Sweeney, Gambit with Colin Firth and Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby - sit back and remember with us a few (rare) past remakes that actually improved on their originals - and a memorable handful that regrettably did not.


Four of the best

The Departed

There have been numerous foreign-language films that have been given an English-language remake (including The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Wings of Desire and La Cage Aux Folles) but the most gripping has to be Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning reworking of 2002's Hong Kong crime thriller Infernal Affairs. The action is relocated to Boston, with Matt Damon as the mob mole in the police department and Leonardo DiCaprio as the rookie cop infiltrating the bad guys. A stunning film with a superb cast that also includes Mark Wahlberg, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin, this wasn't Scorsese's first remake, of course, as he had already successfully updated the 1962 cult movie Cape Fear in 1991.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

This title could actually appear in a best and worst remake list - while the 1978 version is a cracking take on the original 1956 sci-fi B-movie about alien humans grown in pods, 2007's The Invasion with Nicole Kidman (actually the fourth cinematic version of Jack Finney's novel The Body Snatchers) is dull and forgettable and there are no pod people (it's some nonsense about brain goo instead). Choose the Kevin McCarthy-starring original or the remake with Donald Sutherland (McCarthy popping up for a cameo) as the health inspector who realises people are being duplicated then replaced by an alien race.

The Magnificent Seven

A Western remake of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, this is a great example of a movie that pays homage to an original rather than stomps all over it. Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter and Horst Buchholz are the seven gunmen hired to protect a village in Mexico from bandits led by the mean and nasty Eli Wallach. Three sequels followed, and while this didn't get a great reception on its original release, it is now rightly regarded as a true American classic.

Ocean's Eleven

The original 1960 heist movie was really an excuse for Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack pals Sammy Davis Jr, Peter Lawford and Dean Martin to whoop it up in Las Vegas for a few weeks. Steven Soderbergh's 2001 remake has an equally starry cast - George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Julia Roberts, etc - and glitzy location, but also benefits from a tricksy little plot and witty script as Danny Ocean (Clooney) and his gang decide to simultaneously rob three of Vegas's biggest casinos.


Four of the worst


Why would you want to remake one of the most famous chillers of all time, a 1960 classic directed by the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock? And, even more bizarrely, film it virtually shot-for-shot as the original? Well, Gus Van Sant thought it was a good idea in 1998, updating the time setting (and filming in colour) and drafting in Anne Heche, Julianne Moore and Vince Vaughn, who had the unfortunate task of trying to fill Anthony Perkins's shoes as the infamous mummy's boy Norman Bates. The critic Leonard Maltin called it "completely pointless" and "an insult" to the original. He was being nice.

Sabrina/Love Affair

For some reason, big-wigs in 1990s Hollywood decided it would be a good idea to remake a couple of classic romances, with ageing actors in the lead roles. First came Love Affair with the real-life couple Warren Beatty and Annette Bening trying (and failing miserably) to capture the on-screen love between Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne in the 1939 original - though why they bothered when there had already been the lovely 1957 remake An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr is anyone's guess. Then came a remake of Billy Wilder's Sabrina (that had originally starred Audrey Hepburn as the chauffeur's daughter torn between brothers William Holden and Humphrey Bogart) with Julia Ormond, Greg Kinnear and Harrison Ford (never the deftest hand at rom-coms) in the lead roles. Both movies are dire and about as romantic as a sink full of dirty dishes.

The Vanishing

Some remakes of foreign-language movies are terrific - and then there's The Vanishing. The 1988 Dutch movie Spoorloos, about a man searching for his wife who goes missing while on holiday, and the kidnapper who subsequently taunts him, is tense, atmospheric and unsettling, but despite having the same director (George Sluzier), something goes very wrong in the 1993 translation. Maybe it's Jeff Bridges's maniacally unhinged bad guy (he's supposed to be an ordinary family man with a dark secret, not a raving loony) as he teases Kiefer Sutherland (watch out for an early role for Sandra Bullock as the abducted girlfriend) or the fact that the ending was infamously Hollywood-ised, with everything all nice by the end credits, unlike the Dutch film's shocking conclusion.


Bill Naughton's play became a classic swinging 1960s film that made a young, handsome Michael Caine a star as the self-centred lothario sleeping his way around London. It was so much of its time that a remake - set in 2004 Manhattan - seemed a bizarre idea, and certainly the sight of Jude Law swaggering around, talking to the camera comes across more as a bland sex romp than anything of note. Law didn't learn from his mistake - he later appeared in a forgettable remake of the Caine/Laurence Olivier movie Sleuth, alongside Caine himself (playing the role Olivier had in the original).