By Steven Smith
Years ago I got into a discussion with someone a bit younger than me about artists doing someone else’s song. I said, “You mean covers.” They looked at me with pity filled eyes and told me, “We call those remakes now.”
Remakes are not new – oh the irony – but they do seem to be more prevalent across the artistic board. In a world where Spider-Man is re-launched less than ten years after the first trilogy is finished, or where Broadway is continuously churning out musicals based on films ("Bring It On," anybody?) are all the good ideas really done?
Not so in the comic book world, where taking an old idea and re-tooling it is just part of the process and when it works, it really, really works. Case in point – "Ultimate Spider-Man," which the latest "Amazing" film borrowed from heavily. That made sense, because nobody believed Tobey Maguire as a smart-ass but Andrew Garfield has his snark DOWN. "The Amazing Spider-Man" also struggled with the angst of Dikto and Lee’s original idea more so than Sam Raimi's approach – although "Spider-Man 2" is still top notch.
The cream of the crop of the revamp is J.J. Abrams’ "Star Trek." You thought I was going to say Christopher Nolan’s "Batman" trilogy, didn’t you? Well, I would have if not for the "Dark Knight Rises" (shut up). Abrams took the idea of a remake and turned it on its head...WHICH, by the way, is what makes a good cover of a song. You know what you’re listening to; it’s super familiar but there’s a new angle to it you hadn’t heard before. Abrams’ familiar characters with their own new mystique are enough to charm older fans, bring in new ones, and then oh snap it’s Leonard Nimoy! (By the way, my opinion still stands: keep the old guard out of the new "Star Wars" J.J., take us years into far, far into the future, you’ll thank me.)
Super heroes are mythology, so trying different takes on them makes sense, creatively and economically. "Superman Returns" was a bust because it tried to attach itself to a previous mythos, while "Man of Steel" seems to be going the "outlaw" route. I’m skeptical; no one likes a "dark" Superman. Batman, yes, he’s supposed to be dark because he’s an emotionally disturbed paranoid. But Superman? No, too scary.
Which brings me to "The Crow." I’m a super-fan of James O’Barr’s comic going back to the Calibre printing. I was excited for the film, crushed when Brandon Lee died tragically, and heralded it as a triumph when I saw it in the theater. I take issue with a remake, and wonder why people just don’t rent the old one. Alex Proyas’ work does not need be re-made, nor does The Crow’s legacy need to be sullied ("The Crow: City of Angels" did that, "Stairway to Heaven" even more so). But nonetheless I’m curious about the rumored remake; if James MacAvoy is attached there could be something. The question is, why readdress it at all? What could be done differently? Or is the mindset, “Wow I could have done that so much better.” Pretty pretentious, but also infectious. (Eh, George Lucas? Do you think he sold everything to Disney out of spite? I kind of do. Of course Jar Jar Binks does fit in better with the crows from Dumbo. Too harsh? You bet!)
I realize remakes are the ultimate crossroads of where art meets commerce. No film company is going to market an older movie, especially in today’s world of dwindling DVD and Blu-Ray sales. Everything is at your fingertips, so the best way to get butts into movie seats is rehash older ideas in hopes younger folks will attend along with older peeps who are curious.
At the end of the day, even Pacino’s "Scarface" is a remake – so as long there’s gold to be mined Hollywood will keep digging. But isn’t it amazing no one has touched "Casablanca?" You KNOW they’ve talked about it. Still, they should quit it.
Steven Smith will be first in line for J.J. Abrams Star Wars Episode VII, iFanboy’s own Ron Richard’s is the guest on his Going Off Track podcast this week, and when someone redoes a song it’s always called a cover.