Steven Spielberg is garnering rave reviews for his remake of the 1960s classic musical West Side Story, an act of homage that is perfectly in keeping with Hollywood’s love of nostalgia.
Remakes have become a staple of LA studios as they try to mine the past for safe bets – as recent reboots of Ghostbusters, Dune and the never-ending superhero juggernauts make clear.
Some remakes have – debatably – managed to surpass the original, while others definitely have not.
Heat (1995): Not many directors remake their own film (Alfred Hitchcock was an exception with The Man Who Knew Too Much, feeling that his first version was too “amateur”). But US director Michael Mann felt he could have done more with his 1989 cops-and-robbers tale LA Takedown, and he was right. Heat is a classic crime caper, famous for putting Robert De Niro and Al Pacino on screen together for the first time.
The Birdcage (1996): Beloved theatre and cinema veteran Mike Nichols (The Graduate) remade the Franco-Italian 1970s film La Cage aux Folles almost scene-by-scene, but threw the unique energy of Robin Williams into the mix. It remains a point of contention as to which is better.
The Departed (2006): It boasted an extravagant cast (Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon), and finally won Martin Scorcese the best film Oscar he should have won decades earlier. But that did not intimidate Andrew Lau, director of the 2002 Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs on which it was based. “Of course, I think the version I made is better,” he told Apple Daily. “But the Hollywood version is pretty good too.”
A Star is Born (2018): The teaming of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper was the fourth time around for the story of an over-the-hill musician taking a fledgling talent under his wing. Many felt it was also the best, thanks largely to Gaga’s Oscar-winning Shallow, which immediately became a staple of karaoke bars around the world.
Many attempts to recreate past celluloid magic have flopped hard. Lately, Hollywood has shown a taste for reanimating cheesy classics from the 1990s, but in a darker vein – including Total Recall, The Mummy, Flatliners and Point Break – to the tremendous disinterest of critics and fans.
One of the most disastrous remakes of recent years was Swept Away (2002) from director Guy Ritchie, starring his then-wife Madonna. Based on a 1970s Italian film about a rich socialite stranded on a desert island with one of her yacht crew, it all but ended the singer’s on-screen career, with Variety concluding: “Madonna has persisted in making movies despite all evidence that this is one medium in which no one wants to see or hear her.”
Psycho (1998): Director Gus Van Sant took the concept of a remake very literally, replicating everything from Hitchcock’s 1960 classic almost exactly, right down to the camera angles. Reviewers were not impressed, with renowned critic Roger Ebert saying: “The movie is an invaluable experiment in the theory of cinema, because it demonstrates that a shot-by-shot remake is pointless.”