I had so hoped that the remake of ARTHUR would be better than it is. I like Russell Brand a lot, and still believe he can be a movie star, but this misbegotten remake does him few favors. As I sat watching it, mostly looked at my watch hoping that it would soon be over, I actually started to get very angry. This woefully unfunny romp makes so many mistakes, from keeping Arthur an alcoholic, unbelievable in this day and age, to making manservant Hobson now Arthur’s nanny, that it made my head spin. Remakes are always a crapshoot, but why did this get shot and end up so crappy?
Remakes are always a mixed bag. For every OCEAN’S ELEVEN (2001) or THE FLY (1986) that is infinitely superior to the original, you get a god-awful re-do like THE STEPFORD WIVES (2004) or THE PLANET OF THE APES (2001) that makes the originals seem like masterpieces. Of course so many remakes are made because it’s easier for Hollywood to sell an audience on a title that they’re familiar with. But therein lies the problem. A movie that most people have heard of was probably a hit, and more than likely a movie that is a hit is also a pretty good one. To remake something that has a good reputation already is just asking for trouble.
The original ARTHUR (1981) was a big commercial success and even netted a couple of Academy Awards, so why remake it? Is alcoholism funnier today than it was thirty years ago? The answer to that is obvious. Is there any part of Russell Brand’s persona that is analogous to the idealistic naiveté of Dudley Moore’s? Quite the contrary, Brand looks like he could give the devil himself a few pointers on debauchery. (I think Brand should play a Bond villain. Now that I’d believe him in!) And is the story of a spoiled billionaire sure to resonate in a down economy? Hell no! This remake was made without proper consideration of the components at play. And it fails utterly.
For my money, I think there is only one reason to greenlight a remake. It’s not to introduce a new audience to the material. And it’s not to cash in on a known property. It should only be done if the original wasn’t particularly good.
When I think of the best remakes, they are invariably the ones that had rather cheesy predecessors. Or movies that at best rated a “Meh.” The production values and cast of the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) were strictly those of a cheapie B movie. The 1978 remake was a sprawling and expensive production with an A list cast headed by Donald Sutherland. 1951’s THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD was another B movie that could only be sharpened by an A+ remake. The original had terribly cheap special effects and an embarrassed looking James Arness (a few years before he’d become Marshall Dillon in GUNSMOKE) portraying the alien in giant head make-up and a shiny tunic. So when John Carpenter remade it in 1982 as THE THING, not only was he able to bring expensive state-of-the-art make-up and special effects to the production, he chose a superb cast of character actors to make it believable, including Kurt Russell, Richard Dysart, Keith David, Wilford Brimley and Richard Masur.
It’s easy to remake a cheesy horror movie. It’s also a lot easier to make a superior remake when the original just didn’t mesh with the public. Bad casting can often be blamed for an audience not responding to the story being told. If you don’t believe the people saying the words, you’re not going to buy any facet of it, no matter how much time and money was spent. Steve McQueen was no one’s idea of a businessman in a three-piece suit when he played the elegant thief in THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR in 1968. But an actor like Pierce Brosnan looked like he was born on Savile Row and therefore helped make that 1999 remake of CROWN so much more believable.
There has yet to be a definitive screen rendering of the classic novel THE GREAT GATSBY mostly due to the fact that previous film versions, starring Alan Ladd and Robert Redford respectively, suffered from their leading men being wrong for the role of Gatsby. Both were far too patrician to play the dark and desperate outsider, and also way too old. Let’s hope that Baz Luhrman, in his remake scheduled to start shooting this year, gets the casting right. With Leonardo DiCaprio set to play Gatsby it appears to already be a step in the right direction.
The next two calendar years will supposedly see releases of over two dozen remakes including: AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, CHILD’S PLAY, FOOTLOOSE, EXCALIBUR, FRANKENSTEIN, FRIGHT NIGHT, THE THREE MUSKETEERS, THE WARRIORS, TOTAL RECALL, and TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY. All of those originals were pretty darn good, so the odds are against them. Let’s hope Hollywood gets lucky and makes the gamble worth everyone’s time. Particularly the audience.
I’d love to hear what you thought was a good remake and why, so please share your picks with all of us here and keep the discussion going!