Posted by mike in Annoyances,Film at 9:13 pm on March 28, 2010

In general, and with very few exceptions, I dislike the very concept of a movie remake. To me, film is an art form, and there is not much interesting about imitation art. Sure, it’s good to see a play when it comes to your town, and such productions are always featuring rotating casts. But a play is ephemeral; there’s no other choice. With a movie, I can see the original by any number of means, and it’s the exact same experience every time—and sometimes, as in the case of remastered videos, or, say, if I upgrade my TV, the experience can even improve.

Cover songs are different as well. A live performance is one thing—it’s in the moment, and exciting—but for the most part the original is always better. (There are a couple of exceptions, of course—Hendrix doing “All Along the Watchtower” being the most ready example, but Nirvana’s version of “The Man Who Sold the World” also comes to mind.) For the most part, though, a band doing a cover is only a novelty—and it’s certainly not often taken as much of an artistic contribution in its own right.

Paintings—the old-school kind of “art”—are, perhaps, the most like film in this regard. Photography, too. There’s something beyond the end product on a canvas that makes it art. Your buddy Jimmy may be able to make an exact replica of the Mono Lisa, but nobody would care to see it.

With movies, though, this isn’t the case. The general thinking—particularly in recent years—seems to be that if it made money once, it’ll make money again… and to many people (those who decide which films get made and which don’t, in particular), making money is all that matters. It may be an art form, but it’s also a business.

Even recognizing this, the following has me completely baffled:

It’s a film called Death At a Funeral. It’s a remake of a British film of the same name that just came out 3 years ago (in 2007). The original is in the same language. It had a theatrical run in the U.S. It’s readily available to rent, from Netflix or your local video store.

Having seen the original, I feel pretty confident saying, based on the above trailer, that this remake is more or less the exact same movie. I feel even more confident saying this because the trailer shows you nearly the entire film. They’ve even cast the same dwarf (Peter Dinklage) to reprise the same role. The only differences I can detect are token dialogue changes done to make it “a black movie” (Chris Rock‘s line at the end of the trailer—”and you’re mad ’cause he’s white?”—for instance).

So what is the point of this? I can understand, to an extent, making a film that’s “inspired by” an earlier one (Chris Rock’s own I Think I Love My Wife, for instance). I can even understand redoing a successful film that was originally in another language—there’s a forthcoming Americanized version of Let the Right One In, and while I don’t think it’ll be as good as the original, I can at least admit that it’ll get a wider audience in this country (Americans don’t like reading subtitles).

The counter-example that often comes up in defense of remakes—especially for me— is Hitchcock, who remade his own The Man Who Knew Too Much, but that was a different era. He made the original in England at a time when British films didn’t get much American distribution, not to mention the fact that it was long before the advent of home video. His American remake of that film—22 years later, mind you—would’ve truly been new to American audiences, who would’ve been lucky to have even been aware of the original, much less have seen it.

Death at a Funeral is a totally different situation, both due to the era in which it was made—things happening in Britain aren’t exactly completely unknown to American audiences these days—and the fact that it’s been less than 3 years since the first version came out. I think the latter point is what really bothers me about this particular example, but the whole situation in general is something I find really annoying.

I realize that I may as well be yelling, “Get off my lawn!” here. And the truth of the matter is, as long as there’s money to be made, there’s no shame among those providing the production dollars in what they get spent on. And recognizing that I can’t control anybody (and wouldn’t want to, at that), I can only hope that this recent example of this altogether ridiculous phenomenon is a complete flop, because that’s the only thing that’d go anywhere towards ending the trend. For whatever it’s worth, the original is pretty good; it’s a cute, funny little movie, the kind that makes for a really enjoyable rental on a Sunday afternoon. And having seen the original, I feel pretty confident saying that the trailer above leaves pretty much nothing left to be discovered in the film itself. It’s not only one of the worst trailers I’ve ever seen because of the film it’s advertising, and the fact that its very existence is something that I find to be somewhat offensive; it’s also one that essentially functions as a summary of the entire movie, which is something I’m sure I’m not alone in being annoyed by.

As they would say on the recently-canceled “At the Movies“… Skip It. Please.