Let's make some rules on movie remakes

I couldn't believe what I was hearing — say it ain't so, Ash.

I told Campbell I sympathized with people who questioned the idea for this film. I told him I saw it, I didn't have a bad time (it was surprisingly thoughtful and well-made; the opening shot of a woman stumbling through a ravaged forest soaked in unearthly light looks more expensive than the original “Evil Dead” itself).

I also recognized that remakes are a cultural reality. But remaking “Evil Dead” seemed distinctly troubling to me, a disturbing new front in movie audiences' battle with remake fatigue.

I said it was one of the first remakes lately where the original had a voice so unique to its maker any remake would be a bad imitation, and fundamentally miss the point of what made the original unique. (For instance, imagine the remake of a film by Wes Anderson or Quentin Tarantino — any director whose work is so specifically them. You can't, just as your voice coming through a different body would not sound natural.)

He said, “Yeah, but I would say that's the charm of the original you're talking about.”

I said, yes, exactly.

He said, “There's nothing that says we can't just focus on the story this time.”

Which reminded me: In the new “Evil Dead” remake, a woman rips out her own tongue and loses her voice.

Ahem. And so:

A Movie Audience's Hollywood Remake Bill of Rights

Article I: A remake must account for its distance from, and the distinction of, the original.

There shall be no remakes of movies less than 30 years old. Moreover, there shall be no remakes of endearing classics. (When producer Dino de Laurentiis remade “King Kong” in 1976, the film's tag line was just playing with fire: “There is only one King Kong!”). Also, distinction matters: A genre flick like “Cape Fear” (1962) is acceptable material for “Cape Fear” (1991), as “Ocean's Eleven” (1960) was sufficiently forgotten enough to become “Ocean's Eleven” (2001). (Exception: Foreign films made less than 30 years ago may be remade if it's in the right spirit. Example: “The Magnificent Seven,” a remake of “Seven Samurai.” Also see: Article III.)

Article II: A remake must consider a filmmaker's voice.

There shall be no remakes of movies in which the filmmaker's (obvious) influence was intrinsic to its success. Traditionally innocuous, weak-voiced material (“Footloose,” “Total Recall”) is acceptable, but traditionally auteur-driven, strong-voiced material (the upcoming remakes of “Carrie,” “Robocop”) is not. The upcoming remake of “About Last Night …,” however beloved by some, is acceptable because the original, despite being an adaptation of David Mamet, was so weak-voiced. Remakes of comedies, typically the most voice-driven movie genre, should be avoided. (Note: “His Girl Friday,” a remake of “The Front Page,” should be treated as an anomaly. Instead, see: Steve Martin's “Pink Panther,” a remake of Peter Sellers' Pink P.)

Article III: Remakes must deliver something new.

A remake, should it be necessary, must find something fresh to say about the material. It must resonate with a contemporary audience, not simply revisit the past. (See: David Cronenberg's “The Fly,” an AIDS-era update of an original obsessed with modern science.) The remake filmmaker must recognize that he or she is remaking said film because said film likely distinguished itself, broke rules or went out on a limb. Said remake should similarly go out on a limb. Superhero movies, which are all about the mythology, are exempt.

Article IV: Older, specific elements should be gently included in a remake.

Any element that immediately calls to mind the original should be discouraged, including aging actors, a similar visual scheme or a signature line of dialogue. Good: John Carpenter's 1982 remake of “The Thing From Another World” (1951), which borrowed the frozen wasteland and premise, and that's it. Bad: “The Thing,” the 2011 remake that borrowed Carpenter's blue-black color scheme and only reminded one of Carpenter's film. Also, please, no unnecessary “fleshing out” of previously vague material. (See Rob Zombie's “Halloween.”)

Article V: Please leave filmmakers alone.

We're not helping.

Studios are going to trample on our rights regardless of what we say. Your favorite movie will be remade, so stop making filmmakers so gun-shy about taking chances when they do trample on our rights and sign on for a remake. Therein lies something fresh.

Instead, consider the words of Chicago musician Chris Connelly, who leads the David Bowie cover band Sons of the Silent Age: “To remake something is a moral question. We remake music from David Bowie, but it could be anyone, anything. We do it because we love the material, nothing more.”

That's so nice.

“Yeah,” he said, “but if you gave me $10 million to make something, it wouldn't be Bowie covers. It'd be something original.”

cborrelli@tribune.com | Twitter @borrelli
CHICAGO
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