Do you ever read that a film is about to be remade and say to yourself “WHYYYYYY???” When there are so many great original films coming out every year, it can seem like a remake is a bit of a cop out, even if it’s some time since the original came out. Sometimes remakes or alternative versions come along quite quickly as with the recent versions of the Jungle Book. And then there’s Game of Thrones: season 8 hadn’t even finished before people were calling for a remake because they didn’t like how it was treated.
Bear with me. I know this a site about writing rather than films.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Swallows and Amazons recently, in part because I’d really like to see the new version. It wasn’t possible to go and see the film at the cinema when it came out, and I’ve not had an opportunity to watch it at home yet. I’ve read some mixed reviews about the new version, but I’m still interested in watching the film. It sounds like it is quite different to the 1975 version, with some additional elements added to the scripts. I rewatched the the 1975 one recently and in some ways it is as good as I remember and in some ways it is very bad. One of things that I really like about it is that it is one of the most faithful book adaptations that I’ve ever seen, although it is a little rushed towards the end. (There is an abriged audiobook version read by Bernard Cribbens who does an excellent job of reading an eviscerated plot). The child actors, as with the adaptations of Coot Club and the Big Six, are not experienced – for many this was their first experience of acting, and there is a lack of preciousness: this makes for a lack of smoothness in some respects but makes it all a little more natural in others.
Let’s ignore the whole book first or film first question, and indeed the whole issue of adapting a book in the first place. Why make a remake? Do you revisit the source material or just look at the first go? I’ve been mulling this over recently, and I think that there is a good reason to revisit a story, even if the first go is considered to be a classic. For example “The Front Page” (yes, I know, never actually a book), was remade as “His Girl Friday”, in part to get the Dream Team of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell to play the main roles. There have also been pairings of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, and Kathleen Turner and Burt Reynolds, not to mention some less famous versions that were made for TV. (None of these versions stink, as far as I can remember, but Grant and Russell are probably my favourites).
So we might get a remake in order to get great actors to play the roles – this needs to be done with care, because it’s easy to think that a particular cast will be dynamite – but then for it to turn out that the excitement is in the wrong place… Another reason for a remake is to try and get a version that is more faithful to the original, or perhaps the adaptor thinks they can do a better job than the original author – that they can get to the fundamental truth that the author intended better than the author.
And then of course there is new equipment, new techniques, newly accessible sites, and new insight. In terms of the quality of the special effects if nothing else, the Colin Farrell version of Total Recall has the edge on Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s. On the other hand, it can be easy to spend too much money on a new adaptation to really try and make it sing, when actually the older effects are part of the charm – Ray Harryhausen’s films for example, especially Jason and the Argonauts.
It’s tricky. There are are some stories that really are difficult to adapt for a variety of reasons, and there are some which end up being better than the source material, although that can be a matter of opinion too. So whenever a new version comes out, it’s probably a good excuse to go back and read the original first.
I’m off to re-read some books – Swallows and Amazons Forever!