Fox Movies has announced the possibility of re-making the musicalWest Side Story because Steven Spielberg has evidently expressed an interest in doing so. A part of me, a large part of me, wonders if that’s a good idea. The original won ten Oscars and is considered a movie classic. So – why? Why do a remake? It might be different but will it be better? How likely is that?
It puts me in mind of Gus Van Sant’s shot by shot re-make of Psycho. Why did he bother other than as an artistic exercise? Why did the studio okay it? One of the justifications I heard is the younger generation won’t go to the original because it’s in black and white. Seriously? They can’t be that shallow.
At one point there was talk of doing a re-make of Casablanca as a film. That was fortuitously abandoned. There was a TV prequel to it in 1983 that lasted about a season. There was also a TV remake of Going My Way which starred Gene Kelly in the Bing Crosby role and Leo G. Carroll in the Barry Fitzgerald part. This one actually had a large impact on me; I was in the 8th grade at that point and it made me want to be a priest. My “vocation” lasted only a little longer than the series. But the TV series was my first experience with the material and so the TV series was always my “real” Going My Way.
Famously, there was the Godfather sequel that was better than the first film. Less fortunately, there was another sequel which was lesser than either of the previous two films. Likewise, the sequel to the firstStar Wars film was, by most peoples’ account, the best film of the series while the third one was far from that. Then Lucas, in his supreme wisdom, went back and did a prequel to the original trilogy. The technology certainly was superior but the story – not so much. For myself, I wanted to know what happened next – which was the basis for the Star Wars: Legacy comic book series that Jan Duursema and I did. Disney, having bought the franchise, will do a bit of both – they’ll push on to Episode VII, set thirty years after Return of the Jedi, but they’re also developing stand alone films about young Han Solo and young Boba Fett. So they’re looking forward and backwards. That could make you dizzy.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with a sequel, prequel or remake. It depends on the reason you’re making it and/or the story you have to tell. Sometimes you look at your earlier work and you see the flaws and think, “Man, I’d love another shot at that.” You feel you’re better at what you do, you’ve deepened as a person, you have more to bring to the material. The danger, of course, is that you could “improve” it to death.
Perhaps the remake is an existing property that you didn’t create. Me, I’d love a shot at The Shadow. Love it or hate it, Howard Chaykin achieved his own vision of the character when he took it on, as did Andy Helfer with artists Bill Sienkiewicz and Kyle Baker. Not traditional and perhaps neither were MY vision of the character but they were interesting and valid and reflected its creators.
I’ve done my own fair share of prequels, sequels, and remakes. Some have worked, some haven’t but in each case I tried to get down the essential concept of the book or character. My run on DC’s Suicide Squad was partly a continuation but mostly it was a re-make. The big question should always be – what story do I have to tell? Is it worth telling? Is it worth the reader’s time and money?
When you get right down to it, those are the same questions for any story you tell – new or remake. The story should always be its own justification.