The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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'Oldboy' revisited: Are Hollywood remakes always a bad thing?

November 16, 2009 |  6:00 am

When I wrote a post recently about the collapse of negotiations between Mandate and DreamWorks over a deal that could have led to a Steven Spielberg-directed remake of the Korean cult thriller "Oldboy," I expected to get feedback from Spielberg detractors and "Oldboy" partisans. But what really surprised me was the huge outpouring of vitriol toward American remakes in general. It was nearly unanimous: If you let Hollywood remake a movie, they'll only mess it up.

2005_oldboy_psp_poster_001 Jack Meoph (btw, nice user name -- who do you think I am ... Bill O'Reilly?) seemed to sum up Hollywood loathing the best when he wrote: "Please keep away from this film Hollywood, you will only ruin it with your homogenized group think."

STWSR chimed in: "Why would you take a seemingly brilliant almost perfect film and RUIN IT!"

And Mike added: "Name one Hollywood remake that was even marginally better than the original?"

Well, actually, I could name a few. Let's start with Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's Eleven," which is light years better than the hapless '60s original. I'd defy anyone to say that James Cameron's "True Lies" wasn't far more involving than Claude Zidi's original "La Totale!" And while the original Norwegian version of "Insomnia" is a well-made film, it would be hard to argue that it's any better than Chris Nolan's 2002 remake. The original "Infernal Affairs" is a really good movie, but Martin Scorsese's remake, "The Departed," completely stands on its own as a terrific thriller.

In fact, I'd argue that John Carpenter's 1982 version of "The Thing" is a classic, clearly far more ambitious and fully realized than the Christian Nyby original from 1951. So I'm wondering -- isn't this something of an unfair knee-jerk reaction against the obvious Hollywood stinkers that have often poisoned the well for remakes?

If anyone wants to make a more in-depth case against remakes, I'd happy to hear about it. But does Hollywood really have to keep its mitts off all films from other cultures, especially if a talented filmmaker wants to take a shot at reimagining the film in a new setting? I mean, not every remake has to turn out like "Vanilla Sky," does it?