How To Do Movie Remakes: Remake Potentially Strong Movies That Failed For Identifiable Reasons
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Hollywood usually remakes movies that worked surprisingly well the first time (e.g., 1962’s Manchurian Candidate, a miracle of style), so they tend to regress toward the mean the second time. Instead, they should remake potentially strong movies that failed for identifiable reasons.

Let me illustrate using three Frank Sinatra movies:

For the Bush Era Manchurian Candidate redo, they signed up a strong cast (e.g., Denzel Washington is a better movie actor than Frank Sinatra), hired a creative (but perhaps past his prime) director in Jonathan Demme, and gave it their best shot. But the forgettable product didn’t come close to working as well as the indelible 1962 John Frankenheimer original.

Many of the reasons the 2004 version went wrong are documented here by Stephen Hunter.

But what are the odds it could have been better than the original?

Why is the B&W 1962 version so good? The Manchurian Candidate is a little like Citizen Kane being made by a radio director with new ideas for movies in that it was made by a TV director given a chance to try to stretch movie-making. But I suspect part of the answer is that they just got (deservedly) lucky. Making a movie is a complex business, so sometimes everything clicks and other times you never quite get into a rhythm.

Instead, the movie business should focus on remaking fixable flops: e.g., Clooney’s Ocean’s 11 is better than Sinatra’s sleepy Ocean’s 11.

The big problem with the original Ocean’s 11 is that the Rat Pack was having such a blast in Las Vegas doing their live shows in the evening and gambling all night that they snoozed through filming during the day. Sinatra’s view was that if his movies were supposed to be art, they wouldn’t sell you popcorn while you watched them. (His records, though… well, the way he looked at it, some poor bastard might be listening to one of his albums at 3 a.m. in need of all the artistic catharsis Frank could deliver.)

So when Soderbergh remade Ocean’s 11 four decades later, the concept remained cool, and all the people making the movie had to do to fix the flaws was to work harder than the original cast.

Similarly, Guys and Dolls has one of the best Broadway scores ever, but the movie is not good in large part because Brando insisted he play the main singing role, so Sinatra had to take the main acting role.

But instead of remaking a movie musical that wasn’t as good as the stage original (besides Guys and Dolls, there’s South Pacific and Camelot), Spielberg insisted last year on remaking the perfectly fine 1961 West Side Story… and then, unsurprisingly, failed to top the old version.

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