Friday, October 11, 2013

Remaketober 2013: Week 2

Remaketober continues this week, with two, classic critically acclaimed horror films. Remaking films that have this level of love is always difficult, because the flaws in your attempt will be more apparent in the light of the original. You also can’t differ too much, because you’ll disappoint people’s expectations, but you also can’t adhere to closely or you’ll be accused of being a ripoff. With such a fine line to walk, you’d think it would discourage people from trying it.
You’d be wrong.

The Shining:
I swear I decided to do this movie weeks before the Nostalgia Critic episode on the remake.
Anyway, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is a bit of an odd position as a movie. Taken purely on its own merits, it’s undeniably a classic, one of the greatest horror films ever made. It’s a movie of atmosphere, and rewatching it, I was struck by how tense this movie could still make me. And, true to any Kubrick movie, it’s full of images and sequences that have burned their way into the public unconscious; Twins in the hallway, elevator full of blood, ‘All work and no play’ you get the idea. It is, as a standalone film, basically perfect.
But as an adaptation, it’s always been kind of shaky. It cuts out a lot of the plot of the book and reduces a lot of Jack’s character arc down to nothing. Part of this might be because of Nicholson’s performance as Jack (which is pretty much just Nicholson being Nicholson) but it overall does cut out a lot of stuff from the book, and reduces the presence of ghosts down to a maybe, with the possibility it could just all be in Jack’s psyche. As a result, King had some really major issues with this movie and even at one point said it was the only adaptation of his work he hated (has he seen Dreamcatcher? Or Secret Window?)
Still, the stuff we lose from the book isn’t so bad compared to the intense horror film we get in return. It’s one of Kubrick’s best known movies and while it’s initial critical reaction was more in line with King’s, it’s since gotten a reputation as an untouchable classic of the genre. You’d think that having one of the greatest horror films ever made based on his book would maybe get King to relent a bit, or at least learn to live with the changes. Of course that’d be before you learn the kind of ego King has going on, and so we got...

The 1997 miniseries. One could probably write several articles on Stephen King’s miniseries, and why so few of them are any good at all, but I don’t have the time or inclination (although if you want a crash course, I’d like to recommend The Langoliers. It’s kind of hilariously bad). And while King’s oversight means that the miniseries adheres a lot closer to the book, it’s just so fucking boring.
And really, that’s all that needs to be said about it. There are some good points about it, mostly that Steven Weber does try to find a little more humanity in his performance as Jack than Nicholson did (although he loses out a lot when it comes time to be menacing, so call that comparison a wash I guess), but for the most part, it’s just dull. Kubrick’s version, having stripped out much of the supernatural elements, relied on making the hotel itself feel large and menacing, like the hotel was a living breathing thing , the miniseries relies a little too heavily on King’s favorite tropes, such as inanimate objects coming alive (this has one of the dumber examples of that.) And incidentally, since having monsters meant they had to visualize the monsters, the miniseries is, ironically, a lot more special effects heavy than the movie. And while I doubt the effects were ever impressive, they have aged HORRIBLY, robbing them of what little menace they have.
It’s ironic, to me, that King was so heavily involved with the production of this miniseries, since it only seems to highlight the issues his book had. Jack’s weapon being a croquet mallet instead of an axe is dumb, the explanation behind Jack’s madness being simply ‘it was ghosts’ robs the story of a lot of the mystery that continues to fuel the discussion behind the film to this day. Even the things that are supposed to be the big scenes, like the hedge animals coming alive or the hose with teeth pale in comparison to the famous visuals from Kubrick’s version. Oh and did I mention it’s four goddamn hours long? Yeah. I’ve heard complaints that Kubrick’s is too long, but the miniseries is easily twice as long, and gets nothing extra done in that time.
At the end of the day, I really don’t know what to tell you. Kubrick’s version is one of the most well known and recognizable horror films of all time, spawning everything from an excellent Treehouse of Horror short to an entire documentary. The miniseries is a forgotten dud, a low point in Stephen King miniseries that seems to be made up of nothing BUT low points. I guess that’s all I need to say.
Oh did you know King wrote an episode of The X-Files a year later? Yeah it’s called Chinga, it’s about a creepy doll that makes people kill themselves. It’s actually pretty solid.

Let the Right One In
I’ve reviewed this movie in the past, and at the time I worried I was overselling it. Having rewatched it, I actually think I undersold it. Vampire films are rarely exceptionally high quality (as evidenced by, oh I don’t know, the entire last decade) but this one knocks it out of the park. I don’t think I’d be exaggerating to say it’s not just one of the best horror films of the last decade, it’s one of the best vampire films EVER, and a personal favorite of mine.
And yet, rewatching it, I don’t know if it’s very scary. Oh it looks incredible, it’s masterfully written and directed, incredibly intelligent and thoughtful with a couple of great performances from the leads, but I don’t know if it’s jump-out-of-your-seat scary at any point. It’s a movie of atmosphere, to the point where multiple people I’ve talked to have reported feeling cold while watching it. And while the atmosphere is drawing you in, the rest of the movie is settling into your brain, to sit there and dare you to think about it.
It’s also a movie that’s very specific to its setting. I don’t know how many places outside of Sweden could look or feel the way it does (the best comparison I can make is that it’s like Fargo with more nature). It’s got a lot a subtleties and open ended questions that make such an engaging, engrossing story, such as the character of Hakan or the fact that Eli’s voice is not the voice of her actress. And I’m sorry, but the scene where Eli enters uninvited, the scene in the hospital and the ending at the pool are all fucking awesome.
And it may seem odd of me to say so, but it doesn’t seem like very good remake material. It’s a very young movie, for starters (barely 5 years old at this point, and only 2 when the remake hit) and it’s not exactly an incredible crossover hit in the US. It actually reminds me, tangentially at least, of the plans to remake Videodrome; The vast majority of your audience will have never heard of the original, never seen it or didn’t like it, so the title is wasted on them. The remainder will have seen the original, love it fiercely and will HATE you for remaking it (I’m in that camp, for both Videodrome and Let the Right One In) so it was with a feeling of trepidation that I started up Let Me In.

Of course, the other issue is…look, I’m not ideologically opposed to remakes. If you have something new to say on a subject, there should be nothing wrong with saying it. And since Let the Right One In/Let Me In is based on a novel, that goes double; After all a reinterpretation of existing source material is what gave us everything from the 2010 True Grit to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. But here’s the thing; I am ideologically opposed to the idea of Americans remaking a foreign film. Part of this is simply practical, some things do not translate; If they go ahead with say, the American remake of The Troll Hunter, it will lose something because there is no troll mythology in the US to draw on. But another part of it is how it looks. American culture has dominated the film industry so extensively and for so long that remaking something that belongs to another culture feels a bit…cheap. So again, trepidation going in.
Having now seen it, I can say it’s not…bad. In fact it’s quite good in spots; It’s got a good cast, Chloe Grace Moretz (who some of you might know as Hit Girl) is the clear standout. It looks very nice, it’s well edited and it’s not stupid. But I’m sorry, there is just absolutely nothing here I couldn’t get better from the original film. The original film even has a dubbed track (that I’m given to understand is quite good) so even if you are one of those odd people who is violently opposed to subtitles, it’s got you covered.
Part of this is simply the quality of the original shining through. I’ve no doubt that if the original didn’t exist I would like the American version a lot more, but that’s not the world we live in and in comparison to the Swedish version, the American remake sits at the kids table. The…incredibly gory kids table, but kids table nonetheless (the film is much more fond of it’s gore than the original was).
It also cuts down on the subtly quite a lot. It flat out reveals the relationship between Eli (Abby in this one) and Hakan (who goes unnamed in this one, or at least I failed to catch a name). Actually it cuts down on the smarts quite a lot across the board, which really makes it the perfect cliché of an American remake; dumb it down so the Americans will get it. And you know what? I think we deserve more credit than that. After all, we all went to see Cloud At- well no. Well we went to see The Mast- oh wait no. Well we went to see Pacific Rim over Grown U- OH COME THE FUCK ON!

Yes, I’ve been waiting literally months for an excuse to use that joke. And next week, Remaketober continues, with a pair of…well there’s no other way to say it, mediocre movies. And you’ll get to find out what they are next time.

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