As the fourth version of A Star is Born packs them in, Mel Gibson is threatening to remake Sam Peckinpah’s classic 1969 Western The Wild Bunch. Film fans are rightly alarmed, but remakes are a reliable way for Hollywood to score at the box office, despite often being wholly pointless.
Unfortunately, Gibson has previous convictions in this area. See, if you really insist, his unnecessary and 1999 refurbishment of John Boorman’s classic Point Blank, a retread so wretched that it accidentally justified its title, Payback.
Boorman’s comment on Gibson’s effort wasn’t exactly diplomatic:
Lee [Marvin] finally said to me, ‘OK, I’ll do this picture with you on one condition.’
‘What?’ I asked, and Lee picked up the script and threw it out of the window… I imagine that a very young Mel Gibson was passing down the street below and picked it up out of the gutter.’
Gibson’s upcoming crack at The Wild Bunch brings back memories of Cecilia Gimenez, the elderly Spanish woman who is accused of perpetrating the worst art restoration in history. Gimenez took it upon herself to ‘restore’ the precious ‘Ecce Homo’ fresco in the Sanctuary of Mercy Church near Zaragoza. The result of Gimenez’s labors resembled a furry Monchichi toy rather than the image of Our Lord.
Gibson will probably take The Wild Bunch’s leading role of Pike Bishop. This may allow him to indulge in his usual Brando-style masochism, but Gibson is unlikely to touch William Holden’s pitch-perfect performance in the original. Connoisseurs of Hollywood magic will note that Holden, who was 51 when he made The Wild Bunch, looks a good 10 years older than Gibson (a spry 62) does now.
Remakes are an easy option for producers. If people liked it once, some of them will like it twice, or even thrice. We’ve seen a slew of inferior versions recently years, including such stinkers as Point Break (2016), Total Recall (2012), The Wicker Man (2006), Straw Dogs (2011), Ghostbusters (2016) and Arthur (2011). Name recognition can help, though you have to wonder how many of the target audience remembers Peckinpah’s original Straw Dogs (1971). But the rule of thumb is, you’re on a hiding to nothing if you attempt to take on a classic.
The late Nic Roeg’s 1973 masterpiece Don’t Look Now was rumored to be up for the treatment, but thankfully little has been heard of this since 2015. ‘Don’t embarrass yourself by making it,’ star Donald Sutherland said. There has also been talk of another second bite at An American Werewolf in London (1981), with Max Landis taking over directorial duties from his father Jon, who shot the original. Despite this connection it’s difficult to see a remake working. The 2011 prequel to 1982’s The Thing — itself a remake of the 1951 original — boasted decidedly average CGI effects that paled against Stan Winston’s animatronic work in John Carpenter’s 1982 chiller. Any new take on American Werewolf will probably be found similarly lacking in teeth in this department, as well as in the perfect casting and soundtrack of the first movie.
That’s not to say that all remakes are doomed. Now and then, one surpasses its original. Usually, the original isn’t that great to start with, or depends upon now-dated effects. The aforementioned 1982 Thing reboot is a case in point, as is are Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (1978) and David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986). The re-imagined Planet of the Apes trilogy (2011-17) also proved a critical and financial success. As did 2011’s Fright Night and 1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which was based on the 1964 Marlon Brando/David Niven comedy Bedtime Story. Jason Statham’s 2011 take on Charles Bronson’s The Mechanic (1972) worked as an efficient actioner, the same goes for Dwayne’s Johnson’s 2004 reboot of Walking Tall, based on the Joe Don Baker hit from 1973. If, as is rumored, the campy sci-fi guilty pleasures of Logan’s Run (1976) and Fantastic Voyage (1966) are remade, they may both be worth the price of admission — as long as they resist the temptation to go overboard on hokey CGI.
The big surprise is that some classic films were in fact remakes that swiftly eclipsed the originals. Who now remembers that John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon (1941) had first been filmed in 1931? Or that Tony Scott’s Denzel Washington thriller Man on Fire (2004) was a superior remake of the 1987 picture that starred Scott Glenn? Sergio Leone pulled it off with A Fistful of Dollars (1964, released in 1967 in the US), which was heavily indebted to Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961). Too bad that Martin Ritt couldn’t replicate the trick with another 1964 remake, The Outrage, based on Kurosawa’s Roshamon (1950).
Going in the opposite direction, the 2013 Japanese remake of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992) in 2013 was visually interesting, but otherwise gratuitous. So was the filming of Elmore Leonard’s potboiler 52 Pick Up twice in just two years – firstly as The Ambassador (1984) starring Robert Mitchum, and again in 1986 under its original name with Roy Scheider.
There are still a fair few classics left untouched. Let’s hope that the temptation to ‘bring them to a whole new audience’ spares us from remakes of 2001, Citizen Kane, Casablanca and Taxi Driver. Let Gus Van Sant’s utterly pointless shot-by-shot 1998 remake of Psycho stand as a warning. Its sole merit was that it deterred others from this approach. Now that’s a useful remake.