Beyond the Bubble: Determining which movies deserve reimaginings

by Andrea Nease | 2/2/15 6:01pm

Why are the classics of literature, theater and film subjected to repeated reimaginings and twists? How does a work even qualify as “classic” enough to deserve a new version?

Is Hollywood getting carried away with recycling these so-called classics and assuming films will be successful based on their predecessors? From “Footloose” (1984) to the Spiderman franchise, “War of the Worlds” (1953) to “Annie” (1982), movies of all ages and genres are potential victims of the Hollywood recycle.

Is there such a thing as justifiable remakes that hold more value than another attempt at increasing revenue?

The theater department’s winter play is a new twist on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Shakespeare’s works are the most prominent in the remake trend, due to his mass readership and the comprehensive ode to the human condition in his plays, two important features for defining a classic and determining the feasibility of a reimagining.

As much as we would like to believe a classic film or play is simply the product of genius, it is not. Steven Spielberg said it best in a 2012 interview for Universal Orlando, “[Audience members] are the custodians of these visual memories, these stories. And by holding onto a film, or a fragment from a film, that marks a time in your life that will always be a part of your life,” in reference to the subjectivity of a movie’s timelessness, which is largely defined by the audience.

Shakespeare epitomizes timelessness. There is a relatable commentary on human condition in his plays that transcends time and allows plays like “Romeo and Juliet” to be recycled and reimagined over and over again.

“The Lion King” (1994) is a reimagining of Hamlet, “She’s the Man” (2006) is a reimagining of Twelfth Night, “Ten Things I Hate About You” (1999) is a reimagining of The Taming of the Shrew and the list goes on. Hollywood has been profiting off of Shakespeare’s genius for some time now and I don’t think they are going to stop anytime soon.

When I heard that the College was putting on “Romeo and Juliet” with a modern twist, I was simultaneously interested and intrigued. Why was I excited by the title alone? My excitement was a testament to the power that Shakespeare has on modern audiences.

Anyone from angst-ridden teens to all-knowing grandparents can appreciate the story line of true love hindered by familial obligations and political obduracy ending in tragic martyrdom. Shakespeare mastered themes that can universally resonate with any audience.

This explains Hollywood’s love for Shakespeare and what I think is Hollywood’s rationale for pushing the reimagining of other works in recent decades. What Hollywood has yet to realize, however, is that not all once-successful movies operate as well as Shakespeare’s works when reimagined, and that remaking them does not always guarantee critical success.

For example, was a “Footloose” remake necessary in 2011? It was reproduced in hopes of profiting off the positive reception of the original back in the 1980s, but the original lacks the timeless and relatable nature to fully succeed outside of its context. When a film’s success is rooted in its existence during a specific time period, a remake is going to flop.

On the other hand, the James Bond reboot “Casino Royale” (2006) was incredibly well-received by moviegoers everywhere. Daniel Craig successfully brought new life to a classic character because the character himself is timeless. Who hasn’t heard of 007, who doesn’t have some notion attached to the character of James Bond or some nostalgia of the original James Bond productions?

So the reason I had an instant positive reaction to the upcoming production of “Romeo and Juliet” is the timelessness of the work and its themes. I don’t believe “Spiderman” or “Psycho” remakes were necessary because they simply redid a one-and-done box office hit. A classic worth remaking is not confined to a shot-by-shot replica or a spin-off or even a period piece twist. A classic, like Shakespeare, can be recycled in different genres for different audiences under a non-Shakespearian or non-classical pretext.

Shakespeare’s plays withstand time because even when society modernizes, humans at their core still identify with the same emotional conditions experienced centuries ago.

At the risk of sounding hypocritical, I am a fan of the reimagining. I truly am, and I am eager to experience the College’s “Romeo and Juliet,” but there is a line. Being redone should be reserved for the deserving, and Hollywood has hit the remake craze too hard. Identifying a movie as a classic is already a daunting task, but identifying a classic as deserving of a remake is even harder.

As long as our definitions of what makes a good movie great and a great movie classic depend on subjective grounds of audience reception and timelessness, reimaging a classic will remain a game of trial and error...unless it’s Shakespeare.