Bend Me, Remake Me, Any Way You Want Me

I was dismayed to hear of two remakes in the pipeline. Steven Spielberg danced a merry jig on a few graves whilst announcing plans to remake Harvey, the classic 1950 screwball comedy (based on a 1944 play) starring James Stewart as a man who befriends an invisible rabbit. Meanwhile Disney and Robert Zemeckis are collectively pissing on the Beatles’ legacy by collaborating on a 3D version of psychedelic 1968 cartoon Yellow Submarine.

The cover version is a useful analogy. Cover a less successful song and discover it was a hit waiting to happen, such as Hendrix’s Hey Joe. Recreate a classic song accurately and it’s written off as pointless, like Westlife’s various crimes against music or Gus Van Sant’s Psycho. Transform it beyond recognition and it’s desecration — i.e. Mark Ronson’s godawful output (even if you didn’t like the Zutons to start with).

And it’s hard to imagine Spielberg’s Harvey as anything but a Ronsonesque exercise in memory-soiling. We still regard the 1950 version with fondness. Anyone quoting it is compelled to mimic James Stewart’s distinctive Southern drawl, and another actor stepping into his shoes will find it damn near impossible to fill them. As for Yellow Submarine, didn’t Across the Universe serve as a stern warning that Beatle-inspired musicals just don’t work outside the 1960s? And do we really need to see the Fab Four rendered as eerie, dead-eyed avatars like those in The Polar Express?

Yes, remakes can be worthwhile. John Huston’s iconic version of The Maltese Falcon was the third adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel, and it made Humphrey Bogart a star — partly because George Raft’s contract enabled him to pass on remakes! But while the third Falcon movie tried to fix some failings (or cash in on a hit book), modern remakes exploit the enduring popularity of the originals. Hands up who preferred the recent Taking of Pelham 123. How about Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes? Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

Thought not.

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