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Remakes Rethink: Is Hollywood Really Out Of Ideas?

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Remakes Rethink: Is Hollywood Really Out Of Ideas?


Remakes Rethink: Is Hollywood Really Out Of Ideas?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Finally, this hour, the proliferation of Hollywood remakes. This year, there have been more than a dozen. "Conan the Barbarian" and "Arthur" over the summer. Opening today, new versions of "Footloose" and "The Thing" and soon, we'll see Hollywood's take on the Swedish hit, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." So with all these remakes, is there a failure of imagination in Hollywood?

Well, our movie critic Bob Mondello says, let's reserve judgment.


OTIS REDDING: (Singing) What you want, honey, you got it.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Otis Redding wrote and recorded a tune in 1965 that he made sound pretty good.


REDDING: (Singing) All I'm asking is for a little respect when I come home.

MONDELLO: A couple of years later, Aretha Franklin remade it in her own image.


ARETHA FRANKLIN: (Singing) R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, take care, T-C-B.

MONDELLO: Anyone want to claim Otis Redding, the composer, let's note, did the definitive version? Was Aretha's remake a bad idea? Okay. I know music is an interpretative art, but there are parallels in other disciplines, too. How different is it when Picasso models cubist images on a 300-year-old painting by Vilasquez? And does the fact that Laurence Olivier was a legendary "Hamlet" in the 1940s...


LAURENCE OLIVIER: To be or not to be.

MONDELLO: ...mean that Richard Burton can't be one in the 1960s?


RICHARD BURTON: That is the question, whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

MONDELLO: And Daniel Day-Lewis in the '80s, followed by Kevin Kline, Jude Law. Dame Judith Anderson even did a one woman "Hamlet," playing all the parts. If you're a theater critic, watching different takes on familiar roles is part of what makes the job interesting.

Film is one of the few mediums where remakes, redos and reinterpretations are regarded skeptically. Rap artists sample soul standards and no one bats an eye. Everybody loved it when John Steinbeck based parts of his novel, "East of Eden," on the Book of Genesis.

But say you're going to remake "Footloose," and even if the original wasn't all that good, fans stomp their feet and say, leave it alone.


KENNY WORMALD: (as Ren MacCormack) This is our time.

MONDELLO: Film is a young medium, which may be why movie remakes strike people negatively. Shakespeare based "King Lear" on an ancient folk tale, but movies don't go back very far, barely 100 years, and in a lot of cases, the old versions are still around to be seen. Since 1903, Hollywood has made 29 "Three Musketeers" movies, an average of one every four years. What's left to do? Well, the teen-oriented one that opens next week will be the first to thrust its d'Artagnan at us in 3D.


LOGAN LERMAN: (as d'Artagnan) The three musketeers. I came to Paris to be one of you.

MONDELLO: Now, I thought Richard Lester's version was great fun in 1973.


MICHAEL YORK: (as d'Artagnan) Even the queen needs the services of a gentleman who is gallant, courageous, discreet, active, brilliant...

MONDELLO: But I remember my elders saying then that Michael York's d'Artagnan wasn't buckling his swash nearly as thrillingly as Gene Kelly had in 1948.


GENE KELLY: (as d'Artagnan) Gentlemen, your quarrels are with me, not with each other.

MONDELLO: And I imagine their elders poo-pooed Kelly in favor of Douglas Fairbanks in the 1921 silent Musketeers. Okay. That doesn't really work on radio. Even so, young Logan Lerman in the 3D Musketeers has a lot to live up to, kind of like a composer who decides to reupholster a piece by a famous someone else.

Ravel, for instance, got a commission in 1922 to revamp a little suite for solo piano that had never really caught on with the public when Mussorgsky wrote it in 1874.


MONDELLO: Ravel's arrangements made pictures at an exhibition a little more Technicolor.


MONDELLO: And Mussorgsky's themes finally clicked with the public. Movie directors could sort of be considered both the composers and the arrangers of cinema, so it can be intriguing when a world class talent decides to rethink someone else's work.

Steven Soderbergh's snappy take on the crummy rat pack comedy, "Ocean's 11," felt like one-upsmanship. Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot remake of Hitchcock's "Psycho" felt like homage. And the Coen brothers putting some actual grit into "True Grit" felt like a revelation.


JEFF BRIDGES: (as Rooster Cogburn) This is like women talking. I think she has you pretty well figured.

MONDELLO: "True Grit's" the real deal, a retread that had more traction than the original, admittedly easier when the first movie is sloppy, but even quality originals can be overshadowed. There was a fine "Maltese Falcon" a decade before the one starring Humphrey Bogart. And "Some Like it Hot" reworked a funny German comedy that no one remembers anymore. So, keep fingers crossed. The world may not need a "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" in English, but audiences could do worse than having "Fight Club" director David Fincher making a case for it. And "Great Gatsby" with Leonardo DeCaprio next year? Well, he did pretty good work for director Baz Luhrmann in "Romeo and Juliet," also a remake, and Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge," also sort of a remake, was certainly respectable. And Gatsby, remember, was a real believer in the redo.


SAM WATERSTON: (as Nick Carraway) You can't repeat the past.

ROBERT REDFORD: (as Jay Gatsby) You can't repeat the past? Of course you can.

MONDELLO: Of course you can. I'm Bob Mondello.

RAZ: And at our website, you're invited to make the case for your favorite remakes. Go to

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