Watch and repeat
Hollywood studios continue to reel in moviegoers by repackaging movies from the past.
What do Cary Grant, Mark Wahlberg, Audrey Hepburn, and Thandie Newton have in common? They've all starred in the same movie.Skip to next paragraph
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Next month's "The Truth About Charlie," a remake of the 1963 classic "Charade," features Mr. Wahlberg and Ms. Newton trying to re-enact the rarified charm of Grant and Hepburn.
Several other films this fall will also tell familiar stories using modern faces, starting with today's debut of "The Four Feathers," about the British colonization of Sudan. Later this fall, remakes of the 1974 Italian movie "Swept Away" starring Madonna, a retelling of "Tuck Everlasting," and "Treasure Planet" "Treasure Island" set in space will try to woo new audiences or stir a sense of nostalgia using stories that have successful track records.
While film buffs may cringe at the heresy of any one trying to step into Audrey Hepburn's Givenchy heels, studios see remakes as a smart business decision. They have a ready-made story that's already proved it can attract an audience.
"There has always been a reworking of the classics. If it works once, it might work twice," says Les Friedman, a film lecturer at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. The irony is, that it almost never does as well as the first release, he says.
And remakes can come with a stigma that filmmakers lack originality. As a result, some try to downplay the original film as in the case of next month's "Red Dragon," the prequel to "Silence of the Lambs," originally filmed as 1986's "Manhunter."
What's new this year is the surge of remakes debuting in the fall, a time of year when studios present their more intelligent fare, says Paul Dergarabedian, head of Exhibitor Relations in Encino, Calif. That may indicate the coming remakes are more thoughtful or character-driven than usual.
It might also portend a conservative era of filmmaking, says Mr. Friedman.
"One of the reasons you make remakes is that you're searching for something comfortable and well known. That might be what people want now," he says.
Or it's at least that's what movie studios may want. Friedman adds that it's not a paucity of imagination, but Hollywood's fear of taking a risk and losing money that often drives remakes.
"[Studios] are putting out products like McDonald's fast-food movies," says John Murphy host of "The Movie World Radio Show" in Los Angeles. "It's easier to go back to an older hit."
Love stories and comedies tend to be remade the most. Audiences love happy endings. The attraction is one of familiarity and comfort.
Hollywood knows this and produces a steady stream of remakes each year.
Though profit is a primary factor, there are other reasons films get remade.
Sometimes modern special effects enable an old story to be told more effectively, says Sandy Camargo, a film instructor at the University of Missouri in Columbia.
The special effects possible today helped Peter Jackson vividly re-create Middle Earth in his first installment of "Lord of the Rings," which won four Oscars. The first version of Tolkien's classic was actually a 1978 animated film.
Another advantage of retelling stories is that sometimes filmmakers can probe issues of race or sexuality because a political climate has changed. Adding modern-day star power can also be a way to introduce a good story to younger audiences who have never seen the original.
Paramount is hoping the fifth release of "Four Feathers," will speak to today's audience. Heath Ledger (see interview, this page) stars as a British officer who resigns from his post. His fiancée and three military friends send him four white feathers as a symbol for cowardice.
"When you look at it from today's point of view, it's an act of great courage to say, 'No, I'm not going to war,' " says director Shekhar Kapur ("Elizabeth").