After perusing a website devoted to upcoming movies, a friend asked what I thought about so many remakes on the schedule. That's easy enough: It's just business as usual.
So far this year, we've already had "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," "The Lorax" and "21 Jump Street," all reboots of TV shows (the first two also based on books).
And on May 11, we'll see another TV series turned into a theatrical film, this one equal parts remake and spoof: Tim Burton's "Dark Shadows," starring his favorite collaborator, Johnny Depp. (They have now made eight films together, five of them remakes.)
Then come a new do-over of "The Amazing Spider-Man" on July 3 and a Schwarzenegger-free "Total Recall" on Aug. 3. And in the fall, we'll see remakes of "Judge Dredd" and "Red Dawn."
Though each goes off in a different direction, the basic stories are the same, so I guess "Mirror Mirror" and the upcoming "Snow White and the Huntsman" are also remakes, as is "The Three Stooges," which opens today — a remake of the characters, if not a particular short or feature that starred the original Larry, Moe and Curly.
But none of those seem troublesome. After all, remakes have been movie bread and butter since the silent era.
Did you know that the classic 1941 film noir "The Maltese Falcon," starring Humphrey Bogart, was a remake? In fact, it was a second remake. The Dashiell Hammett novel had been adapted twice before, under that title in 1931 and again in 1936, as "Satan Met a Lady."
And that's the point. No one cares if someone tries to remake a bad or so-so movie in the hopes of coming up with a better version. Sometimes that's exactly what happens.
But why would anyone try to improve upon the best?
Fortunately, no one has tried to remake "The Maltese Falcon" since Bogie's version achieved icon status. But that doesn't mean it couldn't happen.
There have been uncountable ill-advised attempts to revisit beloved favorites, often with disastrous results, as with the fairly recent remakes of "Psycho," "Around the World in 80 Days," "Wings of Desire," "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," "The Women," "The Vanishing," "The Pink Panther," "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "The Ladykillers" and "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," among others.
So when I read about next year's schedule including new versions of "The Lone Ranger," "Superman," "Dirty Dancing," "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," "Short Circuit" and "RoboCop," I thought, OK, they might be able to improve on those. Even fans of the originals might look forward to another approach.
But there were two on the list that made me wince: Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 chiller "The Birds" and the 1934 comedy-mystery "The Thin Man," starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.
"The Birds" is more than just a horror film, more than merely a harrowing nature-turning-against-us cautionary tale that fits into a familiar genre. In Hitch's hands it became art, building on itself in a way that makes even its often-criticized walk-away ending a very scary conclusion, a sort of "what-if?" scenario all its own.
While it may be possible to give a new version of "The Birds" jazzier or more realistic special effects, given recent strides in computer technology, the thought of anyone coming up with a movie that is nearly so contemplative and nerve-racking all at the same time, is remote at best.
Even worse, however, is the idea of updating "The Thin Man." The murder mystery in that film is secondary to the interplay of the lead characters, Nick and Nora Charles, a married pair of "swells," to use the 1930s vernacular, who also solve murders as a sort of hobby.
They are wealthy, smart, funny and spend a lot of time in verbal banter, attempting to top each other's witticisms and wisecracks. They are also often surrounded by eccentric low-lifes, all determined to pay some sort of debt they feel they owe to Nick.
Can you see a 21st century version of this? Even if it's set in the 1930s, the dialogue is likely to take the low road in a way that was never thought of in 1934. Please don't let Judd Apatow near this.
And casting is crucial. Powell and Loy, who had already demonstrated their on-screen chemistry in "Manhattan Melodrama," made the perfect Nick and Nora. You believed that they were crazy about each other, even during the occasional sparring match. And that rare "something" they shared served them well in five "Thin Man" sequels, as well as many other pairings over the next decade-and-a-half. (They appeared together in no less than 14 films!)
Johnny Depp is already attached to play Nick in the "Thin Man" remake, and it's possible he could pull off the necessary blend of dapper dandy and common man with the right script and director.
But it won't be easy to find someone as fitted to the role of Nora as Myrna Loy. There have been a number of actresses reported in various publications and online sites as seeking the role, some of them half Depp's age. That could spell disaster.
However talented they may be, instead of considering Emma Stone, Emily Blunt, Carey Mulligan, etc., all of whom are said to be in the running, casting agents should be looking at women in their 40s — Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Jodie Foster, Diane Lane, etc.
All of them are great with a quip, each has the gravitas to stand up to Depp and they are all far more age-appropriate.
Of course, knowing Hollywood, they'll probably end up casting Megan Fox.