(this essay is what I’d consider an improvised theory, in that I propose the question/theory and attempt to answer it as I write it)
This coming Friday, September 6, we will see the highly anticipated “IT: Chapter Two”, the film depiction of the second half of Stephen King’s iconic novel. The first installment depicting the first half of the novel proved to be exactly what viewers (and readers) were looking for, and it seems that Chapter Two will reach the same heights, based on early reviews (I’m really looking forward to Bill Hader’s performance as older Richie, whom I hear steals the show).
This could be considered a remake of the 1990 miniseries adaptation of King’s novel that includes Tim Curry as the title character’s personification as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. The miniseries proved to be a success, and helped cement Pennywise and the fictional Derry, Maine further into pop culture. But that was TV, and aren’t we talking about movies? Of course, and I must ask (as a form of devil’s advocate) do I really want to blur the lines between different mediums of art, such as TV and film? I have made this distinction several times, such as with big screen adaptations of Stephen King’s other masterpiece, “The Shining”, and JRR Tolkien’s magnum opus “The Lord of the Rings” when it comes to addressing the fans of the books who were critical of the movies.
TV generally allows for more time to tell the story, while movies are generally limited to single installments. However, exceptions can be made, such as splitting “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” into two separate films, as well as making a trilogy of “The Hobbit”. “IT” proves to be an example of this exception, and it could have been done as a series on HBO if the filmmakers wanted to do so. But it seems there is more status in getting a story onto the big screen. After all, that was one of Warden Gentles’ severe criticisms of aspiring entertainer Tobias Fünke on Arrested Development: he’s not a coward, but a “television actor”.
But so often filmmakers attempt to take an iconic story, familiar or unfamiliar, and present a new take on it. Why exactly do they continue to do this? We have countless adaptations of Biblical stories, A Christmas Carol, and Shakespeare, yet nobody bats an eye. Perhaps it is because these stories having already existed for hundreds of years, prior to the invention of film, and would often be retold in innumerable forms, but not one singular and easily accessible piece like a movie? But when we learn that somebody is remaking On the Waterfront, everybody loses their minds! (Wait a minute, was I just channelling Heath Ledger’s incarnation of the Joker? Oh, that’s another example of multi-medium adaptations). Movies are bigger projects that require higher investment than that of theatre or television, for the most part, and they are easier to advertise. Perhaps that is why original movies, or even adaptations of novels written in the twentieth century onwards, are easier to etch into stone as THE version of the story, the standard.
Very few times do remakes succeed. The Departed was a remake of a Hong Kong thriller, Internal Affairs, and won the Academy Award for Best Picture, as well as the 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty (nominated for the Best Picture Oscar). For the most part, however, remakes fail miserably, such as the 2006 version of The Omen (which was probably made to cash in on the June 6th, 2006 release date [06-06-06]), and Gus Van Sant’s 1998 version of Psycho.
Maybe we do this because we go into the film industry with the attitude of stage and print media that existed for millenniums before: every adaptation is its own different version, so there will be multiple takes with good and bad qualities? However, we have not realized that movies are held to a different standard than that of the stage for millenniums, in that the movie is easily accessible and not dependent on your location or time of existence. A stage version of Hamlet performed in 1940s San Francisco is different from Reservoir Dogs, eternally accessible (unless it becomes “lost”).
Theatre is different. There innumerable versions of Eugene O’Neill’s plays can be performed until the end of time, but when it comes to the movies it will be 1962’s version of Long Day’s Journey into Night that will be the standard. A Streetcar Named Desire will dominate theatres all around the world, but people will take aim at any film version that does not include Marlon Brando’s perfect performance as Stanley Kowalski. To Kill a Mockingbird, however, has been adapted to film (though I personally dislike it), and is in the midst of a powerful run as a Broadway drama. The same can be said of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (this one I love) and has appeared on the stage many times before and after the film version.
It occurs to me that remakes are just quintessential for art, but it is nearly impossible in the film industry, as one movie captures an entire generation around the world, and those viewers will more than likely be disappointed when the inevitable remake comes along.