Last week, the great (and tragically absent from the screen) Gene Wilder made a rare public appearance at New York’s 92nd Street Y, discussing his retirement from the movies, his distaste for modern “dirty” movies (an odd comment, coming from the co-star of Blazing Saddles), and what Tim Burton and Johnny Depp had done to his most famous role. “I think it’s an insult,” he said of Burton’s 2005 film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. “Johnny Depp, I think, is a good actor, but I don’t care for that director. He’s a talented man, but I don’t care for him doing stuff like he did.” Wilder isn’t the only actor or director to speak out against remakes of their work; more on that story, and a few more examples, after the jump.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
When Tim Burton shot his version of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book in 2005, the filmmaker took great pains to label his film as an adaptation, and not a remake of Mel Stuart’s 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. ”A lot of people are huge fans of the movie and hold it in awe,” he told Entertainment Weekly. ”I wasn’t one of them.” Come to find out, that disdain runs both ways. When the film was announced, Gene Wilder, who played the title role in the early adaptation, voiced his displeasure: “It’s all about money. It’s just some people sitting around thinking ‘How can we make some more money?’ Why else would you remake Willy Wonka?” His recent comments would seem to indicate that he wasn’t any happier about the end product than he was about the concept.
The Nutty Professor
Eddie Murphy’s 1996 comedy not only signaled a giant comeback for the comedian (who’d been slogging through the likes of Vampire in Brooklyn before it) — it was also a high-profile hit for Jerry Lewis, who had directed, co-written, and starred in the 1963 original and was credited as executive producer of the ’96 version. But in a 2009 interview with Entertainment Weekly, the comedian revealed he wasn’t wild about what Murphy (whom he did call “one of the five funniest men in the world” — and we all know that Lewis only thinks men can be funny) had done to his baby. “When he had to do fart jokes, he lost me,” Lewis said. “As a matter of fact, I told his editor, If he wants any more from me on a creative level, tell him to pull the whole sequence… What I did was perfect. And all you’re going to do is diminish that perfection by letting someone else do it. I won’t go through it again.”
Alfie / Get Carter
The 2000s saw three high-profile remakes of great Michael Caine movies — two of them with the participation of the man himself. But that doesn’t mean he necessarily approved of them. In a 2007 interview promoting the remake of Sleuth, Caine postulated his theory that only bad movies should be remade: “We remade a bad movie that starred David Niven and Marlon Brando and we called it Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The first one wasn’t funny at all. If you remake a very good movie, you’re kind of on a hiding to nothing… To remake Get Carter and Alfie, which were both very good movies, was a mistake in the first place I thought – and I was even in the Get Carter remake because Sly Stallone was a friend of mine, and he said: ‘Come and walk on for a day…’ So I did it for a joke.” Caine tried to wiggle out of this theory with Sleuth on a technicality (“I would never have remade [original Sleuth writer] Tony Shaffer’s script. But with Pinter’s script, there isn’t a single line from the original script. So, for me it’s not like a remake at all”), but he would later explain exactly why his Sleuth co-star Jude Law was all wrong for Alfie. “Alfie was a sort of innocent blunder, shagging birds here and there for a nice apple crumble, at the end he’s puzzled why everyone’s pissed off at him. Jude, being so knowing looking, looked like it was deliberate and it became sinister instead of funny. It just became some guy who doesn’t care about women, he just screws them and leaves them – a male chauvinist pig, but with knowledge. I played an innocent male chauvinist pig.”
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
In all fairness, Werner Herzog’s 2009 film wasn’t really a remake of Abel Ferrara’s grimy 1992 masterpiece; it was a loose appropriation of the title and general theme, which Herzog later said seemed an attempt by producer Edward Pressman to create “some sort of franchise.” But when the film was announced, Ferrara was livid. Of Herzog, Ferrara told Filmmaker, “He can die in hell. I hate these people – they suck… It’s lame. I can’t believe Nic Cage is trying to play that part. I mean, if the kid needed the money… It’s like Harvey Keitel said, ‘If the guy needed the money, if he came to us and said, “My career’s on the rocks,’ I’d cut him a break.”’ But to take $2 million – I mean, our film didn’t cost half of $2 million. That film was made on blood and guts, man. So I really wish it didn’t upset me as much as it does… Nobody asked us to do it. Nobody approached us and said, ‘Would you do it?’ Give us $8 million, we’ll come up with something. They give me twenty grand and say, ‘Go fuck yourself.’ Gimme a break! They aren’t paying Harvey anything, they aren’t paying him two cents. Ed Pressman sucks cock in hell, period. You can print that.” But when the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival (where Ferrara had his own new project, Napoli Napoli Napoli), the filmmaker clarified his rage. “”My beef is with the producers. I don’t have a problem with Werner. Nicolas [Cage, star of the Herzog film], I could never have a problem with an actor, you know what I mean? I feel as a director like a father to all the actors or a brother to all the actors. That movie (Bad Lieutenant) was made when nobody got a penny, nobody got anything. And then you go back and use that trademark … to make a film in which people get millions of dollars, and that one person involved in that film is involved in this film. That is unacceptable, okay? Unacceptable.” At the same festival, Herzog said of Ferrara’s criticism, “I have absolutely no problem. However, I would like that Abel Ferrara sees my film and if I know he sees mine I will promise him that I will see his film.” Wouldn’t you love to know if that little DVD-swap ever took place?
When MGM remade Alan Parker’s 1980 musical drama, remake director Kevin Tancharoen claimed the producers had contacted Parker about the project, “and he was happy about it. He gave us all his blessings and just let us do it.” But in an interview with the Telegraph, Parker (who also helmed Angel Heart, Missisippi Burning, and Midnight Express) begged to differ. “I have never had a single phone call from anyone — the studio, the producers — about this remake. No-one spoke to me about it. To say so is absolute nonsense. I feel very much that Fame is mine. I spent months with the kids at the school then spent a year making the movie. You do the work and make it as good as it can be, and you try to protect it. Then, because the copyright is owned by the studio, as with almost all American feature films, they can do a remake like this. It’s extremely galling. There is no other area of the arts where you can do that.” And as for the experience of watching the remake? “It’s a bit like being mugged,” Parker said.
Let Me In
Before cameras had even rolled on Let Me In, Matt Reeves’ American remake of Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In, the director was trashing the project. “Remakes should be made of movies that aren’t very good, that gives you the chance to fix whatever has gone wrong,” he said in 2008. “I’m very proud of my movie and think it’s great, but the Americans might be of an other opinion. The saddest thing for me would be to see that beautiful story made into something mainstream.” He wasn’t quite so combative three years later, after the remake’s release, while promoting his follow-up Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. “I haven’t seen it,” he told The Playlist. “It was a little disturbing when I first heard about it because I think I was still working on marketing my own version. So it was a little quick. It’s a very personal thing to be working with a book for several years. You think it’s your own and you fight for it a lot and then to be hearing about someone else dancing with your girlfriend, it’s strange. But I heard that it’s a good film and that they did a great job, so it’s no hard feelings. I will see it.”
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Like Alfredson, Niels Arden Oplev (who directed the original, Swedish film versions of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series) was speaking up about the remake, questioning both the necessity of such a film and the casting of American Rooney Mara in the leading role. “Even in Hollywood there seems to be a kind of anger about the remake,” Oplev said in 2010, “like, ‘Why would they remake something when they can just go see the original?’ It’s like, what do you want to see – the French version of La Femme Nikita or the American one? You can hope that Fincher does a better job.” The Danish filmmaker seems to have gotten over his distaste for remakes, though; earlier this year, he was attached to a new version of Joel Schumacher’s Flatliners.
Bonnie and Clyde
Back in 2009, Hillary Duff was briefly attached to The Story of Bonnie & Clyde, an unofficial remake of the Warren Beatty/Faye Dunaway classic from 1967 — one of those cases where a basis in historical material allows a filmmaker to revisit an iconic film without having to license or get rights or any of that nonsense. For this one, director Tonya S. Holly insisted that the basis for her Bonnie and Clyde story wasn’t Arthur Penn’s groundbreaking crime drama, but a bunch of newspaper clippings she found in an abandoned house. At any rate, the press saw it for what it was, and reached out to the original Bonnie, Faye Dunaway, for comment. Dunaway, always good for a quote, had this to say about the proposed casting of Hilary Duff in her role: “Couldn’t they at least have cast a real actress?” Duff replied that Dunaway’s comments were “a little unnecessary, but I might be mad if I looked like that now.” The spat was ultimately for naught; Duff exited the project, which remains “in development.” In the meantime, another B&C remake-that’s-not-a-remake, A&E’s Bonnie & Clyde miniseries, was shot and will air this fall. No comment yet from Dunaway.
As a parting note, here’s one filmmaker who took the news of a remake in a slightly lighter spirit. Bong Joon-ho’s 2006 monster movie The Host was an international cult hit, so Universal studios announced a remake, initially set for a 2011 release. (It has since been back-burnered; this year’s film with that title was unrelated.) But in a 2010 interview with Vulture, Bong had probably the healthiest attitude about letting someone else take a crack at your work: “I have nothing to do with it, but still, I’m happy, as the creator of the original version. If it’s a very good film, I’ll be happy. And if it’s trash, I’ll still be very happy.”