(Well, with the passing of the London 2012 Olympics, one can get one’s rear end off the couch and back into the computer chair!)
Movie remakes are generally met with mixed emotions. The first is usually surprise or scepticism: why would they do a remake of that?, one might ask. Fans of the original are probably not enthused about a remake, believing the original to be better; those who are not fans hang their heads that resources are being wasted on a remake of something that wasn’t worth it in the first place.
Reaction also depends on how long it has been since the original was released. For example, the latest Spiderman movie didn’t even wait a decade. The latest Footloose had the decency to wait 25 years.
Then there is the popularity of the film in the first place, and the reason that the film was enduring: the remake of Psycho from the late 1990s was met with lukewarm success because its popularity has endured as a cinematic classic, not as an entertainment film. (That, and the director basically remade the 1960s version shot-for-shot. A lovely work of art and a great tribute to a classic film, but no more or less entertaining for your average moviegoer than the original.) Far better horror, thriller, and mystery films have been made since Psycho, although they draw on elements from that film.
Unfortunately, the older a work of art or a piece of entertainment, the more historical context is required to appreciate it. This is true regardless of what the medium is. I would even argue that the same could be said for sports, but that is a whole other kettle of fish. Audiences who loved a movie when they were teenagers remember the experience of watching it as teenagers, even when they are middle-aged. On the other hand, their teenaged children might find it boring, quaint, cheesy, or be unable to make sense of it. That’s not the fault of the teenagers. Film has changed drastically in recent decades. What were once cutting-edge special effects are now laughably obvious or dated. Hundreds of plots could be easily resolved with one cell phone call. Dialogue in old films sounds like stage dialogue and not like something that ordinary people would say. A story about the Cold War loses context for people born post-1989.
The above are all good reasons why someone might want to remake a film, classic or otherwise. Update the special effects. Figure out a way to keep the plot going without a cell phone. Alter the dialogue a bit. Change the bad guys.
Remaking horror films can have the benefit of making those films scary again. For horror or action films that had socio-political messages, remaking them can update the message for modern audiences.
Likewise, remaking a teen film can keep the film relevant for modern teenagers. Teen films, like teen literature, are supposed to be about the teenagers in some way. This isn’t to say that teens only like modern music or updated technology, but unlike adults, they don’t have nostalgia for the 1980s yet.
Whatever the reason that one gives for remaking a movie, I don’t think a remake signals the end of originality in filmmaking. Rather, a remake is a chance to take something and build upon it. Sure, a shot-for-shot remake is an art piece in itself, but so is a Beethoven symphony played on a synthesizer. However, a new version of an older film is a chance to a) introduce a new audience to an older or more obscure work; b) re-interpret a character or theme; and c) expand upon an existing story.
The problem with remakes is that our current movie culture seems to be intent on creating blockbusters, so storytelling is suffering and special effects are being shoved to the forefront. While special effects are all well and good, they aren’t why people go to movies. Stories are.
Any good story is worth retelling, as long as the retelling is actually new.