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When Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Werner Herzog's remake of Abel Ferrara's 1992 dark and gritty cult classic, was announced, more than a few cinephiles took it for a joke. Why would an acclaimed, expectation-defying director hop on the unnecessary remake bandwagon? How could Nicolas Cage, currently on a quest to alienate as many moviegoers as possible with a string of bad movies, hope to live up to Harvey Keitel's brazenly raw and (literally) naked performance? The war of words that erupted between Herzog and Ferrara hasn't helped. With Hollywood always hungry for movies to re-do, it's safe to say this sort of thing will happen again. Here's a look at a few controversial remakes from the past, and what we can learn from their mistakes.
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)
Fans of the gritty original were less than enthused by the news that John Travolta and Denzel Washington would be starring in a big budget summer movie update. How could a distinctive 1970s New York City thriller be updated for the modern age? Not very gracefully, as it turns out. Travolta's tattooed, over-the-top hijacker bombed, and the gritty urban thrills of the original are absent in a remake that, as one critic put it, "cranks the volume and inflates the 'Noo Yawk' attitude to a cartoonish level of macho posturing."
Lesson learned: There's a fine line between gritty and garish.
Director Rob Zombie dodged the dreaded remake label by calling his take on John Carpenter's horror classic a "reimagining." With Carpenter's blessing to make the movie his own, Zombie's Halloween plays as both a remake and a prequel. Horror purists bristled at Zombie's attempts to improve on a genre classic, but the director wisely reached out to bloggers for support. Despite mostly dismal reviews, Halloween was a box office hit and inspired a recent sequel.
Lesson learned: When updating, it pays to have the original director's blessing.
Guess Who (2005)
When one thinks of the ground-breaking 1967 drama Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, the first thing that springs to mind is Sidney Poitier's performance and the screenplay's sensitive portrayal of race relations. What you don't think of however, is Ashton Kutcher and the late Bernie Mac racing each other on go-karts. While it proved to be a box office hit, cinephiles were more than a little perturbed at a classic film being turned into a poor-man's Meet the Parents.
Lesson learned: "Searing social commentary" and "Ashton Kutcher vehicle" are, in fact, mutually exclusive.
House of Wax (2005)
Two words sum up why this remake of the 1953 Vincent Price chiller was dead upon arrival: Paris Hilton. The ubiquitous heiress was at the peak of her fame when the movie was released, so much so that taglines for the movie offered ticket buyers the chance to "see Paris Hilton die." (Fans of the original hoped the new version would die a slow death as well.) Alas, it was her horrible acting that turned audiences off en masse.
Lesson learned: Casting Paris Hilton is a one-way ticket to Golden Raspberry glory.
The Stepford Wives (2004)
While the 1975 adaptation of Ira Levin's high-concept novel isn't exactly a household name, it has developed a loyal and vocal cult following thanks to its moody tone and solid performances. The 2004 remake came to theaters with a ton of baggage, since reports of on-set tension between Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler and director Frank Oz had been leaked to the press. The result was a campy mess that failed to capture the first movie's darkly satiric tone.
Lesson learned: Camp has to be earned.
Swept Away (2002)
Guy Ritchie's remake of the acclaimed 1974 Italian movie of the same name was meant to be a comeback vehicle for then-wife Madonna, whose cinematic career had floundered since 1996's Evita. Unfortunately, Swept Away proved to be a gigantic bomb for both parties, scoring a whopping five Golden Raspberry Awards including a "Worst Actress" win for Madonna. Ritchie's track record eventually improved, but Madonna has yet to appear in another major flick.
Lesson learned: Madonna plus sand equals box office poison.
Planet of the Apes (2001)
Tim Burton's first stab at a remake of a beloved classic met with much backlash at the time of its release. While critics applauded Rick Baker's makeup work, the film's muddled ending and uneven acting made moviegoers long for the simple pleasures of the original. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone channeled original star Charlton Heston when he wrote, "Damn them, damn them all" in his review.
Lesson learned: Don't monkey around with the classics.
Nobody thought Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot remake of the Alfred Hitchcock classic was a good idea, but the maverick director did it anyway, casting Anne Heche (at her career peak) as Marion Crane and Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates. Critics generally shrugged, viewing it as a noble experiment at best, and the movie won Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Remake and Worst Director. Which is far scarier than anything Van Sant actually put on film.
Lesson learned: There is such a thing as "too faithful."