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5 Remakes Better Than The Original

by James Joyner on 27 July 2009


1. James Bond – The 2006 reboot of this longstanding franchise was a breath of fresh air.   To purists, Sean Connery will always define the Bond character but the Daniel Craig version is better.  I have liked all the actors who’ve played 007.  Connery was always my favorite, as he combined the ruggedness and smarts the character demanded.  George Lazenby’s single turn was a radical departure that gave us a prettier but less physical Bond. Roger Moore, the Bond I grew up with, was campy but good.  I even liked Timothy Dalton in the role, putting me in a small minority.  Pierce Brosnan was a return to a more serious Bond.

But Craig is simply stunning in the role.  He’s got the physique to carry off the ridiculous acts of derring-do and the attitude to seem like he ought to have a license to kill.  Of all the Bond actors, he’s the only one that seems plausible in all aspects of the character.

Moreover, the plots in both “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace” move.  With the exception of “Thunderball,” all of the Connery Bond flicks are dull and plodding by comparison.  The Bond of the 1960s just spent too much time laying around, driving from scene to scene, and otherwise filling a lot of screen time doing boring things.  It’s not Connery’s fault, of course, or even that of Terrence Young, Lewis Gilbert, or the other directors of the day; that’s simply the way movies were back then.  But, man oh man, they just don’t stand up.

2. Star Trek – The 2009 reboot directed by JJ Abrams and starring Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto in the Kirk and Spock roles was an unexpected surprise.  “The Original Series” was my favorite of the Trek shows in terms of great characters but it was a low-budget affair from a different era. The plots were uneven, to say the least.  “Next Generation” was an improvement in most respects but, as great as Picard and company were, they never matched up chemistry-wise to the Kirk-Spock-Bones combo.  “Deep Space 9″ and “Enterprise” had a lot going for them but they’re not at the top of the canon.  And we’ll just pretend “Voyager” never existed.

The new “Star Trek” manages to keep the good qualities of the original crew — including figuring out a way to work Leonard Nimoy in as Spock the Elder — with all the advantages of modern writing and production sensibilities.  Sure, we had the movies of the 1979 to 1994, feature films starring the original characters in their original roles.   And “Star Trek” was no “Wrath of Khan” or “Search for Spock.”  But it didn’t have the absurdity of a crew full of elderly senior officers doing the same jobs they did as ensigns, either.

3. Superman -  I’m cheating here and talking about the John Byrne comic book reboot of the franchise in 1986, although several of the television and movie treatments have been quite good, too.   By the time I started reading the Superman books in the mid-1970s, they had gotten pretty lame even by the standards of a pre-adolescent.  Decades of monthly stories had created a whole ridiculous cast of characters powerful enough to make Superman interesting, ranging from Mr. Myxlplyx to Comet the Super-Horse.  The “Crisis on Infinite Earths” mini-series and the Bryne turn on the writing and drawing kept the good parts of the storyline and (temporarily at least) swept away the crap.

Thanks to Byrne, we also got the two best television treatments of Clark Kent:  “Lois and Clark” and “Smallville.”   Gone is the silliness of Clark having to pretend to be a cowardly, 98-pound weakling despite being built like an NFL tight end.

4. Battlestar Galactica -  I missed the 1979 to 1980 iteration of the show, starring Lorne Greene as Commander Adama; or, quite possibly, I repressed the memory.  I’ve caught a few episodes here and there since and, my word, they were dreadful.  Greene was iconic as Ben Cartwright on “Bonanza.”  He was even fine in those Alpo commercials.  But he never worked as Adama.  The show was campy without being intentionally funny and serious without being dramatic.

The 2003 “reimagining” by contrast was one of the best television sci-fi shows ever, perhaps second only to “Babylon 5.”  And I was fully prepared not to like it, initially annoyed at the politically correct choice to make the Starbuck character a woman.  But it was awesome.  Edward James Olmos was perfect as Adama.  Katee Sackhoff was, once I got used to her, excellent as Starbuck.  James/Jamie Callas’s Gaius Baltar is one of the more interesting villains ever.  Michael Hogan’s Saul Tigh was terrific.  And the supporting cast was great.

5. Ocean’s 11 -  The 1960 Rat Pack version of this was rather lame.  Frank, Dean, and Sammy defined “cool” for a generation but the movie was . . . meh.   The 2001 Steven Soderbergh/George Clooney remake was a fun caper flick which spawned two perfectly enjoyable sequels of their own.  And it’s not every day we get to see a dozen mostly-big-name Hollywood actors get together to a movie together just for the fun of it.

About James Joyner

James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway and the managing editor of a DC think tank. He's a former Army officer, Desert Storm vet, and college professor. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama.

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Manly Things
1 August 2009 at 09:04
James Bond Ruined the Martini — MANzine
3 August 2009 at 06:08


1 Triumph 30 July 2009 at 15:21

5. Ocean’s 11
You gots to be crazy.   The original was de bomb–Joey Bishop totally rocked.

2 James Joyner 30 July 2009 at 15:55

I dunno.  I just find those older movies so much more plodding that there modern successors.
Plus, I needed a fifth and couldn’t think of anything.

3 Gustopher 1 August 2009 at 12:30

3. Superman

The Byrne reboot removed everthing that was fun about the Superman mythos in an effort to make it more mature, and left us with situations where a villain named Sleez hypnotizes Superman and Big Barda and makes them do a porn movie. Really.

Yes, that is one isolated example, but it really captures the dark, soulless drudgery that was the Byrne era. Oh, Superman killed people too — intentionally.

I can give him credit for Lex Luthor as business man, and a better relationship between Clark and Lois, and these are both good things, but the wholesale removal of anything “childish” and the attempt to make Superman “mature” was a mistake.

Superman needs The Legion of Superpets, fifth-dimensional imps, the bottle city of Kandor, red kryptonite and the mermaid he dated in college. Without being surrounded by the ridiculous, his own ridiculous nature just stands out too much.

Superman can only be read by folks who are childish enough to think that super powered dogs are a great idea, or mature enough to suspend disbelief and enjoy a story that has a super powered dog.

(But, I will agree that “Lois and Clark” was awesome)

4 michael reynolds 1 August 2009 at 16:18

Batman.  The Christian Bale versions far outshine earlier efforts.  And since the first was an origin story, I think it should qualify as a remake.

5 James Joyner 1 August 2009 at 22:31

Batman.  The Christian Bale versions far outshine earlier efforts.  And since the first was an origin story, I think it should qualify as a remake.

Good choice. It’s definitely the best film version of the character. What’s particularly odd is that it’s basically the Batman: Year One reboot that Frank Miller did in 1987 and which preceded the Michael Keaton incarnation.  So there’s really no excuse.

6 Dave J 3 August 2009 at 14:30

The Thomas Crown Affair – The Pierce Brosnan remake was better in the storyline, while both the Steve McQueen original and Pierce both exuded cool. Faye Dunaway was in both films, FYI.

7 Thomas Hart 3 August 2009 at 22:04

You have to be kidding. Every one of the originals is better than the remakes you cite. The current crop of Bond films are okay, but the plot of Quantum of Solace was ridiculous, and the muddling of loyalties in both films was not true to the spirit of the books. BSG had so many things wrong with it that it’s hard to know where to begin. Mary McDonnell is a good point. She has strong negative charisma. She makes you not want to see things. The lousy computer science. The continuous use of “frak.” The lame ending. The overall pretentiousness of it. As for Oceans 11, then ew one has George Clooney in it. Of all the colorless, over-hyped idiots to darken a set, Clooney is one of the most idiotic. Lets face it, most actors today are barely distinguishable from one another, and the cast of the new one is just the same standard issue male hotties. As for Superman, the current version is I understand pretty much a betrayal of the guy who stood for “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.” Hollywood doesn’t believe in any of those things now, so it used the new version of Superman to trash everything. Star Trek had a better looking Uhura. Nichelle Nichols was never that hot. But the story was weak. Since when do Academy graduates make Captain upon graduation. You’re supposed to go Ensign, Lieutenant, Lieutenant Commander, Commander, then Captain. Kirk still needed seasoning. Rather than getting the timeline back in order, they went off on a set of new adventures. That was poor.
There just haven’t been that many decent movies made since the 1980s.

8 HC 3 August 2009 at 23:46

AMEN Thomas Hart!!

Regarding BG, the original was limited by the limitations of weekly TV at the time, but at least it had enough guts to try some things that were a _little bit_ original. For example, having the story be about the protagonists losing their homes and being pursued after losing a war with an enemy out of too much trust and self-deception was unusual for the time, and having it turn out later that the Devil (literally!) was behind the enemy was also somewhat daring too. It _wasn’t_ great art by any means, but at least it wasn’t pretentious politically correct tripe like the reboot, which is basically just an expression of Hollywood’s loathing of America. Of course the enemy _had_ to be self-manufactured, it _had_ to be the fault of the protagonists. And of course the whole source of hope has to be manufactured, it _has_ to be cynical and fraudulent, because Hollywood can’t believe in anything else.

As for Star Trek, I grant that this movie comes closer to recapturing the ‘feel’ of Kirk/Spock/McCoy than anything else since, the actors who played those roles actually did something impressive in that. I freely grant that. The YoungMcCoy character was especially IMHO impressively ‘right’.

Also, portraying a Very Young Jim Kirk as a very annoying jerk kid was probably spot on, that’s exactly what I picture him being, especially absent any serious adult male role model (his father being dead in this time line). Very smart, too successful with the ladies for his own good, everything comes easy, that’s the recipe for a jerk very often.

But oh dear Heaven, so many things were just wrong!!! The Spock/Uhura romance doesn’t make a damn bit of sense, having the old Enterprise be constructed on Earth’s surface is just silly, the Engineering sets with those big tubes of liquid running this way and that for no obvious reason, and the YoungScotty character is Just So Wrong. Scotty was never supposed to be the comic relief (he could be the occasional source of smiles, but the character is supposed to be basically solid).

Spock the Elder watches Vulcan destroyed from Delta Vega with his naked eyes. For old-time fans, Delta Vega was a planet way out on the edge of the Galaxy, thousands of light-years from Vulcan. Granted the time-line was already changed, but having Delta Vega moved to the Vulcan star system would be like me going back in time to save Abraham Lincoln, and returning to the present to discover that by doing so, I somehow moved England to the middle of the Pacific Ocean!! And of course a habitable world close enough to Vulcan to permit Spock to watch it be destroyed with naked eyes be destroyed would itself be wrecked in such a cataclysm.

The bridge set looked better than the Engineering set, I grant that it might even ‘work’ as a set for a different show, but this is supposed to be the same time as Kirk’s youth, so why doesn’t it look at least a _little_ like the bridge set of the original Enterprise?! I mean it doesn’t have to be identical, given the time-line change, and allowing for better visual effects, but it ought to at least _resemble_ it a little. Especially since of all the bridge sets we ever saw on Star Trek, the bridge of old series Enterprise is the only one that sort of looked like it made sense.

(The bridge is supposed to be a place where information gets gathered and directed in order for the Captain to make useful decisions. That old bridge had a ring of screens all the way around the set, lots of display possibilities, not just one big screen, and it looked ‘clean and efficient’ and businesslike, not like the misplaced coffee-bar ambience of the STTNG bridge set.)

And yes Thomas Hart you are so right that there is no way Kirk would go straight to starship command from undergrad status right out of the Academy! After the events of the movie, he very likely would be promoted, he’d be thought of as an up-and-comer, yes. I could imagine that after all that he might graduate as a Lieutenant and skip Ensign, or something on that order.

The ONLY way going straight to captain would make sense would be if _everybody_ else with line seniority above him (meaning basically all of Starfleet’s line personnel) were dead or incapacitated. Which was not the case.

And don’t get me started on how stupid the villain was.

9 CJ 4 August 2009 at 02:50

Another vote here for the recent <i>Batman</i> movies being improvements on the earlier ones (and on the campy TV show). That might have been a better choice than <i>Ocean’s 11</i> — although the original of that one isn’t exactly high art, just compare the talent level of the Rat Pack with today’s Hollywood mediocrities. Is there anybody in H’wood movies today who can sing like Sinatra, Martin or Davis — or anybody who can dance like the younger Davis? (Admittedly, they didn’t display much of that talent in <i>Ocean’s 11</i>.)
Re the criticism of the 2009 <i>Star Trek</i> — you can’t leave out the ridiculously bad ice monster that chases Kirk on Delta Vega. Nonetheless, that movie was a lot better than I at least expected. It belongs on the list, because the ST franchise was getting pretty run-down.
One other agreement with some of the comments … I’ve watched a bunch of 1940s and 1950s movies lately thanks to the magic of DVD. They’ve often got their limitations with regard to lame scripts and wooden acting, but they are so blessedly free of the political correctness that mars so much of today’s cinema.

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