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Have You Seen…? Episode 12

Public Domain

Have You Seen…? looks at The Man Who Knew Too Much and other remakes. In this episode David Hast and WGVU’s Scott Vander Werf talk about Alfred Hitchcock remaking his own movie, along with other remakes, both good and bad.

David Hast: Scott, have you seen The Man Who Knew Too Much?

Scott Vander Werf: Which one?

DH: Well, that's right. It was remade. And it has the rare distinction of being a movie where the director, Alfred Hitchcock, remade their own picture. So we're going to talk about that. But first, what's the deal with movie remakes? What do you think about them?

SVW: You know, in general, I'm kind of cynical and more downtrodden on remakes because it’s like, why? When you have so many great writers, great source material in terms of all sorts of books and short stories to be able to those on the big screen, why remake something that's already been done? Now, the example that you give, though, is Alfred Hitchcock. And Alfred Hitchcock was a great director. And he made the original one when he was still in Britain and he made the second version when he was in Hollywood and he expanded upon it. It was bigger. It was in color. And so that's that would be a reason why you would want to remake a film. But in general, it just seems like unless you know that you can make the film better, there's no point in a remake.

DH: Right, although there are points, I think you're right, that I think sometimes Hollywood just as desperate for ideas, the gold in Hollywood is still a great story and a great screenplay. And sometimes these studios or production companies are like, what can we do? Let's just do a movie version of the Flintstones, you know, stupid ideas because they're desperate to get something out and think they can make some money. But sometimes they update them in an interesting way. And we're going to talk about remakes, aren't we talk about some where we think, one of us or both of us, think that the remake is better than the original?

SVW: Yeah. That would go to what I was saying. If you can make it better than make it better.

DH: And the first one doesn't even have to be bad. You know, sometimes it's good and then they make an even better one.

SVW: So The Man Who Knew Too Much, do you feel that the remake is a better film than the original?

DH: Oh, that's a really good question. I think in some ways the original has a little more original energy to it. It was the film that really made Hitchcock a kind of international star and eventually wrote his ticket to Hollywood. It was 1934 so it was even relatively early in his British career in the sound era and the stories are the same. They have the same climax in the Royal Albert Hall with the symphony playing and the assassination that's going to take place when the symbols crash, even the same piece of music is played. The difference is that the remake is big. I mean, the remake is a widescreen Technicolor, major “A” picture starring James Stewart and Doris Day. And there are things that he can do technically that he didn't know when he was young. In fact, the famous quote, that Hitchcock said in his in his interviews with the French filmmaker Francois Truffaut, he said, “let's say that the first version is the work of a talented amateur. And the second version was made by a professional.” But is it better? I don't know. I think they're both pretty good.

SVW: Yeah. And then the remake was also during that period of time when he was just churning out one great masterpiece after another. That 50's run of great movies, Vertigo, Rear Window, that's all in that same time period.

DH: And for the same studio, I was reading up on this. Apparently he had a five picture contract with Paramount and out of that came Rear Window and Vertigo, two of his masterpieces. And a couple other films, and he had one more to make. And one version of the story says he just decided to remake this movie to fulfill the contract, you know, we showed it to a producer and said, do you think we could do this? But surely he must have had other reasons to take out of the dozens of movies he made at this point to pick one and remake it. I think he just thought he could do more interesting things with it. One thing I noticed, and we talked about, and let's talk about a bunch of them, is it a lot of them? A huge number of remakes tend to be sci-fi or horror films. Why is that?

SVW: Well, maybe because of the evolution in terms of special effects. Maybe the way that the way that the films were framed within the original time period that now that because of other events, the directors and the writers and producers feel like we can update this and put this in a modern perspective. And one of my films that I looked at was the War of the Worlds. The first version that came out in 1953 was shortly after the end of World War II and the 2005 remake that Steven Spielberg did was just a few years after the attacks on 9/11/2001. And both films are sort of framed within that sort of newsworthy aspect.

DH: My favorite is the early one. I like that because it’s just a classic sci-fi film from the 50's. The other one, of course, is extremely well made and competent. But I don't think it has the energy, the original.

SVW: Well, you know, I would probably agreed with you a couple of weeks ago before I went and looked back at the 1953 version, which was groundbreaking. It really was ground breaking up until that point, a lot of the invasion movies were kind of campy and this took it very seriously. It's very dark. There's a sense of dread it and it's not really about the characters. There's it's not really about it's not a personal film, whereas the remake is more emotional. Its family oriented. And it's all seen through the eyes of the main character. Tom Cruise is just trying to keep his children alive where as in the original it was, you know, there are a lot of effort looking at the futile military effort. You know, there is an obligatory sort of romantic subplot in there. That's unnecessary but a lot of movies had that at the time. I love both films and I didn't realize how much I enjoyed the 2005 one at the time until I looked back at it recently.

DH: Maybe I just like the old the classic military trope of, you know, the whole U.S. military can’t defeat these aliens from Mars and and I less am liking the star-driven Tom Cruise idea. They're both good movies.

How about the time machine? As long as we're talking about H G Wells.

SVW: The time machine is a film and I'm sure given our age that we both grew up watching this over and over again on television.

DH: Yeah. The 1960, version with Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux

SVW: And directed by George Pal

DH: Who is really, really good special effects that are still fun to watch, even though they're not like the digital effects now.

SVW: The 2002 version has two director Simon Wells and Gore Verbinski I think Verbinski only worked a little bit on it. And between those 2, I definitely would say that the 1960's one that I enjoy way more.

{Clip from the Time Machine}

SVW: Both films deviate from the book, the original H G Wells book. But the 2002 one does it in a way that to me was just sort of pandering and adding things just because maybe the producers thought we need to have this. We need to have this extra layer of violence. We need to have a central evil character which is portrayed by Jeremy Irons as the Uber marlock, you know, wasn't necessary with the that was not a part of the original narrative. It wasn't part of the 1960, movie.

Dh: Its darker and more depressing. The original one is more fun, although the remake does have the distinction, it was directed by Simon Wells, as you mentioned, the grandson of H G Wells.

SVW: You know, I just learned something I didn't realize.

DH: Yes.

SVW: The other thing difference-different from the time machine is that in this this kind of is similar to the war of the worlds in in 1960, the world that the United States was really preoccupied with nuclear weapons and nuclear war and possible apocalypse apocalyptic war happening. And that's really what the character Rod Taylor sees as he goes into the future, that there was a some nuclear conflict that that resulted in in, you know, ruining the world for a period of time, whereas in the 2002, when it's more looking at a manmade ecological event, it's because we overpopulated the moon and we ruined the resources on the planet Earth.

DH: Which gets back to your reason what you like you said before. The reason you remake science fiction is because contemporary science and technology point to different problems. And so you update it, how about some other ones.

How about the fly?

{The Fly movie clip}

SVW: Growing up, I was one of those. Those, you know, fans of horror movies and monster movies. I didn't really like the original Fly.

DH: It’s kinda cheesy. And it isn’t that scary. Another one that that's along the same lines as the thing. The thing from another world where this scary alien is basically James RNs wearing black clothes and running around in the shadows. Whereas both of those remakes are scary movies. David Cronenberg's the Fly with Jeff Goldblum. It's really creepy as most Cronenberg horror films are and the thing was done by the famous filmmaker John Carpenter made Halloween. In both cases I love the remakes.

SVW: I would agree with you. I think the thing that John Carpenter thing in 1986, was wonderful. And it's one of my favorite movies of that period of time. Also, I was kind of surprised, although the Cronenberg was a favorite filmmaker of mine at the time. I was kind of disappointed that he's taking on the fly, which star Jeff Goldblum.

DH: Well, it was his first film where he did, you know, kind of work for hire for a studio instead of one of his more independent,

SVW: OK, that explains that that it's a he does a great job. He makes it way more interesting than the original. Yeah. So also we have the remakes like Dear God, why did we read? Why were these films remade? And first and foremost for me would be like psycho another Hitchcock film Stone Cold Classic. Why remake it? DH: Yeah. In some of these ones that are like, why did the remake such a great, you know, unique film? I haven't even seen the remakes and psychos an example. I've read about it and it's almost universally hated. So, yeah, what was the point? A few others that that are in that same category are the Shining someone actually remade that out of the past one of the iconic film noirs that we talked about one of our early episodes. Why would you remake that? There's the wonderful Mister Deeds goes to town with Gary Cooper in Jean Arthur was remade with Adam Sandler. There's others, you know, it's like what's the point?

One thing we didn't talk about in this isn't exactly remakes. But what about all these? There's some very interesting it extended TV series now that are that are that come either from the same book or from a movie itself? Something like Fargo.

SVW: Which is amazing. I mean, the Coen brothers film is a stone cold masterpiece.

Right? And then the first I I think I've only seen the first three series, their individual series that take place in the same region with different characters. And they're brilliant. They're brilliantly done and they're very cinematic. The they get there really well written and well directed and well-cast.

DH: We have a couple others on our list that are kind of forgettable movies. The Handmaid's Tale was an OK movie, but it's obviously much more acclaimed as a series. People don't even remember that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a movie

SVW: And snowpiercer is interesting. It was made. It was based on a graphic novel

David Hast is a retired high school English teacher. He has an MFA in Radio/TV/Film from Northwestern University and worked 15 years in the film and video industry. Some years ago he taught video production part-time at GVSU, and as a high school teacher he regularly taught a course in Film and Media Analysis.
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