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Chris Hicks: Movie remakes are movie bread and butter

Published: Friday, April 13 2012 9:43 a.m. MDT

Myrna Loy as Nora Charles, Asta and WIlliam Powell as Nick Charles in "The Thin Man."

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After perusing a website devoted to upcoming movies, a friend asked what I thought about so many remakes on the schedule. That's easy enough: It's just business as usual.

So far this year, we've already had "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," "The Lorax" and "21 Jump Street," all reboots of TV shows (the first two also based on books).

And on May 11, we'll see another TV series turned into a theatrical film, this one equal parts remake and spoof: Tim Burton's "Dark Shadows," starring his favorite collaborator, Johnny Depp. (They have now made eight films together, five of them remakes.)

Then come a new do-over of "The Amazing Spider-Man" on July 3 and a Schwarzenegger-free "Total Recall" on Aug. 3. And in the fall, we'll see remakes of "Judge Dredd" and "Red Dawn."

Though each goes off in a different direction, the basic stories are the same, so I guess "Mirror Mirror" and the upcoming "Snow White and the Huntsman" are also remakes, as is "The Three Stooges," which opens today — a remake of the characters, if not a particular short or feature that starred the original Larry, Moe and Curly.

But none of those seem troublesome. After all, remakes have been movie bread and butter since the silent era.

Did you know that the classic 1941 film noir "The Maltese Falcon," starring Humphrey Bogart, was a remake? In fact, it was a second remake. The Dashiell Hammett novel had been adapted twice before, under that title in 1931 and again in 1936, as "Satan Met a Lady."

And that's the point. No one cares if someone tries to remake a bad or so-so movie in the hopes of coming up with a better version. Sometimes that's exactly what happens.

But why would anyone try to improve upon the best?

Fortunately, no one has tried to remake "The Maltese Falcon" since Bogie's version achieved icon status. But that doesn't mean it couldn't happen.

There have been uncountable ill-advised attempts to revisit beloved favorites, often with disastrous results, as with the fairly recent remakes of "Psycho," "Around the World in 80 Days," "Wings of Desire," "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," "The Women," "The Vanishing," "The Pink Panther," "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "The Ladykillers" and "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," among others.

So when I read about next year's schedule including new versions of "The Lone Ranger," "Superman," "Dirty Dancing," "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," "Short Circuit" and "RoboCop," I thought, OK, they might be able to improve on those. Even fans of the originals might look forward to another approach.

But there were two on the list that made me wince: Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 chiller "The Birds" and the 1934 comedy-mystery "The Thin Man," starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.

"The Birds" is more than just a horror film, more than merely a harrowing nature-turning-against-us cautionary tale that fits into a familiar genre. In Hitch's hands it became art, building on itself in a way that makes even its often-criticized walk-away ending a very scary conclusion, a sort of "what-if?" scenario all its own.

While it may be possible to give a new version of "The Birds" jazzier or more realistic special effects, given recent strides in computer technology, the thought of anyone coming up with a movie that is nearly so contemplative and nerve-racking all at the same time, is remote at best.

Even worse, however, is the idea of updating "The Thin Man." The murder mystery in that film is secondary to the interplay of the lead characters, Nick and Nora Charles, a married pair of "swells," to use the 1930s vernacular, who also solve murders as a sort of hobby.

They are wealthy, smart, funny and spend a lot of time in verbal banter, attempting to top each other's witticisms and wisecracks. They are also often surrounded by eccentric low-lifes, all determined to pay some sort of debt they feel they owe to Nick.

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