With the Oct. 5 release of “Frankenweenie,” about a young inventor and his beloved undead dog, Tim Burton joins a select club: filmmakers who’ve felt compelled to make the same movie twice. Why return, sometimes decades later, to an old story? Why bake a cake that’s already been served? The reasons are as varied as the projects themselves: the urge to take advantage of new technology, the wish to get it right, straight-up greed. In Burton’s case, there’s a measure of revenge: Disney fired the young animator back in 1984 after the original 30-minute “Frankenweenie” was deemed too scary for young audiences (although once he became famous, the company released the short on VHS; it’s now featured as an extra on the “Nightmare Before Christmas” DVD). The new “Frankenweenie” is a feature-length expansion that uses stop-motion animation instead of live actors, but it’s still in spectral black-and-white, and still distributed by a now-chastened Disney. And, judging by the other ghoulish family films this season (“ParaNorman,” “Hotel Transylvania”), time and tastes have caught up with Burton. That’s one reason to remake a movie yourself. Here are others.
Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1998)/Rescue Dawn (2007)
Werner Herzog has spent nearly half a century toggling between documentaries and narrative filmmaking, but this is the first and only time he has tackled the same story in both formats. The 1998 doc is a spellbinding first-person account of ex-POW Dieter Dengler’s six months in and escape from a Laos prison camp in 1966. It’s very good, but it doesn’t allow Herzog to address his obsession with man’s foolish attempts to conquer nature. By remaking “Little Dieter” as “Rescue Dawn,” the director gets to place a swaggering young Dieter (Christian Bale) in the middle of a most Herzogian jungle — there are shots that could have come straight from 1972’s
“Aguirre: The Wrath of God” — and see what it takes to grind him back to zero. The result is both Herzog’s most underrated film and a stunning summation of an artistic career.
The Vanishing (1988)/(1993)
George Sluizer must have thought he’d won the lottery. After three decades in the business, the Dutch director finally had a global hit with 1988’s “Spoorloos” (“The Vanishing”), a super-creepy art-house thriller about a woman (Johanna ter Steege) who disappears from a highway rest stop, the boyfriend (Gene Bervoets) who becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to her, and the eerie older gentleman (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu) who knows. Hollywood came calling and asked Sluizer to do it again. Five years later, an American “The Vanishing” came to theaters with Sandra Bullock as the woman, Kiefer Sutherland as the boyfriend, a scenery-chewing Jeff Bridges as the villain — and a Hollywood ending that rendered the entire film pointless. A case of an artist betrayed by Hollywood? Not quite: The new ending was reportedly the director’s idea, as was Bridges’s bizarre imitation of Sluizer’s accent. Apparently it’s harder to sell out than it looks.
Funny Games (1997)/(2007)
Two young strangers in country-club whites drop in on a comfortable upper-middle-class family and proceed to terrify and torture them. Michael Haneke’s original film was in German. His second version was set in the United States and starred Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, and Brady Corbet. The original was tolerated as a brutal curio. The English-language reincarnation was reviled on the grounds that it rubbed an audience’s nose in violence it would never otherwise pay to sit through. If art-house patrons wanted this, the thinking goes, they’d pay to see Eli Roth.
What’s the point? Haneke specializes in stirring discomfort in so-called civilized people. What’s powerful about the first film — the cosmic randomness of the home invasion — is viscerally depressing in the second. Haneke was a stronger filmmaker in 1997. The air in the second film is more ominous; the framing, while similar, is tighter; the violence blunter, crueler; the performances rawer, particularly Watts’s. The objection in both cases was that it wasn’t just some movie couple that was being held hostage and abused, it was us. That, of course, was the point.
Twin Peaks (1990-91)/Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
The term “reboot” is best left to the computer world, but in this case it makes sense since the usual descriptions of what David Lynch achieved don’t work. It’s not entirely a remake or a reinterpretation. Nor does the transition from a television show to a feature film totally constitute a prequel or sequel — although it’s certainly more the former. ABC canceled “Twin Peaks” after two seasons (the first of which was legendary), so, due to a sort of system failure, Lynch restarted his murder-mystery at the movies, with a different operating system.
“Fire Walk With Me” turned 20 this summer, and its initial public offering was less than positive. It was booed at Cannes, obviously, which for some directors is a badge of honor. But seeing this movie, it’s hard to believe even a little bit of it was ever on the same network that aired “Just the Ten of Us.” The film is just the television show off its medication. Where “Twin Peaks” was many episodes of MacGuffin — the goal only appeared to be solving the murder of Laura Palmer — the movie was about the madness of mysteries. This one has a murder just like Laura’s, and the movie is just as digressive about its solution. The real concern here is how many rabbit holes a director can willfully explore without ever encountering an actual rabbit.
Love Affair (1939)/An Affair to Remember (1957)
Bear with me. This gets complicated. Leo McCarey made “Love Affair,” starring Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne and the observation deck of the Empire State Building. McCarey then remade it as “An Affair to Remember,” now starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr and (still) the Empire State Building. Nora Ephron made “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993), in which Meg Ryan and Rosie O’Donnell so adore “An Affair to Remember” it ends up providing the movie with its climax — once again starring the Empire State Building. Finally, Glenn Gordon Garon made “Love Affair” (1994 based on McCarey’s 1939 original), starring Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, and (don’t worry) the Empire State Building.
“An Affair to Remember” follows the original “Love Affair” almost shot for shot and word for word. Yet it’s as if the first movie had spent the intervening 18 years sunk beneath the waves that carry the ocean liner on which Boyer and Dunne meet — only to have the ocean disgorge the new film, all logy and swollen. The movie no longer believes in itself — with Kerr attempting to replace Dunne it has no business believing in itself — and everything about its appearance, from too-rich colors to cluttered interiors, proclaims that the movie is just going through the motions. Fifties bloatedness has set in, like tail fins on cars. Even the title has gotten inflated and (speaking of ocean liners) echoes that of a famous book about the Titanic, “A Night to Remember.” So maybe McCarey just had a thing for icebergs?
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)/(1955)
A married couple get caught up in an assassination plot. Their child is kidnapped to keep them quiet. The assassination is to take place during a concert at London’s Albert Hall. Those things both movies have in common.
In Alfred Hitchcock’s original — shot in standard aspect ratio and black and white — the couple are English, the child’s a very annoying girl, and the only name in the cast you would recognize belongs to the chief villain, Peter Lorre, in his English-language debut.
In Hitchcock’s remake — shot in VistaVision and truly gorgeous Technicolor — the couple are Americans and played by James Stewart and Doris Day. The kidnapping takes place in Morocco, not Switzerland, and the child’s a very annoying boy. The later version is also nearly 45 minutes longer (those Moroccan scenes do go on).
Why did Hitchcock remake it? In color and with big stars, the new version was more commercial. That’s obvious enough. But that would apply to remakes of any of his ’30s British films. A better reason was getting a redo on the Albert Hall shooting.
It’s among the classic Hitchcock set-pieces, like the Mount Rushmore sequence, in “North by Northwest,” or the shower scene, in “Psycho.” In the first version, it’s over quick and comes close to the middle of the movie. The remake doesn’t squander such a gift. Hitchock moves the assassination attempt further back in the movie and makes it more elaborate. “Let’s say that the first is the work of a talented amateur,” he told Francois Truffaut, “and the second was made by a professional.”