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Defector At The Movies

There Should Be A Grand Jury To Approve All Future Film And TV Remakes

Screenshot from the 1997 remake of '12 Angry Men'

They—the nebulous they, Hollywood, in this case apparently some combination of Universal Pictures and some smaller companies I’ve never heard of—are remaking The Others, a 2001 haunted-house movie starring Nicole Kidman. The Others is fine, a perfectly fine and spooky upscale ghost yarn that makes good use of one of the great movie-stars of her generation. It has a fun twist ending. You could almost imagine it being based on a Shirley Jackson story, though it is not.

The main thing is: It does not need to be remade. It was fine the first time. None of the advancements in filmmaking in the scant 19 years since The Others‘s production can reasonably be expected to unlock some hidden potential within its story: It does not need, for example, better CGI effects, because it rightly features none. Nor has the original been in any way lost to time: It is not some ancient silent film shot on celluloid long decayed away to dust. You can stream it in perfectly gorgeous high-definition for a couple of bucks on Prime Video right now. Nor does it include any outmoded depictions or characterizations that sap the pleasure from its good parts in the cold light of modern attitudes: It is not the otherwise great 1964 adaptation of The Masque of the Red Death with its insanely racist vision-quest sequence right smack-dab in the middle. It simply doesn’t need to be remade! Because it is fine! Anyone who wants to see a good version of The Others can simply watch The Others.

I will be honest, here: I am not particularly invested in defending the honor of the 2001 movie The Others, specifically. But there is too damn much of this. They’re doing a horny TV-series reboot of the Lord of the Rings, which not even 20 years ago was adapted into one of the most successful and acclaimed film series ever produced, which dominated pop culture for three years that felt like 20, and which remains extremely available to anybody who would like to watch it in 2020. They’re doing a live-action remake of Avatar: The Last Airbender, which was already perfect as a beloved animated series that aired its last episode only a little over 12 years ago, and which has already been remade in live-action once, incredibly badly. They did a live-action [CORRECTION: It’s CGI designed to look photorealistic, not live action] remake of the freaking Lion King for anybody who wished that the insanely, historically popular 1994 original had been a billion times uglier and worse. None of these needed remaking! They’re being remade not because of an earnest desire to update or improve them artistically, but because of gross and cynical market imperatives.

In fact, very few films or TV series need remaking. The ones that are good enough for there to be anything bankable in greenlighting their remake are also, in virtually all cases, good enough that you can just watch them again. The small number of exceptions to this rule are films or TV series that were definitively botched the first time around, works that A) should have been extremely good, but B) definitely were not, for clear reasons it’s reasonable to expect could be remedied on a second go-round.

That is why I am proposing a new independent branch of the national government, coequal to the executive, judiciary, and legislature, with a constitutional charter empowering it to decide which movies and TV shows may be remade. The way it will work is, a grand jury of 18 random people between the ages of 18 and 64 will be convened, by force if necessary, to hear arguments for and against remaking a given film or television series. The burden would fall on those proposing the remake, to produce unanimous agreement among all 18 jury members on three distinct points:

  1. That the original production was definitively botched.
  2. That, had it not been botched, it would have been good.
  3. That the proposed remake will definitively remedy the botch that made the original suck.

If a single member of the jury is not convinced—not of a remake’s commercial viability but of its urgent artistic necessity—then the remake will be rejected, and its proponents possibly subjected to an extremely large fine, payable to me. This branch of the national government will also be empowered to try a given new film or TV series, in absentia if necessary, on charges of being a de facto remake futzed with just enough to circumvent the designated proposal process, with penalties for those found guilty including a lifetime ban from being in the same room as either a camera, film projector, or television screen, and also large fines payable to me. The jury members’ identities would be kept completely secret throughout the process, even from each other, and there would be no deliberation among them. Either they all independently conclude that the property in question is in affirmative need of remaking and will be remade into something inarguably better, or the remake can go to hell.

By these criteria, you can see that eligibility for remake largely would be limited to a few clear categories:

  • Otherwise enjoyable films and TV series that were critically wounded by a small number of discrete bad choices, like ruinous casting decisions (Kevin Costner as Robin Hood), or a deathly stupid plot twist (any story in which an initially terrifying ghost turns out to be an innocent victim who just needs justice in order to be laid to peaceful rest).
  • Films and TV series that wasted promising premises with comprehensively crappy or unambitious execution. Here I am thinking of, for example, The Omen (1976), which could have been a fine post–Rosemary’s Baby, post-Exorcist Satanic Panic movie if its makers had been interested in accomplishing absolutely anything beyond soaking up the transient public appetite for hysterical Satanic Panic stories as cheaply as possible. Except they already remade The Omen in 2006, and guess what, it sucked.
  • Genre films that were undone by the special-effects constraints of their time, or by ’90s and ’00s productions that leaned on cheap CGI before everybody remembered that actually, practical effects are in virtually all cases superior.
  • Ambitious blockbuster productions that could have been great had they not been swamped by creative dysfunction and wound up with a hilarious number of credited screenwriters and everybody involved wound up pretty much openly hating the finished product (Alien 3).
  • Films marred by just heinously bigoted shit reflecting attitudes that were more broadly tolerated by mainstream audiences during their time (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Masque of the Red Death, etc.). This would exclude movies whose bigotry is indispensable to their story (The Birth of a Nation, Gone with the Wind, etc.) because there could be no point in remaking them.

You can see the benefits to this totally sensible amendment of the nation’s founding document and basic governing structure right away! You could not come to the grand jury with an argument like “We would like to remake this movie because the original (The Day the Earth Stood Still) is very old.” Not without making me a lot richer, anyway! You could not face the grand jury with an argument like “The original is a gloriously insane work of visionary trash art (Total Recall) but it is also rated R, so maybe there is an untapped market for a bland and worthless remake rated PG-13.” The grand jury would laugh you into the toilet for that, but not before taking your money to give to me. You could not stand before the mighty grand jury and say “We would like to remake Conan the Barbarian only and entirely because there is a new large muscle man and we’re too fucking stupid to do anything original with him.” It would be much simpler to just write me a very large check and go to hell.

You may have some questions about this plan.

Why 18 jurors, rather than three or six or 12?
Because 18 is a lot of people. It is harder to achieve unanimous agreement among 18 people than among three or six or 12.

Why random people for jurors, rather than film-industry types?
Because film-industry types are predisposed toward the belief that a film idea is worth producing. They literally do it for a living. A random selection of people may possibly include someone who does not believe that any films or TV series should ever be made, that films and TV series are in fact The Devil’s Business, and this would force the advocates of a given remake to make the absolute strongest possible argument.

Why should the fines be payable to me, the author of this blog?
Because nothing could be a stronger deterrent against attempting a needless remake than the possibility that you will be forced to enrich, extravagantly, me, the most odious of cranks.

Doesn’t this in effect mean that there will never be another remake?
That is not my problem!

I think we can all agree that this is the absolute only way to arrest the scourge of needless film and TV series remakes, and also while we are at it that there should be term limits for Supreme Court justices and members of both houses of Congress. Thank you.