The news is at this moment buzzing its way through the ether: Steven Spielberg is interested in directing a new version of the classic movie musical West Side Story. Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and with 1o won Oscars (amongst them the almighty Best Film) overlooking the proceedings the task would seem gargantuan. If anyone would be up for tackling it with care and precision it would be the formidable Spielberg, whose clear understanding of the character journey has been a gorgeous red thread throughout his career, giving this writer the impression that he would never be anything but respectful towards the original and the fanbase built around it over the past fifty-three years.
However, while on the topic of remakes – my first reaction was to, albeit lightly, shudder at the thought of yet another classic paving the way for yet another Hollywood blockbusting venture. Now, I do understand that having a previous work of somekind (be it stage play, novel, comic book, film) as a basis for investing millions of dollars and months and/or years of peoples lives into one project is good policy. It just makes sense. I get it. It’s very sensible. It’s also largely depressing to realize that the creative reality we now live in means that original screenplays are buried deep into the pile and easily forgotten about. Hence the shudder. Plus: I feel that it’s somewhat wasteful to greenlight a remake where the original still works splendidly just as is.
I will of course grant that the themes of hostility to immigrants and racism are ones that I can see easily being reworked into a more modern version. And the inspiration and want to build on a world one loves to be a part of is something I understand full well. I can merely assume that this also is the foremost reason to why Spielberg feels compelled to spruce up a musical pearl of the same weight and worth as Sound of Music or My Fair Lady: he wants to enhance and expand West Side Story because he’s a fan of the original. But do we need another version?
I am of the opinion that a remake should improve upon an original that has a bunch of gaping holes in its story telling, a remake shouldn’t simply take a perfectly functioning plotline and place it in a modern setting rather than the 30’s, 50’s, 80’s or whatever. The risk you run by doing so is ending up with a product far below par as the original, with all its flaws, was made at a time when its creation was deemed edgy and innovative and through this became the cult product we know it as today. You cannot be original if you don’t have the stomach to even try and if there’s anything today’s jaded movie audience can’t abide it’s repetition. (For example, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo failed to draw in the faithful despite its big stars and having a recognized director at the helm.)
What I find the most sad about all these remakes – especially of the classics or cult classics that still hold their own to this modern era of filmmaking – is that the younger generation movie goers won’t get to enjoy the originals. The younger (under twenties) audience will, most likely, not even realize that what they’re actually seeing is a new version of something that has left such deep marks in the history of film that it warranted something as time- and money consuming as a Hollywood blockbustering venture.