How Soon Is Too Soon for a Remake?

Maybe I’m getting old. (OK, there’s no “maybe” about it; I’m getting old.) When I heard the recent news that Colin Farrell will be starring in a remake of ‘Total Recall’, my first thought was, “How could they possibly remake that already?” Is 20 years too soon for a remake?

Truth be told, I don’t object to the idea of a new adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s original story ‘We Can Remember It for You Wholesale’, if that’s what this really is to be. I like ‘Total Recall‘ as much as the next sci-fi, action, or Schwarzenegger fan, but the movie had basically nothing at all to do with the story it was allegedly based on. There are some interesting themes and ideas in there that could still make for a good movie. If we remember, David Cronenberg was originally going to direct ‘Total Recall’ the first time, before Schwarzenegger got attached and the studio decided to go a different way entirely.

I just have my doubts that what we’re going to get will really be that different. For one thing, the project is still being called ‘Total Recall’, and the only reason for that is to remind audiences of the Schwarzenegger picture. Len Wiseman (of ‘Live Free or Die Hard‘ and the ‘Underworld‘ franchise) is directing, so there’s clearly no intent to make this an intellectual film. In an interview with Collider, producer Neil Moritz boasts of the production’s scope and complexity.

I think the world that Len Wiseman is creating is incredible. It’s a real world, a real future world, where the cities have just gotten so overcrowded that the cities are just built up, up, up, up. It’s just everything I see on the movie, every pre-vis I see on the movie, every conceptual drawing on this movie that I see just makes me more and more excited. We’re playing it like a real world, but there’s all these technological advancements to the real world, and it’s just really, it’s cool. It’s an awesome movie. I’m dying—as a fan of movies, more than anything, it’s a movie that I’m just dying to see.”

While Moritz also claims, “It’s closer to the book, the big difference is we don’t go to space,” I doubt that Philip Dick fans are expecting too much out of this. (I guess this also means that the character won’t be getting his ass to Mars this time.)

But hey, at least it won’t be in 3D.

What’s next for the Hollywood remake factory? Are remakes of ‘Avatar‘ and ‘Inception‘, and a re-remake of ‘True Grit‘ already in the works? After all, if people paid to see these movies the first time, why wait to make them pay all over again?


  1. Alex

    In all fairness, it has been 20 years, which means that a good portion of the movie-going populace didn’t see the original in theaters and may never have even seen it on video. A good story, one that you can interpret and re-interpret and still draw out more artistic merit, doesn’t even really need to wait that long. Think of Sherlock Holmes stories, which are in the middle of resurgence. It hasn’t been 20 years since the Granada television series (arguably the definitive version) ended, and yet we have the Robert Downey Jr. version which was a kick and the Benedict Cumberbatch mini-series which was a delight. I wouldn’t say that 20 years is too soon at all, if the story and characters are rich enough to justify it.

  2. I am afraid I agree with Alex – it HAS been 20 years. My first thought was, “Total Recall, no, it just came out a few years ago”, but I did not realize it had been 20. I should have – I think the hairstyles really date it, but I guess I am just getting old.

    There have been quite a few things that have been rebooted much quicker than that. How long was it between Nemesis and Star Trek 11? Doctor Who I think went off the air in 1993 and came back in 2005, (I may be off by a year, but too lazy to look it up on Wikipedia or IMDB at the moment), and was practically a reboot of the series. And look how successful it was. What about between the reboot Batman movies? Shoot, it was, what, 18 years between the last episode of Star Trek TOS and the introduction of The Next Generation (didn’t the Next Generation come out for Star Trek’s 20th Anniversary).

    So, in answer to your question, heck no, 20 years is not too soon for a remake. The problem is that Total Recall is too much a staple of sci-fi, and a remake probably will not go over well with fans (then again, I guess you could say that about Star Trek and Doctor Who as well, and look at how well those played out).

    If you want to know about too soon for a remake, Disney is pretty guilty of this. Yeah, there was a good 19 years between the first and second, but they remade it a third time just 8 years after that. Then Disney bought the American dub / distribution rights to Helpfe Ich Bin Eine Junge (Help! I’m a Boy – its on Netflix, check it out), which is a very similar story. Granted, Disney did not remake that, but they were responsible for the American distribution.

    Sorry, long answer to a simple question. Here is a summery – No, 20 years is not too short of a time to justify a remake.

    • Josh Zyber

      I think we need to draw a distinction between remakes and reboots. A reboot is essentially a sequel, but one that disregards the continuity of the previous films to tell the story differently. A remake is the same story simply being retold.

      Batman Begins is not a remake of Batman. It’s a different story. And Ocean’s 11 isn’t a reboot of the previous Ocean’s 11; it’s the same basic story.

      Maybe it can be argued that this new Total Recall is a reboot, since it seems like the story is going to be quite a bit different than the last film. But Total Recall was never a franchise. It had no previous sequels. (That lousy cable TV series doesn’t count.)

      • Alex

        That works alright when we’re talking about original films and they’re corresponding remakes, but when the film is a new interpretation of existing source material, how do we classify it? Robin Hood (2010) is clearly not a remake of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which was clearly not a remake of Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood. They have the same characters (in large part), they follow the same basic story (rescue Marion, defeat the Sheriff, split arrows in half), but are they also each differ wildly from the original source. Are they reboots? Are they remakes? Are they re-imaginings? In the end, does it really matter, if they’re good movies (not passing judgment, just giving an example)?

  3. So following that logic (and using current day studio logic) it would be ok to remake Taxi Driver in 1996? Or Star Wars the year after that?

    Just because time has elapsed from a films creation and release, doesn’t justify it’s remake (or for that matter reboot).

    If this truly is a reinterpretation of the original novel, then they should give it a new title and let it stand as it’s own beast. The creative people behind it should feel strongly enough about their vision to WANT to distinguish it from the Schwarzenegger film.

    Or here’s a crazy idea… maybe pay someone to write something new…

    • Alex

      Should we mention that Star Wars was, practically, remade in 1997? Perhaps motivation is the key to this whole subject. Is the motivation of the remake simply to cash-in on nostalgia (I’m looking at you, “Clash of the Titans”)? Is it to try to refine an artistic vision that for whatever reason was unattainable at the time (no, I’m not thinking “Star Wars”, I’m thinking “The Ten Commandments”)? Is it to create something fresh that a new generation can enjoy (“Ocean’s 11” and “Battlestar Galactica”)? Is it to restore the dignity of the source work by remaining truer to it (“True Grit”)? Now, admittedly, righteous motivation doesn’t always result in improvements (now I’m talking about “Star Wars”), but I would say that the motivation is critical in determining whether or not remaking (or rebooting, or re-imagining) is a worthy endeavor.

  4. Jack

    Man I do feel old since I saw the original Total Recall in theater when I was the sixth grade. I’m actually looking forward this remake though, let’s Len Wiseman doesn’t screw it up.

  5. Jane Morgan

    CGI is finally good enough, they should do Total Recall as a reboot, telling the story entirely from the point-of-view of the naked three-breasted girl.

  6. Actually, the original film follows the short story reasonably well, up until Quaid first pops his mind-cap in the chair. The main difference is why he had a fake memory. And that’s where the film drastically leaves off from the story, which ended there. The film took the essence of the idea and ran with it in a logical way, to make a full length feature. The short story was Twilight Zone/Outer Limits length, with an ending to match, that wouldn’t have worked for a feature.

    Again, I think the difference with Total Recall is not ‘Is it too soon to make a remake’, but ‘Is there any need for a remake?’

    Total Recall was a big budget science fiction action movie, with fantastic effects, larger than life action, and Verhoeven’s brilliant direction. It’s not dated badly yet. Sure, SOME of the effects could probably be improved now (Probably just in the green/blue-screen compositing, rather than anything else), but it’s still perfectly good. It’s not an old or low budget film that could benefit from it’s first big-budget treatment with more modern effects.

    Wisemen is functional enough when doing his own thing, that doesn’t need to be compared to other directors (e.g. Underworld), but he ain’t no Verhoeven. This is just going to be another waste of money remake, that could’ve been used to make something original.

      • It’s amazing how many pre-makes are superior to their later-made predecessors. Shame people don’t learn! 😉

        Actually, this should be the start of a new term, that will take the movie world by a storm! The ‘Pre-Make’ shall from henceforth be the new word used in replacement of ‘Original’. 😉

  7. Lone_gunmen

    I’ve always had this idea of the film being remade into a musical. It would be hilarious. Song and dance number during the “MY NAME IS NOT QUAID” scene would rock.

  8. EM

    With the original “Total Recall” having been released in 1990 and the remake slated for 2012, I thought it might be instructive to try to determine whether any worthwhile remakes have been released 22 years or less after their predecessors. (For “worthwhile”, I endeavored to use the yardstick of wide critical and/or public acclaim. For both predecessors and remakes, I’ve stuck to theatrical features only. In some cases, the predecessor is itself a remake of an earlier film. In deference to a point Alex made above, many of the “remakes” might be better termed “readaptations” of literary material. Nevertheless, I decided to steer clear of the vast morass of Shakespeare adaptations. Indeed, the list is not meant to be exhaustive.)

    “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1934) > “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956) — 22 years
    “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956) > “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1978) — 22 years
    “Count Dracula” (1970) > “Dracula” (1992) [a.k.a. “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”] — 22 years
    “Dracula” (1958) [a.k.a. “Horror of Dracula”] > “Dracula” (1979) — 21 years
    “Scrooge” (1951) [a.k.a. “A Christmas Carol”] > “Scrooge” (1970) — 19 years
    “A Star Is Born” (1937) > “A Star Is Born” (1954) — 17 years
    “Scrooge” (1935) > “Scrooge” (1951) [a.k.a. “A Christmas Carol”] — 16 years
    “The Wizard of Oz” (1925) > “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) — 14 years
    “A Christmas Carol” (1938) > “Scrooge” (1951) [a.k.a. “A Christmas Carol”] — 13 years
    “Dracula” (1979) > “Dracula” (1992) [a.k.a. “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”] — 13 years
    “The Maltese Falcon” (1931) > “The Maltese Falcon” (1941) — 10 years
    “Count Dracula” (1970) > “Dracula” (1979) — 9 years
    “Shichinin no Samurai” (1954) [a.k.a. “Seven Samurai”] > “The Magnificent Seven” (1960) — 6 years
    “Satan Met a Lady” (1936) > “The Maltese Falcon” (1941) — 5 years
    “Ringu” (1998) > “The Ring” (2002) — 4 years
    “Scrooge” (1935) > “A Christmas Carol” (1938) – 3 years
    “Låt den rätte komma in” (2008) [a.k.a. “Let the Right One In”] > “Let Me In” (2010) — 2 years

    • Josh Zyber

      Wikipedia describes it as a “novelette.” Also, technically, there was a book that went under that title which collected several of Dick’s stories. However, you’re probably right. The producer probably doesn’t know the difference. 🙂

    • EM

      In the context of discussion of a movie based on a Shakespeare play, I have sometimes heard the source material being called “the book”. Since the scripts of all of Shakespeare’s plays have been printed in book format and today’s public is more likely to have encountered his plays in print than as stage performances, I suppose “the book” is a fair enough description in many circumstances; but it does make me wonder if the speaker really understands what the original intended medium was and has any appreciation of the distinction.

  9. It was either Roger Ebert or Gene Siskel who once encouraged Hollywood to stop trying to remake films they got right the first time, and remake some of the movies that were just plain bad. Why would I want to watch a remake (no matter how well-made) if the original was great?

    And some remakes/reboots need to be stopped just for the sake of trampling on “hallowed ground”. I just heard they’re remaking LETHAL WEAPON with a new cast. What’s next? ROCKY?!