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Remake vs. version

September 13, 2011

(Picture credit to Focus Features)

At the weekend I went to see Jane Eyre (which I thought was fab, especially as Mia Wasikowska is possibly the best version of Jane that I’ve ever seen).

It got me thinking though.

There are 18 adaptations of Jane Eyre, and counting (according to bible-of-the-film-geek Empire)

Not to mention that the book has been read and loved by millions – it’s been in constant publication since it was first released in 1847.

So how do you take something that well established and breathe new life into it?

Turns out I’m not the only one thinking this (further proof of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon) – and I spotted this blog from the Guardian which talks about why ‘remake’ shouldn’t be a dirty word.

It’s a really interesting read, but the bit that stood out was:

 The hostility also misses the very nature of originality in movies. If almost all fiction draws on a finite pool of themes, characters and scenarios, then in film that process has long hardened into a scarily precise, archetype-heavy three-act formula recognisable in vast numbers of movies of every conceivable type. That’s not justHollywood’s fault – it’s also what happens when countless stories are told in the same visual medium in chunks of between 90 minutes and two hours. Plotwise, there’s only so many directions to go in […] After more than a hundred years of cinema, originality in film is a relative concept, influence is everywhere – and the poor, derided remake has had a bum rap.

The point Danny Leigh makes about the predictability of storyline and pace is relevant in so many ways.  Originality comes from how well it connects with the audience and the feeling of the time – how it influences and is influenced – not by virtue of having a completely new and different story.

One of the things that this newest version of Jane Eyre has been criticised for is the muted tone and the (SORT OF SPOILER ALERT) anticlimactic ending.

But I’d argue that this is a modern influence (and a good one at that); a look at the source material through a focus of austerity and restraint, stripping out the melodrama and overblown romance that so often characterises period pieces.

The quieter tone and selective editing lets the audience add in their own knowledge (if they want to) but doesn’t spoil the story for those who don’t.

There’s a lesson there about resisting the temptation to overload things, adding messages, and layers of explanation and interpretation that’s useful to all sorts of storytelling. And about the power of good editing to make sure what you are saying translates properly / fits into the medium you are using.

And on a more film related note – bring on the remake of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I don’t think I’ve been this excited about a film for years!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2011 8:52 am

    Yes, I agree there have been many positive remakes, but there are some in the pipline that sound like less of a good idea. Point Break, anyone? Loved that film, can’t see a reimagining improving much on it.

    • September 22, 2011 8:00 am

      There’s that weird feeling when they start remaking stuff that you know and loved the first time around. The gap between the remakes is getting shorter now as well – not just Point Break, Spiderman anyone? Or The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo? (although that’s probably more about the subtitles than anything else).

  2. September 14, 2011 3:51 pm

    Your post has intrigued me to watch this movie … nicely done.

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