Photocopy machines puzzle me. How can this machine use light to make an exact copy of my document so quickly? And how is it that the same machine can possibly get jammed 14 times in one day? This makes me think about the photocopies themselves. If you make a photocopy of a copy, then a copy of that copy, etc. etc. and so on and so forth. Eventually whatever you’re copying will begin to fade. Because a copy is just that, a copy. It is not the original. While it may have traits of the original, it will never be the original.
Innovation is driven by copying ideas and improving them. It’s what led the Egyptians to build pyramids and cars to have more horsepower. On the other hand, art doesn’t exactly work the same way. Creativity isn’t cultivated by imitation. It’s often frowned upon. Which brings me to the topic at hand, film remakes. Let me first say that while I understand that remakes have been occurring since film began and even before this in literature, the recent rash of remakes in the last decade makes it seem as though we are running out of ideas . But has there really been anything new in a long time?
In his book, 36 Dramatic Situations, Georges Polti designates that all stories or performances in human history can be boiled down to only 36 situations. Whether this is true or not can be argued, however, it does simplify matters and point out that perhaps we are all looking for the same ideals or concepts no matter what the plot of the story or who wrote it. If this is true, it is inevitable we would retell stories from the past. Even Polti himself states he is continuing the work of Carlo Gozzi, who created a list of 36 tragic situations, therefore expanding upon something that already exists.
Now I know that this post is for a blogathon titled They Remade What? And this should be an attack on all things remake. Let’s get one thing straight. For the most part, I dislike remakes. Especially now, when we are remaking films from my childhood. You can call it a reimagining, or a retelling. It won’t change what you are doing, copying. That being said, the films I wanted to look at are The Mummy (1932) and The Mummy (1999). I think that this represents a good way to remake a film.
In reality, The Mummy (1932) isn’t horror film either. While containing horrific elements, it is a love story. It’s your typical boy meets girl, boy is buried alive, girl dies, boy is resurrected and tries to resurrect dead girl story. We’ve seen it so many times before. But whereas Imhotep in the original is a rather sympathetic character, in the remake he is simply a creature of unspeakable power.
This shift in the construction of Imhotep’s character from the first film to the remake is directly related to the thematic elements of the two films. The original film’s Imhotep if more menacing. He walks with rigidity. His movement and speak are slow, as if he is still coming out of his mummified state. His power over others if primarily mental. Once it has been discovered that he, Ardeth Bay, is actually Imhotep it is not as if he can immediately be destroyed, for he possesses unseen powers. The remake constructs the character of Imhotep as someone or something with overt unspeakable power. He can mesmerize people, move sand, vomit locusts Exorcist style, and of course, suck people dry. This type of character correlates well to the type of action in the film. This Imhotep is fast, getting immediately to the point as soon as he is resurrected.
One of the key differences in the remake and the original characterization of Imhotep how they are resurrected and later introduced to the other characters. Both are brought back to life through the reading of a scroll, but the original Imhotep escapes only to appear ten years later. The curse that was read on the box did not have immediate consequences. Whereas with the Imhotep from the remake, the audience gets to participate in his restoration. Perhaps that is what he was doing for those ten years, sucking a bunch of people dry and stealing their eyeballs. Taking the audience along for the restoration in the remake creates an Imhotep that we as the viewer can not relate to as much. He is truly a monster and we bare witness to this truth.