"That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun."
This post is for the They Remade What? Blogathon hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies.
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.
The original Mummy (1932) starring Boris Karloff was part of Universal Pictures monster series which began with Dracula in 1931. With the popularity of the next film, Frankenstein, Universal realized that they had something. What makes The Mummy interesting is it contains two elements from those previous films, a similar structure to Dracula,and Frankenstein’s star, Boris Karloff. With the popularity of Egypt in full swing after the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1926, Universal took full advantage of the popularity of all things Egypt. It paid off. Although there was no such find in 1999, Universal decided it was time to remake a film they had made some 60 years earlier. This time giving the plot and theme a little more action adventure rather than horror.
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.
Both films draw some of their sympathy from this idea that perhaps the Imhotep is the victim of circumstance. He can’t help that he has some gifts, like the ability to kill people either through sucking them dry or choking them telepathically. Are we to blame him for using his knowledge of Egyptian magical practices to bring back his true love, wouldn’t you do the same?
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.
An interesting change from the original to the remake is the character of Ardeth Bay. In the original film he is the alter ego of Imhotep. In the remake he is a completely different character, the protector of the creature’s final resting place and aides in destroying him. The only element other than the name that remains constant in both films is their knowledge. Both characters possess a knowledge of past, one first hand and the other passed down through generations. Part of this is because of the construction of the character Imhotep. He doesn’t need an alter ego when he’s running around in the dark ripping eyes and tongues out. Whether the use of this name in the remake is simply an homage to the original, or something more, is unknown.
The women in both films are looking for something. While Helen is looking for something outside the world she is embedded in, longing for a connection to something greater, Evelyn is searching for recognition in a field that is dominated by men. Helen is transformed by Imhotep’s words because she is connected to a past life she doesn’t remember. Evelyn’s transformation comes through her own initiative and through the actions of other major characters, primarily Rick.
Both The Mummy (1932) and The Mummy (1999) tell the story of love lost and an attempt to find it once more. The way in which they tell this story varies. While I hate to admit this, the 1999 remake of The Mummy is a good stand alone film. I am not saying that I agree with the remaking of classic films. But, I think that we have to come to an understanding that we as humans tend to repeat ourselves. And that one story can be told in multiple ways. One man's Cupid and Psyche is another man's Romeo and Juliet, Under Pressure to Ice Ice Baby, or Ghostbusters to Ghostbusters. No, that last one doesn't make sense, but anyway, let's not knock all remakes. Just most of them.
The Distracted Blogger
I watch movies. I write about them here. I watch more movies. I get nothing else done.
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