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The Princess Bride remake: yay or nay?

Written by Film

The announcement by a Sony executive of a possible The Princess Bride remake has sparked outrage. The general assumption for a remake would be to aim for a better version of the original movie: remakes of bad movies with interesting premises are generally welcome. Not only is the 1987 movie critically acclaimed, with an impressive 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, but it is also incredibly popular, with generations of people celebrating it as one of the best of its genre.

Not everybody seems to agree that this remake should not happen. In fact, some argue that this is an opportunity for creators to adapt the movie to current sensibilities and ‘fix’ some outdated expectations of certain characters: for example, The New Yorker signals the portrayal of Buttercup as helpless as problematic, and worthy of visitation. However, what is missed in the article is the relevance of this character trait in the movie. The brilliance of this movie is that it takes tired archetypes from fairytales and makes them appealing and new: in the case of Buttercup, the trope of damsel in distress is used to create an effective character that works well in the movie. At the same time, great movies are not always up to date with our current sensibilities. As much as we should expect recent movies to meet those standards, it is unreasonable to expect every movie to be remade in order to ‘fix’ those aspects. Part of the appeal of watching older movies is observing how they have captured the essence of the time they were made in, and in what ways we have either moved away from that or maintained certain characteristics. While it is interesting to note how the role of women in film has changed, we risk becoming narrow-minded to lament every portrayal that may not be up to modern standards, and condemn an entire project because of it.

To attempt to remake with the same characters and similar dialogues takes away from the story, by damaging its originality.

While it is true that remaking a movie does not affect the quality of the original, people are beginning to respond to a much larger problem in Hollywood: the desperate need to attach every project to an existing IP. Not only is it an unnecessary creative strain, but they come off as joyless cash grabs, that thrive off of the childhood of people born in the 80s and 90s. A perfect example of this is the announced Space Jam 2, directed by Ryan Coogler and starring LeBron James. While the talent attached to this project is unquestioned, this movie will not please millennials in the way the original did. This is because the original is perceived through the warped perception of childhood and nostalgia, and is clearly not aimed at children, who do not recognize the original property. In this sense, the 80s approach to ‘remakes’ is preferable: they took premises from popular movies, and twisted them enough to create an original property: an example might be Die Hard (1988) and Air Force One (1997). While the latter can be described as being ‘Die Hard on a plane’, had it been made today, it literally would have been just that: same characters, same actors, no space for reinvention. This approach would work for The Princess Bride. In fact, the point of the film is that it has a simple structure that works because of its hilarious characters and witty dialogue: to attempt to remake with the same characters and similar dialogues takes away from the story, by damaging its originality.

Instead of producing sequels and remake of childhood favorites, movie studios should seek to produce movies that have the impact of a The Princess Bride, but for a different generation. An example of a movie that creatively succeeds in this pursuit is Stardust (2007): this movie successfully adapts the book of the same name, and puts new and interesting characters based on fairly-tale archetypes at the center of the story. It does so without having to rely on, or at its worst, bastardizing another cinematic property.

Last modified: 22nd September 2019

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