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Remakes And Do-overs

Friday, June 22nd, 2018 | Posted by Violette Malan

sherlock2There’s one thing that novelists, as a rule, don’t need to worry about and that’s having a remake done of one of their books. Sure, there are movie adaptations, but that’s not really the same thing.

Films and TV shows, on the other hand seem to get remade frequently. Often. All the time, even. Some more successfully than others. I’ve seen 5 different Hamlets, and that’s not counting live drama. Come to think of it, I’ve seen at least 3 Henry V’s. It’s actually expected that someone will make a new version, whether performed or filmed, of King Lear, or Romeo and Juliet, or Murder in the Cathedral.

An iconic character is a shoe-in for a remake – a few just keep re-and-reappearing. It would take some effort to figure out whether Tarzan or Sherlock Holmes has appeared in more films or TV series, or how many different actors have played these leads. Some are more successful than others, while some, especially in the case of Tarzan, aren’t successful at all. There are more recent Tarzans, but for many people the quintessential Lord of the Jungle is still Johnny Weissmuller, in the films of the 1930’s and early 40’s. That was certainly the only really successful movie series of the character.

Rathbone2Sherlock Holmes, on the other hand, has been played by many different actors, and while not all of these incarnations have been equally successful, they all have their fans. For people of a certain age, Basil Rathbone was their introduction to the screen character, while for others it’s Jeremy Brett, or Robert Downy Jr., or Benedict Cumberbatch, or Jonny Lee Miller.

Zorro is another iconic character who has frequently reappeared in new films. Like Tarzan, there were silent films, and like Tarzan, the appeal of Zorro films doesn’t lie in the dialogue, but in the physical action. I’ve enjoyed most of the Zorro films I’ve seen, and I remember fondly the TV series with Guy Williams in the lead, but my favourite is still The Mark of Zorro with Tyrone Power (and Basil Rathbone as the bad guy).

The remake with Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins was pretty good, though it always makes me smile that Banderas, the Spaniard, is the only character who doesn’t sound Spanish. Everyone else in the film is speaking “movie Spanish” that is, using Spanish syntax and English accents, which make Banderas sound like the odd man out. It’s a nice irony.

And while we’re on the subject of swashbucklers, Alexandre Dumas’ books keep getting remade into films, with special emphasis on The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask, and The Count of Monte Cristo.

ElementaryIt’s rare, but there are film remakes more popular, or more successful, than their originals. The Ocean’s 11 movies come immediately to mine\d, along with The Italian Job. Much as I love Michael Caine, I found his TIJ too long and too slow, while the original O11 was just a showcase for Frank Sinatra to look brooding. And a chance for him to get together with his friends.

Looking at more contemporary subject matter, we have to contend not only with remakes, but with reboots, most notably with Star Trek, and in some ways with Star Wars. The Spiderman and Batman franchises have both been rebooted relatively quickly after the original movies were made, and that makes them seem more like plays than films to me. In each case, a new director took the same material and by changing tone, or theme, or actors made a new version of it. I can find something to enjoy or praise in any of the Batmans, just as I can with the Hamlets.

Couple of questions: Are the James Bond films remakes? Does a film have to use the same source material (play, novel) or tell the same story to be a remake?

By the way, I’d like to see the people behind The Lion King do Tarzan of the Apes on stage.

Next time I’ll look at TV remakes. Any suggestions?

Violette Malan is the author of the Dhulyn and Parno series of sword and sorcery adventures, as well as the Mirror Lands series of primary world fantasies. As VM Escalada, she writes the Faraman Prophecy series. Book Two, Gift of Griffins, is available for pre-order. Find Violette on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @VioletteMalan.


  1. I think there’s something about Sherlock Holmes as a character that makes us as readers and filmgoers — and, yes, actors — want him to remain alive and active, which ought to be obvious (to readers, anyway) when Doyle tried to kill him off and was in essence forced to ‘revive’ him. I read some of the stories in my teens, saw several of the Basil Rathbone films, but really got caught up in the Holmes persona with the Jeremy Brett adaptations (he remains for me the quintessential Holmes, and I much preferred Edward Hardwicke and David Burke as Watson to Nigel Bruce). My wife and I enjoyed the 2 Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law movie versions, and together we saw (and liked) several of Benedict Cumberbatch’s PBS Holmes. I was hesitant to get too involved in the Jonny Lee Miller incarnation of Holmes — and more so Lucy Liu’s Watson — but I haven’t missed a single episode, and consider it one of the best shows CBS has ever run; the writing is consistently top-notch, and the entire cast seems to work quite well together. My oldest daughter, who can be quite picky and particular, began watching “Elementary” with me right after my wife passed away, and she’s as dedicated a fan as I am. I wish I could be around 50 years from now to see what Holmes looks like then.

    Comment by smitty59 - June 22, 2018 8:28 am

  2. I’d also have to say that for me Jeremy Brett is the perfect Holmes. Like you, I was worried about Elementary with Lucy Liu, but I’ve had the same reaction to it that you have.

    Comment by Violette Malan - June 22, 2018 8:53 am

  3. Actually the most recent Tarzan movie, The Legend Of Tarzan, was quite successful. Total gross of some $356 million on a $180 million production cost. Just saying…

    Comment by thedarkman - June 22, 2018 10:10 am

  4. To thedarkman: I was not at all aware of that. Do we know whether that gross came from overseas or NA sakes? I know Tarzan is very popular in Europe.

    Comment by Violette Malan - June 22, 2018 10:36 am

  5. The total gross was domestic and overseas combined. Overseas was much stronger. I’m still hoping for a sequel that utilizes some of Burroughs’ more fantastical settings and situations featured in some of the later Tarzan novels; lost cities, bizarre civilizations, horrific creatures and dinosaurs!

    Comment by thedarkman - June 22, 2018 10:49 am

  6. I think if you want to be really technical, the only Bond film that’s a remake is the Daniel Craig Casino Royale, since there had previously been the Peter Sellers Casino Royale in the 60s. Although in both cases, they bore only minimal resemblance to the source material (or to each other). You could probably successfully argue that each time Bond is recast, that constitutes at least a soft reboot, although there’s minor continuity across the different versions (mostly Desmond Llewellyn as Q, who was there from Connery to Brosnan).

    The most obvious TV remake that springs to mind for me is Battlestar Galactica.

    Comment by Joe H. - June 22, 2018 11:13 am

  7. To the darkman: thanks for the information. I’m glad to hear that this movie did well; it was gone from our area almost before it got here, so I never had a chance to judge for myself. I agree more Tarzan movies should be made!! More ERB in general.

    Comment by Violette Malan - June 22, 2018 12:05 pm

  8. To Joe: Wasn’t there a Sean Connery “stand alone”? Never Say Never Again?

    Comment by Violette Malan - June 22, 2018 12:09 pm

  9. Violette — Yes, which I should remember because it’s just over there on my shelf … I don’t remember the exact details, but there was some complicated rights issue that let another studio do the movie, and they recruited Connery.

    And interestingly, as I remember, the Connery film used story elements from one of the Fleming books that had previously been adapted, although I don’t recall if the specific elements from Never Say Never Again had been in previous Bond films.

    Comment by Joe H. - June 22, 2018 1:01 pm

  10. Joe, that’s the way I remember it as well. There are definitely elements used in a precious Bond film, though again, I don’t remember the details. Enough to have it considered a remake? I couldn’t say.

    Comment by Violette Malan - June 22, 2018 1:20 pm

  11. I always thought that Never Say Never was an unofficial re-make of Thunderball…or was it something else? I’m no Bond expert! I recall seeing Never Say Never when it came out and enjoyed quite a bit.

    Comment by thedarkman - June 22, 2018 1:45 pm

  12. Oops! I dropped the Again. Twice…🤪

    Comment by thedarkman - June 22, 2018 1:47 pm

  13. Thedarkman, that sounds right to me. Thunderball was the movie that came to mind when I thought of Never Say Never Again.

    Comment by Violette Malan - June 22, 2018 3:08 pm

  14. If I may mention some remakes: V, the New Avengers (with John Steed returning), Return of the Saint (Simon Templar’s son if I recall correctly though these two probably qualify as continuations ala Star Trek Next Generation or even Bonanza and even Little House on the Prairie got are made just off the top of my head. Le Femme Nikita is a different matter entirely. Just saying. As to Never Say Never Again -Fleming’s Thunderball novel came out of plots proposed for a TV series at one pint and Robert McClory claimed some rights to the story idea and was allowed after much litigation to do his own version the film. Connery came on board at the advice of his wife and I believe donated his salary to charity. Again recalling from memory here.

    Comment by Allard - June 22, 2018 4:46 pm

  15. @Thedarkman — Yes! Thunderball! Thank you!

    Comment by Joe H. - June 22, 2018 6:32 pm

  16. Re Bond. McClory was Irish, funnily enough. If memory serves me correctly, ‘Never Say Never Again’ came out the same year as another Bond movie starring Moore. There was some debate that Connory was too old to reprise the role, but both Bonds were around the same age – 55, I think. This is all off the top of my head (no googling!) so feel free to correct me.

    In terms of super-heroes, I keep thinking of a bunch of cavemen telling the same few stories again and again, with minor variations. Humour seems to have been the biggest casualty!

    As for remakes (and Michael Caine) I don’t know if anybody is familiar with ‘Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels’ starring Caine and Steve Martin? The original is called ‘Bedtime Story’ and is even better. It stars David Niven and Marlon Brando, no less.

    Comment by Aonghus Fallon - June 25, 2018 8:07 am

  17. Aonghus, your memory matches mine, for what that’s worth. I’m familiar with both of the movies you refer to, though it’s been years since I’ve seen either. Clearly they need to be watched again. If I remember correctly, the Michael Caine one wss more slapstick than the David Niven.

    Comment by Violette Malan - June 25, 2018 9:30 am

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