I’ve been thinking lately about the old question of why sequels rarely come up to the originals. There are two answers to this one. In some cases, there is just no originality and the producers opt to rehash the original with a tweak here and there–but no amount of tweaking could ever transform “The Return of the Seven” to “The Magnificent 7.” In other cases, the original gains such lofty prominence that any sequel will be considered lame. “The Two Jakes” is by no means a bad film. In fact it’s a very good film–it’s just not “Chinatown.” The fault here can often lie with audiences that are unwilling to stretch their minds a bit. Ideally a sequel should raise the bar a bit. “The Bride of Frankenstein” certainly went places where the original did not go. “The Godfather, Part II” went much deeper into the history of the Corleone clan even as it extended its present-tense story of Michael Corleone. A sequel can also extend the mythology of the original, thus “Predator 2” told us a lot much these intergalactic hunters than the original film did and “The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death” gave more backstory to the vengeful title specter.
Remakes should thrive on re-thinking the original concepts. Philip Kaufman’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” did more than update Don Siegel’s 1950s classic to the 1970s and move the setting from a small California town to San Francisco. It played off the loneliness of urban living, the difficulty in establishing meaningful relationships and notion that everyone is always o.k. Mickey Spillane’s ode to vigilante justice, “I, the Jury” was transformed by Larry Cohen into a tale of rogue CIA operatives, brain-washing and the creation of perfect assassins. These re-thinks don’t always come off though. “The Jackal” attempted to make “The Day of the Jackal” bigger and better but only proved that more can be less. Another example of this was the overblown and wrong-headed version of “The 3:10 to Yuma” that stood Elmore Leonard’s story on its head without ever once capturing the sad romanticism of Delmer Daves’ original film. But sometimes remakes are righteous acts. Much as I love “The Thing from Another World” it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with John W. Campbell’s masterful novella “Who Goes There?” No, it took John Carpenter, color and eye-popping special effects to do justice to this classic tale of a shape-shifting alien preying on the personnel of an isolated research station.
All things considered I’d always rather sit and watch a remake rather than a sequel, but it’s always pleasant to encounter a sequel that excels.