The 5 Best Fantasy Film Remakes
As a rule remakes are rarely better than the original films. Keeping in spirit how much I hated the 2014 remake of Godzilla (1954), I thought I would be positive this time and list Monsterminions’ five all-time favorite fantasy film remakes. I’ll follow up on my top five stinkers on a later date.
No. 1. The Ten Commandments (1956). De Mille’s opulent 3 hour and 40 minute remake of his 1923 silent epic improves in so many areas, although the silent is extraordinary with remarkable use of two-color process for key scenes including the parting of the Red Sea. However, I prefer the colossal remake with rousing score by Elmer Bernstein, cinematography by Loyal Griggs (Shane, 1953), and visual effects led by John P. Fulton (The Invisible Man, 1933) and a bevy of other talents. Plus you have Heston, Brynner and a terrific supporting cast of veterans. Likewise, I also prefer William Wyler’s remake of Ben Hur (1959), which won 11 Oscars. Here are some shots from the 1923 film.
No. 2. Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). I saw this in a movie theater in Hammond, Indiana. Initially I was disappointed, because it featured a down-beat ending, but the film has improved with age and I now consider it to be outstanding and standing on its own merits. Don Siegel’s film (1956) was an allegory for outsider threat during the McCarthy era. I’m seeing pure monster movie in the remake. I also like the cast with Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright and especially Leonard Nimoy who tries to rationalize the odd occurrences happening.
The remake was lensed by academy nominee Michael Chapman (Raging Bull, 1980). The film has a warm but unusual palette of greens and blues hinting of an urbanized landscape infected with an alien presence. I also love Ben Burtt’s (Star Wars, 1977) sound design for this film, which lends creepy aura with use of theremin (?) and other synthetic alien sounds. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) also employs the use of effective and scary prosthetic props, pods and transformations (no CGI in 1978! Yippee!). Yes, that’s Jerry Garcia playing the banjo with the boxer!
No. 3. John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). I missed this in the theater in 1982 and later watched it on an MCA Laserdisc. The film blew me away. However, it’s really more of a faithful adaptation of John W. Campbell Jr.’s Who Goes There? (1938) rather than a remake of the Howard Hawk’s film The Thing from Another World (1951). Nonetheless, it is usually considered a remake. I like the ’51 film better, but the Carpenter movie has improved with age and the creature effects are arguably some of the finest ever rendered. The FX were a successful collaboration of several artists including Rob Bottin, Roy Arbogast, Stan Winston and several others. Dean Cundey lensed the film, using wide shots to emphasize isolation. This is also accented with one of Ennio Morricone’s finest scores.
On a side note, I even liked the recent retread The Thing (2011), which extensively deployed the use of computer rendered graphics as well as some prop effects. I guess it’s hard to make a bad alien in the ice vs. isolated people movie.
No. 4. Dawn of the Dead (2004). I was pleasantly surprised when I watched this when it came out. Even George Romero liked this film and Ebert gave it three stars. Zack Snyder is a talented director who is proponent of CGI (only Sucker Punch, 2011 misses for me). However, for Dawn of the Dead he opted for traditional makeup effects (there might be some CGI shots) but changed the pacing by having the zombies move like predators, rather than scavengers (a gimic used successfully in 28 Days Later, 2002).
I still like Romero’s original better, but the remake is excellent too.
No. 5. The original Hammer remakes of Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1950’s). These are all smashing remakes —no, better to say retelling of the Universal films. It’s hard to compare Horror of Dracula (1958) a remake of the Lugosi vehicle Dracula (1931), which was really a film adaptation of a stage play. The Hammer version is a better film. I also love Hammer’s The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), starring Peter Cushing as Holmes and André Morell as Watson, with Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville. For my tastes that film is right there with the Rathbone/Nigel Bruce classic. Some folks even prefer the British TVM film (1988) starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes.
- Tobe Hooper’s Invaders from Mars (1986). Faithful homage to the 1953 Menzies’ classic. I prefer the monsters in the remake.
- Dino DeLaurentis’ King Kong (1976). I’m going to ruffle some feathers with this pick. I’ve never thought this film gets a fair shake. For my money it is far more entertaining than Peter Jackson’s inept and miscast 3 hour borefest. So what if Kong is Rick Baker in an ape suit? Except for a few terrible shots of a mechanical Kong, designed by Carlo Rambaldi, I like the monster in this film. It looks like a big gorilla. It also features a wonderful score by John Barry and Oscar nominated cinematography by Richard Kline (The Andromeda Strain, 1971). I find more technical merit in designing big mechanical arms that pushing pixels on a computer. Kudos to those guys that won an Oscar for Special achievement Award 1977.
- The new Gamera films are all pretty good, including Gamera: The Brave (2006). I like them a lot better than the Godzilla Millenium Series that came out of Toho during the same period, and they are generally well-constructed lively monster films with terrific man-in-suit and prosthetic special effects.
- Nosferatu The Vampyre (1979). Werner Herzog’s solid and minimalistic retelling of the Murnau classic.
Next up the stinkers….