Jonathan Melville: When is a remake not a remake?

Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven. Pic: Comp
Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven. Pic: Comp
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IT won four Oscars, came out just over 20 years ago and has gone down in history as one of the finest Westerns ever made, yet Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven is back in the shape of a Japanese remake called, well, Unforgiven.

Ken Watanabe is Jubee Kamata (originally known as William Munny when played by Eastwood), who picks up a samurai sword rather than a six shooter to help some local women who are having problems with bandits.

On the one hand it’s yet another remake, something that is usually hard to praise, but on the other it’s a whole new proposition. Placing the same basic concept into a different culture is immediately intriguing and, if done properly, offers fans an opportunity to experience their favourite film in a new way.

Unforgiven isn’t the only remake in the news just now, with the announcement last Thursday that Transformers director, Michael Bay, is getting ready to produce a new version of the Alfred Hitchcock classic, The Birds.

Hitch’s film, starring Tippi Hedren as a woman harassed by flocks of birds in California, was itself based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier, and it seems that this version could be more faithful to du Maurier’s tale. So does it count as remake or not?

Other mooted remakes in the works include The Naked Gun, Poltergeist, Short Circuit, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and even Three Men And A Baby.

It’s always worth remembering that whenever a remake or reboot appears to impress or depress us, we’ll always have the original to return to.

In the worst cases the remakes are terrible and most of the time they’re instantly forgettable, but it’s almost impossible to taint the memory of the film that started it all.