Plenty of fantastic movies can be categorized as remakes. For instance, many people don’t realize that the classic 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz was not the first cinematic adaptation of that novel. That said, the film stands out by using the new tools available at the time to provide viewers with a visual spectacle that also captured the heart of the story.
Although remakes can absolutely stand on their own, the teams behind these projects need to ensure they are unique enough to justify their existence. Simply telling the exact same story in almost the exact same way it was told before isn’t daring enough to warrant a remake.
It helps when the people making these films have passion for the subject matter. In some cases, that can simply mean they are fans of the original source material. The goal is not to try and copy what’s been done before, but rather to take the story in new directions while honoring its roots.
That’s why Death Race, released in 2008, stands out as one of the more interesting and worthwhile remakes to come out of Hollywood in the past few years. From the early stages of pre-production, it was clear that while director Paul W.S. Anderson appreciated the schlocky fun of the original Death Race 2000, he didn’t merely want to copy it.
Remakes Can Deepen the Mythos of the Original
In fact, many of the strongest remakes are different enough that they can almost be seen as something other than retellings of stories viewers have seen before. Instead, they stand out as their own unique stories that happen to take place in the same universe as their inspiration.
That was the case in this instance. The team behind the project simplified its approach by referring to the movie as a remake in interviews and marketing materials. However, the actual vision was more akin to a prequel or sequel.
As Anderson explained in an interview, “It’s not a straight remake at all. The first movie was an across-America race. This will be an around-the-world race. And it’s set further in the future, so the cars are even more futuristic. So you’ve got cars with rockets, machine guns, force fields; cars that can split apart and re-form, a bit like Transformers. Cars that become invisible.”
This quotation illustrates two reasons why someone like Anderson was the right choice to direct this kind of movie. First, he understands that a remake should stand on its own by telling its own twist on a familiar story. Second, he’s clearly a fan of the original, and wanted to explore new ways he could bring the same sense of over-the-top fun to a new take on a cult classic.
Remakes Can Address Cultural Shifts That Have Occurred since the Original
That said, changing the stakes of the plot and adding in new vehicles and special effects was not the only way the team behind Death Race ensured their film stood out on its own. As the project was being conceived, there was one stage where some of the filmmakers involved pointed out that the emergence of reality television added a degree of social commentary to the movie that the original Death Race 2000 simply did not have.
This is another way filmmakers can ensure a remake justifies itself to viewers. As times and society change, the impact of a story can also change.
The filmmakers who worked on the original Death Race 2000 did not live in a world in which reality television was ubiquitous in everyday life. Thus, they could not have imagined how the film they were making would take on a greater degree of relevance in the future. However, when it came time to make a new version of the story, the filmmakers correctly identified a smart way to make it tie in with the world viewers inhabit today.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Death Race forfeited fun in order to make a social statement. The original movie appealed to viewers who enjoyed watching unrealistic violent carnage in a sci-fi dystopia. In that respect, the team behind Death Race knew it had to deliver the goods. Anderson expressed this in interviews as well, saying the movie would certainly resemble its predecessor in regards to the violent content.
That’s essentially how you make a strong remake. You honor what worked about the original, but you also find new elements you can add to make the film offer a genuinely unique experience to viewers. It’s not an easy feat to pull off, but the team behind Death Race clearly succeeded.