Why has “remake” become such a dirty word, particularly when it comes to the medium of film and television?
Granted, the act of taking a classic and trying to reconstruct it into a classic 2.0 sometimes ends in failure and disappointment. But it isn’t always a bad idea.
Remakes, revivals, adaptations, reboots and covers (or whatever word you wish to use to describe the process of creative reinvention) are almost as often big commercial successes and sometimes hailed as masterpieces.
Yet when NBC announced earlier this year that it’s doing a new live version of The Sound of Music, with Carrie Underwood starring as Maria von Trapp, the news prompted an ugly backlash.
It’s an admittedly small portion of the show’s potential audience but a vocal one nonetheless.
“I get hate tweets and stuff, like, ‘You’re no Julie Andrews!’” Underwood recently told Entertainment Weekly. “I know I’m not. Nobody is and I would never pretend that I was. I know my place.”
Mind you, as Carrie Underwood, she is a musical force to be reckoned with in her own right.
Anyone who has forgotten that fact will discover it anew when The Sound of Music Live! airs at 7 p.m. Thursday.
But that’s not even the point. The real issue: Why do many people automatically brand it an unpardonable crime to attempt to make a new version of a beloved film?
Broadway revivals are popular and welcomed by theatergoers with open arms. (Stage actors routinely argue that, if remakes weren’t allowed in the theater, we’d never see Shakespeare’s plays or any of a multitude of other classics again.)
It’s also common for musicians to perform and record cover versions of other artists’ songs, even if the originals came mighty close to achieving perfection. (Underwood, a six-time Grammy winner, has done more than her share of covers, especially during her American Idol days.)
And moviegoers rarely object when Hollywood attempts to adapt a popular book or play.
But if you suggest redoing a classic movie or TV show into a new film or TV show, that’s sure to make fans scream bloody murder. Witness the outcry to the proposed sequel of It’s a Wonderful Life.
Maybe movie lovers feel a greater sense of ownership and are more territorial when it comes to their favorite films.
Where The Sound of Music is concerned, people have emotionally charged connections to the 1965 movie that date back to their childhoods.
Maybe they’re also troubled, if only subconsciously, because NBC specifically is involved.
This is the network, remember, that recently served up an ill-conceived remake of the 1960s series Ironside, which was hardly a classic but was popular in its day; then, once that show was canceled, the network brought up the possibility of tinkering with the beloved Murder, She Wrote.
What, the thinking goes, if NBC wrecks The Sound of Music the way it has other titles?
To that, we’re reminded of author James M. Cain, who once was asked his thoughts about Hollywood ruining one of his novels: “People tell me, ‘Don’t you care what they’ve done to your book?’” Cain said. “I tell them, they haven’t done anything to my book. It’s right there on the shelf.”
The same will always be true for The Sound of Music. No one can damage the original now.
NBC executives and producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are quick to point out that they’re actually remaking the stage version of the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical, not the movie. While it’s true that there are significant differences between the two, they’re just splitting hairs.
The Sound of Music Live! is going to be different here and there in ways large and small. But it’s essentially the same story, the same characters and, perhaps most importantly, the same music.
It’s a remake, and they shouldn’t be afraid to admit it, because “remake” shouldn’t be a dirty word.
Besides, the great Julie Andrews, who has more right than most people to feel possessive about the original movie, is OK with there being a new production.
“I think she’s great,” Andrews recently said of Underwood. “It’s going to be the original show, I believe — and I think, after 40 or 50 years, it’s probably time somebody else had a crack at it.”
That settles it. Cue the orchestra.