I hear with sorrow that Peter Jackson is remaking The Dam Busters.
Well, actually, I'm quite glad that the project has escaped the venomous grip of Mel "England is Satan" Gibson. In fact, if Jackson wants to win me over, he only needs to make one major change: the title.
The Dam Busters (1955) follows in a long line of classic movies whose memory Hollywood has defacated on by making a modern version with the same title as the original. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951/2008), The Pink Panther (1963/2006), War of the Worlds (1953/2005), The Italian Job (1969/2003), Psycho (1960/1998), The Ladykillers (1955/2004), School for Scoundrels (1960/2006), Bedazzled (1967/2000)... Jackson himself perpetrated the similar desecration of King Kong. All of these are movies that really, seriously didn't need to be remade. In every single case, the popular vote recorded at IMDB supports my own prejudiced judgment - that the older version was better.
(I'm not counting TV movies. All of the above remakes were budgeted for, and received, major theatre releases.)
It's always gone on, of course. I'm not forgetting Ben Hur (1907/1959) and King Kong (1933/1976, before the recent silliness). But it's accelerated sharply, in recent years. There's been a whole bunch of remakes of movies from the 50s and 60s that were not blockbusters, but were generally accepted as classics of their genres.
It's easy to put this down to the risk-averse, creativity-starved nature of modern Hollywood, and I'm sure that does play its part. Similarly, there's a lot of British movies in the list, and obviously Americans are too chauvinist to appreciate them, so they have to be remade with American casts and settings. If that were all that was going on here, I'd just sneer quietly and keep my opinions to those who ask for them.
But it's not. There's something bigger, something far more sinister at work. A kind of naked greed that does not hesitate to rob our culture to enrich itself.
See: when someone takes the title of a movie, and then pours a lot of money into promoting it, they attract name recognition to their new version. Result: the old version gets hidden. Walk into any video store today and ask for The Italian Job, and what you'll be offered first is that pointless drivel with Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron. You'll have to ask again, and quite possibly root around the remainder bins, to find the Michael Caine/Noel Coward classic. (It's well worth it, if you haven't seen it.)
And I think the reason for this identity theft lies in one of my most harped-on words: copyright.
Movies aren't like books, or songs, or poems, or even pictures. Copyright on movies doesn't date from the death of the author: it dates from when the movie was first shown to the public.
Hollywood's first attempt to extend this duration was "remastering". By touching up old films, it claimed, the clock gets restarted for the "new version". But that interpretation wasn't universally smiled upon by the courts. So instead they set about rewriting the law, so that now copyright on movies in the USA lasts an eye-watering 95 years from first publication. However, in backwards countries such as New Zealand, the studio has a paltry 50 years from the date of first showing to recover its investment on a movie, before it becomes free for anyone.
(Barbaric. How can anyone be expected to make a return in just 50 years?)
That means those older movies belong to all of us, and no-one can stop anyone else from doing as they please with them. That's a lot of fine movies. What Hollywood is working on, now, is a systematic effort to erase those older movies from our collective consciousness.
You can help. Whenever you hear of a movie that's been remade, nip down to your video store and ask for the old version. Borrow it from your library. Buy it, if you like it, and lend it to your friends and force it on your family. Make sure the stores keep those movies on their shelves.