Now, I like to think that I’m a pretty open-minded guy when it comes to remakes of popular franchises. After all, some of my favorite movies are remakes! I mean, what else is there to say?
All kidding aside, though, I have never been against remakes for the sheer sake of it. A fresh perspective that a new set of filmmakers can add to a film property can be a powerful thing, instilling a well-worn franchise with interesting new ideas, freed from the tangle of canon, tradition and preconceived expectations.
A new director can pick up on new themes untouched in prior iterations. A new actor can put a brand new twist on a familiar-seeming character. Bringing the tried-and-true stories of the 20th century into the 21st can breathe new life into a film series that stopped feeling relevant decades ago (see also: James Bond pre-Casino Royale).
This isn’t to say that a fresh coat of paint will excuse any attempt to update and rebrand a franchise – nor that it will make up for any deficit in quality it displays along the way – just that there is often far more worth to remakes than people are willing to admit and shaking up the existing formula can be a powerful and deeply meaningful thing to do. After all, I didn’t see too many people lambasting The Incredible Hulk (2008) when it took a scalpel to the corpse of its predecessor. The Magnificent Seven (1960) made a classic in its own right out of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954). The Fly (1986), The Thing (1982), Cape Fear (1991), even A Star Is Born (2018)… all remakes (and at least in the case of the first three, pretty much the only version people care to watch).
Remaking, rebooting and reimagining different characters and stories – especially for the movies – is an ongoing and entirely necessary process. Certainly, there is more benefit in it than in excising it in its entirety, just so long as people continue to watch and remember the originals for the meaningful works of art that they were in the first place. I’m not saying that everybody should burn their old copies of Nosferatu (1922) just because Werner Herzog has a new version of Count Orlock creeping into theaters, or that Disney introducing new versions of Dumbo (1941), Aladdin (1992) and The Lion King (1994) this year in any way invalidates or lessens the impact and quality of the originals. I’m just saying that we owe it to these movies to give them their due – whatever that ends of being – and to engage with them on their own terms.
So when I say that I have a problem with the new Child’s Play movie – or, rather, with the forthcoming Child’s Play remake – I want you all to understand where exactly I’m coming from. I don’t go after this movie on the basis of principle, nor do I have some kind of axe to grind against movies of its kind. Pound for pound, the remake of Friday the 13th (1980) is far better than virtually any of the movies from the original series. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) was an excellent update of the original slasher that addressed many of my longstanding complaints about that first movie. The new Child’s Play, however, is a very different sort of beast.
In the case of those other slasher remakes, the franchises had well and truly run their course. Other than the monster mash oddity that was Freddy v Jason (2003), neither franchise had made a solid entry in decades. The last great Friday the 13th Movie was Jason Lives (1986), and the last worthwhile endeavor with the bog-standard Freddy Krueger was Dream Warriors (1987). Sure, an argument could be made for New Nightmare (1994), but that was an incredibly meta sequel that could hardly have been said to be a follow-up in-keeping with the original line of movies.
Child’s Play, however, isn’t just chugging along just fine: it’s outright thriving in the current environment. Its two most recent movies were certifiable hits, even if they came out to less commercial appeal with their straight-to-video releases. The series is creatively thriving, using each new installment to test out new and refreshing premises, from metatextual slapstick to back-to-basics scares to conceptually out-there concepts like clone armies. The movies have been incredibly well-received, its dedicated fanbase has been turning out for each new release and the movies – still in their original chronology – have been getting better and better with time. It’s hardly what you would call a dead franchises; rather, it is fully in its prime.
So why the remake? Why now? Why cut out the original series creator, who was perfectly content to be working on his creation all these years, and even decades, later? The answer is money, I’m sure – it always is – and I doubt that the straight-to-Netflix approach of Cult of Chucky sat well with studio executives used to big theatrical premiers yielding big theatrical dollars. They didn’t seem to understand the inherently niche appeal of this genre as a whole, and this franchise in particular. They didn’t seem to be content with solid recompense for a modestly-priced movie.
This right here is the problem with remakes: not that they exist at all, but that they replace (or at least attempt to replace) the original movies in progress. This would be a different matter if these movies had wel and truly died off – if there was either no interest in them from the fans or that the quality had well and truly become untenable at this point. Neither, however, was the case. Save the remakes for movies without any life in them anymore. Leave the living alone.