January 1, 2001
8:59 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I watched 'Notorious' last night. We weren't far into it before we realized the plot had been lifted for 'Mission:Impossible 2'! It makes us think even less of the latter movie. What's more, we couldn't find anything in their publicity about stealing the plot. It had to be left to the critics.

Can you name any reworkings of original plots that actually turned out good or better? (more inside)
posted by Sean Meade (48 comments total)
Most of the liberties with the new Jane Austen movies (esp. the Paltrow 'Emma' and 'Mansfield Park') don't live up to the originals.

One of the best loose adaptations of Austen was 'Clueless'. We felt like Paltrow's 'Emma' was trying to be period 'Clueless'.

I haven't seen 'Hidden Fortress' so I can't rate it against 'Star Wars'.

You've got the Disney reworkings of 'The Seven Samurai'/'A Bug's Life' and 'Hamlet'/'The Lion King'. They were fine, but pretty light.

posted by Sean Meade at 9:03 AM on January 1, 2001

I can't think of better remakes right now, but Hollywood has been plundering the movies of Kurosawa Akira (in Japanese, the surname comes first) for 30 years, and some of the results have actually been very good. In many cases what they did was take Kurosawa's Samurai stories and turn them into Westerns, which worked surprisingly well. Examples: The Magnificent Seven and A Fistful of Dollars. Star Wars (episode IV, i.e. the original movie) as you mention shamelessly borrows from The Hidden Fortress. All three of those remakes were quite good, and (unfortunately) more successful commercially than the originals.

But Seven Samurai was better than The Magnificent Seven, and Yojimbo was better than A Fistful of Dollars.

High Plains Drifter is very loosely based on Sanjuro, but the latter is vastly better. (I didn't think High Plains Drifter was very good.)
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:48 AM on January 1, 2001

Actually, I can think of one remake I thought improved the original: I think Kurosawa's Ran was better than King Lear. The story simply made more sense in the Samurai setting, with sons instead of daughters.

For that matter, I thought that Kumonosu jo was better than MacBeth; again, the story simply made more sense within the Samurai mythos.

Kurosawa was a genius (and Mifune a superb actor) and neither have gotten the recognition in the US that they deserved. Their partnership turned out a long string of masterpieces.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:56 AM on January 1, 2001

i was on a Lear kick a couple of months ago and watched 'Ran' for the first time. i had trouble getting into it, though i watched it all the way through. i guess i just don't appreciate it, kind of like jazz. maybe it's a cultural deficiency. thank you for your thoughtful participation, Steven!
posted by Sean Meade at 10:08 AM on January 1, 2001

Funny, I thought that the plot from A Bug's Life was ripped off from The Three Amigos, but it turns out that the Three Amigos was in turn a direct rip-off of Seven Samurai.
posted by waxpancake at 10:31 AM on January 1, 2001

I think that if you saw a Western for the first time and didn't know anything about that era (although what the movies show us bears little resemblance to the reality) you probably wouldn't really understand it and would enjoy it much less. Once you've watched several, you begin to get into it more. After you watch several Samurai films and also do a little study about that culture, that you begin to understand the background better, which helps the viewing experience. That said, there was much about Ran I did not like, and unlike many other Kurosawa movies, I have no urge to watch it again. But I still liked it more than I liked King Lear, and you were asking for comparisons.

As to the other Kurosawa movies, many of them are built around a leading character who is ronin (usually played by Mifune), and that's a whole subject and sub-culture unto itself.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:56 AM on January 1, 2001

posted by rodii at 11:09 AM on January 1, 2001

The Bob and Doug's Strange Brew is a fantastic retelling of Hamlet. No, seriously.
posted by sexymofo at 11:31 AM on January 1, 2001

I liked the recent film of Mansfield Park better than the book. Austen's Fanny comes off as such a tiresome little twit that I thought I was reading Jane Eyre. No wonder she wasn't liked. Fanny's much stronger and more sympathetic in the film. /heresy.
posted by mimi at 11:32 AM on January 1, 2001

Don't forget Kurosawa's Throne of Blood/Hamlet. This past summer I saw many of Kurosawa's films on the big screen for the first time. They were showing one of his films every weekend at Chicago's Musicbox theatre, and it was most certainly the highlight of my week.
posted by thirteen at 11:41 AM on January 1, 2001

Going back a-ways--Ernst Lubitsch's script for Design for Living was apparently (I read this in a book on Lubitsch back in '93) an improvement on the Noel Coward play. It is a great satire of artist vs middle class conformity issues, with Frederic March, Miriam Hopkins and Gary Cooper, circa '32.

I think there are a few instances where the movie is different but at least as interesting as the book. The Sweet Hereafter, for example. The book is excellent and more cathartic, but the Egoyan movie is exquisite.

These are, however, exceptions. . .
posted by aflakete at 11:48 AM on January 1, 2001

Ran is beautiful.
posted by ookamaka at 1:33 PM on January 1, 2001

From what I understand, the plot for 8MM is strikingly similar to Hardcore from 1979.
posted by magnetbox at 2:55 PM on January 1, 2001

This isn't quite what you asked, but I can think of two movies based on novels that actually turned out better than the book. "The Andromeda Strain" and "The Silence of the Lambs".

With The Andromeda Strain, the movie was made much more interesting by making the character with epilepsy into a woman. The tension between the rest of the team and the Dr. Stone was also a lot better in the film than in the book.

In The Silence of the Lambs, the movie made Clarice's story about her childhood experience with the lamb much more compelling. And Anthony Hopkins brought his character to life better than I ever would have thought possible.

As for remakes, here are a couple of examples:

The 1959 big-screen version of Ben-Hur was far superior to the 1920s silent version.

The reworking of "Nightmare at 20,000 feet" for "Twilight Zone: The Movie" was absolutely brilliant. I saw that as a kid and it scared me to death!
posted by Potsy at 2:57 PM on January 1, 2001

Okay, I'll be the geek who adds "Blade Runner" to the list.

That's because the film brings out something totally new from the original story "Do androids dream of electric sheep". Infact its relationship to the original is fairly remote.

Nevertheless I enjoyed the Phillip K Dick story as well. It should be made into a film sometime


posted by lagado at 3:30 PM on January 1, 2001

Here are a few film remakes improving upon the originals that come to mind:

1. Leone's masterpiece, Once Upon A Time In the West, stole the entire plotline of Johnny Guitar. But Johnny Guitar didn't have a villain (Henry Fonda) who was so evil that he brutally shot down a family within minutes of his first on-screen appearance.

2. Fassbinder took the plot from the Douglas Sirk film All That Heaven Allows, made the man in the young man-older woman relationship black and turned the story into a heated dialectic on race called Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.

3. While I don't think it improved upon the original Howard Hawks classic, John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 was an intriguing inner-city update of Rio Bravo. And you have to appreciate a film with a character called Napoleon Wilson. It's a pity that he fared so hideously with Hawks' The Thing.

4. Both versions of Little Shop of Horrors seem to hold up for different reasons.

5. More of a story transposition than a remake, but does Wild at Heart count as an update of Wizard of Oz?

6. O Lucky Man is one of the wittiest cinematic updates of all time. And I've only met one other person who worshipped this take on Candide as feverishly as I do.
posted by ed at 5:15 PM on January 1, 2001

I believe it's trivial to say that one movie "stole" another's idea. Shakespeare stole plots all the time, but it's what he did with them that makes us hang on his every word centuries later.

Hidden Fortress is only recognizable as source material for small parts of Star Wars, particularly the use of the C-3PO and R2-D2 characters as audience stand-ins. There are a great many more borrowings in that film, none of which I begrudge.

I don't know that the plot borrowings of MI:2 add up to enough to call it a "steal". Actually, I would have been hard-pressed to remember what the plot was. I thought there was this bit where Tom Cruise's hair was blowing around, this other bit where Tom Cruise was being thrown through the air at another guy, and a whole lot of bits I don't remember in between.

I don't understand how you can't like Ran, though I'll concede there are Kurosawa films with more feeling and depth. As for borrowings, Rashomon has been turned into at least three Star Trek episodes...
posted by dhartung at 5:54 PM on January 1, 2001

good points about 'Blade Runner' lagado.

you have some good points about 'stealing' dhartung. i guess my point was that M:I2 didn't own up to it and adapted an otherwise intesting plot extremely poorly, as you alluded to. if i'm Tom Cruise, i guess i'm happy because John Woo sure made me look cool. all in all, it's another reason to junk this movie.

as to not liking 'Ran', i guess you don't understand me. is 'Ran' objectively likable?
posted by Sean Meade at 6:51 PM on January 1, 2001

I think in interviews, Robert Towne admitted to lifting the romantic story from Notorious, though no direct credit is given the original.

I think some people have missed the point here, citing all those Kurosawa flicks--The Magnificent Seven is an acknowledged re-staging of The Seven Samurai, not an un-credited plot-lifting like MI:2.

And we shouldn't think Kurosawa is above this himself. Yojimbo is a re-telling of Dashiell Hammett's brilliant novel Red Harvest, though Kurosawa has at times denied this.
posted by peterme at 8:13 PM on January 1, 2001

I'd argue that Cruel Intentions was an improvement on Dangerous Liaisons (which itself was said to be an improvement on the Chris Hampton's stage version, which [as I can attest to from personal knowledge] just HAD to be better than the original novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, by Choderlos de Laclos).

My arguments are as follows: (1) the actions of the characters are much more fitting to high society high schoolers than their grown-up equivalents; (2) the kiss between Selma Blair and Sarah Michelle Gellar was genius. There's no other word for it.


posted by thebigpoop at 9:00 PM on January 1, 2001

Here's a piece on the Yojimbo/Fistful of Dollars/Last Man Standing/Red Harvest plot lifitngs and amusing related legal issues.

The Coen Brothers' Miller's Crossing is an excellent (and, as far as I know, unofficial) reworking of Hammet's The Glass Key; I don't know that it improves on the book, but I think that it's an improvement on the film version of The Glass Key.

I just saw an adaption -- which I know isn't quite the point -- of Dangerous Liasons among Manhattan preppie teenagers called Cruel Intentions; it worked much better than I'd have guessed.
posted by snarkout at 9:04 PM on January 1, 2001

Not sure it counts since it lifted the plot from a play, but Forbidden Planet is a pretty good take on The Tempest

I don't think you could make the case that Point of No Return was better than La Femme Nikita. Quite the contrary. Still, I had friends who liked the former never having seen the original, so I guess relatively speaking it would make the criteria of turning out "good".

In a similar vein of not better, but still better than anything with Pauley Shore, there was a remake of Sabrina recently that did an OK job. Of course any movie without Audrey Hepburn is the lessor for it. Still, I always kind of thought Humphrey Bogart in the original was strangely cast.

I thought the SciFi Channels's recent Dune mini-series was quite a bit better than the Lynch version. Of course since they were both working from original source material rather than the latest lifting the plot of the first movie, that might not count.

posted by willnot at 9:08 PM on January 1, 2001

I've never seen The Hidden Fortress as anything more than inspiration in form for Star Wars. There really isn't much they share in plot except for the search for a princess and that's not a terribly exclusive idea.

Anyway, for a new addition, Reservoir Dogs was certainly better than City on Fire was, in the sense that Tarantino invented out the final 10 minutes of the HK flick a style that the rest of the world has been trying to one-up... just ask Guy Ritchie...
posted by teradome at 9:10 PM on January 1, 2001

The first four chapters of the New Testament was a complete rip off of Star Wars Episode I. Virgin birth? Did God think he could get away with that?
posted by Brilliantcrank at 9:45 PM on January 1, 2001

"is 'Ran' objectively likable?"

What the hell does *that* mean? How can anything be "objectively liked"? You do realize that objectivity implies a lack of singular perspective or individual coloring? How is liking something possible where opinion does not exist?

And, in comparison to La Femme Nikita, Point of No Return.... is simply not worth mentioning. =P
posted by ookamaka at 10:50 PM on January 1, 2001

10 Things I hate about you = Taming of the Shrew
posted by cheaily at 10:52 PM on January 1, 2001

Stealing: When Harry Met Sally taking lots from Annie Hall.

Remakes: I have yet to watch the US version of The Vanishing or the US version of Wings of Desire. Should I?

posted by gluechunk at 11:05 PM on January 1, 2001

You've Got Mail (1998) = In the Good Old Summertime (1949) = Shop Around The Corner (1940)

Shop around the corner being the best version of 'em all
posted by riffola at 11:20 PM on January 1, 2001

I'd recommend avoiding the US version of The Vanishing like the plague: Kiefer Sutherland == cinematic death. (While I'm at it, I prefer Valmont to Dangerous Liasons.) As for favourite remakes, I love the fact that Evil Dead 2 is essentially a comedy version of Evil Dead... (do reworkings by the same person count?)
posted by jess at 12:10 AM on January 2, 2001

I consider Wings of Desire one of the most beautiful films ever made. For best results see it on a big screen with a good sound system. I would never ever recommend the Nicholas Cage/Meg Ryan version, even though it was made with the approval of the original's director.
posted by owen at 5:39 AM on January 2, 2001

I'll be the geek who mentions that Cameron (to his regret) said in an interview that Terminator is based on some episodes of the original Outer Limits, "Demon With a Glass Hand" and "Soldier Ask Not". Although "based" might be stretching it, more like "inspired by."

I haven't seen "Demon With a Glass Hand" but I've seen "Soldier Ask Not" and if you squint hard you can see some connections kinda sorta maybe. I certainly preferred Terminator to Soldier, but it's my understanding that Demon is phenomenal for all that they filmed it on the money they found in the couch in the staff room.
posted by mrmorgan at 6:13 AM on January 2, 2001

With the earlier mention of The Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven, and A Bug's Life, I'm surprised that the sci-fi adaptation of that plot, Battle Beyond the Stars, wasn't mentioned. Not that it's better than any of the others...
posted by harmful at 6:17 AM on January 2, 2001

'the Hidden Fortress' and 'Star Wars' at least also share, in addition to looking for a princess, a hidden fortress, right?

"is 'Ran' objectively likable?"

What the hell does *that* mean?

exactly my point, ookamaka. dhartung said he didn't understand how i couldn't like 'Ran'. that was my rhetorical answer, the understood conclusion being 'no, nothing is objectively likable'.

posted by Sean Meade at 6:26 AM on January 2, 2001

thebigpoop: so, so true. :-]
posted by pnevares at 6:44 AM on January 2, 2001

snarkout: thanks for the link to the "Red Harvest" story. I didn't know there was a movie of "The Glass Key." That's the one where the lead character is always called "Ned Beaumont," right? Never "Ned" or "Beaumont," just "Ned Beaumont." (PS: when are the going to make a movie of a Daniel Pinkwater story?)

mrmorgan: is that "Soldier Ask Not" based on the Gordon Dickson story? (I don't see much resemblance to "The Terminator" myself, so I assume not.)

I was under the impression that "Terminator" was ripped off from Phil Dick ("Second Variety").

Speaking of PKD, "The Truman Show" thematically resembles any number of Dickian plots, especially "Time Out of Joint," although, unlike PKD, the more you learn, the *less* interesting it gets.
posted by rodii at 1:47 PM on January 2, 2001

"Terminator" was, again, inspired by Harlan Ellison stories, not Dick. "Second Variety" was made into a movie in its own right, titled Screamers.

Interestingly, it looks as though we have a couple more Dick adaptations coming this year.
posted by kindall at 2:12 PM on January 2, 2001

The story "Sally Bowles" (in a collection called "Goodbye to Berlin") by Christopher Isherwood (1929) --> The play "I Am a Camera" by John Van Druten (1951) --> Musical Play "Cabaret" by Joe Masteroff, Fred Ebb and John Kander (1966) --> Film "Cabaret" (screenplay) by Jay Presson Allen (1972)

The short-story "The Sentinal" by A.C. Clarke --> The film "2001", screenplay by A.C. Clarke & S. Kubrick --> The novel "2001" by A.C. Clarke -->The multiple sequal books and a movie, "2010."
posted by grumblebee at 2:17 PM on January 2, 2001

Pygmalion -- > My Fair Lady --> Educating Rita
posted by grumblebee at 2:19 PM on January 2, 2001

5.3 What is Harlan Ellison's connection to the Terminator movies?
SF author Harlan Ellison filed a lawsuit against T1 director JC, claiming that
Cameron plagiarized several of his short stories, namely "Soldier" and "Demon with a Glass Hand" (and, possibly, "A Boy and his Dog"). The concept of Skynet
could also have been borrowed from an Ellison short story called "I Have No
Mouth and I Must Scream". Newer prints of T1 acknowledge Ellison.

I watched Demon with a Glass Hand last night, and feel the connection is tenuous. I do believe people bringing up PKD is appropriate, because I feel most of his writing falls into a similar category that category being, ideas so basic, that they are instant cliches, but they did them first.
What do I know, I'm just a robot... a robot named ABRAHAM LINCOLN!
posted by thirteen at 2:23 PM on January 2, 2001

that was my rhetorical answer, the understood conclusion being 'no, nothing is objectively likable

Oh. =)
posted by ookamaka at 3:35 PM on January 2, 2001

The early 90s film My Own Private Idaho (starring Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix) is a modern re-telling of Shakespeare's Henry IV, part II (or part I, I can't remember which, and I don't have my Shakespeare tome with me at work). Phoenix's character (the narcoleptic gay street hustler) is woven into the plot (there's no analogous character in 2 Henry IV). I think it's quite well done, and the the way the sex scenes are filmed is pure genius.
posted by sjarvis at 9:43 AM on January 3, 2001

Oh yeah, I forgot to add. In My Own Private Idaho, much of the dialogue is straight out of the play. Buried in the credits, it says "Additional dialogue by William Shakespeare." I was in grad school when I watched that film the first time, and I was taking a seminar on Shakespeare's history plays. We had just read the Henry IV plays *that* week. It was somewhat surreal, to say the least.
posted by sjarvis at 9:46 AM on January 3, 2001

Just to clear things up:

Ran = King Lear
A Thousand Acres = King Lear
Throne of Blood = Macbeth
10 Things I Hate About You = Taming of the Shrew (really good, too)
Lion King = Hamlet (Richard III as well.... take your pick)
West Side Story = Romeo & Juliet

I'm probably missing a few, but oh well...

posted by dgallo at 12:19 PM on January 3, 2001

I don't know if I really buy the Lion King/Hamlet thing. It involves a son's revenge for his father's death, but that's more the MacGuffin than the story in Hamlet. Who's Ophelia? Who's Polonius? Who's Nala? Timonstern and Pumbakrantz?
posted by rodii at 7:21 PM on January 3, 2001

The Lion King rips off Kimba the white lion more than Hamlet, by a long shot.
posted by thirteen at 8:29 PM on January 3, 2001

Or Macbeth, or Death of a Salesman. (Add smileys as needed to that last bit.)
posted by rodii at 8:28 AM on January 4, 2001

steven speilberg totally lifted the plot and almost all the dialogue from an episode of the orginal b&w "outer limit" series called "little girl lost". i've never ever seen this appropriation mentioned anywhere, which really surprises me considering how this episode has re-run so many times over the last two decades. i've seen it at least 4 or 5 times...

and it just occurs to me *now* that i should probably have recorded it at some point 8-)

if anyone has any info about this, if they've seen the outer limits credited by spielberg i'd love to know about it.
posted by t r a c y at 8:50 AM on January 5, 2001

Isn't that Outer Limits episode based on a Lewis Padgett story? (Was is "Mimsy Were The Borogoves"?)
posted by rodii at 12:56 PM on January 5, 2001

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