For filmmakers, remaking a beloved classic can be a trial. But as writer Sarah Lyall notes in her recent New York Times article “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Emma,” re-telling a classic story that has already been remade into a canonical film presents an entirely different set of challenges.
In addition to Disney’s contemporary slate of fables-turned-animations-turned-live actions, the past several years have seen a number of filmmakers try their hand at reviving a beloved story. Greta Gerwig’s 2019 film “Little Women” took inspiration from the novel by Louisa May Alcott, which in turn had already been made into the well-regarded 1994 film starring Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder and Kirsten Dunst. Right now, theater-goers can head to the box office to see “Emma.”, Autumn de Wilde’s whimsical re-telling of Jane Austen’s classic novel, a story which also enjoyed the ‘90s treatment with “Emma” starring Gwyneth Paltrow, and “Clueless”, which starred Alicia Silverstone.
Modern Hollywood’s fetish for the remake is well-documented. Bringing a beloved (i.e. lucrative) story to a contemporary audience is a relatively assured financial commitment, while financing an original piece of work is, increasingly, a risk Hollywood is not willing to take. But there is still true artistic challenge in making a familiar story into something fresh and new while staying true to a story’s source material. Gerwig’s version of “Little Women” was praised by critics for its sympathetic portrayal of Amy March-- the traditionally spoiled antagonist to Alcott’s heroine, Jo--as an assured and textured character who uses the limited choices available in her patriarchal world to advance herself.
Today on FilmWeek, our critics discuss how to contend with remaking an often told story, and discuss the films they thought did so successfully.