Psycho, Planet of The Apes, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Romeo & Juliet and now Oliver Twist have been on the receiving end of a stab of modernity. Not much to its credit.
So many classic works have been remade with a modern twist and some have actually worked quite well. Others? Not so much. But why can it be a curse to modernise a traditional story? Does a contemporary take remove any substance and only leave style?
Oliver Twist is the latest story to gain a 21st-century facelift if you consider it a good attempt. Spoiler, most of the reviews don’t. In fact, it seems to be a bit of a botched job.
The movie, aptly named Twist, has appeared seemingly out of nowhere on Sky Cinema. Helmed by a relatively unknown studio called Pure Grass Films and directed by newcomer Martin Owen, it’s a crime drama and modern-day take on Charles Dickens’ 1838 novel. The film features an ensemble cast including Michael Caine, Lena Headey, Rita Ora and Noel Clarke. Noel also produced the film alongside Jason Maza.
One word titles for remakes are also becoming the norm. Twist sounds a bit like it could be a very dark, gritty tale. Here’s looking at you, Joker.
The movie released on January 29th on Sky Cinema for home streaming but has garnered generally unfavourable reviews. Scoring a measly 3.9 out of 10 on IMDB and just 18% on the freshness scale for Rotten Tomatoes. Yet another cinema release during a pandemic which in itself can be a detriment to a film’s initial response.
Watching a movie in a cinema is an experience and from statistics even before lockdown a dying one at that. There are distractions at home that can deflect focus from the movie and spur on a different opinion. Ultimately, though, critics just didn’t rate it as a good movie. It’s hard to do, the original was very well received and the 1968 musical is probably the most famous take on it. Albeit, with some questionable tropes but never the less it worked and highlighted Dicken’s social commentary on the gulf between the rich and the poor.
Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian said it was a “try-hard movie with a kid’s TV feel that never comes to life”.
Strong words, but was this movie doomed from the start?
Good remakes used to be very rare but now it seems they are getting better with the more recent trope of ‘rebooting’ a franchise to try and wash away any poor choices made in the past. However, there is a difference between a remake and an adaptation. A standard remake of a movie seems to work fine, but adapting a story that is set in such a characterful period and highlighting a strong political discourse, as Dickens often did, is tricky and rarely pays off..
Several well-known classics have had contemporary treatment and not all of them are bad. Below are some examples of movies and their modern adaptations and how they fared against the gauntlet of IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes.
Psycho, the Hitchcock classic that has yet and probably never will be rivalled. It was praised by all and is an example of pitch-perfect film making to this day but yet the 1998 Vince Vaughn remake which was actually pretty much a shot for shot remake with basically the same script and editing was lambasted by critics. Likely due to the old saying ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. Very wise words and the same could be applied to Twist.
The question that needs to be asked, is it necessary to modernise an already timeless piece? In some cases, it has worked, especially more so for television and theatre.
Take Shakespeare, even though they are mostly seen through the medium of live theatre the modern reworkings of The Tempest, Richard III and Romeo & Juliet are always very well received. The Richard III I saw at the travelling Globe Theatre in York was themed around modern assault rifles and you can’t get much more of an in your face modern take than that but it worked and it worked well. Although it is difficult to mess up Shakespeare.
Equally, Steven Spielberg’s 2005 War of The Worlds remake starring Tom Cruise was well received. But often, science fiction can benefit from new visual effects with increased budgets, advertising and pop culture inclusion.
Some movies have been remade several times, including the most recent adaptation of A Star Is Born. Four different movies have been made about the story of an aspiring actress/singer and each one has garnered at least four Oscar nods and several wins. Movies can be adapted and reconstructed with grace but it seems to depend on the starting point.
Twist did something different by including different genders for the normally patriarchal roles. In the film, Lena Headey played Bill Sykes and Rita Ora starred as the Artful Dodger. This can really help change up the tone but it seemed there was a whiff of quota filling and the reworking of the characters mainly had style without substance, something that critics apply to a lot of reworked movies and TV shows.
There are less and less contemporary remakes now but not through lack of trying it seems. The plot of Twist made Oliver a graffiti artist and Fagin an art dealer. It was a heist movie at the end of the day and that has been done many, many times, so why apply it to something that could comment on new social injustice after all the recent controversies in the UK?
Media has the power to educate people through storytelling and often classical works have a political underbelly that is dissected in great detail by critics and those who study film and TV. When done right, it is subtle enough that only a focus on detail and design choices will demonstrate.
Words by Jaimie Kay
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