In Defense of Halloween(2007)
The title is a bit of an exaggeration, as I haven't seen Halloween. I think this was a film doomed to the critics because of its very existence and place in history. This sort of group-think, especially when it comes to a remake like this, can be dangerous and limiting in our views on cinema.
First of all, we must properly define a remake. Recent talk about the "remake" of Halloween has got me thinking. Does the new version of Hairspray count as a remake, or is it a film adaptation of the stage adaptation of a film? If half the contents of the "remake" did not exist in the original, does it still count as a remake? If Batman Begins can count as a series reboot, then shouldn't Halloween? And wouldn't we rather have Rob Zombie's version, background story and all, than merely another generic slasher movie starring Michael Myers? Wouldn't that be the greater disservice to John Carpenter? Zombie at least tried to push the series in a new direction, something most directors wouldn't have done.
Speaking of Batman Begins and Halloween, I'd like to explore the idea of the backstory as plot device. In this piece over at Lazy Eye Theatre, Piper chides audiences who went to see Halloween, partly because of the presence of a backstory to attempt to explain Michael Myers' homocidal ways. Then shouldn't we chide all the people who went to see Batman Begins or Spiderman or even Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? All of them begin with backstories for their characters which help to properly explain the origins and psychology of their main characters. In fact, it is standard protocol for modern superhero movies to include a backstory for both the superpowers and the emotional character.
This is best exemplified by Batman Begins and Hulk, whose use of fear and father issues, respectively, became the main core themes of the films. I cannot speak personally of either Halloween, but I would be inclined to believe that Zombie would use something prevalent in Michael Myers' home life as an underlying theme. Feel free to tell me if I'm nowhere near the truth. However, I will probably need to see the evidence and draw my own conclusions.
As for the notion of Carpenter's Halloween being an "untouchable," a film that has attained classic status and should never be touched with a remake, I point the the 50s. Ninotchka and The Philadelphia Story were both remade as high profile musicals in the 50s, Silk Stockings and High Society, respectively. Both Ninotchka and The Philadelphia Story are film adaptations of a book and a play, but it hardly seems credible that the studios decided to return to the source material for the new films. Likewise with Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Though Burton did adapt from the source material rather than update Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the project probably was developed in the studio system as a straight remake which got retooled once Burton signed on.
Studios love to remake films. And most of the time, the result is uninspired, if not plain bad. Halloween was going to be remade, whether Rob Zombie directed it or not. It wasn't his idea to remake it, but he did the work. And he created something different. For those genre purists, the film must automatically be bad. After all, it is a remake of an established classic, and nobody should ever make one of those. But Rob Zombie's Halloween doesn't look like a straight remake. It looks like a reinvention. The difference is subtle, but it is there. It is an attempt to create something different, except it uses names we've heard before. Much like Michael Mann's Miami Vice, this reads as a movie that would be much better received if it only had a different title and different character names. I am personally of the belief that both films were going to be made, and both men thought that a straight remake or adaptation would be absolutely terrible. They sacrificed some credibility to prevent worse films from being made, and I think both made the right decision.