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Lots to love (and hate) in Hollywood remakes

Hollywood loves to retreat into its past and update old material. Exhibit A this summer is "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3," opening Friday, a remake, retelling, recycling or reimagining (the studio prefers "retelling") of a 1974 film starring Walter Matthau, Martin Balsam and Robert Shaw. Both feature a gang that hijacks a New York subway car and holds it for ransom, but the latest incarnation, starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta, takes into account the more high-tech world of 2009. It is, Travolta has said, " 'The Taking of Pelham One Two Three' on steroids - very intense, very hyped up and very contemporary."

So what else is new? Tinseltown loves these "R" films because "it's all about finding something that's already pre-proven," says film critic Marshall Fine of HollywoodandFine.com. "If some executive can pluck an old film out of the vault and remake it, it saves money on development and marks him as some sort of genius for recognizing a gold nugget where no one else did. With more familiar titles, it's all about having a presold audience: You don't have to tell them who the Brady Bunch is, or who Capt. Kirk is - they already know and are predisposed to want to see it."

But be careful what you wish for. Some works may be ripe for a makeover, but cinematic deja vu doesn't always work.

"The best remakes reinvent the material for a new time, find new themes, new perspectives, new ideas," says Fine. "A bad one exploits the original without adding to it or, worse, coarsens and cheapens the material by dumbing it down for the broadest possible audience."

What are some of the best and worst "R" films? Here are a few.

THE BEST

The Magnificent Seven (1960). This Western about gunslingers who save a Mexican village from bandits is a brilliant take on Akira Kurosawa's 1954 classic "Seven Samurai." With its macho cast ( Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, Charles Bronson, James Coburn), charismatic villain (Eli Wallach) and iconic Elmer Bernstein score, this is as good as Hollywood recycling gets.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). Tim Burton takes on the Roald Dahl story. Visually creative, with a gloriously eccentric Johnny Depp performance as candy maker Willy Wonka, this is as good as, and probably better than, "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," the 1971 Gene Wilder original.

The Thing (1982). Bloodier than the 1951 version, John Carpenter's remake is still a terrific thrill ride. Featuring pedal to the metal direction and a great Kurt Russell lead performance, this tale of a shape-shifting alien terrorizing an Antarctic outpost is utterly compelling.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). Director Phil Kaufman takes the 1956 paranoia classic about a small town taken over by soulless "pod" people, moves the setting to San Francisco and freaks us out all over again.

Casino Royale (2006). The 1966 original was an overdone James Bond spoof, the "remake" one of the best Bond movies ever. Great action, with Daniel Craig putting his stamp on the role.

THE WORST

Planet of the Apes (2001). Tim Burton directed this wretched attempt to update the legendary 1968 Charlton Heston original. Mark Wahlberg doesn't match Heston in the pecs department, and the whole affair has an air of desperation about it.

King Kong (any version). Nothing can recapture the magic, mystery and iconography of the 1933 masterpiece, but the 1976 ( Jeff Bridges, Jessica Lange) and 2005 ( Adrien Brody, Naomi Watts) films tried. Big mistake. Note to future filmmakers: Don't even think about it.

Psycho (1998). A shot-for-shot remake of the 1960 Hitchcock classic? Stupid idea, and an insult to Hitch's memory. Maybe the worst remake ever.

Gloria (1999). Anyone wondering why Sharon Stone's career has gone down the drain need only look at this unnecessary attempt to redo the 1980 John Cassavetes gangster spoof, starring Gena Rowlands as a pistol-packin' gun moll.

Red Dragon (2002). Why take another crack at Michael Mann's brilliant 1986 film "Manhunter," the first to feature Hannibal Lecter? Despite a fine cast featuring Anthony Hopkins and Edward Norton, this fizzle is nowhere near as creepy, stylized and moving as its predecessor.

THE WORST

Planet of the Apes (2001): Tim Burton directed this wretched attempt to update the legendary 1968 Charlton Heston original. Mark Wahlberg doesn't match Heston in the pecs department, and the whole affair has an air of desperation about it.

King Kong (any version): Nothing can recapture the magic, mystery and iconography of the 1933 masterpiece, but the 1976 (Jeff Bridges, Jessica Lange) and 2005 (Adrien Brody, Naomi Watts) films tried. Big mistake. Note to future filmmakers â don't even think about it.

Psycho (1998): A shot-for-shot remake of the 1960 Hitchcock classic? Stupid idea, and an insult to Hitch's memory. Maybe the worst remake ever.

Gloria (1999): Anyone wondering why Sharon Stone's career has gone down the drain need only look at this unnecessary attempt to redo the 1980 John Cassavetes gangster spoof, starring Gena Rowlands as a pistol packin' gun moll.

Red Dragon (2002): Why take another crack at Michael Mann's brilliant 1986 film Manhunter, the first to feature Hannibal Lecter? Despite a fine cast featuring Anthony Hopkins and Edward Norton, this fizzle is nowhere near as creepy, stylized and moving as its predecessor.

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