When Batman Begins debuted 10 years ago last summer, it drew fans from two distinct groups of filmgoers: Those who were desperate to rinse the taste of Batman and Robin out of their mouths, and those who had seen Memento. That 2000 film, an indie thriller that told its labyrinthine murder mystery backwards to help audiences appreciate the confusion of its amnesiac hero, put director Christopher Nolan on the cinematic map.
I was a big fan of Memento when it was released, as much for its bold filmmaking style as for its innovative spirit: It felt completely original, and truly original movies were – and remain – hard to find. Case in point: The announcement today that a remake of Nolan’s breakthrough film would be coming soon to a theater near us.
Remakes of semi-recent Hollywood properties are hardly big news, of course: They’ve become unavoidable now, with timid studio executives afraid to greenlight any big-budget project whose success isn’t pre-ordained. Recently announced remakes are all around us, including titles ranging from the arguably obscure (The Entity) to the ridiculously familiar (Ghostbusters) to the sacrilegiously perfect (Strangers on a Train).
Not all remakes are disasters, of course. When Steven Soderbergh made Ocean’s Eleven in 2001, not many people lined up to complain that his ultra-stylish, star-laden caper was treading on the sacred turf planted by Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack 35 years earlier. But that’s kind of the point: The most logical choices for remakes are films whose interesting premises have aged poorly, or who never received the first-class treatment their ingenuity deserved.
Those criteria don’t apply to Memento, a film that holds up as well 15 years later as it did when it was first released. Worse still for the planned remake, it was Nolan’s revolutionary take on the material that gave the film its zing: By finding a way to tell his story in reverse while still managing to have it make sense, he took the sturdy but unspectacular story (written by Nolan with his brother, Jonathan) and imbued it with startling life.
In fact, the puzzle gimmick of Memento did nothing to stop the film from being completely approachable and fun to watch. If someone wants to make money off the movie, why not just re-release it in theaters, a la the recent Fathom reissues of Home Alone and My Fair Lady? It would give new audiences a chance to check out an early film from the creator of The Dark Knight; fans of the original would show up in droves; and it would be a heck of a lot cheaper than investing in a brand-new iteration with questionable chances of success.
On the other hand, Nolan may have cut his teeth on original fare, but the Batman movies were hardly his only foray into previously invented work: His follow-up to Memento was a good-but-not-necessary remake of the brilliant Norwegian thriller Insomnia. Around comes, around goes what.