Ocean’s Eleven: Twenty Years Later

We watched Ocean’s Eleven the other night with Daniela. In my head, it’s a movie that’s still pretty recent. I mean, it didn’t come out that long ago, did it? But then when I saw all the actors, I realized it must have been a while. Even knowing that, I still figured it was maybe 10 years ago.

Nope. It’s been 20 years. It came out in December, just a few months after 9/11.

The great news is that it still very much stands up to the test of time. I’ve loved this movie since I first saw it. It’s such a great mixture that operates well on so many different levels. The actors, the plot, the soundtrack. The movie just oozes with cool. I love a good movie where the plot itself is a heist, setting the audience up for something and making them think they know what’s going on, only to leave them all bewildered at the climax, thinking everything can’t possibly turn out okay now, and then twisting a final time to show what’s really going to happen. The Sting is another movie that does that supremely well.

Of course, Ocean’s Eleven is an interesting case, because it’s a remake of an earlier movie, done forty years later. I’ve seen both, and the new one resonates better with me. That actually leads me to a good question: what makes a movie fair game for a remake? I know Hollywood is in love with taking something that’s already there and just redoing it, and I know it gets a lot of guff for it. Which movies should be considered off limits, and which shouldn’t?

Funnily enough, I’m not at all opposed to remakes. I’m just opposed to bad ones. And often you don’t know if a remake is going to be good or bad until you see it. That said, the hallmarks of a bad remake are usually easy to spot. I’d say the biggest one would be what’s motivating the remake. If it’s really nothing more than just wanting a quick cash grab, it’s almost certainly going nowhere. Take the remake of Psycho, for instance.

Done in 1998 (just 3 years before Ocean’s), and a remake of another 1960 movie. But Gus Van Sant mimicked the original to a fault, using the same shots, the same camera movements, the same editing. He basically made a modern copy of Hitchcock’s. It was in color and with different actors, but . . . why in the world did anyone think it was a good idea?

With Ocean’s Eleven, they took the core conceit of the original. Vegas heist. All-star cast. And they updated it. Changed the plot. Modernized elements. Brought in a new sense of style and coolness, and so it all worked very well. To make a successful remake, you can’t just photocopy. You have to bring something new. Something of yourself.

Could they remake The Sting? Sure. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time, but I’d go check out a new version. If that new version had ragtime music, took place in the 30s, and just treaded water in the wake of the original, I’d pass, but if they saw something in that original and wanted to do their own thing with it? I’d give it a shot. The biggest trick is reminding yourself that a remake doesn’t replace the original. It doesn’t erase anything.

There are some movies that I think would be very difficult to remake and bring something new. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, for example. It’s a work that so sprawling and involved, I just can’t imagine a movie studio funding something like it again. But never say never. I would love to be shown up by Hollywood, and while the industry excels at pushing out a fair bit of drivel, it also can make some really great stuff in the process.

In any case, back to the original topic. Since the movie is now older than quite a few college students, if you haven’t seen it and want an excellent example of how much fun a heist movie can be, I encourage you to check it out.


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