Make/Remake: Assaults on Precinct 13

In the second of my irregular series looking at films and their remakes / re-imaginings / shameless cash-ins, we sample the grand tradition of Hollywood taking a beloved cult flick and recycling it as a shinier, blander, lowest-common-denominator-aimed property.

In this instance the original film in question is John Carpenter’s action exploitation movie Assault on Precinct 13, made just before he’d begin to build his reputation as a Master of Horror, and the shiny remake is by Jean-François Richet, made just before he’d gain some critical cache with his two-part crime biopic Mesrine.

The question, as ever, is: is either film as good or as bad as the standard perception of originals and their remakes would have us believe? These may be surprisingly muddy waters…

the siege is the key element but doesn’t start until quite far into the film…

The first third-ish of the film, where the ragtag group of people wind up in the station, is a bit random, but that’s also kind of the point: this group of people stand up to protect one man, even though they have no idea why he’s there. Very moving.

Read more in my full review here.

And then follow it with…

James DeMonaco’s screenplay presents an essentially new story built on the premise of the original film… Which is a good thing, really. Unfortunately, the new stuff isn’t necessarily as compelling as what it’s replaced… there’s now a surfeit of character backstory, and yet for all that extra work I’d argue we probably care about these characters less than those in the original. The original’s quasi-horror element is also sadly lost

Read more in my full review here.

Separated by 30 years, the two versions of Assault on Precinct 13 are rather different beasts. The remake is undeniably slicker, but in the process loses some of the original’s soul. While it arguably represents steps forward in areas like character development and story structure, it also presents a surprising step backwards in the representation of race on screen. You might not notice that almost all the cops were white and all the criminals black or hispanic, were it not for that being a significant reversal of the original’s race distribution.

Though I’ve given them the same score, it’s the original that sticks in the mind. The remake isn’t bad, but it’s generic enough not to stick. The original, while imperfect for whatever reasons, has a fair few elements that float around in your mind afterwards, either being pondered or just being recalled. To put that last point bluntly: it’s more memorable.

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