Modernizing the classics

On his Fraggmented blog, John Seavey was speculating about the idea of a modernized Dracula along the lines of the current Sherlock Holmes series. I think this could be good, but no way it could have the same punch.
The Holmes series works because despite past shots at modernizing Holmes, he’s still seen primarily as a Victorian character. And little touches like having him slap on nicoderm patches to give him a nicotine kick (London no longer being smoker-friendly) work because they play off details everyone recognizes.
Modern vampires, on the other hand, are pretty standard—they have been at least since 1970s TV-movie The Night Stalker. Dracula himself has been set in the present day in TV series (Dracula: The Series and 1979’s Curse of Dracula), Hammer films (Taste the Blood of Dracula) and, of course, Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula comic book. And I’m not sure the original story is familiar enough to people that they’d appreciate modernizing details (blog entries for the epistolatory sections of the novel, for instance).
That’s not to say it couldn’t be good, only that I’m not sure modernizing it will add that much. Modernizing well really requires a twist, like Fritz Leiber’s take on the werewolf in 1942’s The Hound or Night Stalker, which was written back when vampires were almost exclusively Victorian, and plonked a nosferatu down in modern Las Vegas. Or Fright Night, which plays on the protagonist being a horror movie buff who knows all about vampires.
Dracula has been said to symbolize many things, including sex and a fear of decadent foreigners corrupting British purity, but I don’t know either of those work: The foreigners we fear these days aren’t terribly decadent, and screwed up as we are around sex, I think we’re too sex-positive to present being seduced as a bad thing. Maybe if it were presented more as rape than seduction? Hmmm.
Some classics modernize well: Christmas Carol works in many different situations because the theme of regret and loss, selfishness and greed resonate today as much as in Dickens’ day. (Ethan Hawke’s Great Expectations, on the other hand, was a mess; the class issues of the original just don’t translate well to the present.)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Possibly. Repression, secret desires and the gap between public face and private sin are still around, and still an issue. Perhaps someone who goes through therapy (or prayer?) to get his lusts under control, and discovers they manifest physically? Or a closeted gay (though Hyde is such a beast, that would be rather awkward?).
Frankenstein? I think you’d have to stick with the revenant theme (updating it scientifically may make it more plausible, but let’s face it, building a man out of a corpse is freakier than anything else they could think of), but what could you do with it that you couldn’t do in an 1800s setting? (I’m speaking in all these cases of sticking reasonably close to the plot, rather than variations such as USA Network’s Frankenstein of a few years back or Frankenstein: The College Years).
Like I said, modernizing isn’t necessarily a no-no even if it doesn’t add anything—but Holmes aside, I think a lot of times, it won’t add anything.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies, Reading

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.