Remakes are nothing new. They’ve been around for as long as there have been films. Today we appear to be dominated by the remake, but they’ve been around forever. There are many reasons to do a remake. Often, like the case of Peter Jackson’s King Kong and the recent Kong/Godzilla movies, it’s because technology has taken us to a place where we can do things on the screen that the original filmmakers couldn’t have dreamed of. Other times it’s merely a classic story that stands the test of time, and every once in a while someone wants to attach themselves to that history. Yet other times there’s more that can be added to the story, or there is a fresh perspective to what came before. While many of these types lead to sequels and reboots, they still lead to the remake. Then there are those remakes that are almost a shot-for-shot imitation of the original with no apparent reason to exist other than to capitalize on the name. I really don’t want to put the 1997 made-for-television remake of 12 Angry Men in that category. We’re talking about a respected director who has directed a classic of his own and a very powerful cast of actors. But when you strip away that star power, you’re left with pretty much an exact duplicate with only surface changes. 12 Angry Men (1997) is a pretty good film; don’t get me wrong. But the original was a great film, and this version adds nothing to the story or the experience.
The story is pretty much the same, and that’s mainly due to the fact that the screenplay was written by Reginald Rose based on the screenplay he wrote in 1957 for the original film. It’s an iconic story by now. We witness the end of a murder trial where the jurors are given their final instructions and led into the room where they will deliberate. After taking an initial count, we quickly discover that 11 of the jurors believe the defendant is guilty, and there is one lone holdout for not guilty. Tensions boil over as many thought they’d be in and out. Eventually the lone juror turns the rest around, and the verdict is not guilty. In the 1957 film Henry Fonda plays Juror # 8, the original lone holdout. This version gives us Jack Lemmon in a performance that netted him a Golden Globes nomination. The two films have so much in common, and the biggest element is that both sport incredible casts. Juror # 1 Courtney B. Vance (1997) / Martin Balsam (1957), Juror # 2 Ossie Davis (1997) / John Fiedler (1957), Juror # 3 George C. Scott (1997) / Lee J. Cobb (1957), Juror # 4 Armin Mueller-Sahl (1997) / E.G. Marshall (1957), Juror # 5 Dorian Harewood (1997) / Jack Klugman (1957, Juror # 6 James Gandolfini (1997) / Edward Binns (1957), Juror # 7 Tony Danza (1997) / Jack Warden, Juror # 9 Hune Cronyn (1997) / Joseph Sweeney (1957), Juror #10 Mylelti Williamson (1997) / Ed Begley (1957), Juror # 11 Edward James Olmos (1997) / George Voskovec (1957) / Juror # 12 William Petersen (1997) / Robert Weber (1957). As you can see, these are both great casts. Both sport great performances, but the question remains, why?
Here are a couple of answers that likely play into the remake. This cast is more ethnically and racially diverse. The original film sported all white males. Rose was asked why he didn’t go a step beyond and include at least one woman, and his quip was, “Then we’d have to change the name of the film.” I get that as a motive, and had the film originated today, it would likely not have been called 12 Angry Men and would have included a much more diverse cast. If that’s the point you’re trying to make, it would have better served that point by making this some kind of a sequel to the original film using a very different case and new and more modern arguments. With just a few short examples the film is identical, and I’m not sure that was the answer.
You can view the film in the original full frame aspect ratio or 1.78:1. I did some comparisons, and the widescreen does offer more image. It is not just a zoom-in of the original presentation.
The film is worth watching for what it is. Forget the argument about whether it should have been made. It was, and it’s a pretty good film. I hope it might have at that time inspired people to watch the original, and that’s my hope with this release. William Friedkin is a great director, and it’s a bit odd that he remade a classic film when you consider his lukewarm, at best, reactions to the various follow-ups to his The Exorcist. It’s still a powerful story and a cautionary tale that is relevant as much today as it was in 1957 or 1997. Different cast; slightly different delivery. “Facts may be coated by the personalities of the people who present them. Let’s not forget that.”