16 January, 2012

Why Tamper with a Classic?

Why do people feel they can always invent a better mousetrap?  I don't want to take anything away from Steven Spielberg's Golden Globe -- I'm sure his animation was superb -- but did he have to tamper with the original?

Growing up in Belgium, Tintin (pronounced Tantan with soft "n's", not like the element) was a childhood staple.  We saved our allowances to buy the hardcover comics. My brother still has our complete collection, though 50+ years later the pages are yellowed and brittle.

Tintin actually made his debut in 1929, based on a previous character named Tortor, created by Belgian artist Hergé (the pen name of Georges Remi).   Hergé worked at a right wing newspaper and his books, while enjoyed by children, reflected his politic and views: strongly fascist at first, then tempering until he became more critical of the political far right, verging on pacifism.   King Ottokar's Sceptre took direct, if disguised, aim at both Nazi Hitler and Fascist Mussolini embodied in a despot named Müsstler.

History aside, generations of children grew up loving Tintin, his dog Milou and his friends: Captain Haddock, Dupond and Dupont, and the brilliant but ditzy Professor Tournesol. What objective did Spielberg achieve by changing Milou to Snowy, Dupond/Dupont to Thompson/Thomson, and Tournesol to Calculus?

Would he remake Gone with the Wind and rename Scarlet as Rosie?  Or Rhett as Christopher? Or - gasp - re-baptize Hercule Poirot as Henry Hunter? I think not. So why recast a legendary figure?

Not that Spielberg cares, but I'm boycotting the movie on principle...and because I don't think I can sit through 2 hours of listening to the hero's name being mispronounced. Thankfully I own a complete set of Tintin DVDs in both English and French.

Audience tastes change, new genres evolve, and techniques develop, but it that reason enough to alter a beloved classic?  Are remakes ever better?  Was Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka better than Gene Wilder's?  Is Van Sant's Psycho superior to Hitchcock's? Do any of the King Kong movies surpass the original?

What do you think? Should classics be left alone or are they fair game?

Here's another Belgian classic - this one unchanged from the original!

Belgian Endive ( "witloof") au Gratin

4 heads Belgian endive, trimmed
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese, divided
2 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, or amount to taste
salt and ground black pepper to taste
4 slices deli-style ham
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

  • Lightly grease a baking dish.
  •  Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Drop in the endives, cover, and cook until tender, 5 to 10 minutes.
  • While the endive cook, place the butter into a saucepan, and melt over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, and stir 2 to 3 minutes to cook out the raw flour taste. Gradually add the milk into the flour mixture, whisking constantly until thick and smooth. Stir in 3/4 cup Gruyere cheese, Parmesan cheese, nutmeg, salt, and pepper until well blended. Cook gently over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Sauce should the medium thick.
  • Preheat an oven broiler to low.
  • Drain the endives. Wrap each endive with a slice of ham, and place into the prepared baking dish. Pour the cheese sauce over the endives. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Gruyere cheese and parsley.
  • Cook the endives under preheated broiler until cheese is golden brown and sauce bubbles, about 10 minutes.


  1. I hate generally hate remakes. They don't make the movie/book better, just newer. Find a new plot, don't rehash the old ones. Also not a big fan of Jane Austen and the Zombies-type stuff - well written, but pretty far fetched.

  2. Don't forget remakes of TV shows. Hawaii 5-0? Charlie's Angels? Yuck! Stick with reruns of the originals.