Updating Classics

I saw the trailer this morning for a new FX series called The Strain, and admit that I was a little perplexed.  The sun blots out over New York City and all we’re told is that “He” is here.  But it’s only a thirty-second teaser, so I can forgive that.  All I knew was that Guillermo del Toro was involved, and as a del Toro fan, I wanted to know more.

The Strain trilogy is a series written by del Toro and author Chuck Hogan about a vampire takeover of the human race.  The series, from what I’ve been able to piece together, begins with a vampire virus entering New York on a plane filled with dead passengers.

What really caught my attention was an interview that del Toro did a few years ago when he was still attached to direct The Hobbit.  In it, he said: “When Stoker wrote Dracula, it was very modern, a CSI sort of novel.  I wanted to give The Strain a procedural feel, where everything seems real.”

Dracula didn’t have any police officers, although there was originally meant to be a detective named Cotford in the novel who later appeared in the sequel Dracula the Un-Dead.  Van Helsing could be considered the novel’s closest stand-in to a detective as the heroes use reasoning and clues to piece together a plan with with to thwart their adversary, much like in a police drama involving a serial killer.

So yes, I would consider The Strain to be a very loose retelling of Dracula, but del Toro isn’t the first to do it.  The Stephen King novel ‘Salem’s Lot is essentially Dracula set in Maine and he described his other novel Dreamcatcher as his take on The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells.

I, for one, enjoy updated versions of Victorian novels.  The War of the Worlds reimagined as the Roland Emmerich film Independence DayDr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde reimagined as the Hulk.  Dracula reimagined as The Strain.  These source novels have the staying power to endure for over a hundred years, and because they’re in the public domain, everyone has the luxury of being able to take them and do what they will.  As Stephen King said when comparisons were made between Under the Dome and The Simpsons Movie, it’s not whether or not something’s been done before, but what you can do with it.  And in the case of updating a classic novel, it’s really a matter of taking what was a very good story and breathing new life into it so that modern audiences can relate to it more easily.

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