-Mild spoilers ahead-
Play Network Studios is leaving a trail of remakes. It opened with Living in Bondage, then Rattlesnake: the Ahanna Story, and now Nneka the Pretty Serpent. A remake of Tade Ogidan’s Diamond Ring has also been announced. Remakes are financial gimmicks, a knowing tug at nostalgia with a clear eye for newer, younger audiences, a larger reach of and for material; a new cash-flow from an old thing. When done well, the essence of the original materials is maintained even if more elements are added; a better narrative structure, a specific targeting of a newer demographic, and the continuance of a storytelling legend. It is not such a bad thing. It could even be termed a noble endeavor. And with Richard Williams (Ramsey Nouah’s character from Living in Bondage) recruiting the anti-heroes in each movie, there is a sense of world-building ambition.
A small problem. The remakes are beginning to look familiar and, although conspicuously, the essence of the originals isn’t wholly or properly transported into the remakes. The lead is usually true to the anti-hero nature, usually beset by tragedy, seeks a goal to rectify their problems, and does it nefariously. With a constant eye for globalization and multiculturalism, the remakes branch out—not too much, but enough—to accommodate new audiences. Finally, the demands of the new age do not usually align with the originals. Nneka (Idia Aisien) wants vengeance and while that would have been acquired, and Nneka herself sufficiently punished in the morality-obsessed Nollywood of old, it might not be enough in the modern world of moral ambiguities.
What is being said is that the essence of the originals might not be truthfully transported into the new, not entirely as a consequence of ineptitude, but as a compromise for financial maximization. They are more about making an old movie for a modern audience than remaking an old movie in a better way. This is why the Nneka remake is so insistent on flaunting the smallgirlbigGod hashtag, partly why the Sango in Rattlesnake: the Ahanna Story is so young and hip. When the Blade Runner was remade, starring Ryan Gosling, it wasn’t to bridge the generational gap; it was the same movie but with better CGI and filmmaking technology, ditto Mad Max. And while it might have worked with the aforementioned movies, both of them set in specific imagined worlds, remakes like ours aren’t; these are nineties stories with nineties values attempting 2020s rebirths.
Nneka is navigating the doldrum of adulthood and capitalism with the rancour of vengeance in her heart. She is after the murderers of her parents in cohorts with a malevolent spirit. And it’s all so modern. The club scenes, Ada’s Place, the Island project. It works, but they are just statements of modernity as means in themselves to no end. This is most evident in Bovi’s inspector character, with his fancy morgue and rabbit hole investigation, who is murdered by Nneka with no real consequence to the story or character, questioning what the point of that character might be anyway. It seems fancy terminologies and morgue facilities are being displayed for nought.
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Rattlesnake: the Ahanna Story has little to no village scenes, even though the original had a good number of them; scenes of character development and essential statements sacrificed for posh undercooked Lagos heist scenes. Village scenes just aren’t so cool anymore, not if they aren’t flashback war scenes. Perhaps this is why the Queen Mother’s (Ndidi Obi) communal origin story feels so wobbly. How ancient and pristine the chaotic world of their youths was—no matter that they are all seniors now, the years between those two events, their betrayal of the Queen Mother and the modern age, shouldn’t be so close to the contemporary world.
Nneka has a vengeful evil spirit within her who is making her kill people. A simple enough tagline. Yet there are careful questions left unanswered. At what point does she stop enjoying these acts? When was she bad as herself and when was she bad as a host of that spirit? What are the definitions of her powers, their limits, and why are those powers so inconsistent? What level of control does she have? Eventually, even after redemption, what punishment does she deserve? These questions, particularly the final, would have been easily answered by the original, the modalities of the film’s world, explained—granted, it would have been at the expense of narrative structure and tautness but such basic plot prerequisite would have been present.
The truth is that one must not be so pessimistic about these remakes. For one, the deliberate eye for modernization means they are all gorgeous, particularly Nneka the Pretty Serpent, colored by John Harry. That terse soundtrack is anchored by Ovie Odigie. And a handful of interesting characters are either added or ‘modernized’. In the end, the pertinent question persist, why are we constantly remaking old films? A nostalgic turn to the past or because we simply can’t make good new ones.
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- Inspector Daniel, played by Bovi Ugboma, feels like an unneeded character after the second act. Sad because it looked like Bovi actually took the role seriously.
- It’s official, Bimbo Ademoye can never do wrong in my eyes.
- Was that Waje under the makeup as a soothsayer? Her deliveries are problematic.
- Dr. Fatima (Shaffy Bello), a woman so impeccable in her act it appears a little bit too much.
Nneka the Pretty Serpent is currently streaming on Netflix.