As pointed out by Van Sant in the commentary track to the DVD, the plays of William Shakespeare and other great playwrights are routinely reworked, reorchestrated, updated and remade. Several of the Bard's plays have been made into extremely enjoyable films. Nevertheless, news of a 90's remake of the granddaddy of all horror films left many fans of the original both excited and fearful. Psycho, perhaps above all other Hitchcock films, is revered as a true masterpiece of filmmaking and was powerful enough to keep people from taking showers for weeks. The new film does a good job staying faithful to the masterpiece in its orchestrations, taking some occassional artistic license and adding to the dynamics of the supporting characters, but without changes which would offend Mr. Hitchcock.
Gus Van Sant's Psycho, a very enjoyable film, as expected, falls considerably short of the original. The film does retain much of the suspense of the original and using the same powerful script, it is quite entertaining. However, perhaps it is because the original leaves such a strong impression in the minds of those who have seen it, at times the remake feels a bit awkward.
The film does contain a number of strong performances, among the strongest, William H. Macy's performance as Arbogast, the private detective. Vince Vaughan's portrayal of Norman Bates is surprisingly good, showing a dramatic increase in the range Vaughan normally shows. (Listening to the commentary track, one gets the feeling he isn't too removed from Trent, the character he played in Swingers).
The film has a number of strong scenes including, most notably, the compelling scene in which Bates and Marion sit down over sandwhiches and talk.The new film often reflects the magic of Joseph Stephano's script and Hitchcock's direction.
The commentary on the disk is good and indeed one's viewing of the movie would be relatively incomplete without either listening to the commentary or watching the documentary. It delves significantly into the differences between scenes and characters of the original and the remake. Vaughan and Heche try to provide viewers with insights their acting methods and what was really going on in each scene. Unfortunately, the commentary contains very little examination into Hitchcock's methods and imagery, and having studied this film in school, I have to say I was expecting more. At times there are awkward silences and more than a few times the three commentators compliment each other's work. Gus Van Sant does point out his cameo in the film, being lectured by Hitchcock in the same spot where Hitchcock appeared in the original and the commentary includes discussion of many interesting topics, including the sexual motivations for each of the major and minor characters. On the commentary track, Gus Vant Sant identifies his primary motivation for making this movie- the fact that audiences today don't hold the same appreciation for a movie like Psycho, primarily because it is in black and white.