There is an idea circling that the film industry or rather Hollywood, is burying itself beneath a mountain of remakes. And remakes as every film lover knows today are inherently bad. They scream unoriginality, conjure images of fat cat producers dusting off old films and rehashing their stories to scoop up cash; the desperate plea from an uninspired filmmaker hoping to recapture the magic of a work of art. It’s a travesty. What happened to original ideas we shout?
Odd then, that when furiously typing our discontent on social media boards, we seem to forget that the highest grossing films of the past ten years are often categorised as remakes, reboots or adaptations of some kind. And to be specific, a remake and a reboot’s only difference, is that a reboot is a series of films, whereas a remake is only a single entry.
Hollywood may well have increasingly turned away from original screenplays, and by original I mean, those that have no other source material, but even so you would be surprised to learn in the period 2005-2015, nearly 40 per cent of all films produced were by that definition, original. In that same period however, only 15 per cent of the top ten grossing films were original. It turns out then, those fat cats you so loathe are just working off the numbers. Clearly, not only do we like remakes and reboots, we crave them.
But here’s the real snag. It’s not the remakes that are the problem. Some of the most entertaining films of our generation are remakes. Disney’s Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, the gangster epic Scarface, The Fly, The Departed, even the effortlessly cool Casino Royal to name but a few.
In truth, inspiration and adaptation are simply a part of the creative process. Even films that we know and love for their quirky stories, are all to a word, a sort of remake of a past creative work. While Hollywood might not label these stories remakes because they change the medium, so many of the films you and I have seen are stories derived from another source. The ever popular Marvel films are all adapted storylines from comics that have been running for over 70 years. Forrest Gump, one of America’s sweetheart films is taken from a 1986 novel by Winston Groom. The Notebook, Fight Club and A Clockwork Orange, are all adapted from novels. The list is endless. So if adapting these stories is fine, what makes remakes specifically such an issue?
It’s all to do with this new wave that have clawed their way into our cinemas with extended advertising campaigns playing off the nostalgia of the originals. More often than not they feel cheap and uninspired. They aren’t the enemy of moviegoers though simply because they are updating a story already told, but rather, because they so often fail to live up to them. Robocop, one of the most highly regarded and gruesome action movies of the 90s was remade to a paltry display back in 2014. Had it been a standalone movie, it may well have had something more to offer than the cheesy 90s flick. But being tied to a cult movie, with a cult following, of which the main feature of the character was the gory detail, audiences could not accept the blood washing that took place for its PG rating. It lost part of what made it so special. It was a case, much like the remake of Total Recall in 2012 where updates to technology, while providing new realms for special effects that can reimagine a story like never before, can’t win over audiences entirely and are ultimately doomed if they fail to capture the essence of what made the original so memorable.
Films in the end tell a story, and that story can be retold and redirected for the audiences of the time. Take Ocean’s Eleven (2001), as a proof of concept. Widely regarded as one of the slickest heist films ever made starring heavyweights Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Matt Damon, it was actually a remake of a 1960’s heist film directed by Lewis Milestone, that also had a similarly all-star cast known as the Rat Packers which included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. Arguably, today there would be moaning and contempt for touching a film that was already well received with such big name actors. But luckily Warner Bros. didn’t have that issue.
Truthfully in my opinion no story is ever told perfectly. There are always unexplored elements and a remake does not mean only updating a film with modern techniques. It takes a discerning eye to recreate and better a film that audiences enjoyed and often still enjoy, while making it relevant for a new generation. The live action remake of The Jungle Book last year, while bashed by many for stepping on the toes of its beloved animated predecessor, surprised many with its retelling of the classic tale. Sticking closer to the darker tones of Rudyard Kipling’s novel, it captured its spirit in ways the animation never did. These sorts of remakes that cover different ground are the key to what can make them successful. Beauty and the Beast, another tale which has seen countless iterations has its next debut starring Emma Watson later this month. If it follows through on the successes of The Jungle Book (2016) and Cinderella (2015), it will once again prove remakes themselves are not the enemy.
While it may be true that Hollywood clutch at straws on occasion and executives sign up to make money from remaking films, they can still be envisioned with a new eye that adds something great and gives our children something to enjoy in the future. A remake is not a bad thing by nature, we have only been shown a number of poor ones that have tarnished their reputation. If you still truly loathe franchise films and remakes and wish to see something original, it is up to you to invest your time in them. Smaller budget original pieces are being made, they just don’t get the same level of advertising and recognition. Just don’t go around bashing remakes while you’re at it. It’s old news.