Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #138: Revenge of the REMAKE!

When I was a kid the joke about Hollywood movies was that everything was a sequel to something, and to a certain extent it was true. Hollywood's predominant philosophy was that every film needed a sequel, and possibly more, preferably with the 3rd instalment in 3D.

The concept of the film as franchise was king, and if your film didn't at least have the potential for a sequel, it probably didn't get made.

But now, everything is all about "remakes" and its siblings the pretentious "re-imagining" and the product placement heavy "updating." And as Hollywood chews through many classic films and spits out often lame hack jobs they are running out of material to remake, and you get
reports like this that weave fake remake plans with a real one, and it's all believable because Hollywood is that creatively bankrupt.

To save you even the imaginary pain of thinking about those other remakes,
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the only real remake on the list. Though one has to ask the question: Why? since the original always struck me as pretty weak, even with an audience that was "in on it."

Now remakes aren't completely new. They actually go right back to the early days of Hollywood
where studios would look at one of their silent films, and remake it as a talkie, then remake it again in colour, in cinemascope, etc... etc... And some of these remakes became classics in their own right, like The 10 Commandments, and Ben Hur.

However, these remakes tended to be films of classic stories with famous archetype characters like Robin Hood, the Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Captain Ahab, and such. They also tended to stay away from films that were seen to have been "done right" the first time, like Gone With the Wind, and simply re-released them, or sold them to the then fledgling television market.

Things changed in the late 1980s and 1990s when two things began to happen. The baby boomers that came of age in the late 60s and early 70s who had supplanted the TV generation of the 50s and early 60s in the top spots in Hollywood realized that their high-paying cushy jobs walked a razor's edge when it came to career security, and skyrocketing star salaries were pricing productions beyond the realm of reason.

To get increasingly cautious high-mucky-mucks to greenlight a potentially bankrupting project a hook was needed to bring in the punters.

That hook was familiarity.

Now sequels, especially the horror sequels, had flogged many a cinematic dead horse, and audiences were getting pretty sick of them. Especially when films were advertised as THE FINAL CHAPTER and by the end of it you saw that it was all just a set-up for sequel number 10.

Audiences wanted something new, Hollywood was scared of everything new, because new was original, and original entailed risk, so they decided to take the old, and remake it, again and again.

One of the biggest remake trends were the old TV shows baby boomers watched as kids, unlike the Star Trek movies, which were a continuation of the show complete with original cast, these were complete remakes from the ground up, with big name movie stars taking the place of their "lesser" TV counterparts, loads of hip music, and trendy product placements.

Then they expanded to classic and not so classic movies, literally re-imagining the life out of them. Case in point: the upcoming remake of
Friday the 13th, which gives up a perfect opportunity of a twist ending, albeit predictable in an M. Night Shyamalan kind of way, by having the hockey masked Jason Voorheez decapitating camp cousellors from the get go.

How does this ruin a possible twist? Because (
SPOILER ALERT) Jason Voorheez wasn't the killer in the first movie, it was his mommy, he didn't rise from his watery grave until the end of the first film, didn't start killing until second film, and didn't pick up his trademark sports equipment until the 3rd installment. Now imagine an audience that has been raised on the sequels and Jason, but has pretty much forgotten the first one, would react to have Momma Voorheez revealed as the slasher in question?

I even saw a person blow money on Jeopardy for not knowing that one.

But, the film's going to be bigger, bloodier, and exponentially more expensive than the original, which is the only reason it got the precious green-light from the studio. They can't be just do-overs, they have to crank it up to eleven like Spinal Tap, in order to somehow justify their existence. So the low budget familiar worlds of the original films (especially in horror remakes) get replaced with big widescreen spectacles that places the remakes firmly in the realm of fantasy. Now most of these remakes bomb, but the handful that do succeed are used to justify doing it even more. So they just keep on coming.

I'm not saying that all remakes are inherently bad, John Carpenter's The Thing, is a classic in its own right, but that was because he followed the old pattern of digging up the original source material, and exploring its themes of isolation, paranoia, and suspicion, over the original film's fear of the destructive and monstrous other.

My fear, that this trend will continue, and that list of gag-remakes in the link at the beginning of this piece will give some studio boss ideas. Because there's nothing they seem to like better than someone else's creation.


  1. I've heard somewhere that the main reason for remakes are rights. After that of course there's a fact that remaking is less risky than to have enough balls to launch the franchise of the 21st century (always that F... word, "Franchise" I mean lol).

    One of their rare merits is to help new generations to discover the character or the concept (would you believe my niece enjoyed the THUNDERBIRDS live-action movies...)

    Maybe Xerox should produce movies, after all...

  2. Using material that a studio already owns is a big reason for it, like I said originality means risk, because it means having to pay people full price, when you can just pay the smaller royalty fees (which happens rarely) for something already in the vault.