Will Hollywood Ever Escape The Remake Curse? (Editorial)
In this article Canadian Winter explores why Hollywood continues to fall victim to the Remake Curse, and what can be done to kill this beast. You could start by going to see Pacific Rim. – Editor
So…here we are. Right in the eye of the annual summer blockbuster hurricane. In all the chaos, Iron Man 3 jogged to a billion dollar box office take and Man Of Steel performed well enough to assure Warner Brothers could launch their DC Cinematic Universe. As ever, where there are winners, there must be losers, and The Lone Ranger already seems doomed to this year’s booby prize. And we’re not even in August yet.
While multiplex filling fare is a surefire way to keep the studio coffers stocked, there seems to be an ever growing imbalance where untested new concepts are sacrificed, in favour of established stories. Whatever happened to the original ideas? You remember them – The homemade, handcrafted ones that either burned brightly in the public’s consciousness and indelibly impacted pop culture, or became the strange old movies that turn up in gas station bargain bins and on cable late at night.
In researching for this editorial, I went back and looked up a bunch of movies that I loved as a kid. Back To The Future, E.T., The Never Ending Story, Coming To America, Star Wars, Gremlins, Spies Like Us, Short Circuit, The Goonies. One thing they have in common is that they were all based on original stories. Someone sat down at a typewriter or a huge computer with a green and black screen, and, over the course of weeks, months and years, slaved to create something new. Sure, to some, the titles I mentioned might not be the apex of cinematic achievement, but to me, and many people of my generation they were a big part of our childhood and several of them, to this day, are still considered a part of the zeitgeist.
Personally, I have no beef with book adaptations. Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, The Godfather and Sin City are in my all-time Top 20, if not 10. Besides, people were saying ‘The book was better than the movie’ years before I was even born, and there were courses at school that I might not have got through, if I hadn’t been able to hit up Apollo Video to find the BBC version of King Lear. And to those wondering what medium will be plundered for inspiration next, since Battleship proved that people will watch a board game adaptation – your answer; memes. Grumpy Cat: The Movie is in development, at this very moment.
Directors who made their names with stunning original screenplays such as Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee, have also added remakes to their extensive filmographies (Scorsese’s ‘The Departed’ as well as being the film that finally earned him an Academy Award, was a remake of Hong Kong thriller, Infernal Affairs; and Oldboy, Lee’s forthcoming joint is a remake of a Korean adaptation of a Japanese manga). So is re-envisioning the wave of the future? I don’t mean in the ‘Tarantino cultural mash-up’ sense, where you take a bunch of other films and throw them into a blender, but rather straight up retreads of films that have already been proven commercially and critically.
The Matrix, for me, was a movie that really broke it’s genre’s mold. We’re talking, before the Youtube era, when you could dissect and analyze every frame of a trailer to learn the film’s secrets. I went in knowing next to nothing about where The Wachowskis were planning on taking it, and came out with my mind blown. Everything from the story to the effects, while liberally cribbed from Anime and the Hong Kong action flicks, were something fresh and new to mainstream American cinema.
In a way, that sense of mystery and wonder is what seems to be missing in so many of today’s most popular films. We all know that the good guy will generally win. It’s pretty much a given. Is it that big a deal if we don’t know how he gets there, before we walk into the theatre? Is 21st Century life so crazy, that we must cling to cliche like a lifebuoy in a tsunami? I mean, if you had asked me how I thought the whole Matrix trilogy would end, albino ghost twins and eyeless Keanu would have been waaaay down the list. Since then, there have been precious few films that have given me that Old Feeling. Inception was cool and Looper was pretty dope but the last one that really dropped my jaw was Gaspar Noe’s Enter The Void. It’s a puzzle, wrapped in an enigma and cloaked in a mindf*ck. On DMT. I watched it last Spring and I’m still not sure what it means now.
That’s why I’m personally rooting for Pacific Rim and Elysium to do well, this Summer. Both come from original sources, although their influences are plain enough – and just for once, it would be nice to see the ‘250ft-tall-robot-backed-by-a-major motion-picture-studio’ type little guy win.
We’ve finally reached the point where technology can convincingly match up with the nuances of human imagination. Which is actually pretty damn awesome. To a guy who came up watching Ray Harryhausen monsters terrorizing Sinbad on Bank Holidays, it was breathtaking to see the SHIELD Helicarrier rise from the ocean and disappear. However, if this period in cinema is to be remembered as the era where we did a bunch of crazy HD experiments on the golden oldies, you might want to prepare yourself for the long haul, as everything from Scarface to House Party is currently being considered for the treatment.
As I write this, of the Top 20 grossing films so far this year, eight are ‘original’- that is to say they are not sequels, remakes, adaptations, reboots or the sequel to a reboot. The reason it worries me is that, if all these larger than life reinterpretation pictures become the norm, then you lose the directors who start out telling unique stories. If the future Kevin Smiths, Tarantinos, Lees, Michel Gondrys and Noel Clarks might increasingly find their smaller, yet equally artistically valid visions being drowned out against the rising tide of green screen monoliths. And we, as the cinema-going, BluRa-buying public be the biggest losers. Laugh now,if you like. Call me a tin foil hat ‘Doomsday’ kook or whatever – but when the lights go down as you’re about to watch the Howard The Duck and Squirrel Girl team up movie in 2025, don’t say you never saw it coming.