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[Article] – Deja Vu: Are Remakes & Reboots Taking Over?

 

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Posted July 23, 2015 by

 
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It’s been said that there’s nothing new under the sun, and with the glut of remakes, sequels and reboots we’ve seen in recent years, you’d be forgiven for thinking that is certainly the case when it comes to the film industry.

From superhero franchises such as The Avengers, Batman, and Superman, to ‘80s adventure classics like The Goonies and Ghostbusters, to cult musicals such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Little Shop of Horrors, it seems everything is getting remade, revisited, or reimagined.

Alarmingly, remake mania has extended to films that were produced as recently as the late ‘90s and the noughties with titles such as The Mummy, I Am Legend, and even The Ring allegedly up for rehashing. Personally, I’m still having issues with the fact they’re doing a new version of The Crow. I mean, it was surely only a couple of years ago when I saw it at the cinema, right? What’s that? Twenty-one years, you say? Oh just shush!

Even Pixar, a studio renowned for its originality and willingness to take risks has no less than four sequels planned, with Finding Dory, Toy Story 4, The Incredibles 2, and Cars 3 all slated for release over the next few years.

But why are recycled ideas so attractive to people who make and distribute movies? Well, there are a number of reasons. Mainly it’s a question of supplying demand. While we all know that good art should leave the consumer wanting more, it also stands to reason that if audiences are ready to snatch your hand off for another helping, you’re pretty much guaranteed a commercial success with a second slice of the same pie.

There’s also the issue of intellectual property and rights management. Why sift through thousands of pitches or spend large amounts acquiring or developing new properties when you have an extensive back-catalogue of well-known stories and beloved characters to exploit? This may be why we’re seeing so many live action versions of Disney animations: Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Jungle Book to name a few.

On the flip side, studios who license characters from another entity often do so on a ‘use it or lose it basis’. This explains the frequency with which we see new Spider-Man and X-Men releases, as both Sony and Fox must output a steady stream of content to avoid forfeiting their rights to those Marvel characters.

I guess it’s worth making the distinction between sequels, reboots/reimaginings, and straightforward remakes. Sequels have been around almost as long as cinema has, but the difference is that now studios actively look to greenlight movies with the potential to carry a franchise, in much the same way that editors and agents look for series rather than self-contained, stand-alone books in the publishing world. Indeed, many of the most successful film series from recent years are literary adaptations: Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Twilight Saga, and The Hunger Games. It simply makes good business sense to follow the publishing model and eke out a story over multiple films.

Over the years, sequels have become more self-referential and ‘meta’, notable examples being the Scream series, Muppets Most Wanted, and 22 Jump Street. We’re also seeing the emergence of the ‘nostalgia sequel’, with upcoming titles such as Mallrats 2, Beetlejuice 2, Ghostbusters 3, and Zoolander 2 being released decades after their predecessors.

Similarly, there is seemingly endless appetite for reboots and the expansion of existing worlds. The Marvel and DC universes, sci-fi behemoths like Star Trek and Star Wars, and enduring characters from fiction such as Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, and James Bond have all been revisited numerous times, with various studios and directors playing in their sandboxes. Recent tastes dictate that the landscapes become ever darker, the characters fleshed out and their origins explored. Our predilection for fatal flaws and anti-heroes is reflected in the buzz surrounding the upcoming Suicide Squad. As a fan of both Tim Burton’s and Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, I think they serve as an excellent example of how there is always scope to bring something fresh and exciting to an existing property.

Less clear to me is the appetite for straight remakes. For some, a remake can tarnish memories of a movie which is close to their heart, and many are reluctant to watch something they see as messing with perfection. It’s one thing to faithfully reproduce a beautiful film like the 2009 Swedish horror, Let the Right One In (a take on the superb J.A. Lindqvist novel of the same name) for a US audience who might be put off by subtitles (although unnecessary in my opinion), but quite another to totally mess with Bill and Ted just because you can. Some movies are specifically of their time. They capture the zeitgeist and catch fire in the public imagination. No one knows exactly what makes a cult hit, and that’s exactly why we shouldn’t try to recreate them. Why fiddle with a film like Rocky Horror when ardent fans around the globe still flock to midnight screenings of the 1975 original?

It can be argued that all art is derivative in some way, and that film is just one facet of an entertainment industry which is constantly borrowing, spawning, inspiring, spinning off, novelising, serialising, and cannibalising. As storytellers, we always draw on other works to inform our creations, and there is nothing wrong with reinvention and rejuvenation, especially in this digital age where fan culture is so powerful, and the Internet means anyone and everyone has a platform to bring something new to the mix. But if we are to avoid a deluge of carbon copies at the expense of studios taking chances on original ideas, we the audience need to support the quirky, the new, and the independent. We need to vote by putting our money where our mouths are and our bums on cinema seats.

 

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Katie Young
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