Remakes and sequels are not killing Hollywood
Hollywood is cheap and greedy. Producers don’t want to take risks. If something works, they’ll beat it into the ground. And the sky is blue.
I’ve read countless editorials about why Hollywood is being ruined by sequels and remakes, as if the cure to everything that ails the filmmaking industry is simply to never make another franchise again. These arguments tend to hearken back to the golden years of the 1970s, throwing around such luminary films as “The Godfather,” “The Exorcist,” “Alien,” “The French Connection,” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Of course, we forget that most of these films spawned sequels of their own.
In fact, the Internet exploded in uproar (as it is known to do) when a “Scarface” remake was announced a few months ago. You can’t remake the 1983 classic! You can’t challenge the iconic Al Pacino role that defined villainy for a generation! Never mind that the 1983 film was a remake of the 1932 classic in which Paul Muni defined villainy for his generation. In fact, in an American Film Institute poll of 1,500 creators in the film community, the 1932 version was named the sixth best gangster film of all time. The 1983 version was a respectable 10th.
We all like to complain about remakes until something we love comes up: John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” “The Fly,” “The Ring,” “Ocean’s Eleven,” “The Birdcage,” “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” “The Ten Commandments.” Then, the object of our fondness is somehow an exception, or we make overly complex rules that exempt the thing we love.
Remakes and sequels are in filmmaking’s blood.
There were nine film versions of “The Wizard of Oz” before we got the Judy Garland classic. A new version had come out every two-and-a-half years before the 1939 musical many of us grew up on.
You think that’s impressive? Between 1908 and 1923, at least 73 Sherlock Holmes films debuted in theaters around the world. That’s nearly five a year. Granted, many of them were much shorter than what we’re used to today, but even the most conservative estimate gives us 112 films that feature Sherlock Holmes as the lead, to say nothing of at least 28 TV movies, 17 TV series, 18 video games, and thousands of radio plays following the character’s adventures. We may think Marvel’s doing something new with “The Avengers,” but for all their crossover success, they’ve got nothing on Sherlock.
Remakes even give us whole new genres: Westerns would have died out with John Wayne and Gregory Peck as simple tales of good, bad, and stodgy. Instead, “The Magnificent Seven” remade “Seven Samurai” and “A Fistful of Dollars” remade “Yojimbo.” Both remakes transported us to a very different Wild West, where “good” was relative and motivations were personal. The original films they were based on were both directed by Akira Kurosawa, and an unofficial reinterpretation of his “The Hidden Fortress” would later rewrite our understanding of science-fiction: George Lucas’s “Star Wars.”
Movies just wouldn’t be the same if remakes weren’t allowed. It’s in our blood not just to tell stories once or twice, but to retell them and re-frame them. Furthermore, our anger at remakes and sequels seems to be reserved for film alone among all creative arts. Literature relies on sequels and reinterpretations. Television wouldn’t function without series. Video games are reliant on established franchises. We don’t get up in arms when the 10,000th theater puts on a Shakespeare play. Comic books have dozens of versions of each major character, occasionally occurring simultaneously and even meeting each other. Heck, the first great sequel to be more popular than its progenitor is Homer’s “The Odyssey.” And do we really think that Homer was the first one to tell the story of the sacking of Troy in “The Iliad?” It’s much more likely he was the re-teller who simply captured audiences emotions the best.
So I’ll go further than what I said earlier. Sequels and remakes aren’t just in filmmaking’s blood. They’re in the blood of storytelling itself at a fundamental level. Our favorite stories in life are retold again and again. If we have an adventure worth having in our own lives, we often seek to repeat its magic later.
If you want to criticize studios for focusing too much on flash and CGI and shallow characterization, that’s one thing. But sequels and remakes? To tell human beings to stop making those is to tell them to stop telling stories altogether.
Gabe Valdez grew up in Chicago, went to college in Massachusetts, is a former news reporter in Floresville, Texas, and worked in politics in Oregon. He writes and directs films when he can find the time. Reviews, views, photos and more can be found at http://basilmarinerchase.wordpress.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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