The road to the remake is a winding one. There is no clear pathway toward the answer of whether they are good or bad, needed or unwanted. They exist. They will continue to be made because there is demand. My previous article opened with a quote from George Bush’s post 9-11 speech which hinted at “living life” is a series of consuming events that follow an image that has been dictated to us by a media assault that has shaped us since birth.
So what does that have to do with filmmaking and entertainment? Does art imitate life or the other way around? Why is Disney the Mecca of family vacations? Who said women are to look a certain way, smoking is glamorous, drinking a soda makes you like Michael Jackson or Beyonce? We have a new generation growing up with incredible access to entertainment. Cell phones, tablets, video game systems and computers allow instant access to everything, and many find it for free. Attention spans have declined to where even clips of films on You Tube can be taxing on a viewer. Where does this leave character and story development?
Let’s cast the net wider, where does this leave actual direction and writing of a film?
As certain films were made in black and white for a reason, and directors made certain choices in their content, a number of films were made the scope and breadth of the big screen. Watching Lawrence of Arabia, Raiders of the Lost Ark or any of the Star Wars films on a big screen is an entirely different EXPERIENCE than squeezing down onto a cell phone or tablet screen. When films lose their purpose, when they are stripped of their intended impact and diluted, colorized, digitally altered, they are diminished.
So what about the remake? Up until the late 1970s, “sequel” was a dirty word. Remake has now taken a similar connotation.Why? IS a remake ever justified? The answer is “yes, of course.”
Have remakes been overdone and glutted the market, giving off the impression that Hollywood lost its creativity for quick cash grabs? The answer is “yes, of course.”
My previous article looked at King Kong (1976) and Godzilla (1998) as examples of needless remakes. https://horrorfuel.com/interview/big-apes-big-cynema, https://horrorfuel.com/interview/cynema-godzilla-vs-gino
Was the Peter Jackson 2005 Kong remake needed? No. Was it terrible? Depends on who you ask. However it doesn’t classify as Cynema because it was made with passion and love for the source material with a serious intent to entertain. It is often a beautiful, albeit green screened digital production. It’s often exciting and the ending is as heart breaking as the original 1933 classic. It took a higher road than the campy, over bloated 1976 remake. So what went wrong?
There are some stellar remakes: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1979), The Blob (1988), The Thing (1983, although I don’t classify this as a dyed in the wool remake), Piranha 3D (2012), True Grit (2013) and the list goes on. In fact here’s Rotten Tomatoes Top 50 list of best remakes: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/guides/best_remakes_50_years_50_movies You can add in American remakes of foreign films as well (I often don’t see the need for this, but I get it).
Then there are the lousy remakes, which are usually deemed as unnecessary or even blasphemous for touching the original material: Poltergeist, Let Me In, Psycho, Planet of the Apes, The Poseidon Adventure, The Stepford Wives, The Grudge, One Missed Call...https://movies.about.com/od/toppicks/tp/worst-remakes.htm or try this: https://bloody-disgusting.com/news/11656/the-15-worst-horror-remakes-of-all-time/
Good or bad, there is a common thread of logic (or rationalization) that binds them: the need to “update” the story for a modern audience. While the intent sounds noble enough, the issue is when the “update” is geared not toward an audience, but rather a consumer base.
There is a difference.
The Good ‘Ole Days
Movie theaters or “houses” were once opulent places to spend an evening out. Comedy and news reels played before the main attraction. often there were musical overtures preceding the film to build anticipation. Regardless, even smaller, non event films seemed like a big deal. Movie magic was contagious and spread through the audience. Going out to the movies was indeed a night out and the movie was part of a true experience. It thrilled, emotionally manipulated, made folks laugh, scream, jump and applaud.
Then came the multiplex and the expensive touches of curtains, ornate seats, carpets and balconies downsized to large black boxes with stadium seating and a big white screen at the front. Audiences were now consumers and the goal was to move asses into seats by rotating multiple shows and moving people like cattle down the chute. It worked and soon the local Bijou died and the malls built accommodating cineplexes with three, four, six, ten screens. Theaters became a confederacy of boxes connected by winding hallways dotted with signs to point you to the right screen.
Movie Magic lost a bit of its luster around this time. While movies were created to make money, there was something in the showmanship and presentation that made going to a movie special. I am 46 years old at the time of this writing and far too young to be lamenting about the “good old days” of when “movies were movies.” Indeed I was lucky enough to see many of my films at a local old time theater. It was run down with water stained walls and ceiling tiles, tattered stage curtains, a condemned balcony and substandard projection and sound. However, it was more fun to see a movie at the historic Sherman Theater than the cold, black boxes up at the mall. Seeing The Empire Strikes Back here was a fun time and would not have been the same at the mall. Period.
So this is my first point: a movie was an event. Often the plots needed time to unfold. But when the system of viewing films changed, and an emphasis was on time and moving bodies into theaters and out for the next screening, audiences shifted their focus on their entertainment. The burgeoning technology of home video and the eventual digital revolution further decimated attention spans and patience for films and their stories to unfold. https://www.statisticbrain.com/attention-span-statistics/, https://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/education/2005-03-30-kids-attention_x.htm
Because of the new summer blockbuster mentality, films needed to be bigger in every way. The sequel was generating cash, but the remake was another revenue stream. Let’s use King Kong as the example. Most will not argue on the 1933 film being a classic. However, by 1975 in the wake of Jaws, it was seen as “old” and worst of all in black and white. The stop motion made it seem “dated.” It was time for a newer Kong, a sexier Kong and Dino DeLaurentiis, the big budget William Castle of his time, knew showmanship and delivered.
Need vs. Want
The issue I have is this: WAS there anything in the 1933 Kong that needed updating? The 1976 remake did not deliver more dinosaurs, or frankly more action. The innovative artistry of Willis O’Brien was replaced by Rick Baker’s man in a monkey suit. While the suit effects and makeup were indeed impressive, it didn’t hold the same magic that the original film had. What exactly does “dated” mean? I still find Kong’s entrance and exit in the 1933 film memorable and moving. The 1976 film was bigger, in color, but it didn’t really bring anything new to the table.
Let’s go further. Some remakes have the best of intentions. Updating a film almost fifty years old is one thing, but what about the case of Poltergeist or Texas Chainsaw? We go further to my article on surpassing the remake: the re-packaging. What happens when filmmakers go back and basically re-film the best scenes of previous films and install them into new timelines and pass this off as some kind of hybrid sequel? This was the case with Jurassic World and clearly the case of Terminator Genysis.
Why does a classic like Poltergeist need “updating for today’s audiences? Another argument is WHO is the audience? Data shows Millennials don’t go out to the movies like previous generations. They stay at home. They text. They communicate via social media and…they pirate. They don’t buy or rent films, let alone buy tickets. They torrent over buying tickets and they are perfectly content seeing a film on a phone or monitor. https://www.keloland.com/newsdetail.cfm/millennials-and-the-movies/?id=180963
IndieWire has this to say: https://blogs.indiewire.com/criticwire/millennials-and-old-movies
Does the present generation think of film as art, or simply more product to consume? The LA Times has an opinion: https://articles.latimes.com/2012/jul/14/entertainment/la-ca-film-novelty-20120715
If this is the case who can fault them. It’s time to look at the endless reboots of Spiderman as an example.
There were three major Sony films under the direction Sam Raimi. As most fans will agree, the third film killed the franchise. However in no time, Sony announced a reboot of their hero. Instead of going with a fourth film in the original time line, they did a do over and started again. This time around Andrew Garfield stepped in as Peter Parker and two films came out of that venture. Sony recently announced they are rebooting again, for a third time, making this two official reboots in less than ten years.
There are a lot of reasons for this, and I was not a fan of any of the versions of these films. Warner Brothers did this successfully with its Batman series. Following the debacle of Batman and Robin, Warners went back to the drawing board and totally rebooted the franchise. Chris Nolan came on board and reinvented Tim Burton’s Batman in the successful Dark Knight trilogy. As of this writing, Batman is getting yet another reboot, alongside the rebooted Superman in the upcoming Batman vs. Superman.
Bryan Singer’s 2005 Superman Returns was seen as a disappointment for a number of reasons, with perhaps reverence for the Christopher Reeve series being a bit too much. A sequel was scrapped and The Man of Steel remake gave us a darker Superman in the vein of brooding Batman style filmmaking. Yet, the film was hollow and bereft of any emotional connections. We didn’t identify with Clark and we sure didn’t identify with a Superman who allowed countless people to be killed in the destruction he helped bring on. Overall, the film was loud, product placement laden video game.
The original Richard Donner film and its sequels transcended comic books fans. Non comic audiences could follow the films and identify.
Attention span deprived audiences of today find no reason to become vested into characters. Why care about Garfield’s Spiderman or Henry Cavill’s Superman, when they will likely just reboot the films in a few years? There is no emotional investment into the characters. Simply films become product to be consumed, processed and unfortunately…shit out.
If I walk into a McDonald’s in Paris or Camden, NJ I want my Big Mac to be the same. I don’t want variations. The same processed attitude applies to present day filmmaking. The reboot is just a burger, repackaged but it tastes the same. Jurassic World is no different than Jurassic Park. While it no longer comes in a Styrofoam box, it tastes the same. While fast food is a fine treat, it should not become the staple of our diet.
Yet with each “remake” it IS becoming a part of our diet and we are losing the ability to taste the difference between fast food and cuisine.
Remakes, reboots, re-imaginings or whatever term they wish to use, are becoming bigger parts of our diets and audiences are becoming lethargic in their consumption of this product. There was literally a moment in Jurassic World when I wanted to stand up and shout to the entire theater, “Don’t you people get it? It’s the same goddamned movie! We’re being screwed!” In fact I was waiting in the ticket line with five college guys ahead of me. They were likely kids when the first Jurassic Park came out. We were going to be late for the start of the film, and one of them was very vocal about missing the opening. I interrupted and said, “what do you think we’re gonna miss? Some wide aerial shots of the island, people arriving, the Jurassic Park theme and people staring in wide-eyed wonder at dinosaurs?” After the film that guy saw me in the exiting crowd. he came over and said, “Dude, that’s exactly how this shit opened up.” I replied that “shit” was the right word for what we just spent money on. Yet…people looked pleased as pigs in shit leaving the theater. So, they got their Big Macs and all was well.
The thrill of watching Harrison Ford do his own stunts in Raiders of the Lost Ark was diminished by the green screen fakery of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls. Seeing Han and Lea parted in Empire Strikes Back and Chewie throwing his head back with an anguished roar of defeat sent chills up my spine. Hearing Peter Finch tell the world he was mad as hell and not going to take it anymore in Network has been supplanted by green screen, computers, MTV style editing, camera filters and scripts that are no longer stories but “Set Piece To Do Lists” that shepherd us along from one event in the film to another. Directors no longer direct, but rather manage their films, making sure they hit the merchandising targets that allow a franchise to be born.
Out of all of this, our culture suffers. We lose a kind of innocence that movies can bring. We lose perhaps, empathy in the process as well. Audiences no longer care. They just want to eat. Few discuss the taste and texture and aroma of a Big Mac. Few even look at the nutritional value. It tastes good and they can keep making them as long they taste good.
That’s Cynema. That’s consuming Cynema. And much like the computers that have replaced effects and makeup artists, it’s garbage in and garbage out.
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