They’re nothing new, but they appear to be enjoying a renaissance on both the small and the big screen.
Reboot, remake, revivals of film and TV show invited themselves on our screen these past few years. Whether it is through the remake of the classic Disney’s movies, or through TV shows that are inspired by comics, Riverdale, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina or the umpteenth version of Spiderman movie, the list can go on and on.
The question that first comes to mind is “Why?” What happened has to the film industry? Has Hollywood lost all its originality, or do they not know what to create any more or is it simply because the public demands it?
Before trying to understand where this phenomenon comes from, it’s important to understand what is a remake? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a remake is: “To make a new film that has a story and title similar to an old one”, but with fresher face. For example, the 2001 Ocean’s Eleven by Steven Soderbergh which is a remake of the original movie by Lewis Milestone in 1960.
There is a fine line between remakes and reboots, and the two often overlap. A reboot is generally an attempt to restart the franchise but take it in a different direction, creatively. For example, the Batman franchise by Christopher Nolan of the Joel Schumacher Batman films, or JJ Abrams’ re-imagining of Star Trek.
There are also a spin-off, sequel, and prequel, however, they aren’t the most popular so let’s just focus our intention on the reboot and remake.
Historically-speaking movies made from an existing source are not new. From a popular books/comics, a play, or another existing film, the phenomenon has existed since the early age of the cinema. Even in the silent era, many sequels already existed, The Keystone Cops had a series of films between 1912 to 1917. During the golden age of the cinema in the 1930s adaptations were everywhere as well.
In 1939, two of the most successful movies ever were released. The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind, both based on books. The Wizard of Oz has seen seven remakes since 1939 with the most recent one made in 2013.
Over the past few years, it has been a non-stop bombardment of Marvel, DC and Disney remake and reboot, it led to a discussion about originality.
“Creativity can be expressed in a whole variety of ways; not simply by the choice of story, but also how you choose to handle it.”
Moreover, the challenge with doing reboot and remake movies is taking something which the public is already familiar with, the studios are setting the bar high from the offset. Add to this Hollywood’s passion for making films from known properties and there it is, the blueprint for a machine to produce cash.
The James Bond series has been present on our screen for more than 50 years, the producers weren’t going to stop making the movies. The series itself can come across as a bit redundant, but every time, there is this excitement around who the new James Bond is going to be.
Let’s note that if Hollywood is producing so many movies per year, original or not, is it a business. The primary aim of these movies is to make money. Producers are more worried about spending millions of dollars on a movie that does not already have a dedicated audience.
This can be a risk with original movies: is it going to please the public, and most importantly is it worth producers, financiers and studios putting their money in?
Patrick McGrady, a TV director, producer and executive producer explained that “it’s easy, and sometimes tempting, to dismiss the tendency for Hollywood, in particular, to pay it safe by remaking proven hits rather than take a creative risk by putting their money into projects that are entirely new. But that’s maybe a bit simplistic.
“Creativity can be expressed in a whole variety of ways; not simply by the choice of story, but also how you choose to handle it. You can take the best-known stories in the world and tell them in an inventive or original way, just as you can tell an entirely new story in a predictable and uninspiring way.”
When the characters and the story are already established, there’s likely to be a dedicated audience. It is a safety net for the producers. Something that is familiar for the audience, means they know what to expect from the movie, and are more likely to go and watch it and pay money to do so.
So what about the public attachment, and how it is not possible to put the whole blame on Hollywood. The public has something to do with this as well. They want to know what is happening after the movie, what will be the next step for their favourite character? This attachment, especially when it comes to characters in a film franchises, it is our desperation of knowing the unknown; the future, the unpredictable.McGrady notes that it’s also worth remembering that even if the stories being told are the same, the audiences to whom they are told are constantly changing – if you reboot a film from the 1980s or 90s, the chances are the new version will be playing to an entirely new audience, who may not even know the original version existed. The reboot might even encourage them to seek out the original, after watching the re-boot – setting up an interesting dialogue between past and present.
We cannot deny that we want to know if The Avengers will defeat Thanos, if the cowboy finds what he’s looking for after riding off into the sunset and if Snow White lives happily ever after her marriage. However sometimes the sequels seemed not enough, we’re not fully satisfied, we find ourselves waiting in line for Fast and Furious XXIII.
Despite the extreme popularity of the Fast and Furious Franchise, we could question how did it turn into an eight (soon to be nine) movie series? Could Rocky’s story have been told in three movies? Is ‘the more the better’ true? It’s a matter of opinion.
McGrady notes that “on a personal level, I know that sometimes there is a pleasure in going to watch something that feels completely new, and maybe even a film that you haven’t even read about in any detail before watching it. But at other times there’s pleasure to be had in re-visiting the familiar. Lots of people, for example, have favourite films they will watch many times over. Maybe re-boots and re-makes exploit that tendency that many or most of us have, to re-connect with the familiar”.
Mandy Walker an Australian cinematographer now based in Los Angeles explained: “The success of the previous films recently such as Beauty and the Beast shows that people want this fairytale experience that contemporary visual effects and cinematography can enhance in the experience. Plus the older films are competing against new films such as Harry Potter and Star Wars and may seem too old fashioned in comparison.”
The evolution of technology and in visual effects are in a way one of the reasons why films are being remade as Walker explained, why not do the same movie, but in an improved way. The Star Wars series, putting aside the story which didn’t please the audience unanimously, however, the visual effects, special effects are a cinematic prowess.
If we took a closer look at the phenomena of Disney remaking all their animations movies in live-action ones, it is mostly due to the technological progress over the last few decades. To recreate these enchanted work, castle, magic land, and unique kingdom, this is where the technology takes over. Alice In Wonderland, Cinderella, Beauty and Beast, all of these are beautifully made.
The storyline can be very (if not totally) similar, but can also diverge. It all depends on one’s taste if it pleases them or not. Walker thinks that if all these movies are being remade it is because some of them were made a long time ago and there is a young new audience now. Some are a little old fashioned/classic but audiences are now more sophisticated and the technology is also, so the stories can be made to appeal to a wider and younger new audience.
For McGrady, as technology opens up new tools for story-telling, then it’s natural that film-makers might want to use these to breathe new life into old plots or stories.
“I know there is obviously a monetary advantage to having an audience that you know will go to see this as they are fans of the original, but also it gives the filmmakers a chance to add to the story and make it their own version.”
Since many of those new technologies are expensive to use, it’s perhaps inevitable that film-makers chose to limit their risk by applying them to tried and tested stories from the past – it’s maybe easier to bring a mass audience to a re-telling of King Kong, for example, rather than asking them to risk their hard-earned cash on a high-tech movie based on a story they’ve never heard of. Of course, there are always exceptions to that rule – Avatar, for example, wasn’t, based on a pre-existing property.
“I just recently got to shoot the live-action remake of Disney’s Mulan. For me, it’s an exciting creative challenge because we [the film crew and herself] were never trying to make the film exactly the same as the animation, and the story changed a bit too,” says Walker.
“What we tried to achieve is a new experience for audiences as most of the people that loved the animation would be watching, and you don’t want to repeat the same experience for them, but something that will be a new modern experience. Also, our movie took a very feminist view of her character so to appeal to all young women that we all have strength and power inside us,” she explained.
People often ask “why are there no original movies?” Many people feel the film industry’s only concern is to build upon franchises both new and old. However people forget originals are being made, furthermore, more original movies are being released now than ever before in the history of cinema.
The Washington Post graph examined how many films were released from 1970-2015, the numbers of films being released per year increased enormously in 2005 which means more chances for both original films and films based on other properties to be released.
People tend to forget the fact that more movies get released today than at any other time in history. According to IMDB 12,183 movies were released in 2018 compared to 3,735 in 1998. With only a 20-year gap the numbers speak for themselves. This means equal chances for both original films and films based on other properties (or not) to be released.That being said, it is a reality that movies based on other properties are overshadowing original films, but not because Hollywood is lacking originality. Let’s keep in mind that the average person would see three to five films a year, moreover, people are more likely to go and see movies set in a pre-established series.
“I know there is obviously a monetary advantage to having an audience that you know will go to see this as they are fans of the original, but also it gives the filmmakers a chance to add to the story and make it their own version,” Walker explained.
“All creative industries place a very high premium on originality, although this term can be defined in a multitude of different ways. There’s also a huge amount of prestige attached to projects that can be marketed as truly original. You only have to look at the awards ceremonies to see how it tends to be this type of film that wins the major awards. But of course, sometimes it is the original idea that strikes a chord with the audience that ends up being the starting point for a series of re-boots or re-makes,” said McGrady.
While 2018 seems to be the destined to test audiences’ affection for throwback TV, Charmed and Roswell reboots were announced for the CW channel, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy for Netflix and Amazing Stories for Apple TV to name a few.
The CW channel and Netflix paired up and created many of these. For example, Riverdale and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina are both based on the 1940’s Archie comics. The success was eminent for both of them.
Note that The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is also a reboot of the original 1990s TV show Sabrina the Teenage Witch. The show, in contrary to the one from 1996, is much more based on the Archie comics, having a much ‘darker vibe’ than the original TV series.
These days, broadcast networks are desperate for attention, and reboots and revivals are a great way to stand out. One of the advantages TV has over movies is that they are able to explore the character and the story in more depth when it simply impossible to do it in a two-hour movie.
TV establishes this special relationship between the characters and the audiences. We watch them grow, make mistake, get married or die (with a mysterious reparation most of the time), but the point is we get attached.
“There’s a long tradition of story-tellers taking stories that the audience already knows and telling them again with a new twist.”
This one of the reasons why season finales are the most watched and end up being the top-rated episodes. Epic or Classic TV show can be considered as untouchable, people most of the time don’t want to see new actors playing their favourite characters even less a new plot.
However, with the understanding of where they are coming from, reinterpreting old shows isn’t sacrilege, but some shows shouldn’t be remade or rebooted for the sake of them. The CW channel’s remake/reboot/revival universe, keeps expanding with the new versions of Charmed and Roswell New Mexico. The fans clearly express their disagreement concerning these two shows, leaving them with a poor audience ratings.
This culture of ‘the old is the new new’ reflects something that looks more and more like a Netflix home, full of “If You Liked” and “Watch It Again.” These shows are the products of the streaming-TV era. More than 500 original scripted series were created in 2018, it is a never-ending battle for anything new (or not so new) to get attention.
Cinema is adapting itself to this new system, by trying to create what the public is asking for. With Netflix it became easier to tell, what the public want. It calculates how long you are watching a program for, at what exact moment you’ve stopped the movie.
Maybe it became boring? What kind of genre you are watching? Based on these facts Netflix is able to create films and TV, like a computer or a factory. Assembling all the element which will constitute a classic romance or action movie, based on the public taste.
For McGrady, Netflix has clearly been very disruptive and challenging new entrant to the market. Streaming content makes it possible for platforms such as this to build up a piece of very detailed and precise knowledge about how audiences behave, at every stage of the process of watching a film – from initial selection of what to watch, through a moment by moment interaction with the content during the process of viewing itself.
You could, of course, say that this is no different from the audience research that Hollywood has always carried out, in the form of test screenings and focus groups before general release. Perhaps the difference is in the level of detailed data that Netflix and other streaming platforms can generate.
Walker pointed out the fact that “the studios are always looking for new material as so many films are made each year and the turn over is faster and movies have now shorter runs at the cinema as time goes by. As we all know that movies are made for profit but in my experience, they are made primarily for the art and storytelling of the director, and the creativity comes from the heart.”
Reboot and remake are a part of it. A big one, yes, but, in the end, remake, reboot, and their co-genre will always be present, let’s not demonise them. If a couple of sequels and remake movies are unsatisfying it will be unfair to put the whole genre into the same pot.
Walker explained that though her job she wants to help an audience experience the emotions of the characters and atmosphere of the story and locations, really its to make people feel something. If there is a new and original way of doing that, it only enhances the movie-going experience.
Featured Image by Jakob Owens via Unsplash CC.