*Wham* *wham* *wham*
That is the sound of my forehead connecting with my desk as I see one of YouTube’s many random videos it thinks I’ll like is a teaser trailer for a remake of Pete’s Dragon. Like an idiot, I clicked on it, and then watched the trailers for a remake of The Jungle Book. And then I saw an article about a proposed Flatliners reboot. My desk can’t take the punishment, nor, I suppose, can my head. At this rate the only movies released will be superhero movies and remakes/reboots of mostly ’80s/early ’90s movies (for some reason; I don’t understand why movie studios are targeting Generation X instead when millennials are supposed to be the ones spending the money).
I know that not all movies are art. Movies are made to make money. I get that. Some movies seem to be immune to this current trend of sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots, or reinterpretation. This rarefied group is often referred to as “the classics” and while people debate endlessly what are the best movies ever made, I’m using the American Film Institute’s updated 100 greatest movies list. Out of these 100 movies, not a single one has been remade or rebooted. Only five have had sequels made, and one of those sequels is also on the list.
It seems any movie is fair game whether it was good, bad, or just mediocre, although the classics are largely (but not entirely *cough* Psycho *cough*) left alone. There are a lot of movies that are while not necessarily classics or flawless or won Oscars or awards are nonetheless something that really can’t and really shouldn’t be duplicated or improved upon or expanded upon. Has this trend of reboot/make/interpretation/sequel/prequel produced anything worthwhile?
1) Prequels – I’m limiting this to cinematic prequels because of Agent Carter. I honestly can’t think of a single prequel effort that produced a movie as good as much less superior to the original. Some prequels have in fact been some of the worst movies ever made. Even Monsters University, which I liked, wasn’t as good as the original, and if Pixar can’t make a prequel work, what other movie studio has a chance?
2) Sequels – Sometimes sequels are as good as or better than the originals. The Godfather II is on the AFI’s list of greatest movies. The Empire Strikes Back is regarded as the best movie in the original “Star Wars” trilogy. The Lord of the Rings trilogy would have utterly failed if each movie wasn’t at least equally good. But on the other hand, there are so many bad sequels. One of the best examples of the worst is Ghostbusters II (to me, anyway). Ghostbusters was a nearly perfect comedy with a relatively original premise. The cast was spot-on, the writing was spot-on, and the special effects, well, they’re not too bad for being over 30 years old. The studio should have let it be as it was. But no, there’s Ghostbusters II, a wholly unnecessary and oddly contrived sequel that didn’t need to exist.
3) Remakes – there are two kinds of remakes. The first is when a classic story, such as “Cinderella” is made into many different movies. Each is technically a remake (or reinterpretation) of the same story, but they are not the same movie. I’m not discussing those types of remakes/reinterpretations. The second type of remake is when a singular movie (not story) is remade. That’s the type that is more and more popular and bothers me a lot. Some remakes are little more than shot-for-shot updates. Some try to put a twist or spin on the plot, but the whole remains fundamentally the same.
Here’s a good example – the movie Sabrina. Originally made in 1954 with Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, it’s the story of two rich brothers who take an interest in the lovely daughter of the family chauffeur. The movie is a classic and won an Oscar. It should have been left alone, but it wasn’t. In 1995, a remake was released starring Julia Ormond in the titular role and Harrison Ford as one of the brothers. It wasn’t bad as remakes go, but it didn’t really change anything except contemporary actors and contemporary setting. It was entirely unnecessary.
I can’t think of a remake that was worth the celluloid it was printed on. If the original is a good movie, no remake can improve it and is only likely to be inferior to the original. And if the original wasn’t a good movie but instead just mediocre or even bad, who wants to try to improve it? An example there is Flatliners. I’ve seen Flatliners. It’s okay. It’s not great; it’s not terrible. It plays with an interesting idea and it’s executed competently enough. That said, I see no reason to remake it. I don’t see any particular room for improvement even though I don’t think this movie is particularly special. Sometimes “okay” is just “okay” for a reason and no amount of marketing, re-imagining, new special effects, new cast, and so on is going to improve on “okay.”
4) Reboot – A reboot is different from a remake in that a reboot has the characters of the original movie and puts them in fresh plot and maybe adds a twist to the original. Sometimes a reboot can work out. The superhero genre is particular prone to this although no movie is immune (see Ghostbusters). But usually a reboot doesn’t work out and it’s not as though there is a shortage of new ideas to explore for movies. Hell, even if I’m just limited to the superhero genre, there’s no shortage of characters to try to bring to the big screen instead of attempting to reboot what didn’t work out before.
a) When it worked – Chris Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy. Was it better than all the four movies of the ’90s that came before it? Better than the last two? Definitely. Better than the sequel? Probably. Better than the original? I don’t think that’s a fair comparison. Tim Burton’s vision was quite different from Chris Nolan’s, but both were expertly executed (well, at least the first two-thirds of Nolan’s vision). Why did the reboot work? To me, it was because two different visions were brought to the screen. Batman’s origin is unchanged, but the way that was incorporated into the two plots was different. Batman and Batman Begins/The Dark Knight had many of the same characters and same plot elements but different plots. I realize that seems self-evident, but here are two reboots that failed in different ways.
b) When it didn’t work – Sony’s Amazing Spider-man. This attempted reboot didn’t work because The Amazing Spider-man essentially used the same plot as Spider-man. The attempted twist of the mystery of the fate of Peter’s parents did not change the plot enough to make the movie feel new or different. The Amazing Spider-man 2 basically duplicated the mistakes of Spider-man 3.
c) When it didn’t work (again) – Fant4stic Four. This attempted reboot didn’t work because while it had a different plot from Fantastic Four, the characters were too different from the source material. I’d go so far as to say if the plot was the same but the characters given different names and not been shoe-horned into the FF origin story, Fant4stic Four would probably be a decent movie. Alas, that is not what happened.
5) Reinterpretations – Reinterpretations, as briefly touched on above, are not necessarily bad. Classic stories have a lot of room for interpretation and there’s nothing inherently lazy about utilizing a well-known story or plot (like a fairy tale). There are only so many plots to utilize anyway. But a reinterpretation is probably the trickiest of the re-whatevers to pull off. A good reinterpretation is different enough from other takes on the plot to stand out, but it should contain the essence of the original story (as in the “Batman” movies discussed above). But lately the reinterpretations I see completely miss the point. Maleficient is not evil, Dracula is an emo romantic, and Captain Hook is Peter Pan’s friend? Now Pete’s Dragon looks like a dark and gritty take on a “wild child” story.
Is it so terrible to want to see something that hasn’t been done before? I don’t think so, but it is apparently increasingly unprofitable to want to produce anything that might be remotely different from what came before. That is partially my fault. I flocked to see the latest “Star Wars” movie like everyone else. I bolstered the argument with my money that people only want to see what they’ve seen before. However, a few re-whatevers here and there are not bad. I hope eventually the general audiences will stop seeing what they’ve seen done before (and probably better) and that the studios quickly catch up.
*sigh* I can dream, can’t I?