I’ve obviously been thinking a lot about movie remakes lately. When pondering why movie studios keep doing this, when a remake might not ever be the worst thing in the world, it suddenly struck me how weird and singular movie remakes are in the art/entertainment world (of course, it could be I’ve led a sheltered life). So I got to thinking, what other form of media exploits the past to the point of replicating it?
Music – Like any other art form, music builds on itself and the past is recycled to create the present and the future. Sampling is very popular, and some songs sound similar to a previous song (Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” is pretty much a modern update of Madonna’s “Express Yourself”), but only covers are remakes of an original. Covering songs is a staple of all music genres. It’s been done for a long time, and sometimes the original release and cover release are not that far apart. Sometimes the cover is a bigger hit than the original (rare) and sometimes the cover is the only hit for the artist in question (more rare). Most of the time the best one can hope with a cover song is that it’s as good as the original and hopefully not awful. To be fair, though, there are some cover songs in which I prefer the cover to the original.
But, and this is a really big but, almost the only time an artist releases an album that is nothing but cover songs is the obligatory Christmas album. Occasionally an artist will do a cover album as kind of a special event, but no artist could build his/her career on remaking someone else’s music. Assuming the music company owned the song rights, can you imagine if one of Example Record’s artists released a cover of the entire “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and then another Example Record artist released a cover of the entire “Led Zeppelin II” and then Example Record announced the next release would be a cover of the entire album “Born in the U.S.A?” It would be, well, weird, and probably universally decried as a lazy cash grab that disrespects the original albums. Excluding parody albums, why would anyone buy cover albums of the albums they already have?
Television – Likewise with music, television builds on itself. Plots, characters, and situations are often recycled but seldom directly remade. It does happen, but the remakes just don’t seem to pan out. Spin-offs are much more common in the world of television. Spin-offs bother me less than straight remakes because while the characters are re-used, ideally the audience gets to see those characters in a different situation, and thus creating a different show. There are a lot of televisions spin-offs (more than I thought before a bit of Google-fu) and sometimes those spin-offs are just as good or in rare cases better than the original show. But the point is that a spin-off is not the same show, anymore than a child is their parent. The most successful parent show I can think of is probably Law & Order, although I personally feel the spin-offs are following the format more than any particular set of characters.
Now, to be fair, sometimes networks attempt “revival” shows. This was done with Battlestar Galactica, although often the revival is really more of a reboot than a remake (a subtle distinction, I know). In some ways the reboot revival has more in common with a spin-off than a remake. The success of such shows is mixed. Star Trek: The Next Generation was quite successful as far as critical and fan reception, and run time (seven years). Star Trek: Voyager was, well, less so. Doctor Who manages to be a spin-off and a reboot, which makes perfect sense for Doctor Who. Many television shows are adaptations or spin-offs of movies, however, that’s still not exactly the same thing as a remake. The lengthy nature of a television series means any movie adaptation will morph into something quite different from the movie it was based on.
Books – There are shared universe series, but I’m not including those in this discussion. Literary universes also have prequels, sequels, spin-offs, parodies, and pastiches. But I can’t think of any remake in literature, as such. Ender’s Shadow is not a remake of Ender’s Game, although it does cover the same time frame. Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies is a pastiche/parody. Brian Herbert’s contributions to the “Dune” universe are sequels or prequels. Heck, copying directly from a book without siting the original or getting permission is plagiarism, and that’s a bad thing. It can lead to flunking freshman English or getting sued. Remakes in literature are explicitly discouraged.
Comic Books – a retcon is not a remake. A retcon is supposed to change everything that happened after the event of the retcon. However, I suppose a retcon is closest to a remake than a sequel, prequel, or reboot. Then again, “Civil War II: Are We Seriously Doing This Again“ does look a lot like “Civil War I: Murky Motivations and Uneven Plotting.” The players are different, the catalyst is different, but the plot looks very much the same down to the nonsensical division of the teams. Okay, so there’s one form of media devouring itself, but based on the sheer number of laments I have on the subject of comic books doing the same thing over and over, I shouldn’t be surprised it showed up here.
Other Arts – Okay, I will admit I am absolutely in over my head when it comes to the Arts. The visual (painting, sculpting, etc.) arts do have a long and storied history of what is generously called “appropriation” and sometimes more accurately called “copyright infringement.” However, even though an artist can submit a urinal for an art display, the effect of doing so is supposed to be the art component, not doing anything with the urinal itself. I guess that would be a reboot? My limited understanding of such things is that even if an artist directly copies some other work, that copy is meant to be a new work, not a remake of the original. Movie remakes tend to be the same movie with minimal updates to make the movie relevant to the modern artist.
Overall – Movies aren’t the only form of entertainment media consuming itself; comic books are too. But again, maybe I’m just sheltered. So many movies have been remade that Wikipedia has to divide the list into two pages. Heck, some directors apparently remade their own dang movie! I’m guessing that remaking movies will never end, although the tendency seems pretty rampant to me right now. For example, Disney is considering making a movie tentatively titled Cruella, which would be a remake of the live-action 101 Dalmatians, which was a live-action remake of an animated movie. But if one day Disney ends up releasing an animated remake of Cruella, I think Hollywood will implode.