6 Reasons That Remakes, Reboots And Sequels Are Totally OK

Remakes 6 Reasons That Remakes, Reboots And Sequels Are Totally OK

You may have seen the infographic above posted in a number of places some time last year, lamenting the fact that high-grossing movies in today’s cinematic landscape tend to be attached to stories already in the public consciousness—that there is less quality, original filmmaking coming out for audiences to consume. The only way that may be true is of course if we eliminate the entire independent film system which thrives on the original screenplay and low budget production of original and often off-the-wall material. By that metric, there are more original stories being told on film than ever. The movies making the most money, however, are the tentpole pictures usually tied to a successful introductory film like Iron Man or Pirates of the Caribbean. Building on the success of a hit is obvious less work for a bigger payoff, aka the American Dream.

What that does not mean, though, is that these movies are inherently worse than if we were getting so called original content. All it really shows is that to get people in to see a movie and make a lot of money from it, studios need to convince audiences that their movie is something familiar and has a high probability of being entertaining. Times have changed to allow for many different cinematic markets, and the most profitable one is the one geared toward the familiar. But that’s also totally fine, and results in movies that are full of spectacle and even good storytelling in the best cases. Indeed, this can spring up in the cases of reboots, remakes and franchise pictures just as easily as with anything else. Unsurprisingly, it usually depends on the people working on the project.

Here are 6 reasons remakes and franchise pictures should not be cast in such a negative light.

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1) Everything is a remake

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Kirby Ferguson’s compelling video series entitled “Everything is a Remix” provides a terrifically detailed analysis on the question of whether, to be a tad banal, there really can be anything new under the sun. One of the tenets of postmodernism is that the notion of originality is largely a fallacy. Even movies that seem wholly original, like Inception or The Matrix draw heavily in their storytelling from cinema that has come before them. Many filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino will create original stories but make no effort whatsoever to hide whose ideas they’re stealing from—people call it pastiche filmmaking.

So instead of taking great pains to avoid the impression that they’re stealing or borrowing from or being inspired by art that they themselves have consumed—deluding themselves into thinking their own work is absolutely novel and repeats nothing—many films are keen to cite giants upon whose shoulders they stand. And this doesn’t make them less original than a completely new story, because there’s really no such thing. What’s more, new ideas can come in many forms. The rhythm of the dialogue in The Matrix felt very different while the story and style of action borrowed from classical philosophy and Japanese cinema. And so it goes. So it’s not terribly convincing to me that telling the story of Spider-Man again is less legitimate or interesting than re-telling Plato’s story of The Cave.

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2) Seeing new interpretations of material is interesting

Total Recall1 6 Reasons That Remakes, Reboots And Sequels Are Totally OK

It’s apparently an infinitesimally fine line between what material is appropriately classical and worthy of being done over and over again the way theatre plays get repeated, and what is “too soon” or is considered impossible to improve upon. But improvement isn’t exactly the point. It can be enough for a remake to be simply interesting in its differences rather than specifically better. In the case of a movie like Total Recall, the hope is likely to update some of the aesthetic and technological material of the story, and the original Schwarzenegger version was far from a masterpiece, so what’s the harm?

It seems that the fear is that laziness in conceiving a new story will necessitate laziness in the storytelling, and thus a boring, uninspired movie as the result. There are too many exceptions to this idea for it to be a hard and fast rule. Even Man of Steel, for all the flak it has taken, cannot be fairly criticized as dispassionate or uninterested. It has a bit of a new take on what Superman is about, but the idea that this detracts from the Supermen that have already been formed and exist in cultural history is akin to thinking same sex marriage somehow sullies current heterosexual marriages. Likewise, Andrew Garfield’s channeling of Peter Parker is vastly different than Tobey Maguire’s, but the choices he makes, making him a confident but shy teenager still finding his identity, is interesting and entertaining. Even remakes and sequels designed solely to make money do things that are different in terms of spectacle or scale, and this holds merit worth judging on its effectiveness rather than based on prejudice.

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3) It’s sort of always been this way

Great Gatsby Official Tobey Maguire Carey Mulligan 550x366 6 Reasons That Remakes, Reboots And Sequels Are Totally OK

One of the factors that upset people so much about the latest adaptation of The Great Gatsby by Baz Luhrmann, aside from the absurd opinion that it’s inherently unfilmable material, was the thought of “they’re making another version of it??” As surprising as it was to see people actually defending the Robert Redford version of Gatsby, some were going so far as to say the version that no one else could top was the lost 1926 version because only the most hipstercritical would have seen the surviving trailer of it and claim ownership over it. The point is that it’s been adapted several times already, in a variety of media, and probably will continue to be adapted. And this is a good thing.

It’s not only good, it’s normal. It has historical precedent, to be sure. Of course it’s nice to see something completely alien to anything we’ve seen before, but it’s also satisfying and can be interesting to see the wave of adapted musicals from the 1960s, or the early stage adaptations that film began with, from Shakespeare to Biblical stories. It was the decision to use film to visually adapt previously existing stories that was meant to grant it artistic legitimacy, so it’s ironic that now the same practice is cited as having the opposite effect.

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4) Stories aren’t sacred

Henry Cavill as Superman in Man Of Steel poster June 2013 6 Reasons That Remakes, Reboots And Sequels Are Totally OK

People like to be precious and possessive about stories they have a connection to, and movies make these things permanent in a way theatre can’t. It’s totally understandable why people would be skeptical about a new interpretation of a beloved novel like Gatsby or an adored character like Superman. Many don’t even like seeing their favorite stories get adapted for the screen at all, like we saw in the early criticisms of The Hunger Games. It’s hard not to have a strong personal connection to a story you love, and as with many loving relationships people have with other people or objects, it’s easy to become incredibly possessive of these things. For many people, when you love a movie an exceptional amount, you literally go out and buy and own it.

Legal implications of intellectual property rights aside, no one really owns a movie, or any story. Particularly in the case of movies, there are so many people contributing in small or large portions along the way that assigning one person ownership is a reduction we’ve all come to accept as imperfect but necessary. But when it comes to stories being retold, remade, or expanded upon, there shouldn’t necessarily be anything offensive about someone wanting to contributing to the universe(s) that exist in the cultural consciousness. A story can’t be ruined by its retelling and modification as long as we have the original or otherwise preferred version of the story. Now, if remaking Scarface meant that the Pacino version were to somehow disappear from the face of the earth, that I’d have a problem with. Until that day comes, go crazy, Universal.

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5) They’re bold and risky

Star trek 6 Reasons That Remakes, Reboots And Sequels Are Totally OK

Remakes or sequels carry a lot of weight with them, from people’s heightened expectations to others’ skepticism. Failure is almost the default expectation. So when a movie like J.J. Abrams’ first Star Trek came out in 2009, the impression that it captured the most beloved elements of the Star Trek universe and contemporized it beautifully was an overwhelmingly pleasant surprise, perhaps resulting in a response more positive that the movie would have merited in a vacuum. Trying to recreate that sense of triumph over such a challenge in the sequel Star Trek Into Darkness evidently proved too tall a task according to many, though it’s hard to blame Abrams for trying.

It’s a bit of a sliding scale where it can be more difficult in some ways to pull off a completely original story, but at the same time a portion of audiences will be pleased just by seeing something novel. Then again, while it may be perceived as easier to execute a story where the characters and even plot are already laid out, today’s savvy audiences are less confident in finding these rehashes satisfactory, so winning them over is a sign of real excellence, whether the first weekend box office numbers are evidence of this or not.

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6) There are plenty of success stories

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Lots of Hollywood movies flop. The notion that maintaining movie franchises is a safer option for the big studios to pump out every year is a financial decision that they’ve determined to be most profitable. But there are still John Carters and After Earths that come from original material or unproduced source material that are magnificent failures. Everyone loves their Inceptions and Loopers but part of the beauty and worth of these movies is their rarity. It’s also probable that there would be no Inception without Christopher Nolan rebooting the Batman story, updating it for a slick and cynical generation, and doing so with clear and abundant appreciation for the source material rather than snobbish perfunctoriness.

If we look at the movies themselves, trying to ignore the “this shouldn’t have been made!” attitude that plagues so many responses to contemporary blockbusters, there has been some gorgeous work done to artistically reimagine stories and characters that the filmmakers obviously love just as much as the biggest fanboy or girl. Marc Webb’s reboot of The Amazing Spider-Man is a masterful retelling of the Peter Parker origin tale, done with more heart and teenage realism than any movie previous. Likewise, Man of Steel may not be the image of Superman that exists in the hearts and minds of many, but Zack Snyder’s technical precision and narrative subtlety is a worthy companion to the mythological pantheon of Superman, and cinematic history as a whole. This is something remakes at their best can and will do.

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  • Trace in Austin

    The Thing 1982. Nuff said.