Posted by:
Lawrence Napoli

The State of Hollywood 4: Remakes and Reboots


The State of Hollywood 4

Remakes and Reboots: The Reason for Hollywood Sucking?

By: Lawrence Napoli


(Editor's Note: CBN's movie reviewer, Lawrence Napoli, offers his views and opinions on the movie biz in his column, "The State Of Hollywood.")


pic“Hollywood has no creativity!”  “Hollywood has no originality!”  “Hollywood has run out of ideas!”  Yes, you’ve heard all of this before whenever the latest celluloid trash is spit out by the studio assembly line, and especially so when a certain film is considered a remake or reboot of some original film.  In almost every case of a remake/reboot, the film that is being redone was originally considered a significant financial and sometimes critical success.  This has established remaking/rebooting as a somewhat secure financial investment, which studio executives will claim is not often the case with film productions in general.  But we all know that even epic fails like Waterworld (1995) can still become insanely profitable after the fact as a result of retail sales and the immense convenience of on-demand video subscription.  Industry professionals may be screaming for original scripts, but business as usual dictates quite the opposite.  The politics of the current studio system disallow what CEO’s, board of directors and accountants refer to as “risky investments” and in order for “original films” to see the light of day, a significant amount of risk will be involved.  The transformation of filmmaking as an art form to a business practice has had a grotesque effect on the overall quality of every film that gets released from Hollywood.  The accepted norm is no longer just about following the profitable guidelines of “the formula.”  It has opened the door to the copy/paste culture (thank you Michael Bay) and that is a dangerous proposition, but before we can discuss a solution we have to take a closer look at the true nature of the remake/reboot and its relevant issues.

First and foremost, we must recognize that the practice of remaking/rebooting is not a problem in and of itself.  Reinterpretation and reimagining is the basis for film adaptation in general (see Harry Potter films) which effectively “remakes” the story of some original source material into a celluloid version.  Remakes and reboots have yielded some excellent examples of filmmaking over the years.  Would you like some examples of the greatest of all time?  The Judy Garland Wizard of Oz (1939) was remade from a 1925 full length silent film from Chadwick Pictures starring Oliver Hardy as the Tin Man.  Cecil B. DeMille remade his own original silent adaptation of The Ten Commandments from 1925 to create the timeless classic we all know starring Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner in 1956.  Ever hear of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954)?  That was Americanized and remade into The Magnificent Seven in 1960 by John Sturges.  How about some more contemporary examples of successful remakes and reboots?  The Ring was successfully remade by Gore Verbinski in 2002 from the original Ringu by Hideo Nakata in 1998.  The Departed (2006) was a remake by Martin Scorsese of a film called Infernal Affairs by Wai-keung Lau and Alan Mak in 2002.  The Dawn of the Dead remake by Zack Snyder in 2004 was a vast improvement on the original by George A. Romero in 1978.  12 Monkeys by Terry Gilliam in 1995 was a more plot focused version of the cryptic La Jetée by Chris Marker in 1962.  Do I even need to describe the brilliance of the Christopher Nolan Batman films versus Burton’s and Schumacher’s?

The number one problem with remakes/reboots today is timing.  This is one of the reasons why The Amazing Spider-Man reboot is facing more fan-boy scrutiny than say, the Conan reboot.  It is an extremely difficult prospect to determine an appropriate moratorium between multiple reinterpretations of the same intellectual property.  But the priority in Hollywood is always making money, so the timing of any potential “sure thing” is now.  Remakes and reboots all but eliminate risk because it essentially creates a controllable bubble of scripted financial success.  Minimal pre-production expenses of writing and preparation, built-in audiences and a proven winner from some point in the past is about as close to printing its own money as Hollywood has ever come.  I’ll go so far as to suggest that any film pitch can be trumped with a power point presentation that outlines the direct similarities a “new” film project has with an established success and how returns at the box office will be equally robust as a result of said similarity.  You wouldn’t even have to tell studio executives what the film is about or what makes the “new” different from the old so long as you have some impressive numbers backing up your assumption.  There’s a reason why informatics is becoming more and more important in business today.  The creative accounting required to make the same data spin any number of conclusions has never before been as valuable as it is today. 

The second problem with remakes/reboots is that when they miss, they really stink of bantha poodo.  Perhaps the best example of this is Superman Returns which had a budget of $209 million dollars and grossed only $391 million at the box office, world-wide.  Perhaps no performance by any man will ever come close to the magic that was Christopher Reeve as Kal El, but it takes an exceptional flop for a contemporary, special effects-driven film to not even double its budget on a global scale.  It’s the kind of effort that makes one consider whether such an obviously low-brow attempt should have been made in the first place, but Warner Bros. doesn’t appear to be concerned in the least by attempting yet another reboot called Man of Steel set for a release in 2013.

The third problem with remakes/reboots is the degree of connection to the original film and the problems that result from that.  This is an issue that drives fan-boys up the wall because it can easily be argued that the very existence of the reboot/remake is an invalidation of the original material and fan-boys will voice their displeasure.  For example, Jacob Walinski actually picketed the release of the Jackie Chan remake of The Karate Kid in 2010 outside his local Regal Cinema in Austin, Texas.  Other than the facts that the film starred a kid who trained to learn karate, there seemed to be no reason to make a titular connection to the iconic film made famous by Pat Morita and Ralph Macchio.  Then you have a supposed prequel to the X-Men film franchise with this year’s X-Men: First Class.  The final product is certainly a remake because the events of this film break continuity with the fiction established by Bryan Singer’s original adaptations. 

The fourth problem with remakes/reboots is that this method of filmmaking has become Hollywood’s crutch.  April 12, 2010 – Vertigo Entertainment makes an offer to Korean Film Company Daisy Entertainment for the rights to remake Bestseller, a film about a successful writer accused of plagiarism who hears voices in a remote cabin she escapes to.  Gee wiz; that sounds an awful lot like Secret Window, an American adaptation by David Koepp based on the original novel by American writer Stephen King.  Rebooting and remaking has become so trite that the US has found a means of outsourcing filmmaking, and with franchise after franchise lining up for their shot at the celluloid remix, there’s no reason to believe that the repetition will lead to refinement. 

In the end, the remake/reboot issue has one of those “guns don’t kill people; people kill people” answers to it.  A remake/reboot, in the wrong hands, spells disaster for the viewing public and there really isn’t much that you and I can do about aside from paying attention to reviews, sales numbers and the opinions of friends and family.  Yes, I know this is not very inspired advice, but more drastic options like boycotting remakes/reboots or films from notorious remake/reboot directors is not very practical.  But if my opinion matters at all to anyone in cyber space; for me, a remake/reboot will always have a negative handicap before the first frame is ever projected.  Such a film will have to go beyond the extra mile to impress me, and until such dedicated effort becomes the standard in Hollywood, I suggest the viewing public to be leery of the remake/reboot.