Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Remake/Sequel/Reboot Debate

Because Kid in the Front Row always seems to do it first and best (no wonder he doesn't like remakes) he's started a one day blogathon in which bloggers were invited to weigh in with their thoughts on remakes, sequels and reboots. Of course, never wanting to miss the chance to chime in and always happy to have content given to me, here's my take. It's easy these days to throw Hollywood under the bus and call them creatively bankrupt because it seems that they will remake, reboot and make a sequel to just about anything they can get their hands on. That's the current state of mainstream cinema. We've seen it all summer and it extends out into the peripherals of the entire year as well. However, because this is the current state of cinema, it's what we are left to deal with. We could sit here and argue all day that Hollywood needs to turn it around, find original content, and so on. That is, of course, ideal but to do so is to think about what we want as opposed to deal with what we have. You end up missing a lot of good movies that way. Personally I am fine with remakes/sequels/reboots. I am fine with it not because I want to see other versions of films I've already seen but because a good film by any other Shakespeare once wrote. If a sequel is well made, than who cares what source it was derived from? And where is it written in stone that al movies based on original content will automatically be good? We spend so much time these days concerned with everything surrounding a movie from it's origins; the tabloid exploits of its players; how much money it made or lost; how good the original was; how this should never have been remade; how stupid Hollywood is, etc., that we almost forget that the film is what is most important: story, characters, acting, direction, editing, lighting, cinematography and how all of these things collide into one another to make magic. That's what's important, everything else is gravy. And sequels/remakes/reboots, taken as an original concept and not a current fad, also serve a very specific purpose. Godard once said that the best way to criticise a film is to make another. So why not remake a bad movie, or take a different approach, start again from scratch, whatever? The reality of it is that, depending on the circumstances, it will either work or it won't. But that's the same for original films as well. Godard's Breathless was remade in Hollywood and didn't work. You can't take a film that defined a generation with it's originality and invention and make it into a standard Hollywood drama. However, when Sergio Leone used Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo, almost line-for-line, as the inspiration for his Fistfull of Dollars, a whole new genre was born. The difference was that Breathless took the story and simply put it back on film. Leone on the other hand, took Yojimbo and made it his own. That's the success of a remake. That's the success of any film, no matter the source. And really, what defines an original film? Even original films are rarely ever true originals, and when they are, we sometimes never even hear of them. But just look at some of the past year's original works: Crazy Heart was The Wrestler meets Tender Mercies; Avatar was every classic American western and even Inception was just made up of pieces of every previous Christopher Nolan fil; The Prestige in particular. The definition of an original film is that it wasn't adapted from any existing source, but the idea or true originality usually stops there. History is destined to repeat itself. Hollywood just gets around to it faster than most. So, do I want to see great films remade? No, but hey, if someone needs to take a little from Hidden Fortress to make a Star Wars, I'm okay with that. And if it takes three decent movies to get to the best Jason Bourne one, I'm okay with that too. Ideally Hollywood would only remake or reboot bad movies with the intention of making them better. But again, we're speaking in ideals and missing the point: if the the remake is good, what other point is there to be made?


  1. " History is destined to repeat itself. Hollywood just gets around to it faster than most." - haha, very true.

  2. Like so many things, a lot of the hate for remakes gets blown out of proportion. I suppose it's really not as bad as it's made to seem sometimes.

  3. The thing is, this happens all the time in Hollywood. Look at all the sequels in the early 90's. It's unfortunate that us movie fans have to suffer through much bad to find some good, but your general movie goer probably doesn't even notice, and that's what Hollywood banks on.

    The main issue I have is when they reboot a classic that is still relevant today (i.e. Psycho) or a film that's barely a year old! (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo). Then we are getting absolutely desperate and I get angry.

    But unfortunately, it is what it is.

  4. Well stated Mike. Particularly about taking something in a new direction. This sin't the best example but a recent one: While HULK wasn't terrible, The Incredible Hulk reboot benefitted from "giving it another go". So the hate and anger may be unjustly directed. But when it seems like across the board "everything" is being remade there should be some criteria. I do think somethings are and should remain sacred keeping them free of sequels and reboots.

    Still the issue with remakes in general is that studios already have a fan base so they feel backing a remake/sequel is better than trying a bet on something people aren't familiar with and loosing a ton of money if it flops.

    Although, an arguably positive reason for a remake is that it can bring a whole new fanbase to the the table. Most kids today don't know Ralph Maccio but they do (sort of) know Jaden Smith.

    All in all, story aside, studios make movies for money, not for art...otherwise Hollywood would be run by young and experimental filmmakers and we'd have the 60's all over again:P

  5. Heather- the only problem with this debate is that it unrightly must assume that all sequels/remakes/reboots are bad and all original works are good, when in fact, they are probably about equal and really, what's the big difference in Salt from Mission Impossible 3 or The Borne Ultimatium for example except that it isn't tied to an existing work? That doesn't really make it better or worse. In the case of things like Brothers, Funny Games and Girl With a Dragon Tattoo, yes I understand but again, the benefit of getting those movies out to a greater audience, if they are equal in quality still has some value and in a way adds value to the original.

    Marc-agreed. In reality, unless you are Speilberg, Scorsese or Cameron and know how to bridge the gap between commercial and quality then money is always the first priority and I don''t really fault studios for that. They are a business just like everyone else.

    I sort of agree with you that some work should be untouched but I again go back to Yojimbo, which is a great Japanese film that would seem like it should be left untouched and yet its remake spawned a whole new, worthwhile genre, so who's to say? I think to just remake Yojimbo today and do nothing with it is to miss the point because almost all of Kurosawa's films, in one way or another are deeply rooted in Japanese society so you need to find something new, even if it's just entertainment value, to propel the story in order to justify a remake.

  6. I'll kind of restate what I already wrote in the comments section of Simon's blogathon post, namely, that I find certain American remakes of foreign films super invigorating (Vanilla Sky and The Departed were examples I gave) and am really looking forward to an upcoming one that's pretty much in the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo category: Let Me In, the American remake of Let the Right One In, in which Chloe Grace Moretz will likely be amazing as a young-girl vampire.

  7. Vance- yes, you are right but what I think gets people all hot and bothered is that the remakes come so close to the originals but really, life's to short to be concerned about such things.

  8. Fortunately, there is no objective standard for the right amount of time to pass before a remake is appropriate. The ironic thing is, there's no one to punish the studios for these decisions by withdrawing their business -- Joe Public doesn't care if there are five Hulk movies in a 10-year span, as long as each one has the Hulk in it, and film buffs/critics like us are going to go just so we can speak about these movies authoritatively.

  9. Great article. Since I mostly focus on the classics, one argument I see a lot is that whenever a remake of a classic comes out, fans of the original start talking about how it shows a lack of originality in Hollywood today. I've never thought that was a very fair argument because old Hollywood could often be pretty unoriginal. Just look at how many times Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland basically made the same movie over and over again.

    I also think there's a bit of defensiveness there because of the attitude that if it's not new, it isn't good. That is something that a lot of classic film fans encounter so I understand where they're coming from a little bit on that. Like I said on my site, I hate to write remakes off all together because they can be well done. Even if I have my doubts about one, I usually like to give it a chance anyway. Best case scenario, I'm proven wrong about something. Worst case scenario, I can always just turn it off.