A couple of things landed in the geek culture social media landscape this last week that kicked off a lot of discussion. Some of it was just a rehash of older discussions, the ever more and more silly reboot/remake hate threads, while some of it was new(ish) with regards to the two of the three bits of news. These bits would be (1) the announced casting for the all female Ghostbusters reboot, (2) Peter Davidson commenting on why he feels that for him The Doctor should remain solidly male in gender, and (3) a remake of the classic horror film Poltergeist.
I’ll start with the whole reboot/remake hate first. Why? Because it covers a lot of ground and it’s less likely to start a full-on flame war than the second half of the deal. That’ll be saved for Part 2.
Plus, there are points that I will establish here that will be referenced in Part 2. Here’s a short list of the reasons given for hating reboots and remakes.
1) It’s a sign that Hollywood has lost/run out of the originality and imagination it had in “the Golden Years” of filmmaking.
2) Remakes and reboots suck because they’re always automatically inferior to the originals.
3) “They” are raping/destroying our childhood and the original source materials.
And when the subject of American adaptations of foreign films is brought up-
4) Remakes of a foreign film are unnecessary since the original should be shown and Americans need to stop being lazy and/or stupid about reading subtitles in films.
#1- “It’s a sign that Hollywood has lost/run out of the originality and imagination it had in “the Golden Years” of film making.”
No, it’s not a sign of anything of the kind. If your argument is that Hollywood has lost its ability to be original and imaginative because of remakes, reboots, and adaptations of 80’s television shows, your argument has no legs to stand on.
On a purely semantics level, Hollywood has never had imagination and originality. There have been some creators who have worked for the studios who have shown amazing imagination and originality, but Hollywood and the studios have never had any originality.
Hollywood has been about the bottom line from day one of its existence. The studio heads employed armies of bean counter who watched over their bottom line like bulldogs watching over a bit of raw meat. Originality and imagination was great if it made money for the studios, but more often than not, even in the older days, they went for the safe bet time after time.
Creators would come along and show great imagination. If they succeeded, they were hailed as the big thing of the moment and would get another shot at the brass ring of big box office. If they flopped, they would get kicked back to the back of the line. Of course if one imaginative filmmaker succeeded, that was then followed by other studios, and occasionally the studio the filmmaker worked at, playing copy the success.
Even in its supposed glory days, Hollywood studios were pack animals. If something succeeded, everyone wanted to crank out their version of it. Chart Hollywood history and you can see what you see today. If the big success of the year was a western, you suddenly had similarly themed westerns coming out in its wake. If the big movie of the year was a hard boiled noir detective film, every studio head wanted their own version of that film in the theaters ASAP. So, in other words, on that level, it was just like it is now.
Beyond that, there really weren’t that many truly “original” films back in the day. Hollywood, from its earliest days, has always been a remake, adaptation, franchise, and reboot machine.
The silent era had its fair share of movies that were adaptations of existing materials. Once the talkies came along, Hollywood made remakes of adaptations by going back and remaking some of its silent era films.
Early Hollywood also turned to the television of its day by mining stories and characters from the popular paperbacks, radio serials, and stage plays (often musicals) on a fairly regular basis. They even then, as they do now, raided foreign films for American adaptations. And many of these properties, as well as some original properties, became the other thing that fans complain about these days; they turned into franchises of never ending sequels.
It’s actually funny to see someone complaining about an upcoming film in a franchise of only five or six films being a sign that Hollywood has lost the imagination that it had back in its “Golden Years.” Some of the detective film franchises from Hollywood’s black and white era could play as a weekend-long movie marathon. The Charlie Chan films made in between 1926 and 1949 alone could probably run back to back for close to a solid week. There were also the franchises that were not technically filled with sequel after sequel but may as well have been. I love Abbott and Costello and always will, but, with few exceptions, most of their films could have been them playing the same two characters in name rather than simply in performance while following them from misadventure to misadventure. They played the characters they developed early in their careers and that fans had grown to love from their radio days, threw in the occasional tried and true comedy skit from their act, and did film after film where the basic plot was more or less identical to the one that came before it.
Seeing horror fans complaining that the various modern monsters getting sequels and multi-film franchises is a sign of the decline of originality in recent years is particularly humorous. The seven classic Universal Studios monsters alone (Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf Man, The Mummy, Invisible Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Phantom of the Opera) had some 30 films between them. From day one, Hollywood milked any popular character, concept, or genre dry in franchise after franchise, just as they do today. Why? Same reason you see it today. Because we the fans want the familiar and we’ll keep going to see the films. So long as we keep going, so long as the studios make a profit on a franchise, they’ll keep cranking them out.
Mixed in with all of those franchises from Hollywood were remakes aplenty. One of my favorite Cary Grant comedies is a film called My Favorite Wife. The concept of the film is a simple one. A man’s wife is lost at sea, believed to be dead, and returns years later to find her husband has remarried. Funny film, track it down. The film itself is an adaptation of a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The poem, Enoch Arden, where it was the husband who was lost at sea, had been previously made into a 1911 D. W. Griffith film of the same name. That was then remade in 1915 by Christy Cabanne.
Fast forward a few decades. In typical (and traditional) Hollywood fashion, when someone finds out that someone else is making a predicted winner, someone else starts making their version of the film. 1940 actually saw two variations of the Enoch Arden story. My Favorite Wife was one, and, keeping the lost character the husband, was Fred McMurray in Too Many Husbands as the other. Hollywood would later work on the film again as 1962’s unfinished Something’s Got to Give (the film Marilyn Monroe was working on when she died) and 1963’s Move Over Darling.
In the span of 50 years Hollywood had worked on six versions of the story and put five of them up on the screen. Meet Me in St. Louis had three versions cranked out in just over twenty years. For that matter, The Maltese Falcon, itself an adaptation of the Dashiell Hammett novel, was made twice in ten years. I could go on. Trust me about this. The sheer number of sequels, remakes, and adaptations cranked out by Hollywood in its “Golden Era of Originality” is a quite staggeringly large. It’s not really that Hollywood has changed greatly in the last 100 years; it’s that our ability to access Hollywood’s products has changed.
The late 1970s and all of the 1980s began a change in how we were able to view what we wanted to watch. Before the explosion of cable and satellite television in that time period, you really only had a handful of television channels to watch in any given area. These channels were not typically playing major Hollywood movies for hours on end on a regular basis. There was also no such thing as VHS tape cassettes and VHS players. As a result, outside of the film buffs that had more money than the average Joe, you either saw a film in theaters or you never saw it. And if you did see the film in theaters, odds were that you might never see it again.
If you saw My Favorite Wife in 1940 and really liked it, you might only see it again once or twice over the next twenty-plus years. By the time Move Over Darling rolled into theaters, even if you recognized the film as a retelling of the same story, it was still likely a fresher feeling film, less like a rehash, because the memory of the other film was a bit dimmer with the distance of time. And for anyone who had grown up after My Favorite Wife had bowed out of theaters, or simply never seen it, Move Over Darling was original. The same can be said for just about any other film from the earlier days of Hollywood.
By the end of the 80s, that was no longer the case. VHS players were everywhere, Laser Disc players were in the higher end film buff’s home, and cable had become a content hungry monster that filled its channels with movies from every era of Hollywood and even a few from overseas. You could buy the latest and greatest blockbuster release on VHS for less than $20, you could record movies and TV shows to VHS in your home, and you could then watch and rewatch them as often as you wanted to for years on in.
You could also build a library of films, both store bought and recorded off of TV, of the type that a few decades earlier you would never have been able to build. If you started becoming a young film buff, you had access to all the classic films being put out and broadcast to appeal to your parents’ generation and to part them with a few hard earned dollar bills. Suddenly the classic films that inspired the new versions were films that you could watch, repeatedly, endlessly, even as the remake was playing in theaters. That even eventually became a sales gimmick. When a new film in a franchise or a remake was about to hit theaters, you could count on the earlier film(s) or the original being pushed and promoted as the film(s) you needed to buy/watch before you saw the new one.
Now, in the age of 500 channels and the electronic age, it’s easier than ever to access anything you want to watch whenever you want to watch it and for as many times as you want to watch it. The result of these advancements in our entertainment library building, combined with the basic human nature of so often believing that it was always better back in the day, changed how we see what has been Hollywood’s SOP from pretty much day one.
That change in how we saw new films based on the old films wasn’t helped by the fact that, in the case of most film fans, they only ended up seeing the cream of any given year of Hollywood’s crop. It was the benchmark films, the classic films that everyone clamored for once such easy access to films arrived, and that everyone was collecting and watching. Few people were clamoring for, let alone buying, the knockoffs, the pale imitations, and the cash-in films that followed the benchmark films. People would look at decades of only the best of Hollywood’s output and compare that to the current year’s total of Hollywood’s output. It’s a bit like complaining that a band’s new album wasn’t as good as the two disc greatest hits collection and grading it on an unfair curve.
It doesn’t matter how old a movie is anymore either. The remake will never come across as fresh for many as it may have once done because they’ve watched the original repeatedly over the years, even right up to just before seeing the remake. You once could remember seeing Little Miss Marker decades earlier, having vague memories of it, and still find yourself greatly enjoying the new Little Miss Marker because you didn’t remember every line, every shot, every beat of the film. Now a film gets tagged as a classic of whatever genre it belongs to, fans of the genre hear about it from others, it gets bought by people who may not even have been alive when it came out, and its every line, every shot, and every beat is memorized and discussed ad nauseam. The result is people in their thirties questioning why a remake of Evil Dead is coming along out “already” when the films were released thirty-two years apart, and fans who could recite almost every line from memory complaining that there was no way the new film could hold up to the legacy of the original.
Hollywood can’t even win by telling a similar story and calling it something else. A film can bear a strong resemblance to an older film, intentional or not, and, despite the “original” film being decades old, some fans will denounce the new one as an obvious rip-off of the older film. They’ll then cite Hollywood “ripping off” the older film as more proof of the decline of Hollywood’s creativity and originality. It’s not though. We’ve just reached an entertainment age where almost nothing is lost or forgotten to time, and thus the reality of there being only so many ways to tell a story, of only so many stories being there to tell, is made more and more clear to the average film fan; especially as they get older and their film collection grows.
#2- “Remakes and reboots suck because they’re always automatically inferior to the originals.”
No, remakes, adaptations, and reboots are not automatically inferior to the originals. That may in fact be the mantra of many a jaded fan or forum troll, and still other denizens of various internet forums refusing to ever be happy about anything, but it’s not true. As a matter of fact, there are quite a few remakes that are better than the originals. There are remakes that are hailed by fans and critics as some of the greatest films of all time. There are even remakes loved by the kneejerk remake haters. They just don’t know that they love a remake because they don’t know that one of their favorite films is in fact a remake.
One of the most unintentionally hilarious things I’ve ever seen on the topic of remakes and reboots was at a small convention some few years ago. A panelist on a fan panel couldn’t understand why about a third of the (rather small) audience in attendance started snickering when he derisively asked with all seriousness why Hollywood doesn’t just go and remake such classics as The Maltese Falcon. He was at an absolute loss for words when it was pointed out to him that it was both an adaptation of a novel and that the version he was citing as an original film was in fact itself a remake.
I’m amazed how many people don’t know that The Magnificent Seven is a remake of The Seven Samurai. For that matter, I know low budget sci-fi fanatics who love the Roger Corman produced Battle Beyond the Stars, praising it as one of the great low budget films of its time, who, while rubbishing other remakes sight-unseen as automatically inferior films, have no clue that it’s a sci-fi remake of the Magnificent Seven, complete with the same actor doing basically the same role in both films. And, yeah, as mentioned above, The Last House on the Left remake stirred up a lot of hate about remakes automatically sucking, but most of the people who said that had no clue that the horror classic they were placing on a pedestal was a remake of a foreign film known as The Virgin Spring. What’s made funnier still about the criticism is that some people who will sight unseen automatically kneejerk hate remakes as always being inferior or “sucking” actually like some movies that they know for a fact are remakes. Examples would be films like The Hills Have Eyes or Ocean’s Eleven. Likewise, I know many people who kneejerk hate on remakes while holding up David Cronenberg’s The Fly as one of the greatest horror movies of all time.
The simple truth is that most remakes are probably no better or worse than the original. Some are worse, some are better, some are just different. The difference for most people with regards to which version they like best is likely based on nothing more than which version they see first. I’ll always argue that Bill Castle’s The Old Dark House from 1963 is a better film than James Whale’s The Old Dark House from 1932. It might not be, but I knew the one before the other, so for me it’s the “right” version.
If you saw Paleface with Bob Hope first, you probably like it more than The Shakiest Gun in the West with Don Knotts. Me? I’ll always love Bill Castle’s 13 Ghosts more than the remake, but I know far more people, certainly younger horror fans, who experienced the 2001 remake before they ever knew who Bill Castle was and find the remake to be the better of the two films. Despite its initial failure to light the box office world on fire I know people who, having seen it first, prefer John Carpenter’s The Thing over the original 1951 film on every possible level, viewing the original as a quaint little film at best.
It’s probably nothing more than human nature in a lot of people. We tend to pick sides on matters we know almost nothing about and then fight with sometimes insane venom for “our side” of the debate. We see that everywhere ranging from world politics to things as minor as whether or not Aquaman is better than Namor.
He is by the way. I think it’s also a matter of familiarity breeding comfort rather than contempt. Again, touching on what I addressed above, you can watch a film a thousand times these days. You can memorize every line and every beat of every scene. So when the new version of the old favorite comes along, the version that’s going to be different than the version that’s been watched, rewatched, and re-rewatched again to the nth degree, it doesn’t feel right. It just comes off as “wrong” somehow.
But it’s not wrong. It’s just different. And, frankly, the people that like the remake better than the original are neither wrong nor idiots. They have their version and you have yours. Entertainment choices are not a measuring stick of intelligence unless someone says that Uwe Boll is a great filmmaker. Then feel free to belittle their intelligence, but not so much over remakes.
#3- ““They” are raping/destroying our childhood and/or the original source materials.”
I so hate the stupidity in this line, and there’s an epic amount of stupidity in it. No one is raping or destroying anything with remakes and reboots. If anything, watching something you loved as a kid once you’ve become an adult destroys your childhood more than any remake or reboot will.
I’ll use some of my personal dislikes here as the examples.
Michael Bay‘s Transformers franchise is absolutely horrible. It’s pretty much a franchise filled with everything I think is wrong with some remakes and some filmmaking in general. They threw out anything close to devotion to the original concept other than transforming robots and two sides fighting, and then they replaced that with explosions, overdone CGI scenes, and earsplitting loudness. I’ve seen the first and third installments of that franchise, and, frankly, it was two too many in my book.
The big screen versions of G.I. Joe are about on par with Transformers in my book. 21 Jump Street was 21 Jump Street in name only. The Dukes of Hazard movie was so far off my watch list that I honestly didn’t know that it was in theaters on its opening weekend. The Tomorrow People on the CW (going TV for half a tick) was more about being sexed up superheroes than about being the sci-fi show I loved back in the day when it aired here in the states on Nickelodeon. Oh, and The Phantom Menace is quite possibly the worst thing to ever have the words “Star Wars” attached to it, and that’s counting the damned holiday special from back in the day.
Guess what? It doesn’t matter how bad any of those things were. My childhood is still intact in my mind. Seeing Michael Bay’s Transformers had exactly zero impact on my memories of watching the old show after school, playing with the original toys as a kid, or running around outside with my friends pretending to be transformers. The exact same thing can be said for G.I. Joe with better memories of the Larry Hama written, Marvel Comics produced comic book as well.
21 Jump Street will still be a cool show from my past, The Dukes of Hazard will always be the fun, goofy show my friends and I talked about in school, and The Tomorrow People will always be the show that introduced me to British sci-fi as a kid in a way that no other show at that time had done. And, hell, throwing an extra one in, that god awful American produced Doctor Who film from the late 1990’s did nothing to dim my view of the original series, and that’s saying a hell of a lot considering the epically atrocious nature of everything involved in that thing not named Paul McGann.
Look, I’ve been around the block for a while and then some by now. If you say that something has actually ruined the original source material for you, I am going to laugh at the sheer stupidity of your comments and do it by laughing right in your face. I have seen some horrible adaptations of comic books, novels, and various other source materials over the years. It didn’t matter how bad the adaptation was, the original remained untouched, still there, and waiting to be picked up. Keanu Reeves blanding his way through Constantine did not impact my ability to enjoy issues featuring the character in my comic book collection or harm my ability to enjoy his four-color adventures yet to come. And, back in the day, the absolute “WTF” adaptation to film of Masters of the Universe affected no one that I knew with regards to their ability to still like the original show and toys.
I hate to break it to you, but if your claim is that a bad adaptation can destroy your ability to enjoy something that you’ve enjoyed for years, you’re basically telling everyone that your own personal mental state is a bigger problem than an unfaithful adaptation. Most people go back to the source material after seeing a bad adaptation, maybe making the occasional sad comments about what could have been, and use the good to wash away the bad. I’ve never met anyone who declared that their viewing of a particularly bad superhero film, like, say, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, was so bad it destroyed the character for them, ruined their childhood, and put them off of being able to enjoy the character ever again.
Hell, I suffered through the original Doctor Strange TV film. Actually, I think I’ve suffered through it twice. Somehow, I think I’ll be able to sit back and enjoy the upcoming film just fine, just as I was still able to enjoy the character in his four color form after watching that horrible adaptation.
No one has the ability to destroy your childhood but you. No one can destroy/rape/pillage the original source material at all. No matter how bad an adaptation might be, the original materials are still sitting safe and secure on your shelf, ready to be pulled down and enjoyed again. If you try to convince people otherwise, expect laughter at your expense.
#4- “Remakes of a foreign film are unnecessary since the original should be shown and Americans need to stop being lazy and/or stupid about reading subtitles in films.”
I hate the stupidity of this breed of internet film snob. It really takes a special kind of stupid to pick what you feel is the worst you can say about someone and declare that this is the driving cause of someone not sharing your personal tastes in film viewing.
Look, I loves me some foreign films. I had films from back in the dark days of VHS when you only had one audio track, so foreign language with subtitles was the only way it could be viewed. Likewise, there were films I passed up parting with money over since the VHS tape had an excruciatingly painful English dub that, much like the English dub on Let the Right One In, would lead you to thoughts of taking the shotgun down from off of the wall and blowing the VHS player to bits. On the other hand, I completely understand the desire to not watch a subtitled film. I also know from experience that it has nothing to do with being stupid, with being lazy, or with being American.
Some of the people I know who dislike subtitled films are huge readers. They simply dislike reading a movie. It’s just personal preference. They don’t like having to read the bottom of the screen while lots of things are happening all at once and five people are talking back and forth in rapid bursts of dialogue.
And, as an action and horror fan, I can understand that. I’m a fan of Kwaidan from way back. It’s a nice, slow film with each story told at a fairly leisurely pace. You don’t tend to miss anything when there’s dialogue to be read. The same can be said for some actioners. The Killer and Hard Boiled are two of the actioners I’ve had in my movie collection since back in the VHS days. When there’s heavy action, the dialogue isn’t always plentiful. On the flipside, I’ve come across a lot of horror and action from overseas where there’s a small paragraph on the screen while there’s a million things going on. That sometimes annoys the hell out of me, and I don’t have an issue with “reading” a film the way some others have.
But, either way, it has nothing to do with being stupid or lazy. It’s just a matter of preference. Some people simply don’t want to sit and “read” a film at the end of the day. And, in this ever faster paced world, few people want to sit down and have to read a film’s subtitles when they need to also catch up on paperwork from work, pay some bills, or simply piss about on the web. Much easier to put on a movie that they can follow with their ears when not following it with their eyes.
It’s also not an American thing, and I find that line of attack hilarious when used in combination with tales of having been overseas and having seen packed theaters full of viewers watching a subtitled American blockbuster or watching their American TV show with subtitles. Sorry, but, while it does happen, that’s not the only way they view these things.
American films and television shows have been dubbed into other languages for international release for decades now. Beyond even that, for a while there back in the day the studios were experimenting with filming two versions of some of their films. The most famous example of this would have been Dracula. The Bela Lugosi version most of us know was filmed on set during the day, but a Spanish language cast filmed Dracula on the sets at night after the English language cast went home.
Or they simply do remakes. There are films and television shows out there that are foreign language remakes of American films and television shows; even in English speaking countries. And there’s a very simple reason for that that’s actually completely unrelated to such things as marketing and merchandising. It’s got to do with culture.
I love Infernal Affairs. I used to try to get people to watch that film (or the entire trilogy) whenever I could. Some people watched it and enjoyed it, but they never really connected with it fully as a viewer. Some simply couldn’t get into it at all. They loved the action scenes, but the character interactions and the daily life scenes are steeped in Chinese tradition and life. If you don’t know what you’re looking at in these scenes, you miss something and may fail to connect with the characters on some level. And, in some cases, there really is a slightly different way of telling a story on film from country to country. Sometimes it’s barely noticeable, and sometimes, as with, say, Bollywood, it’s so different in style that it practically feels like entertainment from another planet. Either way, it can affect the ability of some people to really connect with the film and/or the characters.
Then The Departed happened. People I knew who were only lukewarm on Infernal Affairs loved The Departed. As with The Magnificent Seven decades earlier, moving Infernal Affairs to America, replanting its roots in the Irish Mob in America and the conflicts around that, setting it in a more familiar landscape, and reshaping the characters with regards to how they acted and reacted, combined with the way Martin Scorsese played the story out on film, made the story more accessible to more people.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not even a new thing in storytelling. There are old tales that have been told and retold over the millennia that pop up in multiple cultures around the world. In each collection of tales from around the world, you can see some of the same stories over and over again from century to century, country to country, changed only in the superficial details to reflect the culture it was being retold in. That’s also not even limited to tales told from country to country. I grew up with ghost story styled urban legends where the details were all specific to the area I lived in. As I got older I went to other parts of my state and later to other states only to find the same stories again. But the stories had been changed. The basic story was always the same, but the surface details were switched to the region they were being told in.
We like to take stories and make them our own. And, quite frankly, that’s probably a good thing. There are a number of great stories out there that have been told to larger audiences than they otherwise would have been had they not been changed with regards to surface details so as to be embraced by a larger portion of the local audience. And, as a fan of various forms of entertainment, I quite like that. I like getting new versions of old stories from time to time. I like it when I get a film like The Departed from Infernal Affairs, and that film is different enough that it can be enjoyed on a different level than the original.
If it kinda sucks, if we get Quarantine from a [REC] rather than The Departed from Infernal Affairs? Well, I still have [REC], untouched and unchanged by having been remade, to watch and enjoy. But when an adaptation is done well? When a story is taken and changed to be “our own” story rather than just being a story enjoyed by the minority of fans who will seek it out in its original form? Well, you can even end up with something that’s culturally iconic such as the above mentioned Magnificent Seven as well as things like All in the Family (Archie Bunker) and Sanford and Son.
So, me, I’m all for remakes, reboots, and adaptations when done well, and it’s got zero to do with being stupid, lazy, or American. And I quite like seeing Hollywood throw a new spin on things from time to time. Does it always work? No. Is it always good? No. But then, making a film, original or not, has always been a crap shoot. Sometimes you get a winner, sometimes you don’t. As movie goers and television watchers, we just end up doing what movie goers and television watchers have always done. We enjoy the ones done well and forget about the stinkers.