Today the Hollywood Reporter featured a fabulous front-page article examining Hollywood’s remake obsession. The current titles on the table for development around town amounts to what THR calls a full fledged 1980s garage sale: Footloose, Romancing the Stone, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Dune, The Karate Kid, Red Dawn, RoboCop, The Big Chill, Arthur, Ghostbusters and The NeverEnding Story—to name the few.
Talk about a scorching case of Déjà vu.
Now, if you’re like me, your skin tends to crawl at the very word ‘remake.’ I’m the gal who sat in the movie theatre and downed a bottle of antacids at the trailers for The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Women, knowing full well that any integrity to the original property was about to be napalmed. Smoke. Flames. Crying babies. The very notion that a generation of moviegoers will forevermore think of Keanu Reeves as Klaatu is enough to make me want to write-off the human race altogether– and definitely resign to the fact that Hollywood is incapable of stringing two truly original thoughts together.
But to be fair, the remake has been a Hollywood inevitability since the days of flickers and flivvers. Classics like Alice Adams, His Girl Friday, Beau Geste, The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, Waterloo Bridge and The Maltese Falcon were all remakes. Sometimes the same director—Howard Hawks, Cecil B DeMille to name the few—would recycle his own film, even within just a few years of the original’s release. And yet, in most of these instances there was something that merited the film getting another spin. And therein lies the critical difference: films weren’t necessarily remade simply because of a lack of creative studio product. It was most often in order to make an already good movie great. But given the fact that a large number of films recently remade are of considerably poorer quality that the original, what other conclusion can we draw except that Hollywood has, officially, run out of fresh ideas. (OK, not all films, mind you—we’re big fans of Soderberg’s Oceans Eleven around here, and applaud the veneration Peter Jackson displayed for the original material in his King Kong retelling.)
The Hollywood Reporter’s article, however, is an insightful look in the remake rationale of studio executives.
According to Steven Zeitchik and Borys Kit, “while no one’s saying “Titanic” or “Forrest Gump” is getting a redo—yet—the fact that teen audiences generally don’t remember any pic more than 15 years old is fueling the impetus: In a couple of years, the multiplex could be programmed with the same titles that were current under the Clinton administration. As one producer put it, ‘The ‘90s are totally fair game.’
“If it’s harder for producers to sell a pitch, then they enjoy the option of letting the familiar title speak for them. If marketing budgets are tighter, then studios can rely built-in brand awareness when they prepare promotion and publicity campaigns. For original movies, you need to advertise and idea, the story—it’s about convincing people that it’s worth seeing. With something that is [already] branded, no education is required.’
“It’s also the recession, and by extension, nervousness that’s driving the trend. Fewer projects mean placing fewer bets, and execs would rather go with what are safe bets—and a remake is perceived as that, even if the movie doesn’t turn out to be safe at all. “It’s much easier to blame someone else if a remake fops,” one studio exec said. “You can say, it wasn’t my fault. The movie should have been a hit. It was the execution—the director screwed up.”
“Another exec said, resignedly, ‘I now sit down and scroll through IMDB looking for movies, and I spend time searching rights to old TV shows. That’s where I spend most of my development time.’”
Well, that all may very well be, but I still believe in leaving well enough alone. Really, what could anyone possibly hope to improve on with The Big Chill? And then I remember: those executive suits are not necessarily trying to make a better film than the original—rather they are simply banking on the original’s success to bring the studio a profit.
Hollywood has always pivoted on the almighty dollar—but when the fire and fun of fresh creativity is taken out of the equation, well … all I’m saying is, you get what you pay for.
That’s the Packard opinion, anyway, and we’re sticking to it!