Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery… And if that statement is true it would seem that there is an awful lot of flattery going on.
This is obvious in a lot of movies from the last 20 years or so, with directors paying homage to their favourite films and styles. The Matrix series was heavily influenced by Asian martial arts cinema, and need we even discuss Quentin Tarantino borrowing wholesale from every pulp genre imaginable?
But that’s taking inspiration from what has gone before. More and more, commercial cinema is turning to existing films and churning out remakes, retelling the same stories using the same characters, but maybe tweaking the execution a little to make it more relevant to contemporary issues.
Recently we’ve seen blockbusters like Footloose, Conan the Barbarian and Arthur, and there are plenty more on the way in the next year or so: Judge Dredd, The Crow, Short Circuit and the hotly anticipated reboot of the 1990 Schwarzenegger gem Total Recall.
So why do Hollywood producers love remakes so much?
One of the main reasons is because they represent a safe investment – it’s much harder to raise money for a groundbreaking new idea. For me, these reworked movies tend to vary in quality depending on who’s in the director’s chair, or how dependent they are on CGI. The Coen brothers’ 2010 version of True Grit springs to mind, nominated for several awards and far more interesting than, say, the FX-heavy Clash of the Titans which came out at the same time.
Lately, no foreign language movie of even moderate success has escaped the Hollywood machine – from the Swedish vampire thriller Let the Right One In through to the immensely popular The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. If the effort of marketing a subtitled foreign movie to non-native audiences is deemed greater than the cost of remaking the whole thing from scratch in English, what does that say about Hollywood’s attitude towards the intelligence of the average viewer?
There is another side of the remake: the ‘reboot’. With big licences (novels, comic book characters, video game tie-ins), there is an expectation that the film will generate a certain amount of box office revenue and provide opportunities for sequels and merchandise. If met with a lukewarm reception, then another option is to start over with a new director and actors – The Amazing Spider-Man is a great example of this, essentially overriding Sam Raimi’s recent trilogy. Similarly, The Incredible Hulk ignored the earlier Ang Lee movie, and The Avengers successfully gave both of them the heave-ho in favour of a completely different Bruce Banner.
What it comes down to, then, is money. Remaking old films is a surefire way to turn a profit, and we often forget that this is what the movie industry is all about. Remakes don’t mess with people’s favourite movies. They just make the same story accessible to a newer, younger audience. Come on, Total Recall – show me what you’ve got.