We used to call them “remakes” and sometimes, we still do. But when it’s the fifth, sixth, tenth iteration of the same story, it’s a franchise. Superman. Batman. The Lone Ranger. James Bond. Star Wars. Rocky.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between a sequel … the fourth or fifth sequel … to a long-forgotten original … and a “franchise.” I’m not sure there is any difference. It’s nomenclature. A franchise, unlike a sequel, doesn’t need new material. Just bigger, louder special effects and of course, a new, louder, shinier, more muscular star. And bigger guns, when applicable.
Some movies were perfect the first time around. They incorporate superb acting, brilliant scripts, fabulous direction. Casablanca. Inherit the Wind. Cabaret. Yankee Doodle Dandy (but why isn’t it in COLOR?). The Lion in Winter. On The Waterfront. You can’t improve them. You can’t even equal them, so why try? Why not do what TCM does? Clean up the print and reissue it as a general release. There’s likely a generation or two who have never seen it. For them, it’s a brand new movie.
There are good sequels and remakes better than the original. We can all rattle a few off the top of our head. Some originals scream for remakes because the idea was good, but the execution wasn’t. Or technology has changed enough to warrant a do-over. Singin’ In The Rain was a remake and not the first one, but finally they got it right. The Three Musketeers (Richard Lester, 1973) was a remake for the fourth or fifth time (at least) of the story. But this time, the magic worked. We thought Red 2 (released July 19, 2013) was better than Red (though only a little better). The Mask of Zorro and it’s sequel. Hot Shots Deux was better than Hot Shots. And there are more. So I’m not against remakes in principle. Just against bad remakes.
How is a franchise different from a remake? A remake is usually (but not always) no more than the second or third iteration. In theory, a remake retains at least a minimal connection with the original film, though as often as not, the bow consists of giving a completely different movie the same title.
I actually don’t mind the completely different movie. I mind giving the movie a title that implies a relationship to an original that doesn’t exist. I feel the same about movies supposedly based on a book when it appears to me whoever made the movie either (a) never read the book or (b) didn’t like the book. In both cases, why make the movie at all? Make something else. Don’t call it The Scarlet Letter if you’ve deleted Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Now, about stupid remakes. Like Streetcar Named Desire. They did make it you know.It was a flop — of course — and remains (fortunately) a secret. Sometimes you only discover a remake exists because you think you’re ordering a DVD of an original but discover you’ve acquired a movie starring someone you’ve never heard of. You look at your new DVD and say WTF????
There’s a remake somewhere of Casablanca and another of The Lion in Winter. There’s a remake of The Haunting and another of Inherit the Wind. Sometimes, in the inexplicable world of Hollywood movers and shakers, they decide to remake movies which were terrible the first time around and are (remarkably) worse when remade. Like Clash of the Titans which might have done okay as a comedy, but as a serious movie, allow me to say this about that: ROFLMAO, OMG.
The remake of Psycho, following on all the bad sequels to the Alfred Hitchcock original, used the same script as the original black and white movie, but it was in color and the actors weren’t as good … nor, obviously, the director, leaving one to ask the question I always ask. Why bother? What did you hope to gain?
Why not just re-release the brilliant original? Seriously. Why reinvent the wheel when we’ve got a society replete with wheels ranging from teeny tiny nearly invisible to monster trucks? Is a new wheel going to be rounder? More wheel-like? Capture the spirit of Wheelness in its Zen totality? After having spent years and gazillions of dollars recreating something that already exists, the creators are SHOCKED that there’s no market for it! Who could have seen that coming?
It’s not just Hollywood. I review books. I read more books than anyone else I know. It is rare to read something that isn’t exactly the same as everything else in the genre, whatever genre it is. Finding something that contains the germ of a new idea, a unique concept? Rare enough to make it noteworthy. Mainstream publishing houses are much to blame. Whoever runs them are so afraid that they won’t make money on whatever they are publishing they only publish things just like other things that made money.
Considering how much can be published electronically at almost no cost, why not take some chances? Actually give a shot to authors who aren’t writing the same thrillers, the same fantasy, the same old same old?
I want to believe, though I have no evidence to support my belief, that there are original authors, movie-makers, musicians … all kinds of artists … but we never see, hear or read them because the decision makers are terrified of taking a chance on something new.
The problem is in the end, people get bored seeing the same stuff, listening to the same music, reading the same books. Eventually, audiences won’t attend the newest version of the latest franchise production. They don’t want to read another version of Lord of the Rings dressed in different clothing, but lacking the depth or originality. Another killer thriller? Another imitation of Stephen King? More wizards? Oh puleeze.
I console myself. I tell myself culture, art, the economy run in cycles. There are creative bursts in the arts, productive spurts in the economy. I don’t know if I will live to see it, but I have faith that it will happen. Because an eternity of remakes is not particularly appealing, you know? Yeah, you know.