London Screenwriters' Festival

Remakes – Reboots – Retold?

Posted on: September 5th, 2010 by Lucy V Hay 1 Comment

You don’t have to go far on the ol’ interweb to find screenwriters complaining about remakes or reboots of “classic” films: I’ve even written about it myself on my own blog, “A Franchise Too Far”. However, whilst it’s never desirable to have *too many* remakes or reboots on the go (variety is the spice of life – and fiction! But how many is *too many*?), I thought I’d put a few of the tried-and-tested arguments against remakes/reboots under the microscope, offering a counter view for each…

Remakes and reboots are just a cash cow. Probably the most oft-quoted argument AGAINST remakes/reboots: yet don’t all films aim to make huge great wads of cash? That’s the ideal, surely. Ah… but remakes are a “more secure investment” than original films. And this makes them bad? After all, adaptations are also a “more secure investment” than original films too and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone (especially a screenwriter) saying adaptations are a bad thing. But let’s not stop making the comparisons – how is a remake any different to a director’s cut or “never seen in the cinemas cut”, released to DVD? If you’re against movies making money and gratifying fans with extras – like different versions, alternative endings, blooper reels or Easter Eggs (whatever the hell they are) – then you probably need to stick to super-micro-budget art film.

VERDICT: Remakes are out to part you from your cash – but then so are ALL movies, original, adapted, franchised – whatever. That’s the point. Without an audience in the equation, why would anyone make films?

Remakes and reboots feed cultural and creative laziness. Another favourite for those against remakes/reboots – and it’s not hard to see their point at face value: after all, the amount of poor remakes/reboots is staggering… But then, the lack of good original material is also staggering. Someone asked me recently to name twenty films (of any kind) I not only really enjoyed, but thought were well crafted, start to finish: I got stuck on about eight. THAT WAS IT. Yet reboots and remakes are no less challenging to write than original movies; one could even argue they’re MORE difficult, in order to deal with uber-fanz’ sometimes unreasonable expectations. And let’s face it, sometimes remakes and reboots ARE better than the originals: I might prefer Tim Burton’s take on Batman, but it seems I am in the minority… Yet the very same people complaining about remakes seem to frequently forget the critical acclaim heaped on Christopher Nolan’s versions or even notice they’re reboots at all, it seems. I’m also told by numerous people, time and time again, Battlestar Gallactica is far better now than it ever was before. And what about all the cross-over-style remakes? Buffy The Vampire Slayer might have been a second-rate movie with little more than an interesting central premise, yet as a TV show it became HUGE and was celebrated as one of the best series around, spawning not only Angel but a variety of other shows and even spec scripts as Whedon influenced an entire generation of filmmakers and screenwriters. I’m not even a Whedon fan, but even I can admit that’s impressive. And without remakes/reboots we wouldn’t have Doctor Who OR Torchwood, either. Whether you’re a fan of these movies or shows (and I’m not, really) it surely can’t be argued that any of them were/are LAZY, cultural or creatively. Ten years ago we had wall-to-wall crime drama and kitchen sink stuff; it was hard for science fiction, fantasy and niche audiences in general to get a look in… Now look at us.

VERDICT: It’s worth remembering film and TV is about commerce as well as art/entertainment – and dismissing ALL remakes/reboots as unoriginal, unchallenging and uninspiring, not only smacks of elitism, it’s simply not true.

Remakes and reboots exist solely because Hollywood is risk averse. Let’s be straight here: as mentioned already, film is in itself about business. Films don’t get made by the goodness of Exec’s hearts, after all. But let’s look at this another way, too: aren’t AUDIENCES risk averse? How many movies have you watched SOLELY because you liked the idea of the story? As screenwriters, I would hope the answer would be “LOADS”, but… really? It costs money to go to the movies and rent DVDs, just like it costs money to make movies in the first place – and the price of living is high at present. So how many times have you said, “You know what? I like that actor/director, I’ll watch that.” Isn’t that the same sort of thing? And how many times have you watched a reboot or remake because you were curious about what had been done with it, knowing there’s a stronger-than-average chance you might at least love-to-hate it and get conversations online about the film out of it (and thus have spent your cash semi-wisely)?

VERDICT: True – but then we all make decisions based on finance; calling Hollywood out for it seems a little hypocritical.

Remakes and reboots rarely “work” – any that do, form the exception to the rule. So… how do we define “works”? Are we talking critical success, maybe? Internet chatter – people recommending it? Getting bums on seats – does box office “make” a  film “work”? Or something else? Fact is, it’s about all these things – and none of them. There have been films EVERYONE has gone to see, yet slated; a film that hardly “works” for anyone might work for ONE PERSON – who, as I’ve explained above, might go on to create a very successful series or movie that influences EVERYONE (whether a reboot or remake or not!).

VERDICT: It’s not possible to remove remakes and reboots from the equation – and not desirable, either: how many would-be screenwriters and filmmakers have been inspired/influenced by a particular reboot or remake?

We don’t “need” new versions of [insert a film or TV show here]. Sorry people, but this sets in as you get OLDER. Could Predators ever truly score, when we all have such fond memories of the Arnie original? Sure, everyone over 30, anyway. Talk to my kid cousin aged 16, he thought it was AWESOME, DUDE! “Even in comparison to the original?” I say… “It’s BETTER than the original,” he asserts: “There’s more creatures, more weapons, those cool pred-dogs, that guy from CSI!!” “But what about the story??” I lament, “It fell apart after Act 1.” He looks at me as if I’m insane. “Dude,” he says, “I only wanted to see some shit blown up and some people gargling with blood.” We forget, as screenwriters: laypeople want to be entertained, first and foremost – and what that means could really be *anything*. We also forget, as we get older, that 9/10 younger people will not have seen the original film – and even if they have, they’ll likely think it was rubbish. Why? Not because of the story, but the way it was EXECUTED. Things change, decade to decade, whether we like it or not; I have written extensively about my love of Witness, yet it would NEVER be made the way it was, NOW; it just wouldn’t make sense, an audience in 1983 had different expectations and understand to one in 2010.

But if you’re still not convinced, let’s look at another Arnie classic. I’ve seen particular vitriol levvied against an old favourite of mine online, Total Recall, which is apparently being remade. But think about it without emotion attached: would Mars in the original film not look like a rather bad set to today’s young people? Is the alien red light district not in poor taste, out-dated and unnecessary? Is the puppetry and CGI not hopelessly dated? Is the language, violence and sexual references not rather tame – does it *really* deserve an “18″ rating? If you want today’s generation to enjoy Total Recall as much as you did at the same age, then it’s going to need to be remade for them with today’s techniques. But this doesn’t mean you CAN’T watch the original movie instead; the old version doesn’t just evaporate into thin air because a new one is made.

VERDICT: Yes we do… Or at least, the next generation does. And that doesn’t make ‘em stupid, it just means time has moved on – in the way stories are told or shot, especially when new technology has been invented.

Concluding then, I think the current trend against remakes and reboots amongst screenwriters comes from the frustrated belief production opportunities are scarce and that such remakes/reboots “take” the place said writers could otherwise have had. Yet I believe there’s room for all types of story – whether remade, rebooted, adapted, re-adapted OR original. Sure, it might feel as if we’re jostling for space amongst all our competitors – but guess what: we always have and crucially, however successful we become, we always will. But as I keep saying, the key ingredient here is MONEY: you REALLY don’t want to see remakes and reboots made? Then avoid them – don’t accept jobs on them, don’t watch them, don’t even TALK about them on the internet, even to slag them off (no such thing as bad publicity). It’s all supply and demand… If we didn’t want them, we wouldn’t have them.

One Response

  1. “Literature is made upon any occasion that a challenge is put to the legal apparatus by conscience in touch with humanity.” – scientist quote

Leave a Reply