Has Hollywood Forsaken Originality? (Spoiler Alert: No, no it has not)
Remakes, sequels, adaptations, and reboots: these are what people ascribe to Hollywood’s trend of film production in recent years, especially seeing as we have a new “Beauty and the Beast,” “Blair Witch Project,” and “Bridget Jones” coming out in the next few months.
However, that is, quite simply, an inaccurate generalization. Hollywood, and to a larger extent, the entire film industry, has produced the same mixed bag of films for years. Counterarguments to the remake myth present themselves with originals like “Inside Out” and “Ex Machina,” first-time adaptations like “Edge of Tomorrow” and “Gone Girl”, as well as re-imaginings like “Godzilla” in 2014 and “Fright Night” in 2011. Of course, for all of the films that broke new ground, there are weakly remade films like “Fantastic Four” (2015) and “Carrie” (2013). But let’s not be hasty. This remake frenzy isn’t new to film, and in moderation can very well be a good thing.
The idea that Hollywood has sold out its creativity to the bottom line is frankly a little ridiculous. Sure, there are many blockbusters that recycle the same old stories into shiny, explosion-filled, star-studded extravaganzas; I’m looking at you “Transformers.” But for every one of these cash grabs (which typically don’t do well financially), there are many original ideas and creative adaptations.
Such is the case of “Robocop” (2014), which offered a crisis of identity and man vs. machine parallel, compared to the 1987 original’s boatload of blood squibs and one-liners (which I personally love). In addition, for every glitzy CGI-filled blockbuster, there are a treasure trove of films that fly under the radar of most audiences.
These are the award-winning dramas, the independent stars, the cult classics and the limited-release hits. These are where many of the original ideas went and continue to go. Hundreds of films are produced every year in the US alone, and if you only see the latest Marvel adaptation or comedic sequel, Hollywood’s remake myth will be supported by the selective plate you have chosen. Recent releases such as “Room”, “American Ultra”, and “Beasts of No Nation” are certainly fresh and original.
But let it be said that originality is not only in the hands of writers drafting original stories. The movie industry has been taking old storylines and recrafting them into new interpretations for decades, be it “Ocean’s Eleven” or “Dracula.” One of the oldest examples of this has to be the case of “Ben-Hur.” As of now, there are three film versions of Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel: the silent 1925 film (the most expensive of the Silent Era), the 1959 classic that famously earned 11 Academy Awards, and the recent 2016 release. Another prominent example is the James Bond franchise, which periodically reinvents itself with new actors cast as the titular MI6 agent and storylines crafted from both Ian Fleming’s novels and original scripts.
The same could be said of American remakes of international films. “The Departed,” Martin Scorsese’s award-winning crime drama about the Irish mob and the Massachusetts State Police, is a remake of Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s “Infernal Affairs,” set between the Hong Kong Triads and the HKPD. “The Magnificent Seven” is John Sturges’s Western adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s beloved “Seven Samurai.” Even in the 1960s, the movie industry was already doing remakes and reboots, and this was the hailed golden age of “Psycho”, “The Sound of Music”, and “Lawrence of Arabia”.
One final case-study could be Disney’s recent live-action interpretations of their older animated films. The standout is Angelina Jolie’s “Maleficent”, which took the evil villain of the classic tale “Sleeping Beauty” and transformed her into a tragic hero, completely reinventing the fairy tale. Disney also did well with their 2015 reinterpretation of “Cinderella”, in which the costumes alone were worth the price of admission, not to mention the merit of its revamped story (I, for one, did not miss the talking mice).
Rebooting and revisiting old ideas doesn’t always lead to a bad film. Sometimes, they present interesting and diverse viewpoints that can radically change the film’s story. Sometimes, they alter the film aesthetically or technologically, adapting the familiar storyline into a new setting. Sometimes, they just crash and burn.
On the flip side, original ideas aren’t always a guarantee of quality either. There is no way to tell if the film is a brilliant masterpiece or abysmal dud until you watch it. Besides, the movie industry is still, for all intents and purposes, a business. The market rules here, and good films, original or not, will be sold to and enjoyed by the consumers. The rest will perish as box office bombs, DVDs in the bargain bin, and forgotten pages on IMDb. Just keep an open mind next time you hear about another remake; it could be good, bad, or just “meh.”