Surviving Remakes: Hollywood out of fresh ideas?

Remake, redo, and reboot seem like code words for a dearth of fresh ideas in Hollywood.

The big picture truth is that mainstream movies are a business. Designed to make a profit. Looking at movies from this perspective, it makes complete sense to remanufacture a proven commodity for a new audience while still retaining brand recognition and an existing fan base for the former film.

So, it isn’t so much about the lack of new ideas but more of a targeted approach of calculated risk by movie production studios. If I can get you to buy the same product twice, never mind again on DVD or via home entertainment providers…why not remake movies?

There are three basic types of remake:

  • The Update
  • The Foreign Remake into an American movie
  • The Book Adaptation

First is ‘The Update,’ which is probably the most blatantly commercial endeavor of the lot. Typically, movie studios pick a hot, buzzed-about, and talented director or star to attach to these projects. Other than updating the special effects or tacking on a new ending, these types of remakes are generally pretty faithful to the original film.

Superhero movies get a hall pass from me in this regard as they generally benefit greatly from evolving technology and the stories themselves are already so ingrained into the public consciousness. Yes, I will be there opening day for ‘Man of Steel.’

Survival tip: Skip the ‘Footloose.’ Enjoy ‘The Evil Dead’ as genre films fare better with ‘Updates.’

The ‘Foreign Remake’ is when an original foreign film is successful in its country of origin and is subsequently ‘translated’ into an American film.  My first theater experience with this type of remake was with the silly ‘Point of No Return’ version of Luc Besson’s excellent film, ‘La Femme Nikita.’ It was, in fact, news of Spike Lee’s ‘Oldboy’ which prompted this article.

The upshot of the foreign remake is that many of these films have social commentary or portray geographically specific trends and morays that are lost on the American movie goers. The American version, in theory, will retain the original concept yet tailor certain aspects of the film to better present it’s ideas to an American audience. In the past, foreign trends have spawned similar box office results here in the U.S.

The ‘J-Horror’ movement with films like ‘The Ring,’ and ‘The Grudge’ remaking popular Japanese thrillers proved that movie audiences love to be thrilled and scared regardless of their native language.

Survival tip: See both versions, preferably the original first. If there wasn’t any merit to the original film, it wouldn’t be remade. However, even some of these films struggle to find sure footing with an audience here. ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ is a good example of why you should seek out the original film as well.

‘The Book Adaptation,’ is when a popular novel, generally fiction, is adapted for the big screen. Crime novels, romances, political thrillers, and many historical dramas have fared very well in their leap from page to screen.

Tom Clancy’s novels to date have given us four Jack Ryan’s (including Chris Pine in this year’s ‘Jack Ryan’). Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne character and Ian Fleming’s James Bond have shown such resilient popularity that many of their characters continued exploits have become films after the original authors themselves have passed away.

Literary characters, fictional or real, are imbued with so much detail as a result of the medium itself. Devotees of the novels or new fans as a result of the films will continue to cross-pollinate the brand by both buying the books and seeing the films.

Survival tip: If you haven’t already read the book…wait until after you’ve seen the movie. Otherwise, there’s a strong possibility that you’ll be disappointed. I will spare you the suspense; the movie is never better than the book.

So, rather than lamenting the fact that there seems to be a lack of original ideas at the Multiplex near you…enjoy this survival guide with a dose of healthy optimism.

As films like ‘Poltergeist,’ ‘Robocop,’ ‘Carrie,’ ‘The Evil Dead,’ ‘The Great Gatsby,’ ‘Oldboy,’ ‘Wargames,’ ‘Porky’s,’ ‘House Party,’ ‘Commando,’ and ‘The Lone Ranger’ make their return to movie screens in the near future; take the nostalgia pill and enjoy a return of characters that you’ve already shared memories with. It’s like listening to a classic rock station, where the tunes are all familiar and remind you of another time in your life. (Well, except that now you have to pay for each song again to hear it.)

And, love them or loathe them…as long as big budget studio movies are viewed as a business venture first, remakes are here to stay.

Final Survival Tip: Don’t neglect to check your local independent and art house theaters. There are still a lot of original ideas being made into feature films.

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