Attack of the Hollywood Remake Zombies: 2

Man of Steel posterSpider-man, Superman, Batman, The Thing, Invasion of The Body Snatchers, War of the Worlds – I could name many more, but I haven’t the time, or the blog space. You probably glean from the headline that I have something to say about remakes of classic, and not-so-classic films. In particular the annoying superhero origins story sub-category.

While it’s true that hero stories have been told and re-told throughout history, the current process is somewhat different in its methods, its ideology and the impulse which drives it. The honourable tradition of oral storytelling brought with it variants and inventive reworkings of myths such as those about the Greek, Roman and Nordic heroes and monsters. You will find countless Cinderella stories across the globe, all of them different from Perrault’s or Disney’s (the Scottish one, for example, Rashincoatie, bears no resemblance to either). No doubt most of us enjoy reassuringly familiar stories, but surely we also like to be surprised. Remakes offer generous helpings of the former and nothing at all of the latter.

I understood the reasoning behind Richard Donner’s “You’ll believe a man can fly” Superman remake. The reasoning was to gross as much as humanly possible. But, that aside, the original Superman series were made, in black and white, years before and had time to grow cobwebs. The reboot, if we can call it that, was highly enjoyable. Which is more than I can say for the remake that did not allow nearly so much time to elapse: Man of Steel. Sure, the effects were good, as indeed was the first half of the film. After that, it was downhill all the way. In an age when CGI effects are a prerequisite of every single genre movie being made nowadays, effects alone do not a movie make. And they certainly don’t make a story. However, had the producers assumed that most people on the planet have at least a basic grasp of the origin story, why not drop it in favor of a new tale altogether? Maybe it’s my age, but I’ve seen, read and heard that story a million times before.

To add insult to injury, hardly any time at all elapsed between the perfectly good Spider-man films starring Toby McGuire. If we must have a new Spider-man (Amazing or otherwise), for goodness sake start with a completely new story.

Spider-Man PosterScreenrant posited a lengthy argument as to the reasoning behind remakes. The writer says, for example: “the constant change of creative teams keeps a comic book character fresh, as new people bring new ideas to the table, and keep the character relevant and connected to the (at that time) current generation”.  On the question of relevancy: who cares? They’re comic book characters, after all. Their job is to be entertaining, not be relevant. He also says that McGuire was asking too much money for a fourth film, which made a reboot necessary.

The second statement makes sense. Hollywood is a business above all else. As is the publishing industry. No-one is going to make a film or buy a book if they don’t think they can cash in.

Personally I have no secondary arguments to justify a remake. For me there is one reason and one reason only: box office grosses. I can accept that there are creative directors such as Sam “Spider-man” Raimi and Tim “Batman” Burton, but the logic for hiring them is because these guys make money for the studios. There’s nothing wrong with making money, but please don’t insult, patronize and otherwise manipulate the very people who are giving it to you. Above all, don’t bore them (for a second time, no less!).

So there you have it. The mystery of the close-timescale origin remake.

Do I sound crusty and curmudgeonly? Well, that’s fine – I challenge you all to a duel at dawn with either swords (that’s a reboot of The Three Musketeers; sidebar, the Three Musketeers TV series tells completely new stories each episode, apart from the first one, which reprises the original meeting with D’Artagnan). or pistols (reboot of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly/any other Western or English historical drama you choose).

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  1. What a good article that was John, I was a bit shocked when I heard there was a remake of Superman a few years ago which seemed to trample all over the memories of the 1978 film which fixed forever Christopher Reeve as the man of cape (where did they get Steel from?)

    But then it just got worse. The Batman films in the hands of the Nolan sisters brother (I cannot verify that last fact) were an improvement, but the one that seemed to be the most ridiculous was the Spiderman remake. Especially with Toby M being so young, and their excuse that he was going to ask too much is a load of shit, as if there are no other stories to tell!

    I think that is the weirdest thing, that Hollywood is not willing to explore the almost infinite library of other brilliant stories out there that we haven’t heard of yet. Grrr

    IF someone tries to remake Bladerunner that will be the final final insult

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Jeremy. Of course, Ridley Scott did actually “sort of” remake Blade Runner, in that there was a director’s cut – better than the original, in my view. But yes, God forbid that anyone tries to remake Blade Runner entirely. I have similar views about Hollywoodisation, if that’s a word, of perfectly great international films. Tarkovsky’s “Solaris” was infinitely better than the recent US remake, for instance, though the latter was pretty serviceable to be fair. The argument for that might be that major audiences don’t do subtitles and dubbing is too horrible to contemplate. Even animation from a non-English country can be less appealing when dubbed – I always watch Japanese anime, for example, with subtitles, rather than dubbed. I like to hear the speech patterns, and the actual performances, if nothing else.

  3. I think when it comes to remakes, you need a good reason. Let’s not just cast a coat of CGI on it. Let’s make something meaningful.

    I loved the Maguire Spiderman movies. I didn’t need the new ones, and for me they didn’t work. They felt hollow of soul.

    Christopher Reeves was an idol of my childhood. His Superman movies will always remain in my collection. Superman Returns was in my view, a well done continuation of his Superman/Clark Kent. And Spacey’s Luthor was more dynamic and complicated. Thankfully they did not waste time on retelling the origin story.

    For Man of Steel, I loved the reinterpretation of Superman being more human: rage, isolation, stumbling as he learns, making mistakes. I don’t feel like there was wasted time there. It was a different experience and I loved (most) every minute. I could have done with less final battle, but it was a minor complaint.

    Ultimately, these are stories/characters we all have strong feelings for. Hollywood might exploit them for money, but anything that elicits a strong response has a potential to strike it big and there is little point for movies, books, or else to exist if they don’t create that response. It is the magic of storytelling, to take someone into the story, to show them joy, to build their rage, fill them with hope and shock them, to surprise them. It will not always work, but then even real life is so subjective.

  4. Thanks for your reply, Clifton. I agree with what you’re saying. The heart of any good movie is good characters and a developmental arc for them, involving their emotions, the challenges they face, their defeats and triumphs. Superhero films often forget that.

  5. Shaun Farrell says

    I think there is a place for remakes and reboots, but the problem is over-saturation. I think many of us are starving for original content, or at the very least adaptations of our favorite books, like Pern, Hyperion, and Mistborn. I would LOVE a Mistborn trilogy of movies.

  6. Shaun – in some cases, yes, of course I agree with you. Battlestar Galactica is a perfect example of something great coming out of something that was terrible first time around. But the Toby McGuire Spiderman was good, as was Chris Reeve Superman films. It may be that younger people just are unaware of them.

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