Probably not the best way to start this, but I just saw The Thing. The 2011 one. And it…erm…wasn’t very good. Supposedly a prequel, it followed the story of the original to the letter, had renamed versions of the same characters in it, and had nearly shot-to-shot scenes from the original (want a tense scene where they check who and who isn’t the Thing? And then it goes wrong? You got it!). It was worse in every single way. It was tame, the characters were stupid, the special effects were generic, and it wasn’t scary.
However, all is not lost when it comes to prequels, sequels, and reboots. They’re often seen as a lost cause from the off, and I’m just as guilty as everyone else in this.
But, in themselves, these films aren’t evil. Look at how many brilliant films are adaptations: The Godfather trilogy, Schindler’s List, Blade Runner, The Shining, The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption, Dr Strangelove, and every goddamn Disney animation that was made for decades. Lots of cult and classic movies are too: The Running Man, Rambo, Death Wish and Total Recall for instance.
Some of the best films ever made have also been remakes of previous movies, such as The Magnificent Seven or Cape Fear. The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and The Fly – what I like to call the ‘Triforce of Body Horror’ – are all remakes of 1950s films based on even older fiction. Going briefly over to television, The American Office is vastly superior to the British original.
What I am trying to say is this: remakes and adaptations are not a new thing and sometimes they can be absolutely brilliant.
The Descendants and Drive were two of my favourite films of 2011. The Dark Knight is one of my favourite films of all time and it’s a sequel to an adaptation of a comic book and also a reboot of two previous versions of the franchise. The Departed, in 2006, was a remake of the Hong Kong movie Internal Affairs. The Social Network was based on real-life events and on a non-fiction book. Never Let Me Go was adapted from an equally-brilliant novel in 2010. Children of Men. The Girl with the Dragon tattoo. 3:10 to Yuma and True Grit were both remakes. 21 Jump Street, loosely based on a 1980s TV show, is the funniest thing I’ve seen in years.
This summer, the most-hyped films are The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, Prometheus, and Amazing Spider-Man. I think at least two of them are going to be genuinely fantastic movies, I’m sure they will all be entertaining, and not one of them is a new intellectual property.
That’s not to say, though, that is isn’t worrying that there are few original ideas. When I saw the trailer to Total Recall 2012 I groaned. When I heard about the remake of Robocop I wanted to cry. When Michael Bay told us about Teenage Alien Ninja Turtles I wanted to gouge out my eyes.
But this isn’t because they are remakes. It’s because there is something wrong with film at the moment. With the way they are produced and directed. The Nightmare on Elm Street, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing, and Alfie weren’t bad films because they were remakes and adaptations: they were bad because they were awful films. House of Wax, Rollerball (oh dear god Rollerball), Planet of the Apes, and The Day the Earth Stood Still weren’t bad films because they were remakes: they were bad because the scripts were bad, the direction was bad, or the performances were bad.
There is something wrong with films at the moment. And that thing is safety. Remakes aren’t a new thing, and remakes weren’t always good (go and watch the 70s King Kong, I dare you). But at the moment films are made with safety and security in mind. So many films look like they have been directed by the same person. It’s the same in independent film – how many versions of Garden State have you seen under different names? People are choosing ideas that are likely to make them money. And who can blame them? If they make a box office bomb, their career is on the line. In the recession, there is less money for new intellectual properties. There is so much more of a risk involved, and these people need to eat.
So you want to know how to stop this rot? How to stop studios making the same film over and over again? Go and see films that look interesting, that look innovative, or that look just plain damn awesome. Scott Pilgrim was a bomb at the box office because people didn’t go to see it. It was also rather darn good. It was also also an adaptation.
It doesn’t matter if a film is a remake, an adaptation, a reboot of a series, a prequel, a sequel, or a spin-off. If it looks good, if it looks like it does something that interests you, or that it does something new, go and see it. That way, directors will be more likely to make risks. To make films that matter. To make remakes that surpass the original versions based on the sheer quality of the final product.