Hello one and all and welcome to the very first blog entry from Happy Dragon Pictures and The DVD Shelf, the place where we celebrate cinema, not incinerate it. After years of creating videos, David and I felt that we should expand a bit and enter the written world, and thus Shelf Space: The DVD Shelf Entertainment Blog was born. Here you will find our thoughts on various topics throughout the world of entertainment, in addition to some reviews minus our goofy faces and video clips. So without further ado, let’s get right into our very first topic: remakes and sequels - and by extension, reboots.
Some of you not too familiar with our “positive outlook” type of reviews might be thinking that I’m about to completely slam remakes, which would be the popular thing to do. It’s really easy to nitpick and complain about a remake or sequel - reaming Big Bad Hollywood for not being more original and creative, but I don’t care about doing what’s popular. I have heard and seen countless opinions that completely tear apart movies simply for being a remake, sometimes prior to anyone actually seeing the finished film…hell, prior to anyone actually seeing any footage from the film. The best example in recent memory is the upcoming Ghostbusters reboot.
Before any pictures or footage was shown, people jumped on this movie, tearing it apart for one, being a reboot and two, changing the gender of the main characters. Then the first photo of the women in full Ghostbusters gear was released and people said “this looks so stupid”, all before any footage was shown at all. These people hate this movie before they have even seen a single second’s worth of footage, let alone the whole thing. So once the trailer hit, is it surprising that people met it with hostility and distaste? So many had already decided to hate this movie, and whether they realize it or not, that potentially influences their opinion and closes their mind to the possibility of even liking the film. And so this reaction got me thinking about remakes, reboots, and sequels and how they are generally received.
One of the biggest complaints whenever a high-profile remake, reboot or sequel comes around is that it lacks originality. And technically, that’s true. But what is original? Where do you draw the line? Saying unoriginality simply lies within the fabric of a remake or sequel is false and we all know it because that very same criticism pops up constantly with subpar films made with original screenplays that still feel like the same old thing we’ve seen before, whereas other movies that have a rather simplistic or common basic story are well-received by many. Kill Bill, a fairly popular film, is wholly unoriginal in its story and writer/director Quentin Tarantino was obviously influenced by martial arts films from the ‘70s and ‘80s. What is original about that? Well, Tarantino put his own flavor in it, combining dialogue, action, characters, and set pieces to create something fun and different enough that some of us forgot just how unoriginal the revenge story is.
What about Inception? You know, a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream within a taco…I mean, dream. Surely that is original, what with how unique that one felt…well, not really. Sure the plot point of being in multi-level dreams is different, but in reality, that film is a glorified Ocean’s 11-style heist, complete with a ridiculously complicated plan, the ragtag team where everyone has their specific role to play, and the seemingly impossible-to-accomplish target. In this case, they were breaking in to implant a thought, which is similar enough to the idea of infiltrating a highly secure area. And yet many people praise this movie for being so different and unique, which I agree it is, but the basics of the story are not. So if your one complaint is that something is unoriginal because it has some of the same story elements as something previously released, then you should just stop watching anything made since the invention of film, because every story has been told if you break it down enough. A revenge story, a love story, an underdog story; it just goes on and on, the same basic stories with different characters and situations. Some even theorize that there are only seven stories to be told in all of storytelling, a list that has somewhat recently been modernized to become:
•Overcoming the Monster•
•Rags to Riches•
•Voyage and Return•
So the entire idea of originality is not so simple.
Additionally, as a writer, it is undeniable that all of us are influenced by other works. Our favorite writers, directors, films, novels, comics, or characters all have an impact on our creative process, sometimes subconsciously. This is nothing new, going as far back as one of the most renowned playwrights that most writers study at some point in their lives - William Shakespeare. For those who don’t know, Shakespeare used other writer’s ideas liberally, taking characters, stories, dialogue, and plot points from other preexisting materials, mixing them into his own writing and claiming the whole thing as his product. Since then we have certainly adopted copyright laws that make such things less prevalent, but we are all still influenced in some capacity and it shows in our works. So this means nothing is truly original anymore, but we do our best to make our story unique via different combinations of character choices, dialogue, plot points, tone, setting, action, etc. But even with that, some of these influences are obvious, leading to people calling original screenplays “unoriginal”.
It’s The Hunger Games that gets reamed for ripping off Battle Royale; it’s Dredd being accused of copying The Raid: Redemption; movies that are vastly different in countless ways and yet they get accused of unoriginality due to some similar basic plot points. And why is that? It’s not like those above mentioned films have wholly original stories themselves. They are as similar to Die Hard (The Raid) and The Running Man (Battle Royale) as they are to Dredd and The Hunger Games respectively. But people tend to forget these things and just throw out the blanket phrase calling something unoriginal, when really they could twist that phrase to call anything and everything unoriginal, and it would almost always be true if you look hard enough.
So let’s talk about some remakes. Why do them? To answer that, you would have to ask “why tell any story?” To say that people shouldn’t do remakes because they’re unoriginal is to say that people shouldn’t make films ever again. Very few remakes stick so close to the original that it feels like the same movie. Off the top of my head, the remakes of English language movies most similar to their original films are Psycho (1998) and Night of the Living Dead (1990). Psycho is infamous for being an almost exact shot-for-shot remake of the original which made everyone wonder, why even do it at all? And Night of the Living Dead upped the gore and changed a few other details but, for the most part, it felt pretty damn similar to the original. But how similar was Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead (2004) to the original 1978 version? Aside from it taking place at a mall, it wasn’t, and yet that was a remake that did fairly well and I know plenty of people (myself included) that enjoy both the remake and the original. Perhaps if it were released today within this surge in internet bitching, it would be different, but let’s be honest, remakes and sequels are nothing new.
Plenty of them have become classics in their own right, so why assume that any sequel or remake is a bad thing before seeing the movie? Terminator 2, Godfather Part II, Aliens, The Departed, A Fistful of Dollars, The Thing (1982) are all remakes or sequels that are generally well received by movie buffs and/or critics and those are just the ones that come to mind immediately. Some might say “well those are the exception. There are way more bad sequels/remakes than there are good ones.” Yeah, no shit. There are way more bad movies in general than there are good ones. Of all the movies ever made all around the world, there are hundreds of thousands that even the most avid movie fan has never seen, or even heard of, but of the ones you’ve seen, how many are actually good? As someone that used to watch about 90% of the movies that were released theatrically for the first couple years I worked at a movie theater starting in 2001, I can assure you that the majority of major studio movies aren’t very good. That’s just how it is. And it is by no means exclusive to remakes and sequels, so a majority of comedies, action movies, remakes, and sequels are bound to be anywhere from terrible to average - depending on the person.
So, how about some positives to doing a sequel or remake? I’ve written enough about why certain complaints are less than valid but there are actual reasons why such things should be made. Let’s start with the remake. One great benefit of a remake is to modernize a story, either the setting or the visuals. John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) took great advantage of this, utilizing superior special effects techniques to create a more terrifying and visually impressive film. 3:10 to Yuma (2007) kept the same Wild West setting but the filmmakers simply used more advanced filmmaking technology and techniques that weren’t available in the ‘50s to make a film that is more engaging to a modern audience.
Another reason for a remake is to introduce a story to a new audience. The Magnificent Seven, which itself is currently being remade with an all-star cast including Chris Pratt and Denzel Washington, was a slightly updated retelling of the classic film Seven Samurai. Taking the same story and adding English speaking actors along with more understandable characters and situations to an American audience (cowboys instead of samurai, guns instead of swords) would serve to expose the story to a different audience who may not have considered watching a samurai flick. The currently-in-production remake of The Magnificent Seven will likely create more intense and fun action for a modern audience by utilizing new technology and filming techniques that were not around in the ‘50s, just like 3:10 to Yuma did, in order to expose a whole new generation to the classic tale.
And, of course, a good reason for a remake is to improve upon the original. One great example of this is 1995’s Heat, which was a remake of the 1989 made-for-TV movie/series pilot L.A. Takedown, both of which were made by Michael Mann, who turned his lower quality production intended for TV into a huge movie with an all-star ensemble cast. As far as sequels go, one big reason to make them is to continue a story, basically the same reason why a second season of a TV show is made. Sometimes they go into it knowing there will be a sequel, sometimes they don’t. There are great characters or a huge world with loads of potential that we love going back to again and again. This creates a more expansive experience that builds upon a story, giving any sequel an automatic backstory that doesn’t need to be explained, something that Marvel’s The Avengers took great advantage of.
Now certainly, there are plenty of franchises that didn’t need sequels. I am pretty sure Die Hard should have stayed dead after the first one. Just how many times can John McClane happen upon terrorists? And then you have sequels that some consider superior to their predecessors like Spider-Man 2 or The Dark Knight, which is, itself, a sequel to a reboot and is absolutely fantastic. Also, for my money, Fast 5 (aka The Fast and the Furious 5) is the best in the entire series. The fifth movie in the franchise is the best and some of the other sequels are great fun too. Who would have ever thought that was possible? And where would we all be without The Empire Strikes Back? All of you Star Wars fans know you love that one, so before you go ragging on a sequel that you’ve never seen, remember just how much greatness has come from them.
You get good movies and bad movies, good sequels and bad sequels, good remakes and bad remakes. However, going into a film experience already predetermined to dislike something for its “lack of originality” or the fact that it’s a remake/sequel is bound to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, so you will just look for things to dislike about the movie and you won’t allow yourself to become submerged in the film and actually enjoy it. Let us not forget that nothing is truly original anymore. Almost everything is derivative of something else that came before it. Sometimes it’s more obvious than other times, but at least give them a fair chance before you rip them apart. I am not saying that we have to love every sequel, reboot, or remake. All I want is for them to get a fair shot and not automatically get a negative mark just for being connected to a prior movie. Keep an open mind and consider that a remake, sequel, or reboot might actually be good just as plenty have been in the past. And please, stop it with the knee-jerk “That’s unoriginal!” reaction to movies you’ve never seen because ironically that is unoriginal. Never forget that there are plenty of bad movies out there. Sequels, remakes, and reboots do not have a monopoly on subpar entertainment.
Andy Snyder is a writer and regular contributor for Happy Dragon Pictures. He loves video games, films from all over the world, screenwriting and kittens.