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It’s all about the money baby

I remember seeing The Getaway in my teens and thoroughly loving it – it’s still one of my favourite films.  It had the coolest man ever to walk the earth in Steve McQueen and one of the hottest women to grace the screen in Ali Macgraw; As Sam Peckinpah’s most commercial movie it had his trademark creativity, action, tension and violence (er… and misogyny) delivered in a slick easily consumable package which left me feeling like I was on the journey too as McQueen and Macgraw disappeared off into the distance in their $30,000 truck and the credits rolled.  It hadn’t lost its spark when I re-watched it as a student, so I was horrified when two weeks later the 1994 remake with off-screen husband and wife team Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger hit the cinemas.  I saw it years later and was duly unimpressed – they’d taken the soul out of it.

This is the problem with remakes – they’re rarely, if ever, better than the original.  Which brings me on to this:

Believe it or not, this is a list (not even a comprehensive list) that I’ve compiled from IMDB and various entertainment websites of the remakes that are coming up over the next 18 months.  With 12 remakes released in 2010 this phenomenon appears to be growing exponentially.  What the list does show is that the remake phenomenon isn’t just limited to one or two genres (traditionally horror and super hero movies) or movies over a certain age – some films being remade are less than a decade old.

I’m not talking about adaptations like the brilliant A Fistful of Dollars, which was essentially a western retelling of the excellent Yojimbo, and I’m not talking about films based on existing material (books, comics and video games) or event sequels to successful movies.  These are full-on remakes where very little is new except for the actors and the year it’s set.  The movie studios use terms like reboot, reimagining and prequel to try and legitimise things, but I’m not convinced.

So why is Hollywood so devoid of new ideas that they need to recycle all the old ones?  They can argue that new audiences need to be able to relate to the cast, that audiences’ tastes change, that foreign language films perform better when redone in English or that CGI technology means they can make movies bigger and better.  They can point to new story angles and sub-plots, more realism and improved cinematography.  They can even provide examples of remakes that are better and more successful than the original.  However, in the end there are far more remakes which are poor reflections of the originals than remakes which improve on the originals and this can’t be a good thing.

I’m not sure it’s a lack of creativity on the part of screenwriters.  The obvious answer is that the studio executives know they’ll get a return when they retell a popular story with new actors.  Splashing out on untested material when the talent, CGI and marketing combined can cost £100m before you’ve shot one frame is rather difficult to do if you want to guarantee the studio money.  I wonder though if a less obvious answer is that the role that producers play is changing.  While they were always an important driving force behind making movies, they traditionally played little part in the creative aspects of development.  Now the movie producer seems to be assuming some of the responsibilities of the director and writer.  They come up with the basic idea for the film themselves based on target demographics and market gap analysis, and pass it on to a scriptwriter.  Maybe that is where the lack of originality comes from.

Still there is one very successful series of movies which as yet remains untouched… *sigh* damn you Mr Lucas.

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