Art by Sybil Zhang
Quick, what’s the first thing that pops into your head when you think of “Psycho?” Of course it’s Vince Vaughn’s 1998 portrayal of horror icon Norman Bates. Except, that was absolutely not the first thing you thought of when “Psycho” was mentioned. You likely pictured Janet Leigh screaming in a shower or a grinning Anthony Perkins talking about flies. Herein lies the problem with remakes and reboots; the original almost always has more staying power.
Make no mistake, film is an art form, and by leaning entirely on stories that have already been told, we paint ourselves into an impossible corner. Conscious use of imagination becomes incredibly difficult when storytellers must follow pre-established constraints. It is challenging to create genuine art when one has to express the ideas of the past along with the present.
Though remakes do have some interpretive value, as comparing the ways a story was told differently over time can clearly reveal cultural shifts, the artistic value of retelling a story with minimal changes is severely limited. The audience’s expectations when they are familiar with a story require filmmakers to limit their personal take on themes or characters and instead fulfill a running checklist of moments, lines and winks at the audience.
There is an excitement to following an original story, a sense of exploration and discovery to attempting to discern where a film is headed. In an ideal world, filmmakers would be free to create without relying on the cache of ideas of the past. With remakes, one trades the fresh for the familiar, leaving the adventurous artistic spirit behind.
However, in present-day Hollywood, the reboot train is a-chugging. Disney alone has already released numerous remakes and “has even more planned in the coming years” according to Patrick Wood’s article “Disney’s live-action remakes explained: why now and what’s coming” published March 23, 2017 by ABC News, conservatively estimating six remakes. This number increases to 22 if you look at Anjelica Oswald and Kirsten Acuna’s article “Disney has 22 live-action movies of its animated classics planned” published February 14, 2017 by Insider.
The Telegraph mentions 24 additional, non-Disney remakes in various stages of production according to Siobahn Palmer’s article “25 films set for a reboot or remake” published August 2, 2016 by the Telegraph. The simple reason, according to the aforementioned ABC News article, is that “these remakes are bringing in big bucks” to the studios. As long as the money is there, the studios will happily continue.
So, in a world where remakes and reboots are going to keep happening (and make no mistake, they will continue to crawl forth from the production abyss), what can be done? We can find original takes within the familiar stories.
Envision a version of “The Thing” set in the middle of small-town America. Imagine a neo-noir “Ghostbusters” where the leads have to investigate ghost crimes. There’s a big, wide world of exciting and ignored thematic possibilities that, though I would prefer something wholly original, would at least provide evocative deviation.
If viewers are going to be stuck in a world of constant remakes and reboots, demand Hollywood changes the story in ways that are meaningful, explores something new, or finds new shades in themes of the past. Paying audiences must put money toward bold new voices to support originality rather than bland familiarity. Swinging for the fences may not mean a homerun, but way out in left field is a fascinating place to be (and is much more worthwhile than simply bunting straight down the line of tradition).
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