Recently, NBC announced their plans for the upcoming streaming service, Peacock. Among the slated shows, they hope to launch a reboot of “Battlestar: Galactica” and a “Saved by the Bell” series. Compounded with the recent announcement of future Disney+ shows, including a Lizzie Maguire sequel series and the upcoming Face Off remake, I’ve found myself wading through anti-remake discussions. So let’s talk about remakes.
Admittedly, there have been a far greater amount of remakes and reboots hitting theaters today. We need to remember that this isn’t anything new. Filmmaking is an art form that ages rather quickly. In terms of audiences’ preferences, technology, the film language, etc, films need to evolve very quickly with the times. As such, a movie that seemed good or at least serviceable 20 years ago might seem outdated now. Don’t believe me? 20 years ago, people were promoting microdrives as the future of memory storage.
Think of how time passing affected movies in, say, the 1930s. Movies had both color and sound, and studios wanted to use that to their advantage. Hence, the Judy Garland adaptation of “Wizard of Oz” was hardly the first iteration of the property. But it is now hailed as the definitive version.
Studios have also regularly bought the rights to (or blatantly ripped off) popular foreign films for American remakes. The Clint Eastwood classic “A Fistful of Dollars” is a westernized take of Kurosawa‘s “Yojimbo.” Filmmakers repackged Chinese film “Internal Affairs” as “The Departed.”
While doing research for this, I’m astounded by how many movies received the same treatment. From critical darlings to popcorn flicks, remakes of foreign films have been ever-present. Granted, we might be more aware of these movies now due to a wider distribution and the internet. Nonetheless, this is hardly new.
So why does it feel like Hollywood is especially obsessed with reboots, sequels and remakes?
This Used To Be My Playground
In my Mulan article, I touched on intertextuality. The basic meaning of intertextuality is the shaping of a text’s meaning based on another text. Confusing, I know, but it’s essentially this scene.
Using the phrase “Flying monkeys” and knowing the meaning because you know the original text, “The Wizard of Oz,” is exactly that. So why does intertextuality have a seat at this particular table?
Over the years, it has played various parts in movies. From a passing cameo to easter eggs to full parodies, intertextuality has had a big hand in movies. However, it’s also why studios regularly remake older franchises: to make money off of your nostalgia, for you to go to theaters and say, “I understood that reference.”
Again, this is nothing new. Every generation has the rash of unnecessary movie remakes or sequels of older franchises. The 1980s had numerous cartoon adaptions of older properties. Many of these were then remade as the original audience got older, like Muppet Babies, The Lone Rangers and Ghostbusters. The 1990s saw modern remakes of series such as the Addams Family and The Beverly Hillbillies.
It’s similar to what we’re going through with the ’80s and ’90s revival. Those who grew up with it want to share it with others. To relive the “good-old days” with those who remember it and younger ones. If they happen to have a disposable income around the release date, even better!
With bigger studios buying up more smaller studios getting, companies now have to ensure they’ll get their money back. Unfortunately, since they’ve bought out some of their competitors, there’s less pressure to impress. Why do I have to study for a test when I can pass with a measly C-? Why should I even study when I can cheat off another student?
Take the Disney live-action remakes. They walk an interesting line between attempting to fix the issues of their predecessors while also playing it annoyingly safe with middling results. Granted, they’re old pros at this. This is their second round of the “Milking the Familiar Cash Cow” game. In the late ’90s and early ’00s, Disney produced a whole slew of unnecessary sequels to their classic films. Among them were the remakes to “The Parent Trap” (which itself was already a remake) and the live-action “101 Dalmatians.”
When you add studios starting their own streaming site, such as Disney+ and Peacock, the concern for returning their investment only increases. Factors like the upkeep of the site, keeping and growing an audience while fighting with other sites make this a big risk. So how do you corner the market? What do you have that makes you special? Why, a remake/sequel to “Punky Brewster” and “Lizzie Maguire,” of course!
Expansive Stories Done Right
It’s easy to paint all efforts to reboots or remakes older properties as a money grab, and yes, there are some that are blatantly so. However, there are some concepts and worlds that can be expanded upon in new and interesting ways. There are great examples done well and with love.
Star Trek has been around since 1966, and for the most part, each series does something different and new with the franchise. Instead of picking back up with a familiar character (AHEM!!), the writers remembered that Star Trek inhabited a very large universe. By using Star Fleet as their connective link, each series showed different aspects of the universe at different times. While some series didn’t connect with fans, it still managed to tell its own story.
The Korean drama “Reply 1997” and its sequels are another great example. Though having smaller stakes, each season has a new cast in a new time period and encountering common life struggles. The series also explores different themes. “Reply 1997” is about the problems of high school life and first loves. “Reply 1994” focuses on the awkward first steps of adulthood. The series uses a familiar framing device to tell a different story.
My concern with the discussion of remakes and reboots is that it’s uneven. Yes, I find some of the projects I’ve mentioned to be completely unneeded. Then again, there are some amazing ones as well. The Addams Family movies, the Parent Trap movies and “The Sound of Music” are some of my family’s favorites. I grew up watching things like Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I honestly can’t imagine my life without these movies and shows.
Yes, I want to see more original works, but I can’t completely side with Team No More Remakes.
I think both movie studios and the audience should ask more than “Does this movie really need to be remade?” Questions such as “What does it bring to the table? How can we build on what came before us? What exactly draws people to the original and how we bring that to the new project?” Until then, we’re just stuck having the same fight more times than they can remake “La Femme Nikita.”