In a recent article, film critic Barry Norman lamented the decline of creativity in the American film industry, which, he (quite rightly) states “hasn’t merely reached the bottom of the barrel, but has plunged right through it.” The problem? Hollywood is set to produce 30 remakes of 1980s films. Having exhausted most of the classics, and then the mediocre films, they now appear to be picking through whatever else is left: “Police Academy”, “Footloose”, “Cliffhanger”, “Drop Dead Fred” and “Porkys”.
Police Academy? Seriously?
Increasingly it seems that the American film industry operates on cycles of around 20 or 30 years. If you want to know what's going to be in the cinema next year, look back to find out whatever was showing three decades ago. At this rate we can look forward to revisiting “Avatar” and “Inception” in the twenty forties, along with the next batch of Trons, Clash of the Titans, Gladiators and Spidermans. Can you contain your excitement? I can.
Another disconcerting trend involves what Hollywood has taken to calling “reboots”. The “Hulk” reboot, the “Fantastic Four” reboot, the second “Planet of the Apes” reboot. A reboot appears to happen whenever a film doesn't generate the expected cash to justify making the numerous cash-generating sequels. Reboots are, essentially, remakes – except that they retain the concept or character (which they know is popular) and ditch the previous movie's story. That didn't translate to box office sales, so it never happened.
It's all about making safe money. There's an equation here. And there are people with calculators applying it to the back catalogue. “That one cost X million to make, and brought in Y million. We can remake it for this amount and it ought to bring in that amount. Those who haven't seen it will probably like it. And those who saw it 20 years ago might be tempted to see it again.” Y - X = Profit.
But doing this alienates half the viewing public. People might watch a remake of a film they fondly remember – but two, three, four of them? You get bored. What happens when there's nothing new at all, when a visit to the cinema means enduring one of “The Hollywood Hundred”, the set group of films that just cycle through remake after remake?
(With the exponential rise in computer power and the increasing complexity of computer graphics, we'll soon have digital Brad Pitts and Johnny Depps, indistinguishable from the real people, acting in the lead roles. Who do you want to see as the protagonist in “Alien: Reressurection”? Pick whoever you like, both versions of the film are showing in the same cinema, with digital Depp on screen three, digital Pitt on four.)
Like Mr Norman, I recently despaired. I don't go to the cinema nearly as often as I used to. Increasingly, there’s nothing worth watching. The last time I looked, my choice was “The Smurfs”, “The Smurfs 3D”, some animation about penguins, some other kids' films, and “Fright Night.” “Fright Night” had decent reviews, but is wasn't enough to tempt us. I've seen it before. I know the story. I might watch it on DVD, if there's nothing better available, but I'm sure as hell not driving into town and spending £20 to see it on the large screen.
It seems to me that the remake trend will continue for a while, but will ultimately dwindle. A lot of us are already fed up of remakes. As Hollywood films become increasingly repetitive – the same small clutch of ideas shown again and again – people will get bored, box office profits will slide, and the big studios will have to re-asses their business model. This is great news for Indie film makers, and for screenwriters. There's going to be a renaissance. The next big hits, the ones that make the most profit, aren't going to come from this slew of remakes, but will increasingly be low budget films that show viewers something they haven't seen before. At which point Hollywood will, hopefully, sit up and take notice.