It might surprise some people to read that the last time I went to the cinema to watch a Hollywood film was seven years ago; May 2005 to be precise. While I still watch non Hollywood productions (East Asian cinema is a particular favourite) that manage to get theatrical releases here in the UK, I am no longer able to justify going to see Hollywood releases, and I recently stumbled upon some reminders of why that is the case.
While killing time watching YouTube videos, three clips caught my eye – for all the wrong reasons. The first two, were theatrical trailers for “new” Hollywood film releases; Total Recall, and Dredd. The third clip was a viral video for Robocop which is slated for a 2013 launch.
THE THREE R’S
So, what do these three films have in common? And why am I unhappy at learning of their existence? Well first of all, each of these films is a remake. Secondly, all three of the original movies, are several years younger than I am, and I only turned 35 earlier this year.
When these films are released, they will be joining an increasingly long list of recycled 80’s and 90’s era movies and television shows that have been produced in recent years. They are also indicative of Hollywoods disturbing lack of creativity and ambition since the turn of the century. Admittedly, this is only an opinion, but it is one shared by many film lovers, who’ve been subjected to a continuous barrage of the three R’s; reboots, remakes and “reimaginings”.
Many defenders of Hollywood’s recent output, will point out that this is nothing new, because the studios have always remade movies from their back catalogues, (which I concede is certainly true.) Often they will site a film like Scarface as an example of a remake that wasn’t just a cynical cash-grab.
My response to this argument, is that in the past Hollywood would wait several decades before remaking an old film. By which time the original had long been forgotten or unheard of by most movie-goers. 1976’s King Kong is the perfect example of this, having been released 43 years after the 1933 original movie. Anyone who did remember and was familiar with the original film had no means to rewatch it on demand anyway, (VHS hadn’t been invented yet let alone DVD or BluRay) so there was no reason not to welcome a remake.
What we are witnessing today, is significantly different in my opinion. The length of time between a film playing on the big screen, before the eventual announcement of a reboot, remake or “reimagining”, has become drastically shorter. The recent reboot of Spider-man was only 5 years after the previous incarnation. Most of the other high profile remakes over the last five years or so, have been well known – often popular classics – from the 80’s and 90’s. This is more than recent enough, that the teenage audiences whom these remakes are being produced for, will almost certainly be aware of the originals, and in all likelihood have already seen on DVD or BluRay.
With the availability of old titles on DVD and/or BluRay, the need for remakes like the soon to be released Total Recall is highly questionable. Yet apologists for Total Recall have argued that it’s not really a remake; that it is simply another adaptation of a literary work, so people shouldn’t be upset about it. After all no one ever complains when a Sherlock Holmes film is made.
This argument would have held a lot more weight if the studio who produced the film had named it something else. After all, Philip K. Dicks short story is called We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, not Total Recall. It seems clear to me that the studio wants to take advantage of the name recognition of the original film to entice film-goers, who will almost certainly believe that they will be watching a remake.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I realise that Hollywood studios are not charitable institutions; they are businesses who’s sole purpose is to make money. Ultimately, they don’t view film-making as an art form, nor do they care about the artistic merit of their product. Their only concern is the bottom line. So as long as the teenage audiences for whom today’s Hollywood films are made for, continue to pay to see them, there is little hope that the quality of films coming from Tinseltown will increase.
NEW IDEAS NOT WELCOME
For those of us who want more than shallow CGI infested “blockbusters”, it would be easy to conclude that Hollywood has run out of ideas. But, the more absurd the huge amounts of money the studios invest in producing and marketing their films becomes, the less incentive there actually is for them to risk trying to make something original, when there is no guarantee of a return on their investment.
However, some people would argue that new ideas are not even welcome in Hollywood. Indeed, writer Mark Harris wrote an article last year titled The Day The Movies Died, which among other things, highlights Hollywood’s ambivalence to the financial success of Inception, a film that Christopher Nolan may never have been allowed to make, but for the success of The Dark Knight.
And now the twist: The studios are trying very hard not to notice its success, or to care. Before anybody saw the movie, the buzz within the industry was: It’s just a favor Warner Bros. is doing for Nolan because the studio needs him to make Batman 3. After it started to screen, the party line changed: It’s too smart for the room, too smart for the summer, too smart for the audience. Just before it opened, it shifted again: Nolan is only a brand-name director to Web geeks, and his drawing power is being wildly overestimated. After it grossed $62 million on its first weekend, the word was: Yeah, that’s pretty good, but it just means all the Nolan groupies came out early—now watch it drop like a stone.
And here was the buzz three months later, after Inception became the only release of 2010 to log eleven consecutive weeks in the top ten: Huh. Well, you never know.
“Huh. Well, you never know” is an admission that, put simply, things have never been worse.
In conclusion, the seven years in which I’ve deemed Hollywood movies not worth the price of admission looks set to increase. But at least I can take comfort in the fact that outside Hollywood, there are still movies being made which don’t seek to appeal to the lowest common denominator.
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