Thursday, May 10, 2007

Somebody Shut Those Movies Up

It's summertime and that pretty much means the line-up of movies is brim full of remakes and sequels so let's talk about that, shall we? Recently as I wrote about sequels and the sequels of sequels, Damian at Windmills Of My Mind brought up an interesting point which I would like to expand on. Damian said that sometimes audience members can be "like spoiled children or gluttons" when it comes to stories. They are always wanting more. To be fed and when they're full they move on to something else.

This thought leads me to what I think is the root of all evil in film making. And that is the sequel and the remake. Damian went on further in his comments writing that the concept of a "sequel" is strange in itself because stories are supposed to be self-containing. I couldn't agree more. When a movie gets big and they decide to make a sequel, the purpose of creating a sequel is usually not for the purpose of advancing the story, it's in re-creating what was liked before. For the most part, when someone makes a sequel or re-makes a movie, it's purely for monetary reasons. That's a pretty big blanket statement I realize, but I would say for 80% of them, it's a fair assessment. And sometimes disguising that motive is hard. Spiderman 3 is a perfect example. I'm sure it became evident to Raimi that there wasn't a new story to tell. So what does he do? He fills the movie with bad guys. With remakes, the writer attempts to broaden the story to justify the remake somewhat. And that's usually at the cost of a good movie.

Take for instance the upcoming Halloween remake by Rob Zombie. He is re-imagining it so that we can better understand Michael Meyers childhood to see why he went so wrong. Michael Meyers could have been a bullied, cross-dressing perv with an abusive drunk father and a whore mom and I wouldn't give two shits about it. I just care that he scared the bejesus out of me. In the remake of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Tim Burton added more back story of Wonka's father to help explain the reason why Willy is the way he is. There is talk of remaking The Birds (God help us) and in doing so they are going to explain why the birds go crazy. And in maybe the worst offense, Thomas Harris, acting not like the great writer that penned Red Dragon and Silence Of The Lambs, takes a trip to hackville by writing Hannibal Rising, helping us better understand why Hannibal came to be.

I loved that Lucas started the Star Wars series in the middle and now hate Lucas because he's gone back and given us the beginning.

As always there are exceptions to this. I think about two of Scorsese's films: The Color Of Money and Cape Fear as good examples. In The Color Of Money, we continue the story of The Hustler with Fast Eddy now becoming the money behind the hustle. It's a fantastic story that doesn't seem forced and makes sense. Notice that no one chose to show Fast Eddy growing up and showing why he decided to become a hustler in the first place. In Cape Fear, Wesley Strick gives us more of a dirty underbelly to the family. He updates the story a bit with natural friction in the family unit to show their vulnerability to a stranger.

And I'm not sure the blame lays with the audience so much as it does with the studios. It's funny, a studio has a hit and instead of trying to create a completely new movie that's just as good, they want to ride the coattails of the hit with the same story in different clothing. I don't think there are a bunch of people sitting around saying "make a sequel to that" once they've seen a good movie. They're just appreciating a good movie.

So I say shut up Hollywood. Quit telling me so much. Stop remaking and sequalizing and go out and make more original movies because the path you're currently taking is so well traveled that the carpet is worn through and I can see the ugly floor boards beneath.


Damian Arlyn said...

It's interesting that you wrote this post, Piper, because after leaving my aforementioned comments I thought about writing something about the condition of sequels myself (calling it "sequel-itus") on Windmills. I think your assessment that most sequels/remakes are produced strictly to make money is absolutely correct. There is always the exception, of course, where the motivation is to further develop character or advance an ongoing story (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, etc) but since filmmaking is a collaborative effort, you just know that even in those cases someone (probably the studio exectuives) is involved, at some level, for money.

Though I admit that audiences' inability to be content with a good thing also contributes to the tremendous outpouring of sequels and remakes from Hollywood, I have to acknowledge that I'm being somewhat hypocritical because I myself am guilty of the very thing I am criticizing. I actually like a lot of sequels. In theory (if not always in practice) a sequel can be a great thing, if it advances a story or develops character and doesn't just give me "more of the same." I was watching Before Sunset again the other day and was reminded that it is probably one of the greatest sequels in the history cinema because, like the second Godfather, it not only continues the story and deepens but actually enriches the original to the point that is difficult, if not impossible, to see/think of the first one without seeing/thinking of the second one.

I confess that I even like remakes, or at least I like some of them. Many of them I hate, but I am not necessarily opposed to the idea of a remake. Sometimes it's actually possible to tell a story better than it was told the first time (ex: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels vs. Bedtime Story, Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven vs. the original), just not when the original movie is a masterpiece which cannot possibly be improved upon (Citizen Kane, Psycho, Casablanca, etc).

Finally, I agree with you that Hollywood needs to stop (or at least slow down) churning out so many sequels and remakes, but in a way this phenomenon is really just endemic of a deeper problem: namely, a complete lack of originality and inability to think "outside the box." Even the so-called "original" stories (movies not based on novels, TV shows, comic books, video games, plays or other movies) still base so much of their elements on pre-existing sources. Genre films, formula storytelling, star vehicles, etc are all results of this mindset. There is very little that is new under the sun. Even the scripts of Charlie Kauffman (one of the most uniquely creative and visionary screenwriters working in movies today) can usually be traced back to something that came before him. To "riff" on the last line of a rather well-known Hal Ashby film, sometimes originality is more a "state of mind" than anything else. It has more to do with intent than content.

PIPER said...

Well said Damian,

Before Sunset is a very good film to bring up. It was obviously not a cash cow but a very personal movie for Linklatter to make. He chose to make a sequel to continue the story. I don't think he or the studio thought that that would bring in a bunch of dough.

And I too am hypocritical because less than a week ago I write a post saying how excited I am about summertime movies and here I am bitching about sequels and remakes which is really what this summer is all about.

And I guess I'm still up in the air about the audiences. It's not like movies are made based on audience feedback. It's not like they go out and say what kind of movie are you in the mood for so they know what to go out and make. Hollywood thinks they know what people want and then they go out and make it and hope that audiences like it. And I think audiences go out and will put up with a bunch of crap.

It's like the Chiefs. They will continue to be mediocre as long as they sell out the stadium. So there's really no motivation to change what seems to be working.

Ross Ruediger said...

I'm surprised that a Carpenter fan such as yourself would leave out THE THING as a great remake!

That said, CAPE FEAR may well be the greatest remake of all time, and it's refreshing you singled it out.

As far as sequels go, I've always been quite fond of A VERY BRADY SEQUEL (which is a great title, by the way). On paper it commits numerous movie sins (sequel, remake of a bad TV show, Brady incest & gratuitous Richard Belzer to name but a few), yet it's quite the hoot.

The animated sequence where Tim Matheson doses on mushrooms as "Good Morning Sunshine" soundtracks the ride is marvelously punctuated by perhaps the most horrific character realization in movie history: "I'm tripping with the Bradys!"

(You people with your EMPIRE STRIKES BACKs and GODFATHER IIs!~Sheesh~...)

PIPER said...


Call me self-conscious. The Thing is an excellent example and it came to mind, but recently I'm at risk of being all Carpenter all the time and I'm not so sure that a good thing.

But a good point is a good point and The Thing is an excellent remake and one that made sense to be made or remade. It was a good example of the technology and make-up effects that were available at the time and socially, it was a good reflection of the times.

And whoah, did I ever forget A Very Brady Sequel. Thanks for catching me on that. You have to give it props for recognizing the comedic opportunities and seizing them regardless of what barriers may come tumbling down. The It Happened One Night incest scene is very good and funny.

I'm going to see your Brady movie and raise you a Scooby Doo movie. Although I did not care for the movie, you have to give it up that the writers knew how much everybody hated Scrappy Doo and made him such a pain in everyone's ass and ultimately the bad guy. To me, it's along the same lines as the Brady Movie.

Damian Arlyn said...

I completely forgot about the Very Brady Sequel. Now, there's one of those rare instances where the second movies was actually superior to the first (which was also a good movie). It's the same thing with Addams Family Values. The original was good but it's sequel was great.

The Thing is also an example of a remake that surpassed the original. I can't believe they're talking about doing yet another remake. leave it alone already, fellas!

Oh, and don't EVEN get me started on the Scooby-Doo "movies."

Anonymous said...

Another shitty thing the studios do is make copy cat movies instead of original ones. Oh your putting out an asteroid movie? Quick we need our own asteroid destroying the earth movie. Blah!