Fall Of The Remakes

Much of Conan's audience for this past weekend.

The much-hyped Conan The Barbarian and Fright Night remakes — or, if you prefer, reboots, the hipper way to say it these days — tanked at the box office this past weekend. The former pulled in $10 million domestically on a $90 million budget, the latter $8.3 million on a $30 million budget. The fantasy epic got trashed, while the horror tale received good reviews, but frankly, good riddance to both.

Hollywood has gradually jumped on the remake bandwagon since its humble beginnings a century ago, but it has gotten far worse in recent years, particularly with the horror revolution of the past decade. Practically every foreign fear film that was a hit overseas has become fodder for American do-overs. The explosion of superhero franchises has also been prompting prequels and reboots galore. And the Eighties revival in pop culture throughout the last decade has spurred re-imaginings of many movies from that era (including, inexplicably, Arthur). It’s gotten to be too much, and it needs to stop, especially when the budgets climb too high. (Thankfully the Yellow Submarine remake was aborted. That was a horrendous idea.)

I worked in New York then Hollywood, first as a script reader and later as director of development for a small production company, at various points between 1989 and 1992. I read plenty of interesting, original scripts that came through various channels. Some of them caught the executives’ attention, many did not. Most did not get made. Hollywood has gotten increasingly lazy because they believe that people are sheep and just want what is familiar to them. In some cases that is true — and the continued success of many franchises proves this — but many people also love discovering new things. Instead of remaking an old vampire movie from the Eighties, or even earlier, why not come up with a new idea? How many horror novels are there out there that could be adapted for the screen? How many other fantasy characters could be brought to cinematic life? And how many lesser known gems are there waiting to be discovered?

Many people will think I am oversimplifying the matter and reiterating old ideas, and obviously a new release like Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes shows that the familiar dressed up in new clothes will still excite our collective imagination. But the economic realities that Hollywood is facing — a global recession, a dwindling home video market, an overabundance of movies, music and books for consumers to pick from — means that executives need to be smarter about the creative and economic choices that they make. At least the new Fright Night and the unnecessary Spy Kids 4 were made on lower budgets, so they will probably break even on video. But that money could have spent on something fresher. Case in point: the controversial drama The Help rose to #1 in it second weekend with only a 21% drop in business.

The idea of spending more to make more is an old one. It is often true, but sometimes an original idea that costs less can still rake in a bundle. A movie like The Help or (ironically) a series like the Paranormal Activity franchise is proof of that. Word of mouth is just as important as marquis advertising, and it costs a lot less. That can help scare up more box office rather than scare it away.


3 Responses

  1. Craig - Design That Rocks

    Great take on this trend of remakes. I recently watched the trailer for the new ‘Footloose’ remake…and I swear to god it’s the same freakin’ movie! If you’re going to remake a classic, simply because you won’t back a new fresh idea, why make it EXACTLY the same?

    I cannot imagine it will be nearly as good as the original, and now I’m assured it wont even be much different.

    Reply
  2. Rob Rockitt

    I am not big on remakes at all. I hate it when they remake classic films that don’t need a remake.

    I have to admit though, the new Planet of the Apes flick was pretty damn cool. Far better than I ever would have imagined.

    Fright Night was a great campy vampire flick on its own. I didn’t need a remake.

    I hear Dirty Dancing is next on Hollywood’s list of bad remakes.

    Reply
  3. Mike Schneider

    It comes down to sociological model of an epoch. Each generation of media/ communication enters with a set of ideals which over time they fail to live up to and society becomes disenchanted. The next generation fires up in opposition with their polar opposite set of ideals which over time they fail to live up to and society once again becomes disenchanted. Expectations skip a generation of platforms.

    We used to have live theater with play houses all over the place. Shows would come and go. The experience couldn’t be captured so see it while it’s playing.

    Enter film and socially we see the opportunity to capture a performance and keep it forever. How many early films were redone plays or adapted books? The only reason we don’t call films of the silver screen remakes is because we don’t have access to the performance which came before it. Hell, we know for a fact that a number of ‘classic films’ were not only plays before they were shot… they brought almost most of the cast from those plays back together to star in the movies.

    New technology has slowly crept in and here comes the next epoch. We’re a disposable culture again. The idea that a film should last forever went out the window with the idea that an appliance should last forever. I don’t care if your 5.5″ floppy drive still works… it couldn’t hold the cache from loading this one page on this one website. The performance is no longer this magical thing that’s meant to last forever. It’s a movie showing in theaters for 3 weeks, on store shelves for 3-6 months, and in your collection until you throw it out, give it away, upgrade it to a new edition or the format becomes obsolete.

    I mean, hell, we know film has a longer shelf life then digital. We know that a larger format film stock can still capture more details then even the highest high def cameras and it gives us more options for restoration. We know that they can release the TV shows from the 50’s faster and easier on Blu-ray then they can TV shows from the 80’s thanks to the advance technology of TAPES. We know CGI dates itself faster then even poorly done practical effects. We know most NES systems will still function years after we burn through piles of Xbox360s. But, you know what… it’s faster, it’s easier, and we don’t give a fuck if the paint starts pealing before it’s even dry because we’re ready to burn this fucking house down and build a new one on the property.

    Think of all of the remakes of something like ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’. If you’re going to extend the net to the unofficial remakes from mockbuster companies like Asylum and ‘damn this is has more to do with the original then that remake I just watched’ like Tommyknockers… then the list is huge. At some point, it’s no longer a remake… it’s just another performance. Shakesphere in the park with brainwashed neighbors under alien control.

    We don’t need less… we need so many that people can’t possibly think they are suppose to compare them all. We have the expression ‘so many I can’t decide’ for a reason. That’s not just a statement of frustration anymore. That’s the fucking mission statement of the next epoch. Tell the boys up in the control room to expand the image to crystal clarity and beyond.

    I’m not going to defend these remakes because there’s nothing to defend them against. They are the best version of these movies which came out this week and they will likely be the best version of these movies showing in the theater for the next 3 weeks. If I miss them then I’ll wait for the next revival. Has it gone into pre-production yet?

    -Mike

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