Think you've seen that hot new movie before? You probably have. While in past years Hollywood went the remake route from time to time, nowadays they're as popular as popcorn.
So far this year, “The Wolfman,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Clash of the Titans,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Robin Hood” have paraded through the multiplexes. Next up: “The Karate Kid,” opening June 11. Over the horizon are “Red Dawn” and “True Grit.” And sometime in the not-too-distant future you'll see new versions of “Footloose,” “Overboard,” “Conan,” “Escape from New York” and “Arthur,” among many, many others. Also due for a redo with a new star and new director is “Spider-Man,” and that movie franchise was only launched in 2001, a mere nine years ago.
“Disquieting, isn’t it?” said actor Tom Skerritt.
Skerritt, one of the founders of The Film School in Seattle, which trains aspiring screenwriters, laments that studios “don’t want to deal with the risk of possibility by taking a chance on an unproven script.”
With $100 million-plus production budgets practically commonplace these days — “Clash of the Titans” reportedly cost $125 million, and “Alice” is estimated to have cost more than $200 million — studios are anxious to minimize risk and maximize profits. And when the new “Clash” rakes in $400 million worldwide despite scathing reviews, and “Alice’s” take is close to $1 billion worldwide, profits can be huge.
But Skerritt thinks the audience is being shortchanged. Virtually by definition, remakes lack originality in terms of the stories they tell. They’re designed to give audiences the tried and the true, the safe and familiar.
And the audiences these pictures are aimed at are made up primarily of young people, the prime buyers of movie tickets. Skerritt calls them “Pavlovian audiences: the 17 to 35 demographic,” who readily respond to titles and concepts that they’re familiar with.
Young audiences also embrace the new
Denver Post film critic Lisa Kennedy says although remakes are being made to appeal to young audiences, these movies’ lack of originality deprives those audiences of a sense of wonder and genuine excitement that can come with the discovery of something truly fresh and new.
“I just think it’s sort of sad to capture your imagination with something that is a hand-me-down,” Kennedy said.
She thinks young audiences sense this at some level, and sees the multibillion-dollar success of James Cameron’s “Avatar” as evidence that they’re eager to embrace movies that seem authentically new.
“This is their ‘Wizard of Oz,’ ” she said.
The surprise successes of two small budget non-remakes, “Paranormal Activity” and “District 9,” which both sold more than $100 million in tickets last year, may signal that audience appetites for remakes may not be as limitless as the studios hope.
Jason E. Squire, a former studio executive now on the faculty of the University of Southern California film school, said, “Those two (films) happening in the same year really tell us that the movie audience is still a very hungry, impatient audience. They won’t stand for pap.”
What that means is that they won’t stand for remakes that don’t live up to their expectations.
“The level of taste continues to get stronger and more demanding,” Squire said. Today’s remakes “have to be continually better made in order to justify the huge costs.” Audiences want to see the megamillions spent on these pictures up there on the screen.
Remake fans have high expectations
Certainly that’s the way Jorge Barajas, a 28-year-old Seattle movie fan, feels. “I go in and I have high expectations; this has to be really, really good,” he said while waiting in line at an advance screening of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” remake.
Eli Seidel, an 18-year-old high-school senior from Bellevue, Wash., echoed that. The latest “Nightmare,” he said, “should be a step up because it has the expectations of a remake.” And those expectations are? “Cooler deaths. That they die more theatrically.”
But even a fan of remakes like Barajas, given a choice, prefers original material to reboots. He liked 1974’s “Texas Chain Saw Massacre” far more than the 2003 remake. “It’s just grittier,” he said. The remake, with its higher production values, seemed too Hollywood and too predictable for his tastes.
The trend toward gaudier and gorier remakes leaves other moviegoers cold, particularly older ones.
“Technology and graphics and stuff like that, to me doesn’t make a movie,” said 34-year-old Seattle resident Miles Lewis, a patron of Seattle's iconic Scarecrow specialty video store. It’s the quality of the acting and the storytelling that matter most to him.
“It’s geared toward marketing and ticket sales. It’s not geared toward creativity and originality,” Lewis said of the current mania for remakes. And yet he admits he goes to see them. He goes because they’re familiar name brands.
“I laugh at myself,” he said with a smile and a shrug. “I’m a big movie guy. I see all this stuff.”