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May 29, 2009

A Childhood Reimagined

Hollywood would be hard pressed to deny it is in a creative slump. For every original film that hits your theater, half a dozen clones of past films wait in the wings.

Hollywood has always stolen from itself to keep the masses entertained. Remaking popular films is hardly new. The idea is that if it was a hot property once, it might be so again. In the early days of cinema, films like Ben-Hur were rolled over again and again.

But it seems that lately they’ve gone overboard. Or maybe it’s just that they’ve finally begun mucking about on my sacred ground.

I didn’t protest when they remade The Honeymooners, The Addams Family, The Beverly Hillbillies, Get Smart, Lost in Space or Bewitched. I had no special attachment to those shows. They were from a different generation. I didn’t even care when they remade Charlie’s Angels (I did care that the movies were so difficult to sit through) Starsky and Hutch, Dukes of Hazard or The Brady Bunch, though it certainly hit a bit closer to home.

But as the definition of “oldies” on the radio continues to slide from one decade to the next, I’ve noticed that Hollywood is now seriously plundering my childhood (the 1980s) for their latest projects.

As if the first Transformers weren’t bad enough, they’ve gone and made themselves a sequel. And don’t even get me started on that aberration they call the latest trailer for GI Joe.

Those are some of the more obvious one. Did you know that they are also planning remakes/big screen versions of the following:

The Smurfs
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
Flight of the Navigator
Conan the Barbarian
Karate Kid
War Games
The Neverending Story
Clash of the Titans

And that’s just a few, completely ignoring the torrent of horror films currently being plagiarized, er, I mean, "reimagined."

I feel like pulling a Paddy Chayefsky, screaming from my window to the street below, “Leave my childhood alone!”

Remember when Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez sought to remake Casablanca? Others are interested in making contemporary editions of Bonnie and Clyde and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Does it matter that we’ve already had recent versions of Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles, Planet of the Apes, or The Fugitive? Nope, because those are on the way too. The Crow? Let the Right One In? Ditto and ditto.

But you know the industry is really starved for ideas when they turn to non-filmic inspirations, There’s a Bazooka Joe movie on the way. Before you get excited and think it’s about a guy named Joe and his trusty rocket launcher, I must inform you they are building an entire movie around bubblegum! And let’s not forget the new movies based on the popular board games, Battleship and Monopoly. Yes, Monopoly.

Maybe if the ratio was flipped I wouldn’t care so much. But the terrible truth is that for every Battlestar Galactica or The Dark Knight there are a dozen Wild Wild Wests. And looking at what’s coming down the sluice, it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

What’s that?

I hear you! Have no fear, I’m coming to help!

You’ll have to excuse me. I think I hear My Little Pony crying about some strange tanned man in a black suit and fine Italian shoes… Or is that a Care Bear?


It's a strange dichotomy, isn't it? There's so much bad art due to the obsession, the idea that you have to come up with something "original", yet so much bad art spawned by mindless imitation. In my four years at art & design school, one of the most common teacher mantras was, stop trying to come up with something no one ever has before, because you won't, and you'll waste your time and be disappointed...but then they would be quite harsh on work they deemed "unoriginal".

So many good artists are good because they build off of what's come before - author Jim Butcher, for instance, incorporates the old faerie stories into his Dresden Files series, while using them in a new way - and that is what makes his books come off as fresh and original. After reading "Small Favor", I'll never look at the billy goats gruff the same way again. New sci-fi master Alastair Reynolds unashamedly shows time and again how he's been influenced by classics ranging from "Dune" to "Alien" to "The Thing" to some of Arthur C. Clarke's more obscure works and Asimov's humanist tales, even occasionally tossing a little Dashiell Hammet or Raymond Chandler into the mix, and his books are the best sci-fi since the last classic master died. What sets these artists apart from the folks doing remakes is the fact that they are not seeking to remake, but to make new by building off of old...which I believe is the logical way of good art and invention. What really boggles the mind is the remaking of films that are either good because they're so fantastically bad (ie. Master of the Universe), or films that are good because they're so fantastically good (ie. the upcoming Seven Samurai). Sure, that works occasionally, but only when it's not pure regurgitation - for example, Pixar's "A Bug's Life" was a strong and fun re-telling of Seven Samurai, with enough original elements to disguise itself so well I never realized that's what it was.

As for nostalgia, well, now that I'm old enough for that sort of thing, remakes don't bother me in the "get your stinkin' paws off my Tron!" way. They just offend me as an artist. You liked Tron? Great, then build off it in some way, instead of just regurgitating.

I must admit though, I'm curious as to what they'll do with Bazooka Joe. I don't see them retaining the whole Cold War story thing, as 9.5 out of 10 people I meet in my age group (25-30) don't know beans about the Cold War, and has anyone younger even heard of ol' BJ? (Also, I never realized that the Cold Was was what Bazooka Joe was about.) Maybe they'll re-imagine Bazooka Joe as an incidental character from Fallout 3. I'd go watch something called The Adventures of Pip-Boy and the Fat Man.

This is EXACTLY what I was thinking the other day - thanks for expressing it. In some ways, Hollywood reminds me of a teenage kid who suddenly gets 'in' to a song cause everybody else is - though these are highly influential, powerful and I"m sure intelligent people running the studios, they end up just falling for the latest fad while its around. I remember in the late 90's it was all about disaster movies with two Volcano movies, TWister, Titanic - just anything that could be destroyed by a force of nature. Then we went to Comic book and Children's Fantasy literature cycles (with the comic graphic book phase only being reinvented with the Dark KNight).
So now that we're in the era of plowing through old 80's cartoons (which is kind of hilarious really) seems like now they're all banking on our Nostalgia more than anything.