Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Sequels & Remakes



One of the more common criticisms that has been levelled at Hollywood recently is the one about the creative minds being unable to think of anything new and interesting to write about, and as such, choosing to cash in on established movie franchises through the production of an endless stream of sequels and remakes.

Personally, I don't entirely agree with this criticism, as I believe that it is our love of famous stories and their respective characters that drives a need for such replications. Throughout history, this has been the case in many mediums. For instance, there have been so many versions of the Bible, written in so many different languages, that no one has ever been able precisely agree on which is the most authentic, but what they have in common is that all were written to satisfy demand.

So well loved and so ingrained in the fabric of popular literature are the works of Shakespeare and Dickens, that they have been remade, rebooted, chopped and changed more times than my old Nan's had meals on wheels.

Quite simply, in many cases, the failure to update popular works can result in them disappearing from the public consciousness altogether. In this regard, and given the apparent downturn of Christianity in the UK it may indeed be time for a 21st Century bible. I mean, let’s face it, who doesn't want to see J.Christ taking out the money lenders in the temple with an Uzi 9mm and a rocket launcher?



For me it is simply a matter of pandering to the preferences of an audience, and if that audience wants to see 'more of the same' then if anything, the creative minds are duty bound to continue to serve up tried and tested products.

Don't get me wrong though, whilst I have little issue with the concept of replicating successful formula, it is also quite obvious that in many cases, it is greed and laziness that becomes the prime motivating factor.

On that note, it is time to turn the focus back to Hollywood. It certainly does seem like there have been a raft of sequels and remakes in recent times, some of them brilliant and some of them awful. Let's take a closer look.....

Sequels


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Put simply, a sequel is a movie that in terms of events, characters and other general happenings, follows on from its predecessor.

Sequels are the bread and butter of the Hollywood machine. They are also the films that are most readily identified as being guilty of the 'cashing in' concept that I mentioned. When a film does well at the box office, as well as lining the pockets of the executive producers, it is an iron-clad indication that there is demand for more of the same, and the proverbial green light is switched on for the production of further movies in the series.

The trouble is, that quite often, the film studios just don't know when enough is enough. They'll squeeze every last drop of cash out the franchise. Much like an obsessive-compulsive person will drain the dregs out of a HP sauce bottle, they just can't help themselves.



A perfect example in recent years have been the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. The first of these was an instant classic, an honest to goodness family entertainment film which captivated the imagination of children and adults alike. It was a good old yarn about heroes, villains and buried treasure. But then came the sequels.....

In the case of Pirates, there have been three sequels so far and they've all been garbage. The third one was especially pants, with certain parts of the film being borderline unwatchable and incomprehensible in regards to the plot.


"At my wit's end more like"

Pirates supports a well held opinion that the good majority of sequels are much poorer in overall quality than their predecessors and that each additional follow-up film gets progressively more shite.

This phenomenon applies to any number of films, but for some reason seems most prevalent in the Horror genre. The life of a horror film franchise is generally as follows:

  • 1st Film - Imaginative, blood curling tale of terror
  • 1st Sequel/Prequel - Watchable - but seen it all before
  • 2nd Sequel/Prequel - Shite
  • 3rd Sequel/Prequel - Laughably shite
  • Further sequels - Straight to DVD. Uber-Shite

The general trait of sequels being worse than their predecessors does have some benefits though. You can generally assume with a near guaranteed certainty that if the original film was garbage, then the sequel will be spectacularly crap, thus saving yourself the ordeal of watching them. A good case in point is Big Momma's House 2 (2006) - the cinematic equivalent of Gonorrhoea.


"less appreciated than a Sexually Transmitted Disease"

On the flip-side though, if the original film was excellent there is a very good chance that despite not being quite as good, the immediate sequel at least, will still be brilliant too. The best example of this is probably Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991).



The first Terminator movie is one of my personal favourites and many would even argue that the sequel is slightly better. I would disagree - as whilst also brilliant, the film lacked something of the raw intensity of the original (as well as the cheap sounding but hugely effective techno soundtrack).

However, assuming that a sequel with a remarkably good predecessor is also guaranteed to be decent is a mistake too. One of the best examples of this is with the 'Jaws' films. You see, the first Jaws wasn't just good, it was exceptional. It set a standard for the summer blockbuster which has rarely been surpassed. Of course, the absence of the masterful Steven Spielberg at the directorial helm didn't help, but nevertheless, the sequels were dross - especially the one with Michael Caine.


"You were only supposed to bite my bloody legs off"

The real Holy Grails of sequels are the ones that are unquestionably better than their originals. These however, are a rare find indeed. Some people would quote Empire Strikes Back (1980) or the Godfather Part 2 (1974) at this point, and they would have a solid reason for doing so, but I would struggle to definitively argue the case for their superiority in either case.

Empire introduced a darker side (mind the pun) to the Star Wars story but the initial 'punch' that propelled Star Wars: A New Hope into the stratosphere was impossible to fully replicate. In the case of the Godfather Part 2 (1974), it was a rich, multi layered epic that spanned two generations of the Corleone family, but the absence of the stage stealing Marlon Brando was certainly felt - despite Robert De Niro putting in a fine shift as the young Vito Corleone.


"Are you talkin' to me?.....Hang on, wrong film"

Finally on the subject of sequels, sometimes they form part of a trilogy or a longer film collection and because of this, they can be more easily forgiven for existing. Unfortunately, this doesn't necessarily they're always good.

Usually, the best trilogies/series are the ones that are pre-planned - as in that it was always intended that the whole plot would span the course of several films before it could properly conclude. This is often because the films in question are based on existing works of literature, but can also be the result of good direction and planning. A noteworthy point here is that trilogies and series tend to buck the trend of the increasingly shit sequels phenomenon, as while there may be a crap iteration along the way, the collection can only really be judged on an overall basis.

The Godfather trilogy helps to support this point as most people would agree that the third film was vastly inferior to the preceeding two, but that as a whole the trilogy is one of the best around.

To ensure the success of multi film series', the movie studios will go as far as to sign deals to ensure that the director and cast members will commit to the lot. The best example of this was probably the stupendously ambitious, but ultimately brilliant Lord of the Rings trilogy, in which the cast and crew were all present and accounted for from the first shot to the last. This consistency helped to ensure the success of this masterful trilogy.



The other kinds of trilogies/series are those which can simply occur because of the success of the original.

To start on a high note, Star Wars sort of falls into this category. The great bearded one, Mr George Lucas nearly bankrupted himself making the first film, and while he claims to have initially planned for a trilogy, there can be no doubt that if Star Wars: Episode 4 (1977) had been badly received, the others would have never seen the light of day. Of course it just happened to become one of the most successful and lucrative films of all time, so the remaining two films were given the go ahead and what resulted was one of the best loved trilogies in film history.



Unfortunately though, for every yin there is a yang, and in the world of unplanned trilogies, that yang is The Matrix (1999). The first Matrix came out of nowhere. Released in the same year as the highly anticipated Star Wars Episode 1 (1999), it was not thought that it would stand up against big George's latest installment of Intergalactic high jinx...but then people saw it.

The Matrix was a triumph in modern cinematic science fiction. While Star Wars eventually proved to be the biggest disappointment since England got knocked out of Euro 96, the Matrix was lauded as being one of the best films of the decade. Its brilliantly original and highly philosophical storyline coupled with its high octane, mind blowing action sequences made for a near perfect popcorn flick. But once again, then came the sequels......



It seemed as if the masterminds behind the Matrix, the Wachowski Brothers, became so drunk on their own success that they had decided that any old guff would be welcomed with open arms. It wasn't. The rest of the trilogy was naff. The sequels were so vastly inferior to the original that at times, despite having the same cast and characters, they barely seemed to have anything in common with the original at all.

Remakes



Remakes are completely unlike sequels. They are, as you would rightly guess, an attempt to recreate a film that is already in existence, using the same characters and a very similar story line.

They reinforce my early point that sometimes a particular story is so well loved, that people clamor to see new and different interpretations of it - and for this reason the existence of many remakes is totally justified.

In recent times, technological advancements have led to the emergence of a great number of remakes, as modern special effects and cinematography has allowed certain films to be re imagined in a style that is more fitting for the subject and could not have been previously achieved. Once again though, this hasn't always been a good thing.

A prime target for criticism is War of the Worlds (2005). The original film was a remake of kinds in itself, following the wildly successful and controversial radio broadcast of the same name. The original movie of War of the Worlds (1953) was a sci fi classic and regardless of its dated effects still held up as a damn good film in its own right. The 2005 remake was not entirely crap and the special effects were certainly impressive, but somewhere along the line it lost its soul to the Hollywood machine and was left looking a bit flat in comparison.

Occupying a significantly higher place in the all time worst remakes ever list , was the 2001 rehash of one of the most cherished sci fi classics of all time, Planet of the Apes (1968). This was a shining example of when something should just be left alone. The reinvention reins were handed over to the legendary director, Tim Burton, who rather uncharacteristically, proceeded to butcher it. For starters, the casting was appalling, with Marky-Mark Wahlberg stepping into the shoes of the great Charlton Heston - and then dragging said shoes through a great big pile of Gorilla shit. The script was brutalised and seemed to completely lose any resemblance to the original the longer it went on. The ending, which I reluctantly won't 'spoil' was outright guff, and pissed on the memory of the best closing twists in modern film.



The 'best left alone' tag applies to a vast swathe of remakes. In some instances it beggars belief that anyone would try to reinvent something that was almost perfect. For although, it is often audience demand that drives the studios to re-imagine existing films, there are also cases where there can be no added benefit from new technology and where the collective audience would just prefer the tinkering fools to let things be. Chief among the examples of these was the 1998 remake of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960).

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I'm pretty sure that the grand master of the suspense drama would be rolling in his grave if he knew that Anthony Perkins' chilling rendition of Norman Bates would be reinvented using an actor (Vince Vaughn) best known for his energetic comedy turns.



At present, there are two particular remakes in the pipeline that also fit this bill; Robocop and The Thing. I can stone-wall guarantee that at least one, if not both of these will be hugely disappointing.

Robocop (1987), with its memorable lead character, ultra-violence and sardonically dystopian view of a Corporate led future world, really stood out as a 80s classic. Arguably, it could benefit from some of the recent advancements in Special Effects technology, but then again, can any amount of computer based wizardry really top the moment in the original when a toxic waste drenched henchmen explodes into messy goop after being run down by a high speed vehicle?



The Thing (1982) was a remake itself, but one that really did benefit from an update. It was a genuinely terrifying film that relied as much on atmosphere at it did on grotesque make up effects. Personally, I can't imagine that new tech is going to improve on the previous version in any discernable way. In any case, it was primarily the masterful direction of horror maestro John Carpenter that made the 1982 film a classic.



Fortunately, there are some fantastic examples out there too. In 2010, the remake of the John Wayne western classic True Grit (1969) was released. For many western fans, this was tantamount to sacrilege - but they shouldn't have been concerned. True Grit was a real testament to the original. The script was re-enacted nearly word for word and the plot was identical - which while earmarking it for criticism, proved to be a good call. The remake paid its dues to the original, while simultaneously reinvigorating it thanks to some outstanding performances from Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hayley Steinfeld and of course from top class direction courtesy of the legendary Coen Brothers.



Another kind of remake is the cross cultural reinvention. This is when foreign films are reimagined for a more 'western' audience. This can prove to be very successful as it can bring a whole new set of viewers to a story that would otherwise pass them by. Perhaps the best example of this is the Magnificent Seven (1960), which was a cross cultural remake of the Seven Samurai; a tale of legendary heroes riding across the land to save innocent villagers from villainous bandits. In the case of the Magnificent Seven, just substitute Feudal Japan with the Old West and you've got an excellent new take on a classic story of good and evil.




Sadly, cross cultural remakes are mainly garbage when compared to their originals. Some of the things that make the originals good seem to get lost in translation. Take the Japanese cult classic, Battle Royale (2000) - a story about malevolent school children who are sent to a remote island to fight to the death.



The concept itself could only have been borne in Japanese culture, so naturally when Hollywood adopted it, they pandered to what they understood to be western sensibilities and turned it into a 'gung-ho' action flick starring Stone Cold Steve Austin and Vinnie Jones. Needless to say, it was terrible!


"Otherwise known as 90 minutes of running about and grunting"

The last kind of remake is known as 'the reboot'. Reboots mainly apply to film franchises and series' rather than specific films. Unlike normal remakes, the period of time that elapses between the original and the reboot doesn't have to be too long. A reboot also allows a complete change in cast, direction, style and story (although key plot-lines and characters must remain) - so it is a perfect way to reinvigorate a dying franchise - and of course, to make more $$$.



A good example of a reboot in the making is the upcoming Amazing Spiderman (2012). It's only been just under ten years since the first Spiderman film was released - which itself was a welcome reboot of the Marvel franchise and followed the awfully camp series of films that screened in the 1970s-80s. Columbia Pictures produced three of these films, of which the first and second were decent, while in typical sequel style, the third was garbage.

The relative failure of Spiderman 3 (2007) helped the studio to reach the conclusion that rather than continue to produce further sequels, the would opt for a reboot. There will now be a brand new cast, a new interpretation of the comic book story and of course they'll be hoping that with this comes a bumper payday.

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"Ooh it's gone all dark and brooding. I wonder where in Gotham City they got THAT idea from?"

Comic book films such as Spiderman are ripe for the occasional reboot, as they are highly lucrative franchises and can generate all sorts of lovely new revenue streams (Anyone for a Burger King?). But to reiterate the main point of this piece, we shouldn't knock them for it, because these are the stories that most of us want to hear retold in new and different ways - and yes, we'll pay for the privilege. Also, they sometimes manage to bag a winner.

Take for instance the story of Batman. From the campy Adam West Batman TV series of the 1960s, to the horrendously bad Batman and Robin (1997), there have been many attempts at rebooting the franchise. However the most recent reimagining of this classic comic book tale absolutely wipes the floor with all of its predecessors. Helped once again by a brilliantly assembled cast and directed by one of the best film makers of this century, Christopher Nolan, it has helped to make the entire genre more respected in the film world.



Like with everything else though, not all reboots are successful or necessary. One of the prime targets for criticism was the A-Team. The casting was terrible (Liam Neeson replacing George Peppard, seriously?) and it just couldn't seem to decide whether it wanted to parody the original series or be a more serious take on the concept. At any rate, the moment they chose to turn BA Baracus into a pacifist was the moment I had to ring my insurance company to claim accidental damage to my flat screen TV. What were they thinking?



Thus concludes my guide to sequels and remakes. Sorry if it's felt a bit of a long one, but this is a subject that I truly love and even at this length I still feel I've skipped a lot of important details. Anyhow, if you managed to stick with it, I hope you enjoyed the read!

Here are my lists of the best and worst of the sequel and remake types that I've talked about, in no particular order. These are my choices, so you may not agree, but please do use the comments box to share your views on the matter.

5 Great Sequels

1. Empire Strikes Back (1980)
2. The Godfather Part 2 (1974)
3. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
4. Aliens (1986)
5. Back to the Future Pt 3 (1990) - I love westerns and sci fi, what can I say!

5 terrible sequels of good films

1. Pirates of the Caribbean 3 (2007)
2. Jaws: the Revenge (1987)
3. Robocop 3 (1993)
4. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
5. The Matrix Reloaded (2003) /Revolutions (2003)- can't decide which one was the worst

5 most needless sequels (given that the originals were shite)

1. Big Momma's House 2 (2006)
2. Beethoven's 2nd (1993)
3. Cheaper by the Dozen 2 (2005)
4. Into the Blue 2: The Reef (2009) - straight to video I might add
5. Scary Movie 2,3,4,5.........

5 Great Trilogies/series

1. Star Wars Trilogy
2. The Godfather Trilogy
3. The Bourne Trilogy
4. The Rocky Collection
5. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

5 excellent remakes

1. True Grit (2010)
2. The Fly (1986)
3. The Thing (1982)
4. Scarface (1983)
5. Cape Fear (1991)

5 piss poor remakes

1. Planet of the Apes (2001)
2. Psycho (1998)
3. Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
4. The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
5. The Pink Panther (2006)- Shameful, shameful, shameful!

5 bad examples of cross cultural remakes

1. Battle Royale (Jpn)- The Condemned (USA)
2. The Ring (Jpn) - The Ring (USA)
3. Get Carter (UK) - Get Carter (USA)
4. The Italian Job (UK) - The Italian Job (USA)
5. Taxi (France) - Taxi (USA)

5 noteworthy reboots

1. Batman Begins (2005)
2. Superman (1978)
3. Spiderman (2002)
4. Starsky and Hutch (2004)
5. Casino Royale (2006)

7 comments:

  1. OK, all you have to do now is shoot Claudia Winkleman and I will be happy.

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  2. Agreed. Barry Norman would be turning in his grave....if he was dead.

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  3. I would argue that you have missed out the original Batman (1989) reboot. As a standalone movie that represented a quality retake on Batman (including his whole surrounding mythology) and the utterly insane Joker. Gotham was a grotesque (Burton-esque) nightmare, so strong that the city was almost a character in itself, which I would argue is missing from the new ones.. Great soundtrack too.

    True Grit (2010) was quite different from the original movie in many ways, and had a dramatically different ending. Still, both brilliant films.

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  4. Oh, and yeah... Vince Vaughn in Psycho. What mentalist studio exec ever thought that could work. Perkins looked like wily bird, while Vaughn looked like he could be energetically throwing Dodgeballs at people before chow down time.... hmmm....

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  5. What about the current trend for remaking truly excellent films within months of their release due to the originals suffering from that serious flaw of being in a foreign language - most recently Let the Right One In and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

    Leave it alone FFS - if you are too stupid to read sub-titles, there are plenty of other films out there.

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  6. Excellent point anonymous person! I was going to mention 'Let me In', but I spared it on the basis that it's not a particularly bad remake - just a wholly unnecessary one.

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  7. Ant - The True Grit argument will rage on. Although the film was re-enacted nearly word for word in the most part, there are some key differences in tone (including that not so happy ending) that sets it apart from its predecessor. Check this out for a more in depth look:

    http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/entertainment_movies_blog/2010/12/five-ways-original-true-grit-is-better-than-the-remake.html

    As for Batman, the Tim Burton films were top class - the first was my favourite film as a kid, but I just think that Nolan's approach nailed the Batman concept. There was something a little too theatrical about Burton's take.

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