13 March 2012

Author Carl Hellier

I nearly crashed the car the other day and ironically it happened at the same time I heard the news that Fast & Furious had been given the nod to produce a sixth instalment. Yes, six. Read it carefully, because not only has this ridiculous franchise been given more money and oxygen to exist, but this tilts at a broader trend - Hollywood's creative well is drying up and doing so at an alarming rate.

Right now, Hollywood seems to be in a creative vacuum. You only have to look at the number of remakes, franchise extensions, adaptations and vehicles to know that the industry is in urgent need of a rethink (not a remake). To highlight the current problem here is a short selection of remakes currently on the path to distribution: The Crow, Robocop, Short Circuit, Superman, Spiderman (again!), Judge Dredd and Oldboy.

With this little selection in mind, it's clear that the appetite for remaking movies is alive and well, but the reaction from most critics and pedants is the same every time - why? Yes there is an argument that great characters and plots should be rediscovered by new audiences, but, by and large, the reworks are lazy, gratuitous and damaging to the brand - unless Christopher Nolan is involved. Being a child of the 80s, it's perhaps fair to suggest that I'm nostalgic and therefore protectionist about certain movies being remade - proof found in my joy upon hearing the legendary (now golfing) Bill Murray turn down the chance to reboot Ghostbusters for a third instalment. Nobody wants to see four aging men sweating it out in overalls, chasing Slimer amidst in-jokes and platforms to show off the latest in CGI technology. If you need your fix, go back and watch the originals - they are timeless and excellent.

The problem with Hollywood, however, is money and how best to maximise returns. It is far easier to remake a brand that already carries weight - casting the big boys and girls becomes easier and provides a certain guarantee that even if the film is pants we can still look at those gorgeous slabs of human mediocrity. The marketing requirement is reduced too because much of the hype is self-generated. Combine these factors with the lack of need for demanding development and you have a very sound (financial) case for a movie, usually devoid of any integrity and enjoyment.

More frustratingly, it is difficult for the average moviegoer to break a rather clever and convenient cycle. Those who control the distribution largely control the tastes of the market, albeit falsely. You cannot dictate the choice of movies made available to you at the cinema, so you go to watch a film, come out feeling cheated and then lie awake for hours realising that you have just unintentionally justified its existence by paying to see it - thus providing all the clout the distributors need to keep the cycle going.

Above all though, my biggest gripe about remakes concerns world cinema. Foreign movies provide a huge source of raw, underrated brilliance that is painfully missed by a significant section of the movie going public - again, why? Well it's simple, many people just will not read subtitles and it's this very refusal that opens the door to Hollywood - see Let The Right One In (2009) or Infernal Affairs (2004), albeit chosen here for their excellence as examples of when it is done right. Let's just hope that Will Smith and Steven Spielberg talks prove abortive when attempting to remake the magnificently dark and thrilling Oldboy (2004). Perhaps they should try The Human Centipede.