Remakes and reboots have seen an increase in production. With foreign markets opening up, there are places that have never seen many great movies from the past four decades. China is an untapped source and studios do whatever they can to get a piece. The method of coercion usually includes casting native actors, product placement, or setting the film in China. Disingenuous though it may be, it is hard to pay attention to criticism when you are counting money.
China is instrumental in the story of Independence Day: Resurgence with native actors that had no purpose except to be there. China is referenced in the remake of Robocop where the titular cyborg goes to train. Though evidence of coercion was not clear, The Force Awakens was heavily advertised in the country with underwhelming results. Rogue One attempted to make up for loses by casting two Chinese actors.
Trying to capture a market is not inherently bad. If anything it is selling out, but I do not hold it against studios for trying to make money. My issue and one shared by many a cinephile is there is nothing but remakes and reboots. Most new movies are not new. They share a name, are identical copies of older films, or are updated versions with a connection to their predecessors.
It is not just foreigners that want to see classics of the old remade anew, but people who saw them growing up. Nostalgia is so profitable that “nerd culture” is a thing that exists. When I was young, talk shows on the minutia of trailers, half-hour long programs about comics, and documentaries on the science of videogames seemed inconceivable. Today, self-professed geeks have more in common with sports commentators than actual geeks. New media that specializes in complaining about movies would not exist without remakes and reboots because nerd culture is all about the celebration of nostalgia and geek ephemera. Who else would see and commentate on new releases if not the people who yell at them for a living?
The side effect of capitalizing off nostalgia is the stagnation of creativity. These days, studios are more concerned with making a profit than promoting original ideas. If it does not have a recognizable name, it does not get made. No one wants to take a risk on a story that does not guarantee a large following. You need an established base on which to release, promote, and gain profit. What has all of that if not an old classic? As a result, new stories by prospective filmmakers and writers are ignored. Either they settle for the indie scene or fade into obscurity because the studio system did not want to spend money making the next Apocalypse Now.
Adaptations lie between remakes and reboots. They are not particularly damaging to creativity, but some adaptations ride the line. Ben-Hur was remade and everyone knows about the Charlton Heston version. Obviously one is better than the other, but Ben-Hur started as a novel by Lew Wallace. Even though the 2016 version is an updated copy of the Heston version, it is still an adaptation. To call the new incarnation a remake would be wrong.
Another example of remakes versus adaptations is Ghost in the Shell (GitS). Say what you will about the casting of Scarlett Johansson, GitS is a manga that has been remade in anime form about four times. There is no definitive version of the series except the source material. Some do not even know that because the first adaptation became bigger than the manga. Then you had two more that borrowed from the film and manga. The live action version is just another adaptation.
An adaptation must be based on a work from another medium to be an adaptation. The Dune television series was not considered a remake of David Lynch’s version of Frank Herbert’s book. Nor were Scorsese’s Cape Fear, Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, and all the different versions of Frankenstein. Adaptations are unique in that they are based on an established property and not beholden to the source. Do you think anyone really cares about Mario Puzo’s Godfather novel?
With an adaptation, you have the ability to change certain details about the story. Sometimes what you can do in books cannot be done in film. When putting together a screenplay, writers must add and subtract elements from the source material to make it compatible with the new medium. In Spike Jonze’ Adaptation, the main character struggled with adapting a book that did not have much going on in the way of story. He was forced to add narrative elements to give the movie a theatrical edge. Where remakes and reboots change things for marketing and relevancy, adaptations change things because they have to. Dune and Game of Thrones would be very boring without all the changes from the books.
The number of good remakes and reboots can be counted on two hands. Because audiences are obsessed with the past and studios want to make easy money, we are inundated with movies that were once great made terrible. It is like turning a perfect steak into hamburger meat. The more we dwell on the past and change it to fit the future, the faster our creativity and sense of originality wanes. But who says we are required to watch remakes and reboots? It is up to you if the pursuit of originality in film is worth the price of admission.